Death of a single parent makes compelling material for children's book

PUBLISHED: 16:24 29 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 07 September 2010

The death of a single parent may be unusual fare for a children s book – but Tufnell Park author Damian Kelleher has been gathering many plaudits for writing a book on what must be every child s worst nightmare. Bridget Galton investigates THE death of

The death of a single parent may be unusual fare for a children's book - but Tufnell Park author Damian Kelleher has been gathering many plaudits for writing a book on what must be every child's worst nightmare. Bridget Galton investigates

THE death of a single parent must be just about the most frightening scenario for any child to imagine.

In Damian Kelleher's novel Life Interrupted (Piccadilly Press £6.99) hard-working nurse Pat is diagnosed with a terminal illness, leaving 15-year-old Luke and 11-year-old Jesse grief-stricken and lost.

But the brothers are not alone - their friends and family, particularly gay uncle Stu, rally round to lend support.

Kelleher's first full-length children's book has had fellow writers reaching for superlatives with Jacqueline Wilson describing it as "searingly sad, warm and funny," while Eoin Colfer called it an important book that "everyone should read".

Kelleher, a dad to two teenagers, who lives in Tufnell Park, says he wanted to write something for boys that dealt more with emotions than derring do.

"The boys' market is full of action adventure and I wanted to reflect family life; to invent a world that was very real that goes into meltdown when this small family goes through a terrible tragedy."

Kelleher, who has worked for years in children's publishing including editing Young Telegraph and reviewing children's books for broadcasters and newspapers, says children need help to work through common fears about death and loss.

"Both my parents were around but I would still think and worry about what would happen if my mother died, and there's an anti-smoking advert at the moment that shows a child worrying about their parents' health. It's good to address these issues and talk about them. The book is all about the worst case scenario of what happens when a single parent dies, but it says there is life beyond this. It isn't the end of the world because life keeps moving on."

Kelleher shows Pat's heartbreaking journey as she faces up to the fact that she must leave her boys and starts to cast around for a working solution. It turns out to be unconventional but as Kelleher says, modern family life is rarely straightforward.

"Families come in all shapes and sizes. Pat had never envisaged Stu being an option but it's the way things work out and it works for them - sometimes the right solution is not necessarily the most conventional.

"The dad is never an option because he has another life with a young family a long distance away. I didn't want to make a judgement about that or make him out to be a villain because that's a situation a lot of families are struggling with. But children can be very realistic about these situations. It is awkward, he is an estranged figure but there is no bitterness."

Life Interrupted includes a touching relationship between the cerebral Luke and his football-mad younger brother who uses his passion for sport to distract himself from his grief. Although they are poles apart, they pull together in the end at a crucial and exciting football match.

"Children don't get on very often. Siblings can hardly acknowledge each other's presence and can be horrible to each other, but when the chips are down you know they would look out for each other - that's what families do."

Kelleher, who co-wrote four short books about Black Hole Primary - a school in outer space - is already planning another longer novel for children.

"The wonderful thing about writing for children is they are completely honest with you. If they don't like something they will tell you and give you really frank feedback. I like that."

Life Interrupted is published this week.

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