Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Mel Darbon Interview - Rosie Loves Jack


Photo Content from Mel Darbon

Mel Darbon spent a large part of her childhood inventing stories to keep her autistic brother happy on car journeys. She won’t mention the time spent with him standing by level crossings waiting for the InterCity 125 to go past, as she wouldn’t want to be labelled a train spotter. Life took her in many different directions working as a theatre designer and freelance artist, as well as teaching young adults with learning disabilities and running creative workshops for teenage mums. She moved to Bath in 2014 with her husband and their dog, Alfie. Rosie Loves Jack is her debut book.

      
  


Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in North London and have always felt that at heart I am a Londoner, but I now live in South West England in a beautiful little town called, Bradford-on-Avon, which has become my home. It has several buildings dating from the 17th century, when the town grew due to its thriving wool industry.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
So many exciting and wonderful things have happened since my book was published, including some wonderful accolades, but for me the most rewarding experience was when, on a school visit, a group of sixteen-year-old students said they loved my character Rosie so much and that they felt she was just like them. Since one of my main aims in writing Rosie Loves Jack was to show my readers that people with Down syndrome are no different to anyone else and shouldn’t be defined by their disability, this was a very significant moment for me and incredibly rewarding.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
My need to give my brother, with a profound developmental disability, and others with similar experiences, a voice. My brother might not be able to communicate easily at all, but it doesn’t mean he has nothing to say, so I always felt that I’d been given the ability to write to help make a difference to his and other people’s lives.

Tell us your latest news.
My next book has been handed over to my editor and is a dual narrative between a teenage boy with profound autism and his sister, based on my brother and myself. Since my brother has very limited speech it was quite a challenge, but hopefully I’ve pulled it off!

Can you tell us when you started ROSIE LOVES JACK, how that came about?
Although I’d thought about writing a story with a character like Rosie for a long time, when I actually started to write the book, I was doing an MA in creative writing for young people at university. Each week we had to write a set piece from our tutor and then the rest of the group would critique it. I struggled to begin with and everyone else seemed brilliant and I was thinking I might as well give up! Then my tutor asked me to write a character piece. Rosie in Rosie Loves Jack was born, and I knew I had to put her in a book. I sat nervously waiting for my tutor’s feedback. He looked at me for what seemed liked an age before saying, “Fabulous, you did it!”

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
How like them Rosie is.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Rosie and Jack?
That there are more good people in the world than bad, not that I didn’t recognize the wonderful, kind, caring people to be seen all around us before! But we always seem to remember the bad things or focus on the negative, which I have sometimes done when looking back on my experiences with my brother or a review of my book, for example, so it was a timely reminder not to do that, as in the majority of cases the good far outweighs the bad.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would introduce my protagonist Rosie to Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, because they are both strong, resourceful sixteen-year-old women striving for their independence. Rosie and Katniss are wise beyond their years, though Rosie is also very na├»ve at times, she has an insight into human emotions and an empathy that many of her age wouldn’t have. This is also the case for Katniss, who is willing to sacrifice her own life for that of her younger sister and fight for what is right.

Katniss could very easily navigate the city of London by herself, but Rosie can be just as enterprising. I think these common characteristics would make for a very alluring meeting and I think they would surprise each other by both learning more about coping in difficult circumstances, and dealing with prejudice, than they would at first think.

Rosie would never be able to kill anyone, even out of necessity or compassion, which is one area they could never agree on, but Katniss would not have ever done this unless she had to. Whether Rosie could understand that is questionable, but it would be fascinating to hear a discussion between them on this matter.

I can imagine that Rosie would perhaps get a bit of a crush on Katniss, as she represents a lot of what Rosie is fighting against as a marginalized person, but Katniss would equally be impressed by Rosie’s tenacity and ability to stand up against bigotry and show people a different way to be. Imagine Rosie and Katniss coming up against President Coriolanus – what a force they would be, disregarding rules but always maintaining their compassion and sense of identity and integrity.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
My little dog Alfie, who sadly died recently, not that he was a “worst” distraction as such, just a very BIG distraction! He would pester me for extra walks or want to squeeze on my lap and have his tummy tickled when I was trying to write. He was definitely a member of the family and we miss him so much.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Lie on their back on a clear summer’s night and watch for shooting stars. You feel so small yet part of something bigger than you can put into words. If you see a shooting star it’s magic!

