Today we have a guest post from S.E. Durrant, author of 'Running on Empty', where she gives us an insight into why she wrote the story.
I have written for as long as I can remember, as a way of trying to make sense of the world, and I think that is why I am interested in writing about real life situations. In my experience, ‘ordinary’ lives often involve quiet heroics. In Little Bits of Sky, ten year old Ira is my unseen hero; in Running on Empty, it is eleven year old AJ.
I decided to write Running on Empty after reading about a family in which the parents had learning difficulties and their child did not. I thought about how the world might look to such a child and I later met with parents with learning difficulties to understand a little more about some of the issues they face.
AJ’s grandad, who has given the family lots of support, has died unexpectedly and, for a few months, AJ tries to take on his responsibilities alone. He has just begun secondary school and for a while his problems go unnoticed in the jump from one teacher, one class, at primary school to multiple teachers and multiple classes in secondary.
I set this story close to the Olympic Park in East London because I wanted AJ to be involved in the world beyond home and school. In 2012, I was lucky enough to spend a day watching the London Paralympics and I found the atmosphere inspirational. AJ is a keen runner and his happiest memory is of watching Usain Bolt win gold at the London Olympics with his grandad; his dream, and the hope that sustains him, is to run in the Olympic stadium.
AJ’s family are poor, bills have to be budgeted for and unplanned expenses can be catastrophic. This is a common situation for many families and schools often try to offset the impact of poverty, for instance by providing breakfast. In AJ’s case, a teacher tries to help him out. Children living in poverty are often marginalised, unable to attend local events, play dates etc, and I thought it was very important that AJ is at the centre of his own story rather than on the margins. He is the narrator and the world is seen through his eyes.
Thinking about AJ’s situation, I was reminded how easily children can be labelled. AJ is a caring, responsible son and a dedicated runner but, because his trainers don’t fit and he isn’t able to say so, he appears to be disinterested and unreliable. At one point, he decides to be ‘the kid who hates sport’ when in fact running is one of the most important things in his life.
Despite the issues AJ is dealing with, he is a resilient character who can swing between crushing embarrassment and supreme self-confidence in an instant. I really hope readers find him quirky, relatable and hopeful. He is a boy who will never give up and he was a pleasure to write.
A huge thank you to Sue for sharing this with us. 'Running on Empty' is a fabulous book; you can read our review of it here.