I am pleased to welcome Aoife Walsh onto the blog today to discuss what inspired her to write about Too Close To Home, her second novel.
I don’t have to look too far to figure out my inspiration for Too Close To Home. It’s about a girl called Minny and her complicated, demanding family. Minny is truculent about her extra responsibilities: elder children in big families have always felt that way. My dad was the fifth of seven kids and his older sisters had to help bring him up (although I should disclose that those four women went on to have twenty-five children between them, so they can’t have been that disillusioned).
The thing is, sometimes in families where everybody is stretched just to manage the day to day, a child – of any age – can get sidelined. Perhaps the child that’s most likely to happen to is the one that everyone thinks is okay.
Minny isn’t, actually, the oldest in the family. Her sister Aisling is almost two years her senior – and only one school year up. By an astonishing coincidence, my two eldest have a similar gap (though they’re much younger), and, like Aisling, my eldest son is autistic. So is my youngest, as a matter of fact, though I didn’t know it when I started writing this book. My daughter is not.
Too Close To Home isn’t, obviously, about the mother of the family. Nor is it directly about Aisling. I should say outright that I absolutely agree with people who feel that there need to be more books with autistic MAIN characters, preferably written by autistic authors.
This book, however, was always going to be about Minny, the middle child with all the pressures of the eldest. Autism is only one of the issues in Minny’s life – she’s trying to carve out an identity against a background of estranged fathers, half-sibling babies, religious scruples, elderly sex, self-obsessed friends, insensitive teachers, a boy she might fancy and a minor class struggle.
But, to me, the relationship between Aisling and Minny is the heart of the book. And I think I wrote it mostly because I know I expect a lot of my daughter. Some evenings all she hears from me is: ‘Don’t snap at your brother like that, he gets that at school all day. Don’t ignore him even if he is telling you a fact you’ve heard seventy times before and weren’t remotely interested in the first time. Can’t you just sit in a room with him for a while, you know you’re his best friend, don’t you? Fair doesn’t mean everybody getting the same, it means everybody getting what they need…’
So this book started life as a way of paying some attention to my daughter. To my son too, and to the way they are with each other. His relationship with her, rocky though it sometimes is, is one of the most positive things in his life – and in hers, too. I guess the book is a love letter to that relationship. It’s also a way for me to tell her, I do know you have it rough sometimes. I know it’s hard to love somebody whose life is difficult, even when you’re an adult, let alone when you’re fourteen like Minny or ten like you. A lot of our family life is not set up for you. I may not always give you the positive attention you deserve, and there are times you get negative attention you don’t deserve. But I do think about you, and worry about you, and admire you and love you and even, sometimes, appreciate you.
Too Close to Home is published by Andersen Press and is available to buy now.
Meet Minny: her life is a complicated whirlwind of unbearable PE lessons, annoying friends and impossible-to-live-with siblings. Minny is desperate for some space in a house spilling over with family and hangers-on. She has to contend with her autistic sister Aisling's school bullies, whilst trying to keep her self-absorbed BFF Penny happy, and look normal in front of new boy Franklin. And on top of this, now Dad has announced that he’s returning to London – with his new girlfriend.
Secrets, lies and home truths will out, frying pans will be burnt, and arguments will flare up in a story full of humour, honesty and minor household emergencies.
To find out more about Aoife Walsh: