Us Minus Mum: Heather Butler

us_minus_mumGeorge's life is full of facts. Facts such as: his little brother, Theo, is a total pain; nobody ever disagrees with Nana (even Dad); and their new dog, Goffo, is the best dog in the world ever (despite his uncontrollable bowels).

But the biggest fact in George's life is that his mum is absolutely, completely brilliant. She tells great stories, can wave the fastest of anyone on the planet and, most importantly, she was the one who suggested they adopt scruffy but adorable Goffo. The boys think she's invincible. But they're wrong. As George starts to realise that Mum is really ill, he knows that it's up to him and Theo to keep Mum smiling. Which will almost probably definitely involve wellies, shepherd's pie and Goffo's victory at the pet talent show...

Heart-warming as well as heart-breaking, Us Minus Mum is the unforgettable story of two brothers and their lovable mongrel finding laughter in the face of loss. Written by child bereavement expert Heather Butler, the novel sensitively and authentically depicts a family pulling together in the face of grief.



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About the author

heather_butlerHeather Butler grew up in a vicarage, which meant her life was filled with a tapestry of random and interesting characters. But what influenced her most was her mum, who could create stories from thin air. Heather trained as a primary teacher and taught until her sons were born. She began creating children's stories for them, and her first children's book was published in 1996. She later wrote resources for teachers, was writer-in-residence at several schools and lead whole school story writing workshops across the UK. Heather appeared on Radio 4's Women's Hour in June 2013 to discuss child bereavement. Us Minus Mum marks a return for Heather to writing fiction and is her first book with Little, Brown Young Readers.


Read a piece Heather wrote exclusively for Mumsnet on writing the book.

Us Minus Mum began its journey in Amsterdam. I'd spent the morning on my own in the Van Gogh Museum and taken in his Sunflowers painting. As I sat down for lunch in a nearby park, my foot itched. I was relaxed and in creative mode and this might sound bizarre, but as I leaned forward to scratch my foot, George jumped up and down in my head. He was quirky and sensible and funny, all at the same time. 

And he had woken up in the middle of the night. 
And his brother Theo was about to step on the loose floorboard on the landing. 
Which would wake Mum and Dad up. 

I frequently create characters in my head, but George turned up with his own style of communicating with the world. His thoughts flowed in short sentences and his story would explore how two brothers aged eight and ten handle the process of their mum dying while people around them, however sympathetic, carry on with their own lives.  
Amsterdam had struck me as a city of emotional contrasts. I had been to glorious art galleries but also to the Anne Frank Museum. In similar vein, hilarity and tragedy would combine in George's life. And as a panini was reduced to crumbs on a plate, I wrote what later became facts thirty eight and thirty nine. Fact fifty, complete with sun flower, emerged as the second cup of coffee was emptied. 
I know that if people think about bereavement before it affects them they are more likely to cope better when facing it themselves. So in this story I allowed George's mum's illness, and all the sadness that would come with her death, to take place alongside lots of laughter, warm relationships and a daft dog called Goffo. This was not a morbid story but one about life.  
We have two sons who are now parents themselves. They led the way for many of George and Theo's often hilarious antics. I teach two days a week and had a brilliant class of eight to nine year olds. If I needed inspiration I just watched and waited and I was never left wanting.      
At the time of my Amsterdam trip, I was also writing a teachers' resource called Helping Children Think About Bereavement (Routledge 2013) in conjunction with, and supported by, the charity Child Bereavement UK. So as Us Minus Mum took shape, I was very aware of how children respond to loss and one book fed the other.    
But probably the greatest inspiration for the book was my own mum. Us Minus Mum is dedicated to her. My mum could create stories out of thin air and I still miss her. Flowers are the only thing I focus on at George's mum's funeral. Sunflowers lie on her oak veneer coffin, the seeds of which symbolise what Us Minus Mum is about – one family, one dog and a new beginning. 


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Last updated: about 3 years ago