Towards the end of the book, Jelly confronts her grandad and her mum backs her up. It’s a real turning point for them both, but in the first draft it wasn’t like that at all. Jelly tried to confront Grandad, but no one came to help her. I always knew the scene felt a bit wrong, but I couldn’t work out why. Then when I was working on the second draft, I realised that Mum needed to have a bit of an ’emotional journey’ too, and that included getting some more confidence. So the scene was rewritten, and I knew immediately that it was the right thing to do, because when I finished rewriting it, I punched the air and said ‘YES!!’ very loudly. Writers do strange things, you see!
Below is the first version of this scene, with a section from the final version following after:
‘You’ve been suspended?’ says Nan in tones of horror that suggest I’ve been torturing puppies. [Jo’s note: in the first draft, Jelly was internally suspended from classes for being rude to her teachers]
‘Only internally,’ I say. ‘I’m still at school.’
‘It was that smart mouth of yours, wasn’t it?’ says Grandad, staring at me with hard eyes. ‘I’ve always known it would get you into trouble.’
‘Have you?’ I can’t resist retorting. ‘Well, you might have said.’
‘And there you go again,’ he snaps. ‘Bit of respect, that’s what you need.’
‘I try,’ I say with a sigh, ‘but people don’t understand how great I am.’ I know I’m treading on dangerous ground.
‘Jelly…’ murmurs Mum.
Grandad, unable to get the better of me, turns on her. ‘You let her get away with too much. You’ve never been strict enough. All this letting her find her own way rubbish – kids need firm boundaries! And to know how to speak to people in authority!’
‘You’re not in authority,’ I tell him. ‘You’re just my grandad.’
Grandad turns purple. ‘And you, young lady, are an overweight, rude and lazy child! Why don’t you get more exercise and stop eating so much? You shouldn’t have biscuits and crisps in the house,’ he turns again to my Mum. ‘I’ve seen what’s in your cupboards! Who’s eating all that stuff? Not you; you’re thin as a rake, hardly an ounce of fat on you! Probably don’t eat enough. No wonder your skin’s so bad you have to plaster it with all that makeup. You’d look a hell of a lot better if you looked after yourself more. No wonder your child is turning into a delinquent!’
I don’t actually know what a ‘delinquent’ is but it doesn’t matter because we’re all just staring at Grandad in horror as he continues to rant. Well, I’m staring at him. Nan and Mum are staring at the floor. They look like they’re shrinking.
‘This wouldn’t happen if you could just hold onto a man,’ Grandad goes on, his voice getting louder. ‘This kid needs a father, that’s the problem. Someone to instil a bit of discipline. Keep you in line and keep her in line. That Chris you went out with, nothing wrong with him. Good solid bloke; he knew how to wear the trousers. But no, you messed that up, didn’t you, just like you mess up every time!’
‘Pete…’ Nan says very quietly, in a voice that doesn’t expect to be heard.
He swings round to her. ‘You stay out of this, Hilary. I can’t imagine you have anything useful to contribute on the subject.’
‘She might if you let her speak,’ I mutter.
Grandad takes several steps towards me and wags his finger in my face. ‘Just you be careful how you speak to me. Else I’ll be putting you over my knee and spanking you, like you should have had years ago.’
My jaw literally drops. I can’t believe he’s just said that to me. ‘That’s illegal and assault,’ I tell him, and everything that’s inside me boils up and over. ‘And if you lay a finger on me, I’ll be calling the police to have you arrested.’
Grandad almost splutters. ‘Just you try it!’
I square up to him. Grandad isn’t that much taller than me, and at the moment, anger is making me bigger. ‘Watch me,’ I say. ‘And while we’re at it, you leave my mum out of this. You treat her like dirt when you come round; you never say thank you for the meal, your manners are worse than mine! And at least when I muck about, people think it’s funny. Everything you say is rude and hateful and no one ever laughs!’
Grandad turns to Mum. ‘Are you going to let her speak to me like this?’ he demands.
