Monthly Archives: June 2013

Where I’ve Been: Writing, Parenting & Traits of Autism

Typical Family Scenario

You may not have noticed (and I forgive you if you didn’t!) but I’ve had quite a break from the writing scene.

I had three novels published by Piatkus in 2002/2003/2004 and was starting to feel like a proper, bonafide writer.  I’d begun my first novel when I was pregnant with my first child, continuing when she was a baby and having lengthy daytime sleeps.  I wrote my second novel while pregnant with my second child and my daughter was happily skipping off to playgroup for several hours a day.  I was tired pretty much all the time but I was happy.  I felt like I was enjoying the best of both worlds.

By the time I wrote my third novel my youngest child was a toddler and I was starting to flag.  Time was more fractured and the plot of my book existed in my mind like a continually interupted conversation.

It didn’t matter.  I imagined life would soon get easier.  In a year or so I’d have one child at school and the other at playgroup.  I daydreamed about uninterrupted hours of writing followed by afternoon baking sessions and walks in the park.  A perfect, balanced life.  Or so I thought…

When my eldest child was at school and my youngest had just joined playgroup I started to write my fourth novel.  It was then that my best laid plans started to unravel.

My son took to playgroup the way a lion cub might take to being poked with a stick.  He wasn’t happy.  He isolated himself from the group, would barracade himself in the kitchen or sit in the toilets with his hands over his ears.  He fought anyone, child or adult, who attempted to engage him in any activity not Lego related and he took huge issue with playgroup’s preoccupation with singing.  I was getting phone calls several times a week.  I’d turn up and find him sobbing, his face purple and his t-shirt clinging to his clammy body.  It was becoming apparent to all of us that this was more than just toddler tantrums.

Incidents became more frequent until they were happening on an almost daily basis.  Writing what my agent at the time described as ‘warm, fuzzy fiction’ was impossible when my mind was in turmoil.  Bedtime reading had gone from the latest Lisa Jewell to child psychology manuals.  I’d pour over Toddler Taming and 1-2-3 Magic  in tears wondering where I was going wrong.  I couldn’t get to grips with the novel I was writing and the deadline was looming.  The pressure was too much and I decided something had to give.

I told my agent and publisher that my heart was no longer in it.  I’d been published in my early twenties and wanted to explore other areas, maybe write a children’s book and get off the merry-go-round that was the expectation of a book a year.  They were understanding and let me leave my contract.  It was a huge relief not to have to worry about the people waiting for me to produce a book but it didn’t stop me wanting to write.  I had little time or headspace for novels so instead I experimented with shorter pieces whenever I could.  I worked on assignments for an Open University english degree, I wrote several short stories, a children’s book which the lovely Stephanie Zia added to her growing list at Blackbird Digital, and mulled over my next novel every chance I could.

Mainly, however, I concentrated on my son.  I trawled the various child and educational psychologists, fighting for extra support when he started school and laising with teachers and SENCOS when it all started to go wrong again.  I sat in meetings with as many as 13 psychology and education professionals, all of us scratching our heads, coming up with new strategies and new people to request help from.  We tried three different schools and I home-educated twice, then we were granted a 12 week stay at a diagnostic centre where they started to get to grips with my son.

He has a neuro-development disorder, they decided, an umbrella term which autism sits under, and traits of Asperger’s Syndrome.  The diagnosis and the ton of paperwork that went with it was enough to get him a place in a small mainstream school which specialises in high functioning autism amongst other things and we finally started to have some success.

With my son back in school and doing well I was able to devote some quality time to writing again.  I started a novel The Boy in the Wide Sky based loosely on my experiences of having a child somewhere on the spectrum and finished it in April this year.

Now comes the scary part: shopping it around and waiting for a response (thankfully agents have started taking email submissions since the last time I did this!)

To keep me from pacing the floor and continually refreshing my inbox, I’ve started my fifth book and also updated my website – hence this blog!  Hopefully I’ll have some news to put here soon…

In the meantime wish me luck and thanks for visiting x