Handsome, 28-year old, Nate Hardman is a frontline reporter with a big problem. Suffering from shell-shock and unable to leave his house, he’s already lost his social life and his girlfriend. Now his career prospects are sinking fast.
9 year-old Adam Boxley who lives alone with his ageing nan, also has big problems. Neglected at home and bullied at school, he’s desperate to reach out to his dad – and that’s when he sends his first letter to Nate. Only Nate’s not who he thinks he is. Will he help? More importantly – can he?
Across town meanwhile, caring but impulsive teacher Jenna Tierney really wants to help Adam – except the feisty redhead has already had enough of teaching. Recently hurt by yet another cheating boyfriend, Jenna’s now set her sights on pursuing a dream career abroad … only she’s about to meet Nate – her dream man who’ll make her re-think everything.
The big question is; can three people desperate to find love, ever find happiness when they’re only connected by one big lie?
It’s nearly two years now since I read and reviewed Little Miracles and Finding You by Giselle Green – you’ll find the reviews here. When she got in touch again recently to see if I’d like to review her new book, I was thrilled – it really was about time for me to try her books again. Dear Dad was published on 31st March, and I’m delighted to tell you that I really, really enjoyed it.
Review to follow below, but first it’s a great pleasure to welcome author Giselle Green to Being Anne…
Hello Giselle, and welcome to Being Anne – would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi Anne, Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Dear Dad was a really lovely read – I very much enjoyed it. Tell me more about where the idea came from…
I’m happy you enjoyed it – thanks!
A newspaper article was the fillip that got me thinking about the huge role that men-who-aren’t-the -dads have to play in modern family life. As I began to research the subject online, one constant that struck me was how much kids who are estranged from their biological father often long for someone to step into that role. The tabloids are always so full of stories about ‘evil’ stepdads that we tend to forget there are plenty of guys (and women!) out there doing a sterling job bringing other people’s children. When true bonds of care and love are forged, the biological aspect fades into the background.
As I read these stories – particularly those written from the child’s point of view – the character of 9-year-old Adam began to grow in my mind. I so love this character! He’s mature beyond his years because of the responsibilities placed on him, but he’s also a child, and children have this wonderful habit of ‘Dreaming Big.’ Adam and his unshakeable faith in how his life could go –despite all the odds – became the magic in the story.
PTSD, modern schools and their politics, bullying, tattoo artists… I’m fascinated to hear more about your research for this one…
You’re right, there was quite a bit of delving into different areas for this novel.
YouTube videos posted by sufferers of PTSD and agoraphobia were my starting point – there’s a lot out there on this subject. Reading articles and forum discussions were helpful too, but the videos gave me more of an insight into the people themselves – it made it feel much more personal. As often happens with these things, I also fortuitously met a cameraman while writing the novel. He put me in touch with a reporter who sent through a documentary they’d worked on covering PTSD specifically in frontline reporters. The research doesn’t ‘poke through’ the story or slow it down, but it helped inform me as to what Nate might be going through. I decided it would be appropriate to give him agoraphobic symptoms. There aren’t just the practical details for someone in this position to consider (how to pay the bills, the debilitating physiological effects every time they leave the house) – there’s also the demoralising effect, the shame and embarrassment they feel – the psychological effects. It’s a downward spiral!
Modern schools … well, my husband used to be a teacher, so he was a good resource. Not to mention that with six children, we’ve had a lot of dealings with schools over the years – some pretty wonderful and some not so great – so some of that came straight from personal experience!
Bullying is such a HUGE issue for so many children these days I couldn’t not cover it. It’s something that all schools have to deal with in one form or another. Where the problem is ignored or ‘denied’ a rotten situation only gets much worse. I read a lot about advice parents get given if they feel their children are being bullied and school policies on how to deal with it, but in our changing world people in authority are often confused about how to act – or indeed have their hands tied with regards to have they might effect change. Apart from making Adam’s situation more poignant, I really do believe that children who don’t have adequate advocates – basically someone who’s paying attention – can be at a huge disadvantage in the hands of other kids who choose to bully.
