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Head of Zeus
From Tyneside to YorkshireMalcolm Duffy on the inspiration behind Me Mam. Me Dad. Me.
Me Mam. Me Dad. Me.

I’ve always loved writing. No idea where this love comes from. My Dad was an engineer. My Mum worked in a shop. But they both shared a love of reading. The written word was always important to them, and it became vitally important to me. Little did I know, that as a young lad, living in a prefab on a council estate in Newcastle, my life would be spent writing, writing, writing.

After gaining a Law degree I sat, wondering what I could do to earn a living. I met someone who’d just finished a course in copywriting.

‘As in copyright?’ I said, somewhat foolishly.

‘No, copywriting, as in writing ads,’ they said.

It was eureka moment number one. I’d seen ads on TV, posters and press. I was sure I could write ones just as good as those. And so began a long career as an advertising copywriter and Creative Director. I loved the job. Writing for all sorts of clients, travelling the world, getting paid for coming up with crazy ideas. What’s not to like?

But deep down I wasn’t one hundred per cent fulfilled. Each ad has to be written to a tight brief. You have to write for campaigns you didn’t always like. Your best ideas are often rejected. I wanted to write my own words, to my own brief. I wanted to write a book.

But, as any self-respecting author will tell you, it helps if you have an idea.

My idea came to me in Bath, not the bath, but the place in Somerset. I’d been working as Creative Director for Comic Relief. One day we visited a project supported by the charity. It was a beautiful day. We were in a gorgeous city. But the reason we were there wasn’t so nice – domestic violence. Some of the money raised on Red Nose Day was used to support a refuge for women and children who’d suffered as a result of domestic abuse.

It was here that I can across a teenage boy. He could barely speak about his experiences at home. And that’s when my writer’s block was unblocked. I thought, wouldn’t it be good to look at the issue of domestic violence from the viewpoint of a teenage boy. But as I mulled the idea over, I knew that it wasn’t enough. The story needed to go somewhere, the character had to something to help his Mam. Eureka moment number two. I thought what if it’s the lad’s Mam’s boyfriend who’s being abusive. To sort this guy out the lad goes in search of the Dad he’s never met. I had all the strands of the story. On top of that, I had the title. Me Mam. Me Dad. Me.

I won’t go into the writing of the book. That’s worth at least another five blogs. But what I will say is how much I loved writing it, and how much pleasure the book has given me in return. The shortlists, the nominations, the Redbridge Award, the newspaper reviews, the comments on Amazon, the books signings at schools, the emails from teachers, the notes from the boys and girls who’ve read it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

But laurels aren’t there to be rested on. Time for another eureka moment. I’d been thinking long and hard about what to write my next book about. The answer, unfortunately, lay all around me. Homelessness. It’s a topic that never seems to be out of the news. But I didn’t want to write about those on the streets, I wanted to focus on the homeless you don’t see, those who have nowhere they can call home, moving from sofa to sofa to secure a night’s sleep. I also wanted to set the story somewhere different, where perhaps you wouldn’t expect to find the homeless – in a little town in West Yorkshire.

The book is out in February. It’s called Sofa Surfer.