Today, I’m meeting with Tanya Bullock, author of That Special Someone. Before we get started, let’s have a look at the blurb and cover for her book…
The confused sexual awakening of a beautiful half-Asian, learning-disabled, teen launches her single mum’s quest to help her find love. Readers who enjoyed Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-time or Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall will find here another beautifully-written, thoughtful novel that addresses difficult mental issues – in this case autism – with depth, wisdom and tender humour.
Jaya, 18, is growing up. To single mum Izzie’s alarm, all her daughter wants from life is to get married and have babies. Which creates a moral dilemma for Izzie. How she can continue to protect Jaya whilst at the same time letting her go?
Life as the single mum of a learning-disabled daughter in a small town in the West Midlands is tough. But the boundless love between Izzie and her beautiful, sparky daughter is reward enough in itself, fuelling the energy she pours into fighting her child’s corner who ‘isn’t disabled enough’ for much professional help beyond education in a college’s Special Educational Needs department.
With little prospect of meaningful employment or continuing education, Izzie wonders if perhaps finding Jaya a ‘suitable husband’ via an arranged marriage wouldn’t be so crazy. It’s the common tradition of Jaya’s unknown, Indian biological father, after all, and an Asian girl in her class is already betrothed. But Jaya believes her obsessive love for John, a naive young teaching assistant, is reciprocated and it’s only a matter of time before they will be married. A disastrous sequence of events unfold until Jaya’s teenage fixation on love and marriage turns things around in a way that nobody could have ever foreseen.
A compellingly assured fiction debut by an award-winning filmmaker.
Cover designed by Darren Lewis: http://howiezogdust.wordpress.com/
Welcome, Tanya. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m a teacher, writer, filmmaker and mother of two young children. I live near Birmingham in the UK with my artist husband and our two beautiful kids. I have a passion for foreign culture and languages (inherited from my French mother) and did a lot of globetrotting in my twenties and early thirties. As a filmmaker, I co-run Pat the Bull Films and we’ve gained some local recognition, including regional television broadcast and, in 2010 a UK television award. Nowadays, I’m more of a homemaker than a filmmaker, which is why writing has become such an important creative outlet for me.
When did you begin writing?
Writing is in my blood. My dad is a writer and I was inspired as a young child by his wonderful stories and poems. I’ve kept a diary since I was about seven years old and always have a notebook and pen handy by my bedside to capture my nocturnal thoughts! As a drama teacher, I write a lot of theatre and film scripts for my students. We put on at least two shows a year and I do most of the writing for these. In terms of novel writing, That Special Someone is a first for me, but it was a book I felt I just had to write. I didn’t actually get around to it until 2011, when I was on maternity leave from work and started to miss the creative world of my day job.
Can you tell us about your most recent release?
That Special Someone is the story of a mother’s quest to help her learning-disabled daughter find love. Izzie is a doting single-mother to Jaya, the daughter she conceived as a wayward teenager with an unknown Indian man. Jaya is a young woman who has reached a crossroads in her life and, to her mother’s alarm, she decides that she wants to get married and have babies. This poses a moral dilemma for Izzie; how she can continue to protect Jaya whilst at the same time letting her go? With little prospect of meaningful employment or continuing education, Izzie wonders if perhaps finding Jaya a ‘suitable husband’ via an arranged marriage wouldn’t be so crazy. It’s the common tradition of Jaya’s unknown, Indian biological father, after all. But Jaya believes her obsessive love for John, a naive young teaching assistant, is reciprocated and it’s only a matter of time before they will be married. A disastrous sequence of events unfold until Jaya’s teenage fixation on love and marriage turns things around in a way that nobody could have ever foreseen.
How did you get the idea for the book?
