Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Book Which Changed My Life

Winner of the Children's
Book of the Year
and The Guardian
Children's Fiction Award
I remember the day Jacqueline Wilson walked into my life. Her book, The Illustrated Mum, was reviewed in the Guardian newspaper and I went straight out to buy it.

If you don’t know, The Illustrated Mum is about a little girl called Dolphin, her older sister Star, and their tattooed and slightly crazy mother, Marigold. Dolphin thinks Marigold is wonderful and unique, but Star is embarrassed by Marigold's tattoos and off-the-wall behaviour. Marigold meanwhile is obsessed with Star’s father, Micky. When Micky reappears in Marigold’s life, the reunion isn't quite what she had dreamed off, and Dolphin is the one left to deal with her mum’s subsequent mental breakdown.

Why this book affected me emotionally is not a big mystery, although I will spare you the psychoanalysis. How it changed my life is far more relevant and important.

To be honest until I discovered  Jacqueline Wilson, I wasn't much of a reader; I probably had the literary equivalent of attention deficit disorder and if a book didn't grab me from the start, I rarely finished reading it. I didn't read enough to know what I wanted to read and I had no idea that ‘teen’ fiction and ‘real life’ fiction actually existed. Discovering The Illustrated Mum opened my eyes to a genre of fiction I immediately felt at home with.

And I felt at home reading TIM because I’ve been a teacher, a hypno-psychotherapist and I’ve worked in schools where the children have been severely emotionally (and in some cases physically) abused. I am interested in real people, the real life challenges they face and the real life solutions they come up with, and I am especially interested in how children like Dolphin have risen to their challenges and come out the other side.

Not long before I discovered this wonderful book, my natural inclination to write (short stories, essays, letters, etc) was going nowhere and I was feeling creatively unfulfilled. There were only so many short stories I could write before I needed to get my teeth into something meatier.

And then I met The Illustrated Mum. Not only had I at last found a book and a genre I wanted to read, which reflected my personal interest in real people and their emotional journeys, I had found a book I wanted to write. A door had been opened, and there was no going back.

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