Monthly Archives: July 2013

‘No Matter What’ – from diary to published book

‘No Matter What’ is my memoir about adopting two children from the UK care system.  Yesterday I received a parcel containing six unblemished copies of the book from the publisher Jessica Kingsley.  The process of writing it has been long and difficult and I’m not ashamed to say that the sight and feel of those books, my books, brought a tear to my eye.


A few of my blog readers have asked me about my writing process and have asked for advice on how they may write something of their own.  So here, as succinctly as I can manage, is how I did it.

1.  Living the Dream

Some say ‘write about what you know’, others say the opposite.  I have lived every bright light and dark corner of my story and felt I had to tell it.  I had a singular purpose: to show what it is like to parent an adopted child who has suffered neglect and abuse in their early lives.

2.  Recording

Twelve years ago I started keeping a diary again. I felt I was on the cusp of living something out of the ordinary and knew it would be important not to lose any of it.  It was also an outlet.  Every moan, bitch, sadness, disappointment, frustration – the diary got it.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was real.


3.  First Steps

It was only when life had settled a little that I found the time and emotional energy to start writing properly.  I wrote a couple of self-conscious chapters in the second person, past tense (‘she cried into her corn flakes’).

4.  Serendipity

Although I am the least well-connected person you could come across, one day in the most unlikely of places I got talking to someone.  She was a literary agent.  She took a look at my chapters, liked them and suggested I rewrite them in the first person, present tense (‘I cry into my corn flakes’). Lots of serious writers are sniffy about books written in the first person, present tense.  It is looked upon as a bit of a chav in the library.  It worked for me.  Mother Luck was taking care of me that day.

5.  Hard Graft

I wrote for hours and hours and hours.  I wrote at the kitchen table and in bed.  I planned, I hand wrote, I typed, I redrafted, redrafted and redrafted again.  I showed my work to my agent.  She and her business partner took me on. They said ‘we think we can get this published, let’s write a proposal’.  I bought a desk.

6.  A Selling Job

The proposal was a bore to prepare, but it forced me to think hard about what I was writing and for whom. It contained a synopsis, chapter summaries and market information.  The agency sent out the proposal to a list of publishers.  Within a few days a large publisher said ‘yes’.  That was easy!

7.  Developing a Thick Skin

After weeks of saying ‘yes’ to the book (and please answer these hundred and one questions by tomorrow morning), the publisher then said ‘no’ and we were back to square one.  It was a big disappointment.  We brushed ourselves down, went back out to publishers and the same thing happened again.

8.  Blogging and Tweeting

Despite the ‘two yeah but no buts’, the feedback coming from publishers was positive.  They liked the book but didn’t think there would be a big enough market for a memoir about adoption.  My agent said the words ‘blog’ and ‘twitter’.  By this point I was parenting two traumatised children, I had a gardening business and I could barely open an email.  It was a challenge.  After watching many YouTube videos I launched my blog with a post about the London riots.

9.  Serendipity (2)

One winter morning I woke up with a frozen shoulder and could barely dress myself, let alone pick up a spade. The upside was that suddenly I had lots of time on my hands. (Mother Luck, frustrated at my lack of focus, had sent me a a sign I could not ignore. Ouch.)  Even typing with one hand I made great headway with the book and the blog. The blog was noticed by Community Care who paid me to write some blogs for them.  The end was in sight.  Once my shoulder recovered I decided to give up my gardening business and finish the book.

10.  Signing the Contract

My agent sent out the completed book and the proposal to a final set of publishers.  Within a few days Jessica Kingsley Publishers had said ‘yes’ and meant it.  That was in January.  Within a few days now the book will be available to order from Jessica Kingsley, from Amazon and other websites and may even make it into a book shop.  I have been lucky to receive some positive reviews from some very generous people and I am grateful to all of them.

In no particular order they are Baroness Oona King, Sir Martin Narey, Lorraine Pascale, Carrie Grant, Hugh Thornbery, Professor Harry Ferguson, Camilla Pemberton, Louise Michelle Bomber, Sherry Malik and Jane Evans.

Thank you.

Yes indeed, where are the grownups Fraser McAlpine?

