The Double Parent asks Scottish author of The Bree McCready trilogy, Hazel Allan, about life as an author and double parent….
What are the most important things in your life?
Without a doubt, my son is the most important thing in my life. We have a very close bond. I work tirelessly to raise my happy, healthy, well rounded and intelligent boy. There have been moments where I have gone to bed at night and cried under the pressure and weight of the responsibility of being a Double Parent. There have also been moments of sheer giddy happiness, and I am pleased with the way I do things I am very proud of how my son has turned out.
Friends and family are also extremely important to me. I have had an immense amount of support from them all my life but in particular since becoming a parent. I had the book launch for my third book recently and I took a quiet moment to look around the room. Everyone was laughing and chatting, and all were there to support my achievement – at the centre of it all was my proud, handsome boy. My heart was fit to burst that night. Not only was I celebrating the publication of my third book but everyone I loved and cared about was in the same room. Life doesn’t get any better than that.
Why do you identify yourself as a double parent?
If I’m honest, I didn’t really identify myself as a double parent until you pointed that out to me! I had always described myself as a single parent up until then. Not now! And by changing that one word, I have felt a shift in my feelings and attitude towards myself and what I do on a daily basis. I am now quick to challenge anyone who thinks in simple terms about parenting – especially double parenting. I know that first and foremost I am a parent and that being a parent is the hardest job in the world. But doing it alone is, at times, beyond challenging. The Double Parent does the parenting work of two people – more, if you consider that you’re everything a child needs rolled into one person – a cook, a cleaner, a chauffeur, a teacher, a counselor, a clown, a doctor, good cop/bad cop, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy…the list is endless. At times, it must also be done in the face of extreme hostility. There are still plenty of people who are happy to direct vitriol towards ‘single’ parents. Negative stereotypes would have everyone believe that we are the scourge of society, the prime cause of social breakdown. We have been vilified by tabloid newspapers and certain political parties. Of course, these views are simplistic and ignorant, not to mention entirely unhelpful, but they do still exist. Anyone doing the job of the Double Parent will tell you that the reality is very different.
Are there any characters in your books who are double parents or children of a double parent?
Bree McCready, the protagonist of the trilogy, is the only child of Madeleine McCready, a Double Parent. Madeleine is a widow. Her husband died before Bree was born and she has raised Bree alone. In my mind, Bree was always going to be a heroine for children from one-parent families and the fact that she lives on a neglected housing estate was a deliberate attempt to steer away from the stereotypical family life that is often depicted in children’s stories. Children from all walks of life need to be able to identify with the hero of the story.
Sandy Greenfield, Bree’s best friend, has been raised by his grandmother, Annie, and I guess that makes her a Double Parent too. There’s a lovely vibe going on between the adults in the story; a feeling that the children are being brought up in a supportive and loving environment. They’re in and out of one of another’s houses and their front doors are always open. I think this is a reflection of my personal feelings about pulling together, supporting each other, and making child-rearing a combined effort.
Did you always want to be a writer and where did the inspiration for the Bree Trilogy come from?
I wanted to be a writer from the first moment I held a pencil. It was the only thing I was good at and the one thing I could see myself spending my life doing. However, having been brought up in a family that valued the old-fashioned work ethic, writing was never encouraged as a career. My love of writing never left.
I began working on a short story the day after the relationship with my son’s Dad ended. It was this short story that eventually evolved into the first Bree novel. Writing for children had always been a dream of mine, but on hold for so many different reasons – lack of time and motivation, fear of failure. My personal crisis seemed to crack open something that had been buried deep inside and suddenly the idea of writing felt like the right thing to do. It offered me a way of escaping an extremely difficult period in my life, a chance to release negative and destructive emotions, whilst offering hope for a new beginning. With every word I wrote I could feel darkness lifting and without wishing to sound over dramatic, writing “Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket” saved me. Looking back, it was such a positive thing to do under such desperate circumstances. Putting pen to paper was a last ditch attempt to stop myself from unraveling completely.
So, what started out as a short story turned into a novel, then another….and then another! I think writing became an addiction. My books were always going to have a kick-ass heroine as the main focus. I ended up with two of them because there simply aren’t enough positive female role models in children’s literature.
Who or what is your biggest influence in life?
