A moving guest blog that shares the inspiration behind a story! It is always wonderful to hear from authors about events in their lives that brought about a story needing to be told.
The darker side of The Second-Hand Boy
When you’re in Year Five, there is nothing more important than having a best friend. Or maybe the existence of fairies, but the best friend thing sticks out for me.
I know this because mine moved out of the county and my whole life turned upside down.
Almost 25 years later, I remember the lonely lunchtimes that seemed to stretch on forever and the biting words of the kids in my class when I made up imaginary playmates. It was the first time I felt a leaden, black weight thunking inside my chest. I was nine years old.
Sadness and poor mental health can strike at any age. It’s not just a treat reserved for our sixteenth birthdays. But rarely have I seen it portrayed in books for younger children.
I started writing The Second-Hand Boy back in 2012 when I was 22 and fresh out of my MA in Writing For Children. In the book, twelve-year-old Billy finds himself all alone after his best friend leaves and his world comes crashing down around him. Between swerving the bullies and looking after Mum, there seems to be no escape from his problems. However, when Mum gives him a second-hand book, everything changes. Billy finds himself drawn into an icy world of parallel universes where things aren’t quite as they seem.
I remember reading Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd’s A Monster Calls back in 2013 and openly sobbing on a train from Manchester to Preston (we all did that, right?). I was ecstatic to see mental health being handled so skillfully and beautifully for a younger audience.
This reminded me of the fact that so little is written about mental health for a younger, pre-teen audience despite 1 in 6 of those aged 5-16 currently living with a mental health condition. Back in the late nineties when I was talking to trees and locking myself in the loos at breaktime, I had no words to describe what I was experiencing. Now, I know this to be anxiety and the first slinking drops of depression. If only I’d had a character I could relate to or a happy ending to give me hope that things might change.
And so, The Second-Hand Boy was born.
An early version of the book won a New Northern Writers’ Award in 2018 for its handling of mental health for a younger age group. That was a very proud day for me. Since around this time, I have seen books such as A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll and A Pocketful of Stars by Aisha Bushby explore these issues. National mental health campaigns are prominent in the media and mental health advocacy floods our social media. Much has changed since 2012 when I first put pen to paper. I’m incredibly happy that we’re moving into an age where The Second-Hand Boy is part of the growing number of books dealing with issues such as anxiety, depression, and dissociation.
I hope that Billy’s journey can strike a cord in the hearts of other young people as he navigates the line between reality and magic. Between the demons in his head and hope for the future.