Books: Will You Catch Me? by Jane Elson
- Credit: Archant
Kentish Town author’s latest book timed to come out during Children of Alcoholics Week is based on personal experience of a boozy dad who mocked her dyslexia
As a child, Jane Elson lived in fear of her father’s moods.
A workaholic in a highly pressured environment, he often indulged in heavy after-work drinking - and she never knew whether he would come through the door drunk.
Sometimes jolly, alcohol could also make him cruel; like mocking her (undiagnosed) dyslexia by giving her the wrong spelling, then laughing when she wrote it in her schoolbook.
Or touting her sponsored swim form around the pub, telling his mates ‘don’t worry she can’t swim.’
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Just to prove him wrong, the dyspraxic Elson doggy-paddled ten lengths and made him pay for their drunken pledges.
“His life revolved around the pub,” she says.
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“I never knew when I heard the sound of the key in the lock what mood he would be in. Even when he was in a jolly happy mood his jokes were too much. Fortunately my mum was a lovely kind lady, and I am who I am because he told me I couldn’t do things.”
A former actress and comedy improviser, the Kentish Town resident is now an award-winning playwright and author, who runs confidence boosting creative writing and comedy courses for dyslexic children.
She has also penned a book about the child of an alcoholic. Timed to come out during the 10th annual Children of Alcoholics week, Will You Catch Me? is aimed at 9-12-year-olds.
Set on the fictional North West London Beckham estate, it features Nell, who lives with her alcohol dependent mum, tortoise Bob Marley, Guinea pigs Asbo and Chaos plus goldfish and gerbils.
“It’s told from Nell’s perspective. She’s a fesity brave little girl who never knows what she’s going to come home to, whether her mum will be drunk or not, or whether there will be enough food in the cupboard,” says Elson.
“She’s constantly let down but she has a lovely neighbour called Aunty Lou who helps out and gives her a refuge when her mum is drinking. All her animals can also go for a sleepover next door.”
The story revolves around a school project on Royal mistress Nell Gwynne, and Nell’s bid to find her dad.
“For children who aren’t affected by these issues it’s a funny moving adventure story. For children who are affected, I wanted to reach out to them and say you are not alone.”
Just as Nell tries to be a good daughter so that her mum will stop drinking, Elson says the children of drunks often think it’s their fault and things will improve if they behave differently.
“Nacoa (National Association Children of Alcoholics) is such an amazing charity. They have the six c’s; I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, I can’t cure it, I can take care of myself, I can communicate my feelings, I can make healthy choices.
“It’s important for children to realise that the adult meant to be looking after them has to want to stop. In the end Nell accepts that and realises it’s the people around her who are her family.”
Callum Best is a patron of Nacoa and has spoken about his own experience with an alcoholic dad.
“When I heard him talking about his father George, I thought it was very moving and very brave.
“One in five children or 2.6 million have a parent with an alcohol problem. This story was so important because every child deserves to see themselves in a book. I felt it had to be written.”
Elson’s previous book How To Fly With Broken Wings is also set on the Beckham estate and is about a boy with Asperger’s.
As someone who was bullied at school for her special needs she makes a point of speaking up for children enduring the same.
“I see dyslexia as a gift. It’s hard for us to make logical steps because our brains think too fast. When you understand that it’s like a revelation. I was told I was stupid but I learned as an adult that isn’t accurate. I have just won an award for my book but I wonder how many children are going through the same as I did.”
Will You Catch Me is published by Hodder Children’s Books £6.99, Children of Alcoholics week runs until February 16. For further details see nacoa.org.uk. Nacoa’s 24 hour helpline number for children is 0800-358-3456.