And lastly tattoo artists … for some reason I am strangely fascinated by TV programs where people either have tattoos done or try and get them removed. This might be why Jenna seems a little ambivalent about it all!
After reading Little Miracles and Finding You, I thought the style of this book was rather different. Deliberate, or does it just feel that way because of the themes and characters?
Well spotted! It was deliberate, yes. I had been longing to write something a little ‘lighter’ in tone, with a sense of humour thrown in amongst the pathos. The reason is purely this: when you spend a lot of time with characters you’re writing, you vicariously go through their highs and suffering lows – there’s no avoiding it. I wanted to maintain my usual structure of ‘two people who care about each other but who’re at opposite ends of a debate’ and at the same time bring a few smiles in. I wanted it for my own sake! Most of the humour comes courtesy of the child Adam, but Nate and Jenna are young, fun-loving people who’ve simply forgotten how to smile, too.
The other difference is that I’ve got three (not two) main characters in this story. Adam is key and central, and through the judicious use of dialogue, the reader can be left in no two minds as to what he wants and how he feels about things.
I’m always impressed by authors who write so comfortably in the first person. In Dear Dad, it’s really good to get inside the heads and hear the clear voices of both Nate and Jenna. Did you ever consider doing otherwise?
I wrote in the third person for years before I was published. Since my debut novel, Pandora’s Box, I’ve used the first person. I feel so comfortable with it. It feels completely natural, allows me to get myself out of the way and let the characters just come through me. It’s working well so I’ll stick with it for now.
Good too to see such a thorough examination of what it means to be a dad – your earlier books were, I think, more focused on the mother’s role. Was the subject challenging to write?
You’re right – I have written the mother’s role so many times before. Actually I thought it would be a lot more challenging to write the father’s perspective than it was. When I wrote the first Nate-Adam scene, I knew straight away this was a combo that was going to work! There was such a lot of chemistry between them the man-boy scenes virtually wrote themselves. The character Nate is a natural father. He’s caring, with a lot of love to give … though circumstances have led him to believe otherwise.
When I first started writing the male perspective (with my second novel, Little Miracles) I was learning my craft. I had to ‘think’ a lot more about the male scenes and there were fewer of them. This book is also a departure for me in that the male protagonist carries more of the story than the female does. Even if they have an equal number of scenes, the story revolves around Nate’s relationship with the boy, and unusually for women’s fiction, the very first scene in the book has been given to Nate.
This is your (counts on fingers…) sixth novel? Does it get easier?
Good question! The actual ‘writing’ gets easier. But for me, knowing what to write about next is always the major challenge. Whatever it is I’m writing about, I’ve got to really ‘feel’ it or I can’t do it. And because I like to challenge myself and my writing is evolving – I bring in a different element every time – there are always new obstacles to overcome.
Which of your books is your personal favourite? Is it always the latest one, or does one of them have a special place in your heart?
I generally say it’s the latest one. It’s the one freshest and most vibrant in my mind, of course. But I have always kept a special place in my heart for Little Miracles, which cost me the most to write. I visited some dark, difficult places for the sake of my art in that one. It wasn’t exactly enjoyable, but I loved the end product – it always stands out in my mind.
How do you fit your writing around the demands of a family? Six children makes me feel exhausted just thinking about it! What’s a typical writing day?
They are lot older now than they were when I got my first contract so that helps! Ten years ago when I wrote Pandora’s Box, all six of them were still living at home – now we are down to three living at home and some of them can drive themselves (about and each other and even me sometimes!) which is a bonus.
A typical writing day, I’d get up nice and early and set to work while the whole household is quiet. I like to work in the mornings. The afternoons I set aside for other tasks – as my own boss I don’t feel the need to be a slave-driver.
And what writers do you admire? if someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you really like them to mention?