I turn to Mum too. ‘Are you going to let him speak to you like that?’ I demand. ‘Why can’t you stand up to him? You deserve better than this, Mum!’
Mum’s face is white and frightened, and her eyes flick between the two of us desperately. She swallows and then says, ‘Jelly, I think you’d better go to your room.’
‘What?’ I can’t believe it. She’s giving in – again!
‘Jelly,’ says Mum, though her voice wobbles and she sounds like she’s going to cry, ‘go to your room.’
It’s the wobble in her voice that does it. I can’t bear it when Mum cries. So many people have made her cry over the years…I don’t want to be one of them.
Without saying a word or looking at anyone else, I leave the room.
They have dinner without me. You might expect Grandad to leave in anger, but he’s not like that. He doesn’t have to leave now that he’s proved his point. He’s stronger than me, stronger than Mum. He’s won.
Mum brings me a plate of food at some point, though she doesn’t say anything to me. Instead, she strokes my hair briefly and leaves again. She looks tired and sad, and my heart aches.
I go to bed with dry eyes.
And the final version:
I look at Grandad, clear-eyed. ‘You don’t let anyone speak to you in the way you speak to them. If you could only hear yourself.’
Grandad stands up. ‘Apologise, young woman!’ he snaps. ‘Right now.’ He’s pointing at the floor, almost as though he expects me to get down on my knees. ‘I’m waiting.’
‘Jelly . . .’ breathes Mum, so quietly I almost don’t hear her.
The tingling pinpricks flow together, like lightning in the air around me. And suddenly, like a giant wave, they flood into me, pulsing through my veins, jolting me to my feet, my heart racing and my head clearing until I see only one thing: what is right and what needs to be said.
I plant my feet squarely on the floor. I feel rooted, like energy is flowing from the ground into my body, up out of my head and into the air. ‘I will not apologise to you,’ I say to Grandad, and it is me speaking, not some mechanical body. ‘You have never apologised to me. You criticise everything about me: what I like, how I look, what I eat. You say hurtful things so often I think you must like it. You like hurting other people. You say hurtful things to Mum and to Nan, and they are afraid of you, so they don’t say anything back. But –’ I look him straight in his narrow, nasty eyes – ‘my Mum is the best mum anyone could ever have and she has given me everything, and that means that I know you are wrong and you are unkind, and I am not afraid of you.’
Grandad steps forward, and his hand swings up through the air so fast that I barely see it move, and he brings it down, right across the side of my head –
– or where my head would be if Mum’s arm wasn’t there, quicker than sight, blocking it. She yelps with the pain of the blow, but then she is standing in front of me, in between me and Grandad, and she is pale and quivering and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her look like this. It’s as though she is filled with cold fire.
‘Do not touch my daughter,’ she says to Grandad, and her voice is hard like ice and stone and diamond. ‘You will not hit my child. Not today, not ever.’
‘She needs to be taught a lesson!’ Grandad blusters. ‘You should be teaching her how to behave! You were always the weak one!’
Mum’s voice shakes with fury. ‘You’re right. I should’ve been more like Maggi. I should’ve stood up to you a long time ago. But I will not have you crush my daughter the way you’ve crushed me all my life. If you can’t be civil to my family, you can get out.’
‘Your family.’ Grandad laughs sarcastically. ‘I am your family.’
A sudden screeching sound rips through the apartment – the smoke alarm.
‘The pan!’ gasps Nan, and rushes to the kitchen.
The sudden noise distracts us all, and Mum runs after Nan, while I grab a cushion and dash to the hallway, flapping the cushion back and forth underneath the alarm to get it to stop.
By the time Nan has doused the burnt-out saucepan in the sink and Mum has opened the window, and the awful piercing noise has stopped, Grandad has his coat on and is opening the front door, car keys in hand. ‘Hilary,’ he says, and leaves.
Nan looks from me to Mum in dismay. No one says anything. She hugs us both and then leaves too.
The door closes behind them.