Wednesday, 28 August 2013

It Takes a Village Full of Kevlar....

It takes an entire village to raise a child, so the saying goes.
I’d amend that to say it takes a village full of Kevlar to raise a teenage boy.

I came to this conclusion last week whilst foraging for blackberries by the river with my mate Gill Hoffs & her gorgeous little boy. ( Our day out came 2 days after I had gone through the most nerve wracking morning of my life, and I was feeling quite reflective.

Last year, during my first year gathering blackberries, I did a few things right, a few things wrong.  I wore long sleeves. GOOD. I didn't wear gloves. BAD. This year, I swapped that around. I wore gloves and saved my manicure (a rare accomplishment for me, nice nails). I forgot long sleeves. My arms looked like cat scratching poles. All weekend, through jam making, smoothie making, freezing punnets for winter treats, my skin stung, puckered, itched and bubbled from contact with nettles and berry thorns.  But….that jam is so divine it was worth every ounce of pain and hassle. I might even go back in a few days and get more berries, heaven knows there’s gallons more there. This time I'll wear long sleeves.

And so to Kevlar. I’m short. My 16yo son calls me a hobbit. The whole time I was in those berry bushes, I just wanted to push in deeper, climb up a bit higher, get every juicy berry I could see. I wanted Kevlar and a stepladder.

As I was wishing for more protection on my arms, I was thinking back to a few days previous. To Thursday. To the day when Mike and I, along with other UK parents of 16 year olds, waited with a clenched fist of dread in our stomachs, for the results of GCSE tests.

It’s been no secret to any one in my real life circle of family and friends that raising our 16yo son has been a battle since day one. From a very small age he has been an uncontrollable ball of energy, a screamer of questions, a speeding rocket of dangerous inclinations. When he was 7 we were told he had ADHD. Not great news since I have Multiple Sclerosis, and find many things in life a challenge.

School was a huge trauma. Not that he wasn't good, he was. He saved all his acts of defiance and vandalism for home. At school he was sweet, kind, goofy, charming. But he couldn't sit still, couldn't do quiet work. Couldn't do homework. Couldn't stop distracting everyone else.

In primary school it wasn't too much of a problem as they had a strict rota standardized across all years for English & Maths homework. I always knew what was due and when. High school was a NIGHTMARE. We spent years fighting with him and teachers trying to keep on top of assignments, projects, trips, money due, evening programs. Simple things like remembering his PE kit or food for cookery class were just beyond him. Each time he missed a homework assignment he got a detention. Each time he got a detention, he was grounded. It got to the point that family teased him and pointed to the grass & sky asking him how long it had been since he’d seen them. Girlfriends threatened to dump him because they never spent time together. We despaired because he wasn't stupid. Far from it. He was blindingly intelligent. Just unfocused, dithery, flighty. His grades never reflected how sharp he was. We were frustrated, and so was he.

Then this year, in his last year of school before he heads off to college, he suddenly  GOT IT. He went crazy, astonished us all. When he walked out of the school hall waving his results, when we saw THAT LOOK- that look of personal pride on his face, it was worth all the battle scars. Worth all the tears (his & ours), worth all the screaming and grounding and arguing. All the money spent on tutors. He got brilliant grades that finally were a true reflection of all the cleverness hiding behind his disjointed struggling.

But looking back on it, I still wish I’d been better prepared. I wish I’d had some sort of Kevlar, something to protect me a little from the pain and stress of all the years that had gone before. Something to help me deal with it better. I often worried that in my efforts to help his future, I was permanently damaging our relationship.

Good Jam. Good kids. It takes some effort. But it’s worth every bit of it. Especially when they have that look on their faces. That look that says WOW, finally. I feel like a worthwhile person.

That look that says that they found in themselves what you knew was there all along.


 Yummmm. Want some jam? Too bad, we're not sharing!

The boy with his guitar. He got a Distinction* in Performing Arts, an A in Music.

 The reward for pulling his grade up in math from a fail to a pass? A designer Karl Pilkington t-shirt.
 (Do I know how to score mum points or what?)  (go on. ask me where you can get one, I know you want to! Tom Davies on twitter @1TD)

Thursday, 1 August 2013


So as you will  note, I haven’t blogged for nearly 3 months, although my lovely mate Kevin Bufton stepped in for me in June.

Life got in the way & I had this tick list on my desk…and well… THIS GIRL GOT BUSY!!!