Best date you've ever had?
When my husband proposed to me in the oldest restaurant in Florence. The walls had the names and coats of arms of the knights who had used the restaurant back in the 15th century. We sat in a tiny candle lit alcove with purple rosemary on the table. Just before we ordered the food, my husband got down on one knee to propose. A waiter had a chilled bottle of champagne ready to pop open. Afterwards we strolled through Florence in the moonlight to the Ponte Vecchio where we threw a coin into the River Arno and made a wish. It was all very romantic!

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I’d like to go back to see my tutor at college when I first started a creative writing course. That was many years before I did my MA. Sadly, I had to leave the course when I didn’t get the grant I’d been promised. My tutor wrote me a letter telling me to never stop writing and that he had every faith in me as a writer and that one day I would definitely be a published author. That letter meant so much to me. I carried it everywhere and it helped me believe in myself even in my darkest times. When my book was published, I decided I would go back and thank my tutor for the faith he had put in me and for helping me keep believing in myself. I was devastated to find out he had recently died, so if I could go back to before his death and tell him what he had done for me, I would.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Working in Mombasa in South Africa with street kids. I went for six weeks with my daughter to work with these children who slept at night in underground car parks. Many of them were addicts, even at five years old. It was heartbreaking but they were the most inspiring people I have ever met. Despite having absolutely nothing, they were so joyful and so grateful for anything you did for them. I will never forget their hugs or beaming faces when they saw us. It made me realize just how lucky I am, and that true joy is found in the smallest of things that cost nothing and that love and friendship are the greatest gifts of all.

What are 4 things you never leave home without?
My phone, in case any of my children ring.
A picture of my grandson who is the most beautiful boy in the world.
A notebook and pen in case I have a moment of inspiration for the book I’m working on, so I don’t forget it.
My bronze age amulet that I wear around my neck.

Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to see the massive waterfall of the same name. The river plummets over the cliff into what is called the Boiling Pot, before flowing through a series of gorges. The Devil’s pool is on the edge of a sheer drop. It is breath taking and the sound of the water thundering over the rocks and the cool spray on your face stays with you forever.

First Heartbreak?
When I was thirteen and the boy I’d loved forever decided he wanted to go out with my best friend.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
True love with a guarantee of heartache because it would be worth having known that heady, all-consuming love that makes you feel you can achieve anything. Despite the awful heartache of breaking up with a true love, those feelings and memories can never be taken away from you.

TEN CHARACTERISTICS OF A GREAT FRIEND
  • 1. Being trustworthy
  • 2. Able to trust others
  • 3. Honesty
  • 4. Loyalty
  • 5. Empathy
  • 6. Non-judgmental
  • 7. A good listener
  • 8. Dependable
  • 9. Supportive of others in good or bad times
  • 10. A sense of humor
DELETED SCENES FROM ROSIE LOVES JACK
When I started writing Rosie Loves Jack at university, I wanted to write it in just Rosie’s voice, but my personal tutor suggested I write it in a dual narrative, so as to help me understand Jack fully. This was wonderful advice because it did exactly that, but as soon as I completed my MA, I re-wrote the story just from Rosie’s point of view. I thought you might like to read one of Jack’s lost chapters to see more of what he is like – a mixture of angry young man, little boy, but also a caring friend and a teenager totally in love with his girlfriend Rosie. In this chapter, Jack and his new best mate, Seb, have escaped from their counselling session to go outside and have a cigarette. Jack is an artist, his talent and he sees the world through his paint palette.
JACK
December 13

I squeeze my way through the spiny branches. They catch my coat making me wrench my arm away ripping a small hole in my coat sleeve. “Shit, mum’ll kill me.” I clear a space on the ground and sit down, my arms wrapped around my knees. “What’s with all the stupid arm waving that counsellor just did then, Seb?”

          “How do I know, mate?”

          He rubs his face where a thorn has left a blood-speckled scratch.

          “Thought you knew everything.”

          “Sure, Jack, that’s why I’m stuck in this shit-hole with you.”

         We’re sitting outside underneath the big Blackthorn bush up on the hill. Seb knows the names of all the trees, he’s dead clever like that, even if he can be a knobber. All the leaves have gone but the branches are covered in ink-black berries that form a tent around us. They vibrate in the wind. On one side you can just about see the big house, so we can keep a lookout for anyone coming. On the other, you can watch the sea in the distance. It looks like a sheet of tinfoil. I’d use Roman Silver to paint it.

          Rosie loves the sea. I wish she was sitting next to me. I’d hold her tight to keep her warm. And kiss her on the lips…and everywhere. Why hasn’t she answered my postcards? Something feels bad inside me. She’s there but I can’t...feel her there like I did before.

