I’ve had to work on continuity – by reading my own books! I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been like meeting old friends.
I’m surprised how much detail I need to cull for the new book, especially for continuing characters such as Gwen at the shop and Tubb at the pub, and the descriptive detail of the village. I’ve carelessly lost my map of Middledip so I’ve had to draw another (somewhat small and scruffy compared to the original) .
I decided to write a third Middledip book for a couple of reasons. One was that we received so much positive feedback when All That Mullarkey gave readers a quick look at Ratty, from Starting Over, to see how he’s doing; the other is that I love Liza, Cleo’s sister in All That Mullarkey, and know that she’s just too naughty and too much fun to leave forever in Secondary Characterland.
Since All That Mullarkey, Liza’s had a pretty horrible time – I left her safely loved up with Adam, she’s managed to muck that up …
Amongst others, I’ve introduced a character called Dominic Christy, the cousin of Miranda, who’s married Jos since Starting Over and had a little boy, Ethan. Dominic’s camping out in Miranda’s and Jos’s spare room while he tries to reinvent his life. I’m going to refer to Dominic as Dominic C, for reasons that will become clear.
Many writers agree that one of the utter joys of writing is the research and I’ve devoted most of my research hours, so far, to Dominic, who is 32, out of a relationship and out of a job, both direct and indirect consequences of having been diagnosed with narcolepsy. After a few days of reading books, websites, blogs and message boards, I realised that these sources fail to provide the insight into narcolepsy that I need. They repeat the same superficial facts and are way too general. Narcolepsy varies from individual to individual and affects every aspect of the suffers’ lives; its causes are unclear, its consequences are unpredictable, medicating it is a process of assessment and trial.
So, being totally shameless when it comes to hitting on people for research purposes, I registered on the Narcolepsy UK message board and shouted out for help, outlining my project. I fairly quickly received five replies, all from narcoleptics of the wrong age or gender. I absorbed some interesting information but was doubtful about relevance. And none of those contacts lasted past two emails.
Then I got a break. An offer of help from a man of 32, with narcolepsy – and his name’s Dominic! I’ll refer to him as Dominic W. He was mildly amused at the coincidental likenesses between himself and Dominic C and agreed to help me, via email. I hope he hasn’t regretted it because I’ve bothered the poor bloke unmercifully, ever since. I’ve asked him a million brainless questions and he’s responded at length and in detail. Incredible, thoughtful, insightful, usable detail. He ‘gets’ what I’m trying to do and is happy to help, if I’m happy to represent narcolepsy as it really is – which was always my plan.
Eventually, I was able to meet Dominic W.
It was then that I began to get some glimmer of what narcolepsy’s like to live with. At about 6’4″ (estimated, from my modest 5’2 and 3/8″), a man who does kung fu for recreation (I was going to say ‘for kicks’ but that’s probably not as funny as I think it is), Dominic W is the picture of health. In a three-piece suit and with waist-length hair, he’s somewhere between imposing and formidable. The unempathetic observer will be sceptical that he could have issues.
He’s intelligent, funny and articulate. And patient, which is just as well, as I spent several hours asking about alarm clocks, daytime sleep, phone alerts, medication, tests and studies, alternative therapies, coping strategies, relationships, career … I was genuinely horrified that people have used his narcolepsy against him at work: ‘Yes, I did tell you – you must’ve been sleepy.’ Whilst the horrible writerly bit of me was thinking: ‘Wow, I can use that!’
Dominic W holds a senior position in an organisation he suggests I refer to as ‘the world’s best private bank’ so he’s proving that he’s not about to let his disability beat him. He made me nearly cry with laughter with some of the things that have happened because of his narcolepsy but it’s obvious that, it many ways, narcolepsy actually isn’t funny at all.
When a comedian does a routine about Down’s Syndrome sufferers, he’s pilloried in the press, on Twitter and Facebook.
But when it’s narcolepsy that’s the vehicle for getting cheap laughs and big bucks, somehow that’s OK. I’d really like to help change that mindset. It’s not OK.
It’s really not.