The Secrets of Sam and Sam – Guest Post by Susie Day

imag0173-1-e1403783306139Susie Day grew up by the seaside in Penarth, Wales, with a lisp and a really unfortunate choice of first name.

Her many careers have included guiding tourists, professional nappy-changing, teaching small people how many beans make five and taller people how to interrogate the beans from a post-structuralist perspective – but she always wanted to be a writer. Her first book, Whump! in which Bill falls 632 miles down a manhole, won the BBC Talent Children’s fiction prize, and was published in 2004.

She now writes contemporary standalone teen/YA fiction, and the Pea’s Book series for 8-12s.

Susie lives in Oxford, England in an international boarding school, sharing her home with 11 teenage boys. Yes, it does smell of feet.

To get in touch, email Susie or find her on TwitterTumblr and Facebook.
Website: susieday.com

Phobias
Guestpost by Susie Day

Confession time: I’m a big scaredy-cat.

This makes me yelp.

spider

No thanks!

swimming pool
But those are just fears, not phobias. I don’t like spiders, but I live in a boarding school, and if my students – strapping great 17-year-old boys – are cowering on a chair because there’s a massive hairy-legged monster on the carpet, I will front up with a glass and calmly get that arachnid a new outdoor home. My nerves around water aren’t irrational: I’m not a good swimmer. But if I’m on a holiday somewhere gloriously sweltering with crystal blue seas, I’ll jump in to cool off. (Or put just my feet in. Let’s not get extreme.)

Heights, though.

High-up places.

Far off the ground.

With a big drop on either side.

‘Look at the lovely view!’ says everyone else.

‘No, I am clinging to this very important safety rail with my eyes shut!’ I yell back, while crying.

I thought I’d reached the calm, I-can-get-near-enough-to-put-a-glass-over-it level with heights as I had with spiders – until a hiking trip took me across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Cleverly combining both water and heights, this was my own personal hell. My legs locked. My throat knotted. My whole body went rigid and trembly and I remember gripping the (tiny! flimsy!) handrail, panting, and hoping I wouldn’t faint while small children, dogs, and elderly ladies cheerfully strolled past. I was finally coaxed across – with someone else carrying my bag and the promise of chocolate at the other side – and the only reason I made it was because I was too afraid to turn around and go back.

pontcysyllte14
Before starting The Secrets of Sam &Sam, I was chatting with my sister, a Year 6 teacher, about the school residential trip she takes every year. What she described sounded nightmarish: zipwires, tree swings, abseils – all, of course, with your school friends watching.

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Poor Sam is 11 years old, and in his head he’s an awesome superhero – but his mums don’t see him as anything but kind and gentle, the opposite of his chaotic twin sister. He’s desperate to prove them wrong – but having his fear of heights exposed in front of everyone at Treetops’ Death Slide of Doom might do the reverse.

So Sam attempts to cure himself – with some exposure therapy, at London’s most scary high-up challenges.

I decided the Shard was too expensive. (I was too scared.)

The lifts up Tower Bridge were really busy. (I was too scared.)

But the Airline – the cablecars across the Thames – those are cheap, and it was a quiet day, and I’d gone all the way to Greenwich to research this chapter with authentic proper detail, so I got on. To an empty car. The doors slid closed and up we went.

 

Small children waved happily at me from other cars. There was a lovely view, probably.

 

I spent the rest of the journey with my hands over my eyes, trying not to be sick.

Then I went to the Monument. It’s a big pillar, a memorial to the Great Fire of London, and for a small fee you can walk up its internal spiral stairs – all 311 of them – to a viewing platform.

I reached stair 77 before I realised that as well as a fear of heights, I now had claustrophobia. But it was for the book. I needed to get to the top so I could write about the view. I didn’t want to go home and have to make it up. And all my fear could be Sam’s fear, could be on the page. So I kept going, up and up, regretting every step, knowing I’d have to come back down the same way.

 

At the bottom they give you a certificate, and I felt proud – but also mainly vomity.

I’d pushed myself to do two scary things. But it hadn’t made me less afraid of heights; just reminded me how utterly uncontrollable that fear feels.

It’s a commonplace to say that bravery is facing what you are afraid of, and doing it anyway. I realised I didn’t need to cure Sam; I just needed to give him a reason to do it anyway – and still be scared afterwards, maybe scared forever, but to know that if it mattered enough, if he had a big enough reason, he could push past that fear.

Then it was just a case of finding a big enough reason…

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Sam likes being a twin. He likes having two mums. He likes cheese sandwiches and his dog and drawing comics with his friend Pea. He does not like humous – or heights…

His twin sister Sammie likes being a twin too. She knows that she’s perfect best friend material for somebody – the girls in her class just haven’t realised yet. And she knows that she’s the best Sam – Sam A.

Both Sam and Sammie – and everybody in their lives seems to be keeping secrets – which ones will come out?

Meet the very different twins and their very different problems in this funny, heart-warming story of modern family life for boys and girls.

The Secrets of Sam & Sam is available now from all good bookshops.

 

 

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