Yesterday Fraser McAlpine wrote a piece for The Guardian Comment is Free in which he paints a less than generous picture of adopters.  We are queasy, infertile, middle-class folk who seek a ready-made Boden child to fit neatly into the void we have constructed for them to fill.  We catalogue shop for our child, casting aside an unflattering picture or a ‘working class’ name , ‘not thinking too hard about it’.  Yes, we are like an army of Katie Hopkins blindly trying to make the world conform to our narrow view of it.  ‘Tarquin’ we say to each other ‘if only he was called Tarquin I would fit in so much better in the prep school playground’.  We try to erase our child’s history and culture because it doesn’t fit with our hygienic middle-class standards.  We are ashamed of where our children come from.  And in never quite accepting them, we in turn will shame our children.

‘You have to ask yourself who is adopting whom. Whose needs are being met here, and where are the grownups?’ he says from on high.  He sits on an adoption panel you see, judging these feckless idiots who come before him shopping for a child.

Adopters, and I am one, have for too long been gagged and shushed and told to get on with it. There are often numerous complex security issues which prevent us from speaking out, we are isolated from each other geographically and isolated from a society in general which has a low-level of understanding of the long-term damage done to a child by early neglect and abuse.  Our families  are an uncomfortable reminder, best left hidden, that people abuse their children  And we are often knackered and tearful and emotional.  Caring for a traumatised child is very, very hard.  It doesn’t leave many adopters best placed to refute offensive and prejudiced articles like Fraser McAlpine’s. We have perhaps ourselves become a void which others can fill with their straw men and straw women, hideous characters of wild imaginings, who have been created to be sneered at and misjudged.  And oh what fun to liken us to Katie Hopkins.  It makes so many more people instantly dislike us.

I can’t be bothered to dispute the straw woman.  She is a ridiculous construction and I’ve got more important battles to fight.

Through social networking sites and blogs, adopters and adoptees are starting to connect with each other, to share experiences, to offer each other support and to learn from each other.  It is a strong community which explores the dark times as well as the good.  It is honest, welcoming and above all else very funny.  And although we come from all walks of life (no, not just the middle class) what draws us together is the similarity in our experiences and the overwhelming feeling that our families are misunderstood and ill-served.   We kicked up a bit of a storm in our small but enthusiastic patch of twitter last night over Fraser McAlpine’s piece.  We decided that he knows jack shit about us.  From now on, we’d rather speak for ourselves.  Our new blogging hub The Adoption Social is one of the places we do and rather well.

A cat called Ron

‘Mummy, mummy, mummy, I want cat, please please can we have cat?  I would love cat.  I would take care of cat and love cat.  Mummy?  Mummy mummy please?  If I tidy room I can get cat? Mummy?’

Ahh, sweet isn’t it?  It is. The first time you hear it.  It’s kind of endearing the second, third and fourth times too.  But after years and years of mental torture I just wanted it to end.  I turned up at our nearest RSPCA centre and begged them for a cat, any cat, even a bald one.  They didn’t have a singleton but two sisters who would have to come as a job lot.  ’Brilliant’ I thought naively, ‘one adopted cat each for our adopted children’.

This about five years ago.  Our children were both at primary school.  Even without cats, life was very hard.  Our eldest child was a boiling mass of anger, our youngest was always touching, scratching, breaking, hiding.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  I must have been out of my mind (I was).

The adorable, outward-going friendly cat couldn’t take the pace in our house and ran away after only a few months.  We put up posters and knocked doors and then when it became clear the cat had gone for good, oh how we grieved (and raged and scribbled and smashed).

The cat that stayed was the timid, shy one, who didn’t like to be stroked, didn’t want to sit on a lap or be dressed as a fairy.  Her name is Ron.  She had a VERY hard time in our house.  She was pursued relentlessly, shut into bedrooms, put into boxes, fought over, shouted over. Children with attachment difficulties can be unspeakably horrible to animals and mine were no exception.


As I was at home more than the children were and not all that partial to cats, Ron gradually started to bond with me.  She would follow me around, sit under my desk and eventually sleep on my lap.  The children watched this relationship develop and were mad with jealousy.  ’You like the cat more than you like us’ they would scream.  And then Ron would be pursued with extra vigour.

Although I love Ron dearly (and enjoy in a dastardly way the preference Ron gives me), her arrival into our family was almost more than I could cope with at the time, on top of the many of layers of trauma behaviours and wobbly attachment difficulties.  I should have waited until our children were older and life was a little easier and not given in to the incessant nagging.

NB The author has since acquired two guinea pigs ‘Bart’ and ‘Treacle’ and a tank of miscellaneous fish.