Meet Merlin. He's Lucy's bright, beautiful son - who just happens to be autistic. Since Merlin's father, the reserved, cerebral workaholic Jeremy, left them in the lurch shortly after Merlin's diagnosis, Lucy has made Merlin the centre of her world. Struggling with the joys and tribulations of raising her adorable yet challenging son, Lucy doesn't have room for any other man in her life... so why bother trying to find one?
When Lucy realises she's becoming increasingly cynical about life in general, she finally resolves to dip a toe back into the world of dating. Things don't go quite to plan, yet just as Lucy is resolved to a life of singledom once more, the most imperfectly perfect man for her and her son lands on her doorstep. But then, so does Jeremy, begging for forgiveness and a second chance...
Kathy Lette first achieved succès de scandale as a teenager with the novel Puberty Blues. After several years as a newspaper columnist and television sitcom writer in America and Australia, she wrote ten international bestsellers including Foetal Attraction, Mad Cows and How to Kill Your Husband (and other handy household hints). Her novels have been published in fourteen languages around the world.
The Boy Who Fell to Earth
Random House Australia
Author: Kathy Lette
Question: Why did you decide to write The Boy Who Fell to Earth?
Kathy Lette: Actually, I never intended to write it. But two years ago I started writing my 11th comic novel, and suddenly this other book about a single mother raising a child with aspergers came pouring out of my pen. My own son has Aspergers Syndrome, which is the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. I have never spoken publically about my unique and wonderful boy. As "The Boy Who Fell To Earth" is a fictional tale (my own husband is loving and supportive) I planned not to mention my personal angle on the story. I would just let the book stand on it's own two literary legs… But then a journalist asked me point blank if it was true that my own son has aspergers. I was flummoxed. Lying would imply that I'm embarrassed of my child and the opposite is true. I am fiercely proud of him. As my son is now 21, I decided to ask his advice. Jules loves the novel and is sure, in his words, "that it will make people more understanding and less judgmental." He hopes the book will encourage acceptance of eccentricities, idiosyncrasies and difference. Because wouldn't it be dull if we were all the same? A case of the bland leading the bland.
Question: What are your hopes for The Boy Who Fell to Earth?
Kathy Lette: I'd like to destigmatise the condition of Aspergers. While Asperger's is characterised by an inability to read social situations, plus obsessive, compulsive behaviour, it also often indicates an above-average intelligence.
It is well known that creativity is associated with a variety of cognitive disorders. H.G. Wells was so eccentric he had only one school friend. Albert Einstein took a job in a patent office because he was too disruptive to work in a university. Isaac Newton was able to work without a break for three days but couldn't hold a conversation. Experts now believe that Mozart, Van Gough, Andy Warhol, Orwell, Charles de Gaulle, Thomas Jefferson, Enoch Powell, even Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy and many famous composers and other artists were on the autism spectrum. People with Asperger's may not contribute in conventional terms but that doesn't make them less valuable and it's up to us to help them flourish, starting with stamping out the bigotry that excludes people with disabilities from mainstream life. I don't like the terms 'normal' or 'abnormal'. I prefer 'ordinary' and 'extraordinary'. And these extraordinary children have so much to offer, it's criminal to squander their considerable talents. Professionals, with their oxytocin nasal sprays and neural circuitry rewiring, predict a 'cure' for autism in fifty years or so. But will we then lose our ingenious scientists, virtuosos and innovative artists? With support, encouragement and love, these unique individuals can fulfil their exceptional potential. I hope my novel helps de-stigmatise the condition of Asperger's while also promoting tolerance, understanding and acceptance. With a lot of laughs along the way.
Question: Did you find it difficult to write about the joys and tribulations of raising a son with Aspergers?
Kathy Lette: Mothering a child on the autism spectrum is like trying to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle without the benefit of having a coloured picture on the box. There is no owner's manual. You often feel that you didn't give birth to your child, but found him under a spaceship and brought him up as your own. I hope the book encourages people to be more understanding of eccentric behaviour. And more sympathetic to their parents. I suppose the best way of describing the novel is that its "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time" told from the parent's point of view.
Question: How much of your inspiration for The Boy Who Fell to Earth was taking from your real life?
Kathy Lette: While based on many of my own and Jules' experiences, the book also draws on the lives of all the other plucky parents I've met, who are caught in the soul destroying struggle to get the right educational and medical help. The parent of a special needs child has to be his legal advocate - fighting his educational corner ; full time scientist - challenging doctors and questioning medications; executive officer - making difficult decisions on his behalf and also, full time body guard and bouncer.
But while the endless medical rounds have been financially bankrupting and fighting educational bureaucracy exhausting, life with my deliciously quirky son has also brought me much joy and hilarity. This is because people with aspergers, or "Asparagus Syndrome" as he calls it, see life through the other end of the telescope. They possess a literal, lateral, tangential logic which can be charmingly disarming. "What is the speed of dark?" my son enquired one day. My own vivid, original, brilliant boy is now volunteering at Oxfam and taking a course on radio announcing. With his encyclopedic knowledge of sports (he's Wikipedia with a pulse) he hopes to become the world's quirkiest sports commentator, if only someone would give him a chance.
Question: What did you enjoy most about creating the character of Lucy? How are you similar?
Kathy Lette: Many of my heroines start off as wimpy, self-deprecating underdogs, then learn, through adversity, to stand on their own two stilettos. By the novel's conclusion, they know that they don't need to be rescued by a Knight in Shining Armani. In "The Boy Who Fell To Earth", life hits Lucy below the psychological belt early on. Her son is diagnosed with aspergers and her husband, who can't cope, leaves her. And it hardens her. She becomes caustic and cynical. She see's life through morose coloured glasses. Her emotional trajectory is one of learning to trust again, gradually softening, allowing love back into her life and realizing that not every woman is an island. I loved writing a character that uses her quick wit and black belt in tongue fu to defend herself and deflect from her real emotions. But who then learns, slowly, to let down her guard. And yes, Lucy did remind me of myself! I have always used humour to deflect and disarm. But talking about this book, I have to strip down to my emotional underwear …and it's a psychological strip tease that reveals all!
Question: How important to you was making The Boy Who Fell to Earth funny and educational?
Kathy Lette: I'm not a wallower. And I'm allergic to misery-lit. I wanted the book to give an insight into the lives of parents raising kids with special needs, yes, but I also wanted to give the reader a lot of laughs along the way. Which wasn't hard. You see, people with Aspergers have no filter. They say exactly what they're thinking.
This can be hilarious, but also a social mine field. You never know when you will touch a trip wire. Their quirky candour makes for many comical social situations which I tried to capture in the novel.
As a mid-thirties single mother, my protagonist Lucy no longer expects to be asked to pack only a change of lingerie for a private plane flight to a tropical hideaway with an heir to the throne … But she wouldn't have minded the company of a man now and then. But when Lucy's son tells one potential Romeo that his breath smells like poo, or asks another for his dating history including pets and other animals, Lucy sweats more than George Bush playing scrabble.
Which makes for many hilarious social situations. Basically, the parent of someone with aspergers just has to strap a big shock absorber to their brain.
Interview by Brooke Hunter