-The back garden is completed. Stoned, benched, planted, beautiful.
-There is now a pole and blinds on my kitchen sliding glass door….we've only lived here 7 years!!!
-I joined the PTA at my kid’s high school, I have the scary job of Secretary.
-I organised and attended a fabulous writers day conference!
-I  lost 7lbs.
-I grew my hair out long, went blonder.
-Had clear outs and sent a million and one bags to the charity shop.
-My oldest son finished high school, receiving awards for Drama & Music. (very proud mum!) We are waiting with baited breath to see his final grades.
-I developed the habit of walking every single day even if it’s only around the block to flop exhausted on the couch. Sometimes it’s MUCH further. It does wonders to clear the mind.
-I learned a little origami, read a few books….and I managed to NOT write for a grand total of 6 weeks.


I learned to LOVE editing! (major hurdle leaped, believe me! Next one is synopsis writing!)

I never made it to my original goal of 4 months of not writing. I realised only a few weeks into it that I couldn't bear it and it took much less time for me to find my writing MOJO again. I ditched the project that was making me so insanely unhappy, worked on editing something that’s been sat completed on my hard drive but ignored for 3 yrs. Then, after I realised I didn't really care too much for that one, I felt ready to tackle the one thing that really needed priority.

The MS that I've had on sub for over a year
This project, which has been a labour of love (in fits & starts) for about 4 years, recently got 2 rejections. Happily for me they were not form rejections, and both came after full requests. The people I subbed to were very generous and gave extremely helpful comments that have guided my edits.

*I can't tell you how long I spent considering this manuscript. (a YEAR all together, actually) I do think you're almost there. I mostly found it a little difficult and jarring with the multiple POV changes throughout the piece. I think you need to work to make these feel a little bit more smooth.

*I think you've got a really lovely idea/world going on here. Surprisingly, the only character I connected with was XXXX and I think the reason comes down to story-craft: The other point of view characters tell us most of the interesting stuff they have to say by way of remembering it, not living it. XXXX's sections, on the other hand, are very much in the present, seeing and interpreting the world around her rather than focusing on delivering backstory. I wonder if it should start with the invasion, or if the timeline doesn't need to change just that the characters should be more in the present, allowing the details of the backstory to filter in much more gradually over the course of the story. I don't have a good answer, but I know that while I liked certain moments, it's not what I'm looking for as a whole.

So, using those comments, I have gone crazy editing and have condensed my POV characters down to the views of only 2 separate families, 5 people in total. That’s down from regular contributions of those five plus frequent cameo appearances of an additional 4 characters. By eliminating those four I have lost some commentary I really loved, but kept closer to the story line, weeded out extraneous scenes and a lot of self-indulgence. A work that I thought was so READY has changed and developed. (And hopefully improved!)

In doing all this I discovered something about the book as well. My target audience was wrong. I'd originally restrained myself from including things I felt were important to the story in order to keep it YA friendly. Some of that came back.

In the edits, it also became clear that in losing all that other stuff-Urgh... I had to ADD back 700 words – a whole scene- that I’d cut in order to remain …a bit more delicate.  There goes all my hard work editing OUT things.

- Honestly this word count is starting to fluctuate more than my waistline.

Editing showed me that the book isn’t YA. It’s more brutal. A bit sexier.  A bit more grown up and emotionally difficult.  It fits much better in a fresh classification that’s being bandied around and heralded as the next great thing - NEW ADULT. It’s aimed at the after high school, maybe college attending,  pre mortgage age group and it’s all about firsts in life: First job, first real love, first time moving away from home & being responsible for yourself, first sex (if you want to include that, but you don’t have to). So, NEW ADULT, Sci-fi Dystopian is the jacket this baby will be wearing when I start to show it off to dinner guests (after a few beta readers trash it first).

During this process I have discovered a serious love of EDITING. It scared me at first, but then it soon became a blood bath. It was as if I had a dumpster parked outside my laptop and I was practicing bank shots, chucking words at it left, right and center. I even coined a phrase for the brutality I was treating my MS with:


I am the destroyer of adjectives. The eliminator of repetition. The hacker of overblown prose.

Adding those 700 words back has seriously impacted all that effort,  but…it was needed.  The shaving and scooping isn't done yet.  I'm just hoping it isn't too long before I get to a static place, a rather smaller, more perfect version of what I started out with.

A bit like the same wish I have for my poor waistline.