I am always delighted to host a guest post from an author, but it doesn’t quite feel right saying that this time. I am delighted, but I’m also proud and humbled to have been asked. This is no ordinary guest post. This is one has a message that desperately needs to be heard…
My brilliant editor, Naomi Greenwood and also my friends often joke with me that it takes all the emergency services to get me through a book.
It’s true it does! For Will You Catch Me? I spoke to firefighters, ambulance drivers, doctors and children’s social care. I am obsessive with my research and it takes me to all sorts of unexpected, fascinating places. More importantly, because of the issues I write about, I have a responsibility to get it right.
I had known for years that I wanted to write a children’s book, about a young girl, Nell Hobs, whose mother is an alcoholic. In 2017, the headlines started hitting the media that one in five children have a parent with an alcohol problem. Calum Best spoke so movingly in interviews about his father George Best and talked about his role as patron of Nacoa – The National Association for Children of Alcoholics. I knew that the time to write the book was now.
Nacoa are a wonderful charity. I read and researched everything I could and learned how they have a helpline for children who are experiencing difficulties relating to parental alcohol abuse at home. Their generosity helped me understand what life is like for children facing this very hidden problem. And of course, there was my own personal experience…
My friend Curtis, who works for children’s social care, became the resident social worker on Will You Catch Me? I met him whilst doing research in youth courts for my play about young offenders and dyslexia, Leonardo Stole My Crayon. The cry of ‘ask Curtis’ came from my editor on several occasions as we were ironing out the finer details of some parts of the book.
Nell Hobs in Will You Catch Me? is very good friends with her Jamaican neighbour who she affectionately calls Aunty Lou. While I’ve got some experience of Caribbean cuisine I needed to ensure the detail was spot on so I phoned my friend Marcia, a talented cook and we had long discussions about food and socialising. I didn’t need Marcia to remind me that rum cake wouldn’t be a good idea in a picnic basket packed for Nell and her mum!
My favourite research was on Nell Gwyn, the famous Restoration actress, who becomes Nell Hobs’ honorary ancestor and appears to her, several times in Will You Catch Me? to guide her journey.
I would go up to Covent Garden to retrace the steps of Nell Gwyn, walking up to the top of Drury Lane and Stukeley Street which stands on the spot of the infamous Cole Yard Alley where she was born. I walked down to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and imagined what it was like when the Kings Theatre stood there where Nell Gwyn worked as an Orange Girl and then performed as an actress to the delight of King Charles the Second. I met Kate, a theatre costume designer in St Martin in the Field where Nell Gwyn is buried under the alter. She gave me a wonderful lesson on the costumes of the period. I visited Tring Park Performing Arts, where it is said that Nell visited King Charles and that if you run round the Nell Gwyn Monument in Tring Park three times, holding your breath, you will see the ghost of Nell Gwyn! My most exciting discovery was that Nell Gwyn had lived at Lauderdale House, just round the corner from Nell Hobs’ Beckham Estate. Katherine, the manager, gave me a brilliant insight into what it would have been like when Nell Gwyn lived there.
The research for Will You Catch Me? carried out over a year and a half led me to places I never expected to go. I am so touched by the help everyone gave me but the most important came from my contact with Nacoa. There have been many people in my life with alcohol problems, including my father. I have a deep understanding of the issues the children that Nacoa help face. This goes deeper than any research ever could. Nacoa have given me an understanding of how my relationship with my father was affected by his heavy drinking and how this has affected me as an adult. This of course really helped me write Will You Catch Me? from a place of understanding and truth.
Huge thanks to Jane Elson for asking me to host such an important, heartfelt guest post. You can read my review of Will You Catch Me? here.
The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics helpline number is 0800-358-3456. Children of Alcoholics week (10-16 February) aims to raise awareness of the lives of the 2.6 million children in the UK who are growing up affected by parental alcohol problems. For further information, including ways you can help and a downloadable #URNotAlone poster, please visit their website www.coaweek.org.uk or www.nacoa.org.uk
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