I admire many writers for different reasons. This last year I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying George R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. I don’t normally read fantasy but from an authorial point of view I’ve been fascinated by his masterful ability to write such evocative books with such a huge cast of characters. Each viewpoint scene is distinct and totally plausible. He sometimes takes my breath away they are so clean and economical. His scriptwriting background really comes through loud and clear in that sense.
But as for who I personally would like to be compared with – in all humility, the answer is no one, really. The more I develop my own voice as a writer, the more I sound just like myself, saying exactly what I want to say. And my guess is that that’s what all we writers start out wanting to achieve.
My review of Dear Dad
So, did I mention how much I enjoyed this book? I enjoyed the other books I read by Giselle Green too, but did mention the emotional complexity – they were great reads, but the emotions were sometimes as difficult to read as they undoubtedly were to write. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s nothing overly “light” about this one in either its themes and story – a perfect balance, I thought. The author didn’t answer my question about comparisons – and she’s right, she’s developing a voice that’s very much her own – but I have to say that if you enjoy the books of Jojo Moyes, I think you’d love this one too.
The story’s quite wonderful, as are the characters. Young Adam’s story is heartbreaking – no mother, no contact with his father, his grandmother no longer coping with his care, misunderstood at school and bullied mercilessly by other children. His “Dear Dad” note through a random letterbox brings him into the life of Nate – who despite severe issues of his own takes on the role of father to a child starved of love and care. And then we have Jenna – queen of bad choices in her relationships, supply teaching at Adam’s school with an eye on following her heart as a tattoo artist, finding her heart torn apart by the bullied child with no coat and holes in his socks.
The relationship between the three of them is quite beautifully drawn – much of the book’s gentle humour comes from Adam, but Jenna too is wonderfully feisty and funny, and I loved the way she too frequently acts first and thinks about the consequences later. Even Nate is no slouch in the humour department – some of his conversations with Adam, answering his straight questions with even straighter answers, sometimes made me laugh out loud. And there’s one simply wonderful scene that brings together Nate and Adam’s grandmother to a background of Jeremy Kyle on the television – really clever writing.
I’m making the book sound like a laugh a minute, but it really isn’t like that at all. It deals with big issues in child neglect and bullying, and even bigger themes around what families mean and the nature of love. And the description of Nate’s struggle with agoraphobia and stress and the intense feelings it brings are really vividly captured. But none of it weighs the story down – although some of the scenes brought a tear to my eye and a sob to my throat (I’ll just say “the bridge” for those of you who’ve read it, and leave it there…), it never laboured one bit and left you with a feeling of love and hope for the world after all.
And I can’t not mention the writing itself. The first person approach works so well, with the voices of Nate and Jenna totally distinct. I loved the way it allowed a clear view of what they were both thinking and feeling, which added depth and understanding to the story as a whole. The final chapter – from Adam for a change – is absolutely perfect. And the dialogue throughout simply sparkles – totally natural, exceptionally well written.
I’m going to take a bit of a punt here. I’m willing to lay money that some might have read Giselle Green’s books before, and maybe found them a bit heavy going on the emotions? She’s always been a lovely writer, but sometimes you just don’t feel like being put through the wringer? If that’s true for you, do please give her another try with this book – I think you’ll be really surprised by it, and will certainly really enjoy it. I’m dying to see what she does next… this was very much my kind of book.
My thanks to author Giselle Green for providing me with a copy of Dear Dad for review, and for being my guest on Being Anne.
About Giselle Green
Born in Chiswick, Giselle Green was brought up in Gibraltar where she has extensive family. She returned to the UK to study Biology at King’s College London, followed by an MSc in Information Science at the City University. She is also a qualified Astrologer, with a particular interest in medieval astrology.
Her debut novel Pandora’s Box won the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writer’s Award in 2008. Her third novel, A Sister’s Gift achieved best-selling number one slot on Amazon kindle in 2012. Her sixth novel Dear Dad was released on 31st March 2106.
Giselle lives in Kent with her husband and their six sons.
Follow Giselle on Twitter and through her Facebook author page: she also has an excellent website where you can find out more about the author and her books.