Carol Muskoron
 
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I've just published the novel on the left here, Not Middlemarch, and it's a black comedy about a rich London girl who's rebelling against her cosy family life and is looking for trouble. She works at a centre for the homeless and meets a bloke with learning difficulties there - and she falls in love with him.

It's a worry writing about characters with learning difficulties. You want to be fair, you want to be accurate and you want to be respectful. I took such care to make sure that all three criteria there were met - I think I achieved it.

I based the character on my son, who was three when I writing the novel, and had just been diagnosed with autism. The consultant told me that he presented as severely autistic and would never go to school. My son couldn't talk at the time and it was very hard to get his attention, let alone teach him anything. I was in hell, and I set about trying to break through to Nathan and to teach him that our world was worth looking at.

I did everything that I was told to do by speech therapists, by our educational psychologist and by doctors and hospitals. And by the time Nathan was five he could say his name and his age and was out of nappies. He went to school and I prayed he'd find it interesting enough to wake up and take notice and learn. My prayers were answered. Gradually, he joined  our world. He's now studying for his A levels - he's smart and kind and one of the nicest and strongest people I know. I could not be more proud of him.
His autism is a point of interest to him, rather than something that gets in the way. He knows he has a slightly different take on the world - he tells me he finds everything visually interesting and that that's hard to deal with. I will be forever grateful that he can explain this to me. But whilst I was teaching Nathan to speak, he was teaching me a heck of a lot too.. And I ploughed a lot of what he taught me into
Not Middlemarch.

Nathan taught me that talking is actually not all its cracked up to be. Words, words, words - what are they all for? What's the point of them? Did Nathan need to tell me he loved me? No. I knew he loved me. There is much more to life than words - this is a major realisation for a writer!

He also taught me to look around the world more, and to explore it. I quite often find myself staring at things the way he used to - looking oh so deeply at leaves and mud and surfaces and analysing their textures. Nath continues to be very visual - he loves art.

But most of all he taught me to be open-minded. I wasn't horribly judgemental before this happened but knowing someone with autism has made me more understanding of people who don't talk, having learning difficulties or have autism. I'm very comfortable around deaf people or people with Asperger's
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So it's been a long journey - and it's not over. But I am pleased to have published the novel I wrote back then. I don't actually say anywhere in the book that the character, Pete, has autism, but he does. It's a serious issue to plonk in a black comedy but I think it works. Comedy takes place in the real world, after all, and the real world has people with autism in it. According to the National Autistic Society, around 1 in a 100 of us are on the spectrum - quite a statistic isn't it?

Meanwhile, here are some other thought-provoking novels which include characters with learning difficulties...
Of Mice and Men - John Steinback
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Curious Incident of the the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
Al Capone Does My Shirts - Gennifer Choldenko

The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner

I think
Not Middlemarch is in good company and I hope that as well as being a hilarious rollercoaster of sex and satire, it also gives some insight into what it is like to live with someone with learning difficulties. It's not all bad - Lisa and Pete have some wonderful times together...


 
 
When I was a child I played the violin. I didn't really like the instrument but I had a go at school and was sent home with a note saying I had promise and that buying me a violin might be a good idea. To my surprise, my dad jumped at the idea.

I played quite well. I got a distinction at one exam, a merit in one and a pass in another, but I probably wouldn't have played if not for the sheer bliss it seemed to give my dad. Sometimes he cried when I played. He told me his sister used to play. Her name was Ann. She lived in America and he said she played at the London Palladium. I didn't really believe him.

Dad came from a poor East End Jewish family. Not all Jewish East End families were poor. My mum's family came from there too, but they were prosperous. Dad's lot were not. He and his sister and brother got rheumatic fever as kids as a result of poor housing conditions and as a direct result of that, all three later died of heart conditions. The idea of this poor, sick family being the home of a professional violinist struck me as odd. How did she manage to learn the violin with all of that going on? They wouldn't have had money for teachers. Or instruments. Or the time.

But amidst the poverty somehow two of his sisters turned out musical, Dad told me. His sister Milly was good on the piano. And Ann was professional he said. 'Yeah, yeah, yeah!' he used to say - I have always had a transparent face and I suppose my scepticism showed.

