Running On Empty – S. E. Durrant Guest Post

Today I am delighted to welcome S. E. Durrant to the blog with a special guest post to celebrate the recent release of her latest book, ‘Running on Empty‘ illustrated by Rob Biddulph. AJ is a boy who just loves to run. Swept away on the belief and hope that anyone can achieve their dream after watching the 2012 London Olympics, all he wants to do is run on the hallowed track where he saw his idol Usain Bolt win gold. His incredibly running ability makes him different from most 11 year old boys but the thing that makes him really different, well that’s just too difficult to talk about. In fact if AJ tells the world why his life is so different it might just bring his world crashing down around him. Incredibly emotional and powerful storytelling makes ‘Running On Empty’ a truly, compelling read. 

Transition – S. E. Durrant

Trying to imagine a typical transition from primary to secondary school was a novelty for me because mine was anything but. One week I was in the final term of my final year in a Scottish primary, the next I had joined the end of the first year at a comprehensive in Leicestershire.  (Scottish children start secondary school aged twelve.)

The contrasts were stark: from playground games to smoking behind the bike sheds, from reading, writing and arithmetic to dissecting a pregnant frog (first day), from spending all day in a single class to watching lessons disintegrate the moment the bell went. There were the unexpected sanitary products in the toilets and the overflowing bins, the long bewildering corridors, and there was the agony of watching my form split off in many directions and wondering who to follow. I spent more than one lesson in the wrong class. I’m not sure anyone noticed.

Secondary school marks the time when eleven year olds make their first tentative steps into becoming the people they think they want to be. My attempt to recreate myself that day involved luminous tights, jangling bracelets and a huge orange pen – 30cm long – which I could scarcely hold. None of these were appreciated and none but the tights lasted the day.  My Scottish accent didn’t last long either. It was a case of reducing embarrassment.

And embarrassment is at the heart of AJ’s experience. It’s what made him so enjoyable and so painful to write. He is too tall, he is spotty, he wants to be an athlete but his circumstances force him to pretend he hates sport, his parents are not like other peoples’, he is poor.

And besides all this, he is grieving for his grandad who has died unexpectedly and left him with responsibilities he is too young to manage. He knows he needs help but is afraid to ask in case social services try to break up the family. He is torn between wanting to be invisible and wanting to show off his fantastic running ability.

My own children’s secondary school transition was certainly calmer. They went to local schools near their primaries and on their first day the school was open for their year only so they could find their way round. Like most of their friends they carried huge backpacks stuffed with kit (soon to be lost or discarded) and came home with bundles of forms, the sort of things AJ’s parents would struggle to deal with.

AJ has to cope with far too much for an eleven year old but the one thing that keeps him going is his sense of self. He has always been loved. It is the most important thing he has brought with him from childhood and the most important thing he will take forward.

S. E. Durrant

S. E. Durrant lives in Brighton with her husband and children. She has wanted to be a writer since she was a child and has always squeezed writing in around the edges of her life. She’s worked on a stall at Covent Garden market, sold paintings in Venice and taught art to children. In order to write AJ’s story, she extensively researched what life is like for child carers, and children growing up in the shadow of social services.

Thank you to S.E. Durrant for a really interesting guest post. ‘Running on Empty’ is available to buy now online or from any good bookshop.

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