|Mentee Name||Title of Manuscript||Mentor Name||Age Category||Genre(s)||Total word count (approx.)|
|Debbie Roxburgh||Cheese Boy||Anna Britton||YA||Contemporary||70000|
Jude Chalk is guilt-ridden after the accident that killed his best friend. Seizing the opportunity to help Jude rediscover a love of life, terminally-ill Eddie Bree challenges him to complete his unfinished bucket list. But can a list of unfulfilled dreams save Jude when he doesn’t believe he deserves to find happiness?
Jude and Eddie become good friends after they meet in the psych unit of the local hospital and discover a mutual love of Star Wars. Unable to escape the blame he feels around Nat’s death, fifteen-year-old Jude faces the prospect of long-term mental health issues. Plus he’s now in a race against time to finish Eddie’s bucket list.
With Eddie growing weaker, Jude is faced with the final mission – a bungee jump. With a deep-rooted fear of heights, Jude isn’t sure he can do it. Time is running out as Jude stands on a platform over the River Tees. Will he take a leap of faith and move on from the burden he’s carried around since the accident? Or will he chicken out and let Eddie pass away knowing the bucket list was never completed? One step is all that lies between a future free of guilt or one filled with remorse.
Cheese Boy is a contemporary YA novel complete at 70,000 words. It was longlisted for the Write Mentor Children’s Novel Award 2019. It explores the themes of friendship, loss and mental health through the friendship between two teenage boys, a theme often overlooked in this genre. I believe the distinctive voice of Jude compares to that of The Boy Who Steals Houses by C W Drew. I worked with teenagers in special needs education for a number of years and saw first-hand the impact mental health issues have on young people. I have a physical impairment and know the huge positive effect it would have had on me to have seen characters like myself in stories as I was growing up.
I live in South Somerset with my husband and deaf eighteen-year-old cat, who is the perfect audience when I’m reading my manuscripts aloud. I am an avid reader of YA fiction and have recently enjoyed The Sky is Mine by Amy Beashel and Gloves Off by Louisa Reid.
Having a friend hooked up to a drip has its benefits. Like the fact he can’t get up and walk away when I launch into another of my mind-blowing ideas.
“Just think how great it would be if Ghandi and Yoda were morphed into one. The most compassionate human soul on the planet meets the greatest mind in the universe.”
I look across at Eddie who’s lying in a hospital bed. Eyes too big for his face and a grim prognosis.
“Not that again, Chalk. Ghandi was great, but Yoda is complete perfection. No Jesus sandals, no John Lennon glasses, just the real deal.”
I like how Eddie humours me. It keeps my mind from slipping back to the day of Nat’s accident and watching it play out, over and over again.
“You’re losing sight of the bigger picture,” I say. “Think of it as a Yoda evolution programme. We could roll it out across the country.”
“There is no bigger picture.” Eddie shakes his head. “A Yoda evolution programme? Are you kidding?”
“I think it’s a brilliant idea.”
“Therein lies the problem. You allowed yourself to think.”
I lean back in the standard edition hospital chair. This confined area has become my safe place since the accident. And Eddie has become the one person I’m comfortable talking to. My parents haven’t forbidden me from visiting him, but I know it unsettles them. I mean, I lost my best friend, Nat, a few months back and now I’ve hooked up with Eddie, who’s got a death sentence hanging over him. It’s not the healthiest situation to walk into but Eddie’s great and I won’t give him up.
“We could go out for tea,” Mum said when I got home from school earlier. “Or maybe you’d like to go for a walk.”
She meant a walk with her. Or Dad. Or a happy band of three. They know that any walking I do alone generally leads me straight to Cattermole Ward.
“You’re a poor loser.” Eddie pulls me back to the here and now.
He may be dying but that doesn’t appear to have knocked the competitive streak out of him. I’ve only known Eddie for a few weeks but I can see him aged four building the tallest Lego construction in nursery. By seven, he’d be the kid who always got ten out of ten in the weekly spelling test. By nine, he’d be the only kid in the entire school to have never had a day off sick. I glance across at the cannula taped to the back of his hand.
Eddie’s positivity and stubborn disregard for his situation are what keep me coming back to the ward pretty much every day. We haven’t known each other long but Eddie gets me and that’s huge when your best friend isn’t around anymore. Plus his situation is different to Nat’s. I already know Eddie’s going to die, so it’ll be easier to cope with this time round, right?