          “You thinking of Rose again? You look like you’re gonna cry.”

          “Shut it! What if I am?” I fling some dried leaves at him. He ducks but one trembles on the end of his hair.

          “Now you look like you’re gonna explode in one of your hissy fits. I don’t wanna get covered in blood and guts.”

          Seb giggles at his own joke. I’m not in the mood.

          “Why hasn’t Rosie answered my cards, Seb?”

          “Maybe she thinks they’re for losers. No one write cards anymore.”

          “It’s not my bloody fault they took my phone away!”

          “Yeah, it is.”

          I turn my back on Seb. He nudges me with his foot. His big toe is about to burst through his once-white trainer.

          “You know, Jack, you’re never going to be allowed to see your Rose again if you don’t learn to chill.”

          “You’re never going to go home, Seb mate, if you don’t learn to chill.”

          “True. But how the fuck are we going to learn that with Princess Fiona? She’s supposed to be counselling us out of our anger, not driving us nuts.”

          Seb stands up and does an impression of her. He waves his arms slowly up and down, like a swan about to take off. “When I do this, I want you all to take really deep breaths in and out…and…calm…down. Stop sniggering please, Mr. Derby and focus on the arms, not my humungous breasts. Slooooooow-ly. In and-”

          He doesn’t get to “out” because we both explode with stomach-clutching laughter. We can’t speak for ages. When we finally stop Seb gets a fag out of his shirt pocket.

          “Want one?”

          “That’s why we sneaked out here, wasn’t it?” A movement catches my eye by the side door of the house. “Don’t move!” I shove Seb backwards and squash myself as flat as I can next to him. “Russell’s on the prowl, so shut it!”

          “Stop talking then, you knob.” Seb hisses at me, slightly winded from me slamming him onto his back.

          I kick Seb’s shin. He looks at me and pulls a freakish face. I snort like a pig. Seb looks like he’s going to burst.

          Russell goes back into the house.

          “Dick!” I laugh. “You could’ve given us away. Where’s the fag?”

          Seb lights one and passes it to me. I take a long drag. It feels good. I can feel it going round my body, making me relax.

          “My butt cheeks are frozen.” I grin at Seb.

          “Want me to blow on them to warm them up, Jack?”

          “Keep away from my butt.”

          We play-fight for a bit, punching each other on the arm.

          I blow on my hands and my breath puffs out around them. Seb’s face is a blank canvas, his brain taking him to another time and place. I elbow him in the ribs.

          “What were you like before, Seb?”

          “Before what?”

          “Your car accident of course.”

          He doesn’t answer me. He shuts his eyes and screws them up tight. I think he’s trying to see back to himself in the inside his head, or something.

          “I didn’t have a dent in my head.”

          He rubs his fingers where his head goes in a bit. His hair flops over his hand. It’s bright orange. Seb hates it.

          He shouts in my ear. “YOU LISTENING? Since you asked me, I didn’t get angry for one. And I was brilliant at maths, just brilliant, mate, or so mum says. Now I’m stupid and FUCKING angry most of the time.”

          “You’re not stupid. You’re funny.”

          I elbow Seb again. He’s pulling the Velcro tab on his trainers on and off. He doesn’t look at me, as he gets his feelings under control. He rests his chin on his chest, his eyes shut, but I know he’s not asleep.

          Clouds are starting to gather across the sky. Rosie loves clouds as much as the sea. She finds shapes in them such as fire breathing dragons and sea horses and things… All I could ever see were poodles. I’d much rather paint my feelings about them.

          Seb opens his eyes and looks straight at me.

          “So why d’you get so angry? Were you born like that, Jack?”

          “No, my brain got hurt when I was born. I got stuck inside my mum. They had to use a Ven-to…Ven-something to pull me out. Mum said it’s like the thing you use to clear a blocked sink.”

          “No way, mate? That’s mad.”

          Seb rolls over the ground hooting with laughter.

          “It wasn’t funny when they pulled too hard. A bit of my brain popped.”

          Seb makes a popping noise with his mouth.

          I grab his arm. “S’not funny.”

          “Ha ha ha! You said snot. Hey! You’re hurting me. Take a chill pill.”

          I un-grip my hand from around his fingers. Seb rubs them and flexes them open and shut. “Watch it, Darcy.”

          “Sorry, mate, out of order. Got anymore fags?”

          “No, I fuckin’ haven’t.”

          Seb’s frown shows me he’s not so ready to forgive me. I turn on the Jack charm.

