Tuesday, 24 August 2010

"What's it all about...Billy?!"

The two line pitch.
It’s what I’ve been trained to do.
To find a way of selling a book to customers in two lines…or twenty seconds -  whichever comes first.

I’ve been thinking this way for so long that I thought it would be a piece of the proverbial to knock one out for ‘Being Billy’.

But when I sat down to think about it? Well I sat there looking at a blank piece of paper for a long long time.
It’s even more embarrassing when people ask you in conversation what your book’s about and you falter, mumbling something that sounds as riveting as, well, reading this probably….

But I shan’t give up. I’m still confident that I’ll come up with something pithy before the 6th of January. And in the mean time, here’s a slightly longer idea of what ‘Being Billy’ is all about….

I was fantastically naïve at the age of 21. Yep, even greener than I am now. So when I started work in a children’s home in Hull, I honestly thought that the greatest thing that could happen to a kid in care was to finally be adopted. And for some children, it was.

For others though, it wasn’t the fairytale ending it should’ve been.
Some had been in care for years, living with eight other kids and a constantly revolving roster of carers. It was an existence that left them institutionalised.
A lot is made of jailbirds struggling to adopt to life outside the prison walls (anyone remember that scene in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ when the elderly ex-lag hangs himself?), and I always thought it must be the same for these kids.

I mean, how do you cope, at such a young age (when all you have known is this communal, regimented upbringing), with suddenly being part of an ‘orthodox’ family, where it’s just you, a mum and dad, maybe a sibling or two?
How do you adjust or learn to trust the same two people putting you to bed or getting you up in the morning when for as long as you can remember, you’ve had half a dozen people a day looking after you in shifts. Adults who tell you they care deeply for you, before clocking off to go home to their real family?

It was heart-breaking seeing fostering or adoption placements breaking down as a result.
How do you recover at the age of ten, when you’re told by the second family that promised to look after you, that it’s not working out, that you’re going back to the home you spent years trying to escape from.

That’s the situation Billy finds himself in at the start of the book.
And understandably, he’s angry, violent, and disillusioned.

The one positive thing in his life is his younger siblings, nine year old twins, who live with him in the home. Billy is both a mum and a dad to them, and fights daily to give them as ‘normal’ an upbringing as he can.
But when their mum, a recovering alcoholic, starts to get her act together, and makes noises about taking the twins home again, but not Billy, well his world really starts to implode.

As you’ve probably guessed from reading this, the book is a comedy….influenced by movie classics like American Pie….
…the weird thing is though, despite the edgy, emotional things that happen throughout, there is humour in the book, honest. Because the kids that made me want to write it were funny, not maudlin.
They certainly didn’t sit about and mope about how crappy their life was. Many of them didn’t know any different, after all.
They were certainly mixed up, many felt displaced or unloved, but they had a spirit, a resilience that no-one, not even an abusive parent, could kick out of them.

During any given shift (which ranged from eight to about thirty hours) I could be swore at (and I mean creative cussing from a six year old that would make Chubby Brown blush), punched, kicked, scratched or spat on. There were days when I’d be on the end of all of the above, but the amazing thing was the same kid who’d inflicted all these things on you, was as likely to come up to you at some point in the same day and ask to talk to you, or want a hug, or to share something with you.
These kids were a brilliant bag of contradictions, and working with them was just humbling.

That’s a big reason that I chose to write about Billy. I wanted to take this kid, the kid who you’d cross the street to avoid, and I wanted to try and show why he behaved like he did. To show people that no matter what crap flew at him, he had the bottle and the desire to fight his way out of it. That in fact, he had more spirit and desire than many of us combined.

Whether I’ve managed to achieve this in a way that makes for fun reading, or whether it’s a subject people will want to read about, remains to be seen.
But I had a bloody good time trying…..

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