Joy? What even is it?
I checked on Wikipedia (usually the fount of all wisdom) and came up with zilch. So I dug further and found a bit of information. Definitions of joy are out there, and they seem to focus on the source of the feeling of wellbeing joy brings. There is even a branch of psychology dedicated to joy which sounds useful, but don’t even get me started on the Christian definition. It seems to boil down to this - happiness and pleasure are, we are told, created by external events or circumstances whereas joy comes from within.
Fair enough, but a bit wishy washy and probably a matter of opinion anyway, as are most attempts to define slippery words. So, I’ve decided to fall back on reflecting on what gives me joy, I think it has to be people. People who matter to me, their company and companionship. People whose presence in my life I relish and can’t start to imagine their loss.
I suppose the list of people who fall into that category is not long, I wouldn’t have the emotional energy to sustain my relationships if it were. I’m not merely talking of people I like. I’m fortunate enough to have lots of those in my life, in the world of authorly things and in real life too. Friends who I care about, who I can rely on to answer my texts and lend me a tenner when I go out without any cash. Joy bringers are closer than that and I think I could count them on my fingers probably. My close family, my husband and daughter, a handful of friends who I love.
There are not that many instances of pure joy in my books. There are lots of descriptions of happiness – happy events, pleasure whether sexual or otherwise, people who get lucky or find their happy ever after. Joy is more than that, more intense, more grab you by the balls life-affirming. Joy is fundamental, soul-deep, a powerful emotional response when something fabulous happens.
This excerpt is from Red Skye at Night, a book I released in 2015 but I’m intending to re-release it in the next couple of months, with a sequel which I am working on now. It’s a story about two people who go on a journey together, a road trip with benefits you might say. They end up on Skye in the Scottish Highlands in search of the family roots of the hero. His grandfather grew up on a remote croft but left there fifty years previously after a family argument and never returned. In this excerpt, the elderly parents, now in their nineties, receive the news they’ve waited a lifetime to hear.
Back at the tiny bungalow, Ann-Marie insists on making the tea while we all park ourselves in her living room again. Angus carries the tray in, and we help ourselves.
As the clink of teacups echoes around the tiny space, Angus at last broaches the subject I’ve been dreading, “So, lad, ye spoke to Ritchie last night, I suppose?”
“I did.” Harry puts his cup down and meets Angus’ level gaze.
“He was surprised tae hear yer news, I daresay?”
“He was. They both were.” I note he mentions his grandmother carefully, deliberately, as though gauging Angus’ reaction today.
The older man just inclines his head. “I can imagine. An’ did he ask about us? Our Ritchie?”
“Of course. He was keen to know how you both are.”
A silence follows, the silence in which Harry should be saying that Ritchie sent his regards, that he wished his parents well, or some other message of familial greeting. There is none.
“He didna ask for our phone number? We do ha’ a telephone now. Did ye tell him that?” Ann-Marie leans forwards, her face anxious. “Or perhaps ye could let us have his number. We could make the call. I ken it’d be long distance, but that’d be fine, wouldn’t it, Angus?”
“Aye, lass. D’ye have his number, Harry?”
“He won’t talk to you on the phone.”
Angus heaves a long sigh. “I can understand that. It’s been a long time, an’ I had hoped… Well…” His voice trails off but he rallies. “If Ritchie won’t talk tae me, what about his mam? He’ll talk tae her, surely.”
Harry shakes his head. “Not just now.”
Harry’s phone buzzes in his pocket and he pulls it out to check the incoming text. We all wait, hoping it’s some reprieve from Ritchie. That he’s relented. Harry merely nods and slips it back into his pocket.
Ann-Marie launches in with what must be her plan B, “I’ll write tae him. He’ll accept a letter from us, surely. Ye could take it wi’ ye. An’ he’ll reply. Or maybe Sarah would. She’s a good lass. Me an’ her had ne’er a wrong word. Ye could ask her, lad. Ye’ll do that for me, aye?”
Harry smiles at her. “Of course. A letter might be a good move. But I won’t deliver it for you.”
We all three turn on him. Angus and Ann-Marie are trying to be reasonable, determined to remain polite. I have no such scruples.
“Why the hell not? You could at least do that.”
His raised eyebrow is signal enough that I’m going to be apologising for my outburst, but not before he’s made certain that I won’t be sitting in comfort for a while. Undaunted—well, almost—I open my mouth to resume my protest. He halts me with one raised finger.
“I won’t be passing on a letter because there won’t be any need. My grandparents can’t talk on the phone because they’re in airplane mode. Or they were. That text just now was from Ritchie. Their plane landed in Glasgow just over an hour ago.” He pauses as if to let that sink into the stunned silence. A slight smile on his lips, he continues, “They already cleared customs and baggage control and are now headed for car hire. What is it, a six hour drive up here?” He glances at the clock on the mantelpiece, which is showing ten past two. “They should be here by about eight o’clock then. Perhaps closer to nine. Then you’ll be able to tell them anything you want to say. Yourselves.”
We all gape at him. I’m stunned. I expected Ritchie to calm down and respond to his parents’ overtures, but not in so rapid and decisive a fashion.
Ann-Marie gropes blindly for Angus’ hand. “My boy? He’s here? In Scotland. He’s really here and coming home?”
Harry nods. “He is. And he’s not alone. Two of my uncles are with him. Your grandsons. And my mother follows in two days. My other uncle flies in tomorrow from New York. We’ll be having a family reunion.” He turns to me. “Should we invite Auntie Janet, do you think?”
Red Skye at Night, by Ashe Barker