It’s a book I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve worked in education for over fifteen years and specialize in the field of Special Educational Needs. During my career, I’ve met many amazing young people who, in their own way, have all helped to inspire and shape Jaya’s story. Many of the young people I’ve worked with have the same hopes and aspirations as everyone else, but often have less opportunity to fulfill their dreams. That was the starting point for my book; to write what I hoped would be a poignant and realistic novel from the perspective of a young woman with learning difficulties.
Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?
Izzie! Most definitely! She’s my favorite because she’s the only character I can really relate to in terms of age, life-experience and emotional responses. I love Jaya, but she’d young and restless, which isn’t where I’m at in my life anymore. John and his father, Richard, are also central characters, but they’re men and I really had to remove myself from ‘me’ in order to be able to write from their point-of-view. Like me, Izzie is a dreamer, a wanderer, a loving mother and a feisty female! I loved being able to attribute her with some of my own thoughts, experiences and observations. She isn’t me of course, but people who know me well will be able to read certain passages and say, ‘Oh yes…I remember when Tanya did/said that!’
What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
Finding the time to write it. As I’ve mentioned, I wrote most of it whilst on maternity leave, which meant I could only write for very short periods at a time and mostly through a fug of exhaustion! When my son was 11 months old, I went back to work full-time, but by then I was so determined to see the book through to the end, that I managed to complete it by working around my family and my job. It’s been hard work, but worth it to finally see my book in print!
What is your primary goal as an author?
If I’m honest, I haven’t really thought that far ahead because up until now I’ve mostly written for the sheer pleasure of it. Now that I’ve been published I suppose my goal is to write another book and to keep going for as long as I can! My dream is to be able to work from home one day and spend more time with my family, but I don’t think that’s very realistic!
What projects are you currently working on?
In my spare time, I’m in the very early stages of my second novel, which I’m rewriting from an original film script I wrote about eight years ago. It’s about a middle-aged woman and her search for happiness after a long time in an emotional wilderness. I’m going for a light-hearted/comedy approach, but that could all change as I haven’t really nailed down the style yet. At work, I’m writing and directing a play for my students about a group of actors and what they get up to backstage. It’s a lot of fun and my students are loving all the slapstick comedy and melodrama!
What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
I don’t know if I feel qualified to give advice, because I just feel very lucky to have been published and humbled by the fact that people actually like my book. I was very lucky to be taken on by a wonderful lady called Stephanie Zia, who is committed to publishing quality titles through her company, Blackbird Digital Books. I truly feel that luck has been just as significant a factor as anything I’ve done personally. However, I do have a rule which I try to live by and which is also relevant to me as a writer. Live with passion, because if you love what you do then you will find inspiration and beauty in the most ordinary aspects of your life.
Izzie: I have very little memory of the night Jaya was conceived. In the weeks and months that followed, the vague recollections I did have were so surreal and sexy that, had it not been for the gradual expansion of my waistline, I might have attributed them to some bizarre erotic dream. Now, almost twenty years on, even those hazy memories have faded; like ancient coffee-coloured photographs with gently curling edges, the specific detail is blurry and soft. Strangely however, a few snapshots from that evening have become imprinted on my mind in startlingly sharp focus. I remember a picture-perfect sunset, two empty bottles of Cobra Beer in the sand, the smell of fried fish, the dopey, plodding cow which blundered a path through our love-making (I wish I could forget the cow!), the Arabian Sea before me, the gritty taste of sand in my mouth – and him: an outline moving in the shadows, a supple and angular body, a hungry mouth on my neck, an intoxicating scent of coriander and cologne. My daughter’s father is nothing more to me than a collection of random memories and yet, on the rare occasions when I permit myself the luxury of steamy thoughts, I always think of him.