          “Pretty, please? You can have my pudding today.”

          “You look dumb with that soppy grin on your face. Pudding today and tomorrow, right?”

          I nod.

          Seb gets another fag out his pocket and throws it at me. “Last one, so we’ll have to share.”

          I catch it and grin at him. “Ta. Where d’you find all these cigarettes, Seb?”

          “You know.”

          “I don’t. That’s why I asked.”

          “Lying around.”

          “Why don’t I see them?”

          “D’you want a light for that or not?”

          We both sit facing the sea. The sky is heavy with grey. It’s hard to see where the sky ends, and the sea begins. A tiny ship moves slowly across the middle leaving a line of white foam behind it. I blow smoke from my mouth to join it.
          Seb is holding his hand out to the sea. “I can hold that ship in my hand, Jack. Look it fits. That’s crazy.”

          “Your hands are blue. Borrow my gloves.”

          I pass him the fag which he sucks on deeply before throwing the end on the snow. It fizzles and dies. I hand him the gloves.

          “No, mate, you keep them. I don’t need them.”

          I shove them at him. ‘Before your fingers drop off.’

          “You’re not my bloody mum.”

          But he puts them on. I wrap my scarf around his neck and pull his collar up higher.

          Seb has gone very quiet. He digs a trench through the dead leaves with his finger.

          “My mum is coming this afternoon.”

          “Cool. My mum’s coming tomorrow.”

          “Your mum’s great.”

          “How d’you know?”

          “I was watching you when you arrived. My mum never cries when she leaves me.”

          “My mum cries at everything. Even telly adverts.”

          “We don’t have a telly at home, that’s why it’s cool in my foster home, ‘cause I’ve got one in my bedroom.”

          “What’s that?”

          “You know- a telly, TV, a box with moving pictures on it.”

          “Doh! I mean a foster home. What’s a foster home?”

          Seb grabs a branch and yanks it. Snow flutters down on our heads.

          “A foster home is where you go when your parents don’t want you.”

          “I don’t get it.”

          “After the accident it was… Forget it.”

          Seb wipes his nose on his sleeve leaving a dark trail.

          “No, tell me, what happened?”

          “What’s the point?”

          “I wanna know, Seb.”

          “She didn’t want me anymore.”

          “Who didn’t?”

          “Mum of course. Why d’you want to know all this stupid stuff?”

          Seb kicks his foot out, making the branches shake and more snow flutters down on our skin. Then he rubs the dent in his head as though he wants to rub it away.

          “Tell me more, Seb.”

          “I was angry at Mum, at Dad, at everything really.”

          Seb tucks his hands under his armpits. It looks like he’s hugging himself.

          “I went crazy. Dad came home and found me trying to break down Mum’s bedroom door with my cricket bat.”

          “Did you do it?”

          “Nah, handle broke off the bat. They sent me to another special unit after that.”

          “Shit… What then?”

          “Who bloody cares? I never went home.”

          “Will you go home after this place?”

          “My social worker said it’s best I stay where I am.”

          “That sucks.”

          “Life sucks, mate.”

          “I don’t have a dad, Seb.”

          “Did he die?”

          “No.”

          ‘Bummer.’

          “Yeah...bummer.”

          “I’m hungry. Want some cake? I nicked it from the kitchen and hid it under my bed.”

          “Seb! They’ll put you in prison.”

          “What? For a piece of chocolate cake? You don’t think I’ll go to prison, do you?”

          “We’d better eat it before they find it. Come on! Race you.”

          Seb stops and waits for me at the top, just before we go in.

          “Hey, mate, you’ll still be friends with me when we leave here, won’t you?”

          I don’t get to answer.

          Two policeman are standing in the open doorway.

        

Rosie loves Jack. Jack loves Rosie. So when they're separated, Rosie will do anything to find the boy who makes the sun shine in her head. Even defy her parents’ orders and run away from home. Even struggle across London and travel to Brighton on her own, though the trains are cancelled and the snow is falling. Even though people might think a girl like Rosie, who has Down syndrome, could never survive on her own.

Introducing a strong and determined protagonist with Down syndrome, debut author Mel Darbon gives readers an underrepresented but much-needed point of view with a voice-driven, heartfelt story of finding your place an often big and intimidating world.
You can purchase Rosie Loves Jack at the following Retailers:
  

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MEL DARBON for making this giveaway possible.
5 Winners will receive a Copy of ROSIE LOVES JACK by Mel Darbon.
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