International Stammering Awareness Day
Audio of International Stammering Awareness Day blog
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International Stammering Awareness Day | by Caroline Fielding, Charlton Park Academy Librarian
Our Charlton Park Academy librarian, Caroline Fielding, has been in touch with Helen Rutter, the author of ‘The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh’ for a short question & answer session to mark International Stammering Awareness Day.
We had never read anything about someone who stammers before and so I thought it was a story that needed to be written.
How did the idea for THE BOY WHO MADE EVERYONE LAUGH come to you?
The book was inspired by my son Lenny who stammers, I wanted to write a book starring a character like him. We had never read anything about someone who stammers before and so I thought it was a story that needed to be written, at that point I had no idea if it would be published! The stand-up comedy element comes from my experience of doing stand-up. I have also been married to a stand-up comic for nearly twenty years and so it was bound to seep in!
Was any scene/theme particularly hard or fun to write?
I think the thing that was the most challenging to write was the Granny Bread strand as that felt particularly emotive as my mum is now 82 and the character was firmly based on her. The most joyful scene was the talent show. As I wrote that scene I could almost hear the music swelling in the background and could totally imagine every second of it. I wanted to get up and cheer for Billy after writing it!
Was your son your first reader? Did he make any suggestions?
He was a HUGE part of the process. I read him each chapter when I had finished it and he would let me know when I had really hit the mark. It was such a lovely experience and offered opportunities for us to talk about things that had happened to him. He also told me when things did not work for him – usually when I used words that ‘kids just don’t say anymore Mum!’ He really enjoyed hearing the drafts of the story as they developed and he was an excellent proof reader, as his grasp on punctuation and grammar is far better than mine! When we found out that it was actually going to be published, he was thrilled. He has been involved in T.V interviews and has loved every second of it! He’s much older now than when I began writing the book, and his stammer has changed a lot. He no longer struggles with it in the same way and it doesn’t define him like it once did. I think, because of that, his stutter is not as apparent as it used to be, which gives him more confidence. But even when it does come back, he realizes that it is just a tiny part of who his is. I think the story and Billy Plimpton are a great reminder of that.
Are there any other books that you or your son have read that you think have a good representation of someone with a stutter, or that have been helpful, for any age group?
I Talk Like a River is for younger readers and is a poetic picture book about stammering. Other than that, there is very little representation of stammering in literature, unless it is used to represent anxiety. This is one of the reasons I knew I had to write The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh.
What, do you think, is the most important thing a parent or teacher can do to support a child with a stutter?
In the book Billy puts people into four categories depending on how they react to his stammer. The Encouragers, The Waiters, The Mind Readers and The Jokers. The ‘Waiters’ are the best category, as far as Billy (and Lenny) are concerned. This is what I would always try to do and it is just wait. It’s harder than you may think. People aren’t the most patient- but it’s a useful skill to practise and so I’m grateful to Lenny’s stammer for reminding me to practise patience!