Izzie: I’ve always had a high tolerance of parental disapproval. At some point in my early childhood I reached two important conclusions: a) that it was unrealistic I would ever become my mother and father’s ideal daughter and, b) that it didn’t actually bother me. Life was much simpler after that. When, at sixteen, I informed them that I would no longer be accompanying them to church every Sunday, I endured the ensuing torrent of criticism and condemnation with calmness and composure. When I came home with a nose-ring at the age of seventeen, my parents didn’t speak to me for over a month and I enjoyed the peace and quiet. Similarly, when at eighteen, I dropped out of college and hopped on a plane to India, I did so with full peace of mind. Upon my return a year later, I faced my parents’ wrath with my usual sang-froid before serenely dropping another bombshell: I was four months pregnant. Incensed, they invoked God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to rain down upon my head a plague of locusts, pestilence and venereal disease (or words to that effect). I was a whore, a Jezebel, an ingrate, a wayward slut of a daughter, a source of intense mortification and shame. I accepted all insults with grace and good humour, picked up my backpack and left.
My inherent immunity to the opinions of my parents remained intact until Jaya was born. From then on, all that mattered to me was what was best for her, which presented me with somewhat of a predicament: how did a selfish, conceited teenager with no partner or real friends, no money, no qualifications and no home, go about providing a stable upbringing for her infant daughter? For the first time in my life, I needed my parents. I felt sure I could rely on their strong sense of duty; strict Catholics, they would undoubtedly forgive their prodigal daughter, slaughter the fatted calf and welcome their grandchild into the family fold. Admittedly, the signs were not good. I went through a lonely, complicated and painful childbirth at Russells Hall Hospital. Afterwards, the space around my bed on the maternity ward was conspicuously empty of well-wishers. As I lay there during the first few befuddling, bleary-eyed days of motherhood, I was aware of other new mothers and their family members sneaking sympathetic glances in my direction. When I was released from hospital, I returned to the women’s hostel where I had spent the last four months of my pregnancy and, apart from an endless stream of concerned health professionals, I had no other visitors. For six months I did nothing but care for my baby and re-evaluate my life. I eventually managed to convince Social Services (and myself!) that I was a fit mother and emerged from my self-imposed solitary confinement a responsible adult. I was ready to face my parents.
One bitter morning in January 1995 found me, babe in arms, standing on the front porch of my parents’ austere white semi. Trembling with cold and nervous anticipation, I took my courage in both hands and rang the bell. The door opened and the familiar form of my mother appeared before me. As I searched her eyes for a glimmer of maternal feeling, I was rewarded with the weakest of smiles. My hopes soared as I held Jaya up for her to see. My mother peered at her grandchild over her glasses.
‘She’s very dark-skinned,’ she said.
‘Her father is Indian,’ I replied, my hopes of reconciliation squeezed as flat as the thin line of my mother’s lips.
‘Indian?’ she said, as she might have said ‘Martian?’
‘Oh, for Christ’s sake!’ I snapped.
The whiteness around my mother’s tightly closed mouth spread to the rest of her face.
‘Do not take the Lord’s name in vain!’
Her hypocrisy stunned me into silence.
‘If you’re going to come in, do it quickly,’ she hissed. ‘I don’t want the neighbours knowing your shameful little secret.’
I looked at her and, in that moment, understood why for all those years I had so systematically rejected her values and shunned her approval.
‘Good-bye, mother,’ I said as I turned to walk away. She didn’t try to stop me. That was the last I ever saw of her.
Jaya: I go to college three days a week to do a Skills For Life And Work course and Functional Skills, which are English, maths and ICT. I like English, but I don’t like maths or ICT. Maths is hard because you have to learn about money, which means you have to add up the things you want to buy, then hand over the right coins and then count your change. I like buying things, but I’m not always sure what each coin means. Mum lets me buy one thing every time we go to Merry Hill. Usually I buy nail-varnish or lipstick. My favorite colour lipstick is Autumn Apple because browny-red is the hue which best complements my skin-tone. I found that out on the internet. I know a lot about make-up. My mum never wears it because she says she’s beautiful enough. I tell her she should wear foundation because she’s quite old and has wrinkles. She says I’m a cheeky wench. She makes me laugh. My mum is my favorite person in the whole world.
