‘Will You Catch Me?’ by Jane Elson.

I am honoured to be part of the blog tour for ‘Will You Catch Me?’ which has been scheduled to help raise awareness of International Children Of Alcoholics Week (11th-17th February) organised by the NACOA.  Inspired by her own childhood experiences of alcohol abuse, Elson penned this title to help highlight the turmoil of those involved in similar situations.

Make sure you read the special guest post Jane has written about the importance of canine companions in her story.

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“Most kids want adventures.

I just want normal.”

Nell lives on a London estate with her alcoholic mother and a menagerie of creatures whom she has rescued from around her locality. Nell’s proud to be the only naturalist on the Beckham Estate and is the attentive owner of: a tortoise, guinea pigs, goldfish, gerbils, a hamster and a transient collection of minibeasts.

Her animals serve as a constant point about which to centre her life. A life which is full of uncertainty due to the alcohol problems of her mother. More often than not, Nell ends up caring for her mum rather than the other way around.

Despite help from her neighbours and community as a whole, Nell knows that her life can’t continue like this.  Perhaps if she were able to discover the identity of her absent father, he might provide some much-needed stability.  With the help of her best friend Michael, she may just have a plan that will work…

As soon as I started reading, I was sucked into Nell’s world. Elson has pitched her voice just perfectly – the emotional pull of wanting to stay with her mum but not wanting to live in fear of her coming home drunk, the yearning for a normal life with clean clothes in the wardrobe and food in the cupboards. Unfortunately, this is the sad reality for too many children around the world.

Something else which really stood out for me was the real sense of community.  As it says in the front of the book: “It takes a village to raise a child.” In this story, there’s a sense of the whole community rallying to protect Nell and shield her from her mother’s condition. A tear came to my eye on several occasions as Nell continued to be torn between staying with her mother and security.

Beautifully written, pulling no punches but with touches of pure joy, I hope that ‘Will You Catch Me?’ might provide hope for children in similar situations as Nell or perhaps encourage them to seek support.

Guest Post

Canine Companions: How the loyalty of dogs help to guide a troubled child in Will You Catch Me?

Nell Hobs, my protagonist in ‘Will You Catch Me?’ believes that Nell Gwyn, the ‘orange girl’ (the nick name for the young girls who sold fruit for refreshments in London’s theatres) who became one of the first and most celebrated actresses in Restoration England, is her honorary ancestor. Nell Gwyn appears to her several times during the narrative offering guidance and support to help Nell deal with the challenges of growing up as the child of an alcohol dependent mum – Nell Gwyn’s own mother was an alcoholic.

King Charles II was captivated by Nell Gwyn, who became his mistress, and also his dogs. Then, they were known as Toy Spaniels but have since evolved into today’s popular pet, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Samuel Pepys remarked in his diary that the king preferred to play with his dogs than attend to his royal business. He was never seen without three toy spaniels at his heels. There is a myth that KingCharles II passed a law that allowed Cavalier King Charles Spaniels to enter any building, including the Houses of Parliament. Nobody can find a trace of this law so it’s now believed that it was just merely that no one dared tell the King that he could not bring his dogs into parliament!

Nell Gwyn had a little toy spaniel called Tutty whoshe adored. I like to think that the king gave him toher.

In Will You catch Me? I created a magical old lady character called Mary, living on the Beckham Estate where Nell Hobs also lives and I gave her a little spaniel named Tutty after Nell Gwyn’s dog.

A wonderful piece of synchronicity was that years ago, I had a job walking a feisty little cavalier spaniel called Poppy. I would take Poppy to Waterlow Parkin North London where she would cause mayhem among the pigeons, squirrels and children. Until Poppy came along they were having a nice quiet walk in the park. Waterlow Park is breath-taking in its beauty and is in the grounds of Lauderdale House where Nell Gwyn once lived.

In my research into Nell Gywn I discovered that she would have walked Tutty in those very grounds where I used to walk boisterous Poppy. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I had a magical time writing the chapter in Will You Catch Me? where Nell Hobs goes on a picnic in Waterlow Park and is running through the trees with the modern day Tutty jumping at her heels. Suddenly, in an imagined vision, she spots her honorary ancestor Nell Gwynwho gathers Tutty into her arms and transports Nelland the spaniel back in time. That afternoon in Waterlow Park, with little Tutty to play with, is a moment of much needed joy and respite from the everyday challenges in Nell’s life.

Now on to another dog character, Buster the Staffie. Like Will You Catch Me? my previous book, How To Fly With Broken Wings is set on the Beckham Estatebut four years earlier. Before starting How to Fly, I reread all the books from my childhood. All the dogs featured seemed to be lovable but scruffy mongrel types, or a Collie or Golden Retriever. All beautiful breeds but none were the dogs familiar to me from the area where I live in Kentish Town. Here there are Staffordshire Bull Terriers everywhere! I started to research these dogs because I knew I wanted to include one in my book and what I found out broke my heart.

Today I believe almost 80% of dogs in rescue centres are Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Staffies’ as they are known have such a bad press and I believe this stems from a combination of overbreeding and crossbreeding, irresponsible ownership and their association with use as a threatening status symbol.

Going back in history Staffordshire Bull Terriers were known as the Nanny Dog’ because they are such a loyal breed and have a disposition to always look after the most vulnerable, and often youngest member of the family. Yet During the Crimean War, soldiers would often obtain a Staffordshire Bull Terrier to leave behind at home because they knew the dog would protect their wife and children while they were away fighting.

The charity All Dogs Matter who I have become involved with in North London do wonderful work in rescuing and rehoming Staffordshire Bull Terriers and turning the image of the ‘staffie around.

I was determined to write a children’s book showing a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in a positive light and so Buster was created and became a firm favourite with children who read How To Fly With Broken Wings. I hadn’t planned to have him in Will You Catch Me? but as I started to write he came bouncing on to the page with friendliness and vigour. And of course it makes sense that Buster would want to protect Nell, the most vulnerable child on the Beckham Estatewhere he lives.

Snuggling up to Buster and taking him for walksgives Nell time away from the chaos at home caused by her mums drinking.

Buster and Tutty too are there for Nell so she doesnot feel so alone.

The National Association For Children Of Alcoholics (Nacoa) has a message for children like Nell. It is ‘You are not alone’. Their helpline number is 0800-358-3456. Children of Alcoholics week (10-16 February) aims to raise awareness of the lives of the 2.6 million children in the UK who are growing up affected by parental alcohol problems. For further information, including ways you can help and a downloadable #URNotAlone poster, please visit their website www.coaweek.org.uk or www.nacoa.org.uk

Thank you so much for your guest post, Jane, and for writing such an important and uplifting tale.

Library Girl.

Thank you to Hodder Children’s Books for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

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