Monday, 29 September 2014
In life, being interested in exploring boundaries can be somewhat hazardous both personally and professionally and I've had a bit of experience of that. When you're young taking risks can feel thrilling and soul-destroying in equal measure. Having had a bit too much of the soul-destroying, in life, I'm trying to get better at having clearer boundaries. Thankfully writing is a place where I can still take risks though without causing too much damage and I realised today that issues of boundaries come up in lots of my writing. In fact, I'm concurrently writing three books at the moment and boundaries are a feature of all of them.
Recently I've been editing my young adult novel, Straight on Till Morning, for the umpteenth time. The book deals with the relationship between Lorna: a young, middle class volunteer literacy tutor and Tag: her homeless student. It's based on some of my early work experience in community and youth work, where I'll admit that I struggled with maintaining my professional boundaries. When you're a compassionate human being, it's hard to know where to draw the line between a professional role and the responsibility to be humane, hard to go home at the end of the day and leave your work behind. Lorna also struggles with this when she bumps into Tag when he is begging in Sheffield city centre.
She looked at Tag. She should bring him with her. He must be frozen. It seemed ridiculous to leave him here. She was sitting close enough to him that she could feel him shivering in the cold. Then she remembered the last time she’d been to town with her mum, when she’d stopped to buy The Big Issue. “Do you have to do that, darling?” her mum had said, like she’d been caught picking her nose. Somehow when she pictured Tag sitting across the table from her mum with a cappuccino, it just didn’t work.
In spite of Lorna's initial recognition that she and Tag are from different worlds, gradually the boundary between these worlds becomes eroded and the pair embark on a romantic relationship, not to mention an exciting road trip.
I'm also involved in working on the final draft of a book for the Donor Conception Network which will be published next year. Entitled Archie and Jemima: The Family Detectives, the book tells the story of donor conceived twins as they unravel their personal and family history as part of a school project. It's a factual book told as fiction and it is also a book full of grey areas or, more accurately, a colourful patchwork, as it deals with the essence of what makes a family in a diverse and modern society. It's an uplifting book that affirms each of us as unique individuals with an important part to play in this world.
The new novel that I'm working on, provisionally entitled, Perhaps, also deals with boundaries, this time between friendship, sex and love. Twenty years on from when they missed their chance to be together, Jack (a married father), and Miriam (a divorced mother), continue their friendship online and their conversations push the boundaries of platonic friendship to their limits. Seen through different lenses, their communication could be perceived as harmless fun, philosophical engagement, true love or dangerous flirtation. It makes both of them question the paths that they have taken through life and what they want to do with their remaining years.
All of my writing (aside from Archie and Jemima) has elements of autobiography in it, although what grows from a seed of something factual mutates into something that ultimately is entirely fictional. Sometimes I work stuff out in fiction in the same way that poets often explore their own life experiences in poetry. Usually I don't know what I'm trying to work out until the book is finished. This was the case with my children's book, Under the Indigo Waves, which started from a memory of myself as a child on a beach but which ended up being a book about grief following the death of my father.
Like Miriam, in Perhaps, I'm approaching middle age (or maybe I'm already there) and wondering how to spend the second half of my life. I've not done things in a conventional way, although, as Archie and Jemima know, there isn't really a normal way to do things these days. On Friday night I sat with my daughter, Edie, looking at photos from my past. For the first time she realised that I'd been married before I met her father from whom I am now separated. I was worried how she might react but she thought it was hilarious that I'd been married and not had children and then had children without getting married. Thankfully, she's a free spirit, like me, and wasn't phased at all. But, as I know in my role as her mother, even a free spirit needs boundaries. I started my most recent book, Perhaps, because, like all of my books, it was the book I needed to write. Perhaps I'm writing this book to think about what I might do next. And, as time, and the writing, goes on, I feel a shift taking place within me. My first book, Once Upon a Pony Tail, ended with the rejection of the fairy tale happy ending of marriage and a reassertion of individuality and freedom. But I have a feeling that Perhaps might end up going in the opposite direction. I have a feeling now that having clearer boundaries might actually lead to greater freedom in a relationship and in life. And I have a glimmer of hope that perhaps I might have found someone to explore these boundaries with.