The novelist Julie Myerson is in a whole load of trouble for using her son Jake’s drug troubles in her new book. She pleads that old chestnut about doing it to ‘help’ other parents who can’t understand what happened to their ordinarily grumpy teenager and have suddenly been landed with a smacked up extra from Trainspotting.
This all happened three years ago. Jake is now 20 and brands his mother ‘insane’. She claims he became violent and abusive while on cannabis, and after several warnings, she and her husband changed the locks and threw him out. But whether or not the book is a success, or whether it helps other middle-class parents, it’s unlikely that her relationship with her son will ever be properly repaired. It’s not just the writing about the drugs – she used some of his poetry. Teenage poetry. I’d never live that one down.
To be fair to Myerson it must have been hellish to deal with an angry stoner. She says it “hit us out of nowhere” and being a writer you deal with it, by writing.
This mining your family – well, a lot of people do it. Including me. I put a spin on the essentially mundane; blither about the various doings of The Boy, The Husband and The Girl. And all writers dig about in the cesspit of their psyche. I’m writing something now about adolescence precisely because its a time that we never forget. It shapes us like red hot metal in a furnace. Adolescence brands us. I don’t think I’d want my teenage idiocies (and there were many of them) forever emblazoned in print. But I was watching telly this morning as a friend of mine, Stephanie Calman who has written a book about her difficult relationship with her mother, called How (Not) to Murder Your Mother was appearing with another mother who had set up a website to deal with the misery of her son’s skunk addiction.
Stephanie pointed out that we all have our own reality, and Jake’s reality may have been very different from his mother’s. The other mother spoke movingly of her utter despair at her son’s change of personality, and her total isolation and inability to help him. (She used pseudonyms to avoid recognition). But what struck me was that both Stephanie and the other woman were both upfront about what they were writing; it was factual. Whereas with Myerson, the story of Jake crept in to a novel she was already writing and began to take over. Fact and fiction can oh so easily blur and other people’s lives become mere grist to your literary mill.
There is also the uncomfortable question of writerly arrogance. If you’re a really good writer, and Julie Myerson is, it’s again very easy to assume that any hurt you’re inflicting is transcended by your talent. That old chestnut – the talented don’t have to abide by rules and can trample in a cavalier fashion over others.
I don’t know what the answer is. If The Boy suddenly developed a skunk habit, would I blog about it? And if I were offered a publishing contract to write about it, would I?