Izzie: My tiny daughter entered the world on a sweeping wave of change which engulfed me, overwhelmed me and spilt over into every area of my existence. The woman who holds her child for the first time is never the same woman who conceived that child. Her body, lifestyle, clothes, dreams and future plans will all have been altered to some lesser or greater degree. Personally, my initial response to motherhood was a full-blown identity crisis. I felt that, as I had given life to Jaya, she had taken mine. I lay in my hospital bed, the same three words whirling round my head: Who am I? Before Jaya, I could have answered this question in a flash: I was a loner, a firecracker, an adventure-seeker, a sex-bomb, a go-getter. Men wanted me. Women envied me. No more. I held my newborn in my arms, my sense of self in tatters. It was a bad case of the “baby blues”. Luckily, my hormones soon settled down and my maternal instincts kicked in. I was flooded with love for my baby. It was a love like no other; it soothed my troubled mind, healed my aching body and filled the hole where “me” once was.
Jaya: My best friend at college is Kerry Holt. We’re the prettiest girls on the Skills For Life And Work course – everyone says so. Kerry’s boyfriend is called Ian Kennedy. I haven’t got a boyfriend, which isn’t fair because I’m actually a bit prettier than Kerry Holt. Kerry and Ian hold hands at lunchtime and sometimes they kiss when they think no-one’s looking. I kissed a boy once at a Mencap disco. I had to sit on his lap because he was quite short, but I didn’t mind because he was a really good kisser.
Izzie: I always knew that there was something wrong with Jaya. I knew it long before her paediatrician confirmed it. I knew it when she was eight weeks old and didn’t respond to my voice (‘All babies develop at their own pace,’ the health visitor reassured me). I knew it when she was a toddler and constantly bit her hands in frustration (‘It’s the terrible twos,’ my GP explained patiently). But I knew differently. I knew Jaya. When she turned three and still couldn’t say ‘mummy’, my GP finally took me seriously and referred her to a paediatrician.
I took an instant dislike to Dr Moore. He was a bearded, condescending old dinosaur, who had so patently never been a child himself that I doubted he would have the first clue how to help my little girl. For her sake however, I banished my concerns, put on a brave face and took Jaya to see him on numerous occasions. Over the next year, Dr Moore tested for and ruled out various disorders and conditions with complex and frightening sounding names; Jaya didn’t have autism, dyspraxia, Asperger’s syndrome, Heller’s syndrome or epilepsy. As each possible illness was crossed off his list, I became increasingly anxious. How could I support Jaya if I didn’t know what was wrong? Then, on the day before her fourth birthday, Dr Moore informed me that he was discharging Jaya from his care.
‘Have you found out what the problem is?’ I asked him.
He nodded. ‘Her delays in oral development, deficiency in memory skills and difficulty in processing new information all point to one obvious conclusion…’
I was on the edge of my seat. ‘Yes…?’
‘She has significantly impaired cognitive abilities.’
My heart hit the floor. It had taken twelve months for the pompous old fart to tell me what I already knew.
‘Can’t you be any more precise?’
‘Not really,’ he replied. ‘Jaya doesn’t have a diagnosable condition. These things happen. I can’t do any more for her, I’m afraid.’
These things happen. His words rang in my ears. These things happen? That wasn’t the answer I wanted! I shook my head in disbelief. There were still so many questions I needed answering. These things happen. How? Why? How do you cope when they do?
‘An enjoyable and thought-provoking read that offers insight into parenting a child with learning disability into adulthood.’ Amazon US 5*s
‘An amazing debut novel.’ Amazon UK 5*s
‘A superb read. So funny and moving.’ Amazon UK 5*s
‘Warm and thought-provoking.’ Amazon UK 5*s
‘That Special Someone touched me with its human spirit, its heart and its portrayal of a mother’s boundless love for her child. It made me laugh and it made me cry; a stunning debut novel.’ Emma Rose Millar, Author Strains from an Aeolian Harp.