Again, it’s my son. He inspires and motivates me in every single area of my life.
I also find that the positive feedback I get from the people who read the Bree books keeps me going. It’s like fuel. When I receive an email from an excited child begging to know what happens next, it always revs my engine! Sometimes I forget that people actually read what I write. It’s such an immense challenge to write a novel that completing the book feels like the end result and I forget that it’s really only the beginning.
I’m a major influence in my life too! I am stubborn and once I get an idea in my head, it will not shift until I’ve given it my all. When the idea for a trilogy arrived, there was no way on earth I wasn’t going to see that through to completion.
What is your biggest challenge as a double parent?
There are so many! Where do I start? The biggest challenge has to be the loneliness. The Double Parent makes so many decisions in a day, ranging from simple ones like ‘what’s for dinner?’ to complex ones like how to deal with bullying or difficulties at school. Every decision rests on my shoulders and with no-one to ask advice or lean on for support in those decisions, and it can often feel overwhelming. There are nights when I long to be able to discuss parenting issues with someone close or to share the funny stories or triumphs of the day; the bad and the good things that come from life with a child. Yes, it’s definitely the loneliness that is the toughest part.
What is your biggest reward as a double parent?
The bond I have with my son. We’re especially close and I don’t know if that would have been the same had his Dad been around. My son makes me laugh until I ache! He’s hilarious and clever, sensitive and intuitive. I like to take some of the credit for that, so I guess being a Double Parent is double the work but also double the reward.
What do you want readers to take away from your books?
As a deep-thinking and misunderstood youngster I was always on the lookout for books that contained real characters, ones that I could identify with and who had a story that struck a chord in me. I remember falling in love with Holden Caulfield as I read “The Catcher in the Rye”when I was fourteen. At last, I’d found somebody who knew how it felt to be me! Completely immersed in the story about the young boy who was so achingly familiar to me, I drank in the beauty and intensity of the words, and basked in the knowledge that at last, somebody understood me. I would really like Bree, Sandy and Honey to have that effect on readers.
I like to think young people will feel inspired to write their own stories after reading about Bree. I remember feeling that way after I read “The 101 Dalmatians” as a little girl. I wrote a story about a family of hedgehogs straight after I closed the book. I was fired up! The greatest reward for all my hard work would be to have the Bree novels inspire that feeling in a child.
I hope that adults read between the lines of the story and understand the metaphors and allegory. The Bree books may be fantasy adventure stories but the underlying message is to never give up hope – even when the odds seem to be stacked against you.
Why stop at three books? What does the future hold for Bree McCready?
The Bree McCready books were always planned as a trilogy. And I never deviate from a plan! I do believe the Bree trilogy has the potential for more, and I definitely have plans for a prequel. There is so much that can be done with this series. I would love to see a recipe book to accompany the series. There are some yummy things incorporated in to all three books and I think it would be a great idea to bring the books to life.
I also have plans to turn the books into something for the screen. I’m attending a screenwriting course which is both interesting and inspirational. I have seen all three Bree films inside my head. It’s time to share the cinematic experience.
What does the future hold for Hazel Allan?
I live very much on a day-to-day basis. I find that this mindset helpful but takes a great deal of practice! Of course, I would love to think that all my hard work and tears of frustration will pay-off one and I would love to make a better life for me and my son. I am realistic about it all and so I just try to enjoy every moment of the experience.
However, if I allow my thoughts to wander I do see myself standing on a red carpet with flash bulbs going off…..
Coke or Pepsi??
Coffee!! I have an unhealthy addiction to coffee. My favourite place on earth is Costa. I like to take a notepad in and nurse a latte (a Gingerbread one at this time of year). If I had to choose between Coke and Pepsi it would be Coke. Diet of course.
I have really enjoyed being interviewed for The Double Parent blog! I would like to take this opportunity to extend my support and warm wishes to Double Parents everywhere, especially with Christmas around the corner. This time of year brings with it its own unique challenges for us. So, let’s all stick together and show some solidarity. After all, sticks in a bundle are unbreakable. Thank you for asking me to do this interview and for reminding me that I’m doing the job of two people.
The Bree McCready Trilogy in reading order:
1. Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket
2. Bree McCready and the Flame of Irenus
3. Bree McCready and the Realm of the Lost