As you might have guessed, we were spellbound by Fiona Lowe’s latest novel Birthright, which is essentially the story of a family experiencing myriad conflicts over the inheritance of their wealthy, cold-hearted matriarch. With inimitable style and grace, Lowe weaves together a saga that not only expresses the tiny moments of explosion that we are all familiar with, but also delves into the dark core of what happens to a family playing tug-of-war with money.
We asked Lowe why she was drawn to writing a multi-generational story, and this is what she said:
Words || Fiona Lowe
I find families endlessly fascinating, my own included. For many years, I worked with families in community health and I witnessed both the wonder and the horror of a blood bond. Family can provide the most wonderful support, but they can also inflict the most treacherous betrayals. Perhaps because of the blood bond those betrayals wound more deeply than an injury inflicted by an outsider. Often our expectations of family are higher, too, and possibly more unrealistic than those we level at friends and acquaintances. It puts all of us in a position to be disappointed.
I write multi-generation novels, because families come with history, baggage, secrets and lies which impact on every generation in different ways. Birthright is a contemporary novel and I explored some very contemporary themes of inheritance, adult sibling rivalry and elder abuse. Back in the day, people tended to get their inheritance around age 50. Today, with longevity and an average age of 76 years, the waiting time is being pushed out significantly. Some families are putting pressure on aged parents to sell their home and provide the inheritance before death to help with the buying of houses and schooling of grandchildren. It’s an emotive issue and coercion does occur. If you Google ‘elder abuse’ and read ‘top stories’, a long list appears outlining the most recent examples. It’s quite terrifying.
Elder abuse also raises the topic, is inheritance a right or a privilege? That is a question many people within families debate and just like a community, a family is made up of a group of people with differing opinions. What one person believes is not always shared by others. Where inheritance and money are concerned, people can often behave in unexpected ways. Often that behaviour can be traced back to their interpretation of their childhood, their ordinal position in the family and their relationship with their parents and individual siblings. All of it can create a toxic mix.
The golden child never questions their share—after all it’s their assumed right. The child who felt overlooked growing up harbours those slights and becomes an adult demanding their share. Often one child becomes, by geographical proximity, the one left to deal with the everyday issues of caring for an ageing parent. This can quickly develop into feelings of resentment and reignite previous childhood arguments. And then there is just the plain greedy relative who swoops in, attracted by the scent of money. The unknown person who coined the phrase, ‘where there’s a will there’s a relative,’ understood human nature.
In Birthright, the Jamieson family are not just dealing with a family fortune. Each sibling is also navigating issues in their adult lives with partners and children. When we partner, we introduce new people into the family and they too will have opinions. Often their view of their many in-laws colours opinions and ramps up past injustices. Of course, they bring their own emotional baggage into the mix and their own experiences of inheritance.
Like all my novels, my inspiration comes from many places; the media, conversations with friends and overheard conversations and personal experience. I, like Sarah in Birthright, am a member of the sandwich generation. What I can say is that after I’d decided on the plot for Birthright and people heard I was writing a book about inheritance, they contacted me with their stories, some of which made my hair stand on end. I was left feeling that as badly behaved as my fictional Jamiesons are, as each member pursues their share of the family fortune, real-life is not only stranger than fiction, it can be a lot worse.