in Books Films Television, Drugs and drugs policy, In the news

The lost child


There’s an mildly interesting spat in the press at the moment and, being about drugs, is just about within my remit.  Novelist Julie Myerson has written a book The Lost Child, which weaves two stories.  The first is about Mary Yelloly, a girl who died of tuberculosis in the 1820s leaving a  album of precocious watercolours; the second about her son, whom she and her husband threw out of their house aged 18 because of his fondness for cannabis and the ensuing family disruption.

Given that young people in crisis usually do better with more, rather than less, support, can this really have  been the only appropriate course of action?  Teenagers are often pretty foolish (but not me obviously) and most of them see sense fairly quickly.  Mark Twain captures this process nicely:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years

Myerson said in her initial interviews that her son had consented to be written about, an assertion that he has since disputed.  It’s hard to see the justification for writing about one’s family in this way as Jake, her son, has now had his business widely aired and will have to live with the consequences, whilst someone else takes the literary acclaim.  Myerson has said that her motivation for publication was to help other people in a similar situation, but does this wash?  Or is it that Myserson has fallen for the narcissistic trap that befalls so many celebrities: the notion that they are different to the rest of us and so important that we, their people, cannot possibly not wish to know.

Why I had to write the book about my son’s drug trauma Guardian 1 March 2009
Terence Blacker: Writers should spare their families Independent 3 March 2009
How could any mother throw her son out of the house for smoking dope – and then profit by writing a book about it? The Daily Mail 5 March 2009 (I’ve included this as a link, but for some reason the tone of it makes me feel really cross)


Update: if I’d have known how big this story was going to be, I probably wouldn’t have bothered posting about it.  Today in the Guardian This is an emergency Jonathan Myerson justifies his and his wife’s decision to publish.  This now has the air of an unseemly family squabble; Myerson’s tone reminds me of Reefer Madness

If anyone else has an opinion about this, please leave a comment below

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  1. What kind of parent decides to write about their child in this way? While Jake was obviously a problem child, to throw him out of the house and then to write about it with a view to profiting financially from the experience is appalling. This is nothing more than ‘kiss and tell journalisim’ and while Jake is not blameless, neither does he deserve to be treated in this way so that what happened at a time when he was perhaps most vulnerable and in need of parental support becomes something that will tarnish his life forever.

  2. I’m inclined to agree with madsadgirl. It seems unnecessary. Adolescence and young adulthood are hard enough without the people who need to love unconditionally throwing it out into the open. I’m sure a talented author can find ways to wrap personal experiences up as fiction if she really needs to write about it without exposing her son to the spotlight. Sure, drugs are bad and all that, but there is something that seems tawdry about all this.
    And The Mail is very good at making me cross just by reading the headline and even if I might agree with it!

  3. This thorny issue of publication, a cocktail of parental shame, a wish to inform, educate, influence and perhaps more darkly to profit from a family catastrophe has all the hallmarks of a reporters dream. The parents are successful left wing liberal intellectuals. I can hear the soft fruit being gathered and prepared. These icons of domestic happiness are showing us their feet of clay. Pass me that old tomato will you. They’ve admitted even using drugs themselves. No the bigger one’s better. That’s what happens when you’re too soft on a child; oh and then too hard afterwards. Maybe the runny kiwi would do. This issue needs to be talked about they say. My arse says the popular press. Let’s get to the juicy family feud. Young Jake displays an absence of fear about his drug use in contrast to his parents all too apparent anxiety. So the press exploit the rift and retell the disparate versions of a truth. All accounts honestly held to be accurate. So while the fall guys Julie and Jonathan are pelted with rotten fruit and Julie gets the first salvo for being a heartless cruel mother, Jake is allowed to escape once more the responsibility of his actions. For whilst in that near psychotic state known as adolescence his mistakes are not only writ large but published. I’m sure he was hell to live with at home. I know from personal and professional experience that children using drugs, disappearing, failing at school, stealing and lying tests a parent beyond belief or capability. Let’s hope that when the dust of this aired taboo finally settles that the Myersons can still have meaningful relationships with one another. There should be no real shame in failing as a parent providing that you’ve made a decent attempt at it. Letting go of a destructive adolescent is hard too. I hope they all do well even Jake and his siblings. He’s chosen a hard route but it’s his. Julie will be pilloried and Jonathan ridiculed. They will need to get real and forgive each other in the years ahead. Not everyone succeeds but some can fail with honor.