I’m thrilled to be welcoming Rosie Howard to the blog with an excellent guest blog on how she combines writing with raising her family. Rosie has a teenage daughter and a son with additional needs and has been an active campaigner for disability rights. Rosie’s novel, The Homecoming, was published by Alison & Busby in February 2018 and is the first book in the Havenbury series.
Maddy fled the idyllic market town of Havenbury Magna three years ago, the scene of a traumatic incident she revisits most clearly in her dreams. Even so, when she is called back to help at the Havenbury Arms when her godfather Patrick suffers a heart attack, she is unprepared for the welter of emotions her return provokes. Psychologist and ex-army officer Ben is sure he can help Maddy to resolve her fears, until he finds himself falling for her, and struggling with a recently uncovered family secret of which Maddy is blissfully unaware. Then Maddy’s mother, Helen, arrives and Patrick himself must confront a few uncomfortable truths about his history and the pub’s future.
Over to Rosie…
First, thank you so much for kindly inviting me to contribute to your blog. It is – as always – an absolute pleasure to chat to people who love to read. Same! Also, who doesn’t love the opportunity to talk about themselves…?
Writing novels is a fantastic excuse for not having a proper job. It is only with the launch of my new Havenbury series that I have started writing full time. It is exciting to see my books getting out there and to really feel – when I sit down to write – that it is going to be read. That said, there is nothing “full time” about my work, because family comes first, or at least that’s what my family tells me. Often. If it isn’t my teenage daughter demanding extraordinary amounts of money for school trips (Florence? Really?) it is my son asking where his rugby socks are like I might actually know – his confidence is touching. Then there is my black Labrador Rosie (yep, my writing name) who inserts herself into the tiny space under my writing desk where she huffs, puffs and groans like a live sex show and makes it impossible for me to put my feet anywhere without treading on her. This is in the hope that if she is constantly front of mind I might decide to feed her or walk her. The cat is the most annoying family member though; she does this weird passive-aggressive thing where she clearly wants me to give her some food but would rather chew her own paws off than ask. Of course, I feed her, and then she makes sure I am watching as she sniffs it and turns up her nose in disgust before stalking off. Funny how it’s always gone the next time I look. I do have a husband too, by the way, I definitely remember seeing him, but I can’t quite remember where. It might have been the shed. He likes it out there. I can see the appeal.
Gentle whingeing aside though, my life is intentionally as close to my Havenbury world as I can get it. We live in a beautiful area at the foot of the Sussex Downs, just a few miles from the sea. Our little house has four windows and a door in the middle, like a child’s drawing, and is next door to the village pub; our little community is close-knit, with its school, playing fields, village hall, church, a row of shops and active Parish Council… living here we feel connected. There are no secrets or at least none that stay secret for long. Characters are larger than life, crises are huge (or seem that way) and there is a nosy/supportive community which is both a blessing and frequently infuriating. Our local market town is just like Havenbury Magna too. We moved from London to raise our children and out here – in all the mud of wintertime – it is impossible to forget the seasons like you can in the city.
‘The Homecoming’ centres on my heroine, Maddy, who – like me in my own life – has been traumatised by a barely remembered event which leaves her badly injured. I realise – many years later, as the mother of a teenage daughter – I also relate to Helen, Maddy’s mother, who wants more than anything, for her daughter to be happy and safe.
We would crawl a mile over broken glass for our children, wouldn’t we? When my son got to three years old without speaking a word I realised, with a bruised heart, that life was going to be difficult for him. Thankfully, in my pre-child career, working in disability rights campaigning, I knew what parents have to do to help their children because I had seen it with my own eyes: They have to fight.
Funny story… doing a bit of pro bono work for a charity helping children like my son, I got invited to a fancy-pants launch event in Westminster. I sidled up to the guest of honour Ed Balls (he was Secretary of State for Education at the time, I don’t bother taking his calls now, obviously) and told him about our own experiences. He kindly wrote me a supportive letter, copied to my local Education Authority. Predictably, just weeks later, I was firing off an email to the head of the Authority, pointing out they had failed to comply with their statutory duties in some detail or other and this is what happened:
- Within seconds I had an automated reply from this bloke, saying he was on holiday.
- Within minutes I had a real, human reply from said bloke saying he was on holiday but he had read my email and would deal with it as soon as he got back to the office.
- Within hours I had a third email from him saying, even though he was on holiday he had spoken to his office, they were totally on it and would be fixing our problem, carrying out an exacting enquiry into who messed up and taking them outside for summary execution as a major of urgency.
Do you think someone might have mentioned I was BFF with Ed Balls? Laughing aside – and it was funny – my advice to parents with children who need extra help, (and whose child doesn’t?) would be this:
- Know what you need.
- Know who can give it to you.
- Know their job better than they do.
- Politely but firmly make your point.
- Don’t take any crap.
The happy ending is that my son is doing well in mainstream school with the support he needs. The unhappy ending is that nothing has got any easier for families in the same boat. We used our child benefit to pay for private therapy but not everyone can do that. The other story I could tell is the one about childcare in our village (previously poor) and what – as a community – we did about it (currently fabulous). Maybe next time. Or just keep reading the Havenbury series, it is bound to pop up somewhere along the line. Art imitating life and all that…
Right. I’m off to write the next chapter. Or I might just put the washing in/walk the dog/empty the bins. A writer’s life is not a glamorous one.
Thank you for having me. xx
Thank you so much Rosie for a really interesting and insightful guest post! I can definitely relate to the drain on the finances that is the TEEN DAUGHTER! While I don’t have personal experience, I also recognise and appreciate the challenges parents whose children have additional needs face from my work in the sector. I have the utmost respect!
Please do look out for my review of The Homecoming coming very soon!