I never met my Auntie Ann - Dad was told he was too ill to fly so we never went to see her, and she was too ill to visit us. But aside from telling me that she played the violin Dad said she was very cultured, and kind and beautiful and modest. She sounded too good to be true.

I did speak to her on the phone once, mind you - this was at a time when international calls were a seriously big deal. Dad seemed to totally come to life when she called. He spoke to her for what seemed like an age and then called out, 'Come and talk to Auntie Ann!'. One by one we did as he said.

When it was my turn I heard a warm, American voice saying, 'Hello darling. I hear you play the violin. That's nice. I used to play the violin you know...' She had a very soft voice and somehow I felt that she loved me. She'd never met me but her love for my dad was so strong that it came right down through the phone to her unsuspecting little niece!

Auntie Ann died not long after that and I have never, before or since, seen a man so distraught as my dad was at the news of her passing away.

Over the years, relatives had told me that Ann was a professional violinist, but still somehow it jarred. How 'professional' was she? Maybe she played a bit but she probably hadn't been that good. Once or twice I did an internet search for 'Ann Muskoron violinist' or 'Ann Muskoron orchestra' but nothing came up.

Then when my mum died not long ago, I found these photos with 'Ann Muskoron' written on the back of each. None of them say that Ann played at the Palladium but somehow looking at them, I can see that she was professional, and I can totally believe that she played at the London Palladium.
I can also believe that she was cultured and kind and beautiful and modest.

I can only imagine quite how much being musical must have meant in a family that was struggling as they  struggled. And for Ann to earn her living by playing the violin must have seemed like nothing less than a miracle.

I wrote this blog so that if any body else did ever search for Ann Muskoron online, they would find something about her. RIP Auntie Ann. I also wrote it as a very late apology to my dad for not believing him. Sorry Dad. And RIP to you too.
 
 
I am going to be brave now (as the Naked Novelist almost always is) and own up to the fact that I take breaks from writing my fiction, put my clothes on, shut the curtains, turn the volume up high and listen to some of the most embarrassing vinyl tracks around.

Save this page to favourites and use the Naked Novelist's guilty pleasure songs to take breaks to when you're next writing - if enough of us do it, we will create a certain oneness, unifying writers the world over as they create fiction inspired by Neil Sedaka??!! Oh yes...
Betcha by gollywow
The Stylistics
Great for if you have a soppy love scene to get back to writing.
Dancing Queen
Abba
Amazing for launch party fantasising. Sod it, why not?!
Don't Turn Around
Aswad

Anyone who likes reggae will find this extremely uncool. And yes, I do love Bob Marley, but something about this number gets me everytime. It's like the reggae male version of Gloria Gaynor's 'I will survive' - and no, that's not on my list of guilty song pleasures. Even I have some standards.
We've only just begun
The Carpenters
Another great launch party fantasty song. And I know that everyone now agrees that Karen Carpenter had one of the greatest, sweetest most effortless voices of all time, but she did wear terrible dresses.
Daydream Believe
The Monkees

If you haven't been sick, yet, this guilty pleasure song might do the trick. Unless you turn it up really loud and intoxicate yourself with the euphoria factor (try it!)
The Whole Town's Laughing At Me
Teddy Pendergrass:
Let them laugh! With Teddy's tender voice ringing in your ears you won't hear them.
Coming to America 
Neil Diamond

I don't care what anyone says, this is powerful! Come on Neil, show 'em what you've got!
Evergreen
Barbra Streisand

Barbra is definitely not guilty song material - she is cool, but not the way I do her. We're talking fake microphone in hand, curly hair up with a few stray ringlets and my very own Kris Kristofferson blow-up doll (okay that last bit was a lie, but it might come to that).
Laughter in the Rain
Neil Sedaka

Okay, this is bad, really bad. Pity me, but remember, it is this sickly sweet nostalgic song which inspires some of my harshest fiction about life, death and sex.
So Far Away
Carol King

Give me a break, I could have chosen, 'You've got a friend' and I didn't. And I've chosen this cool version of 'So Far Away' with James Taylor playing guitar. Oh, lord, I am such a hippy!

Want to read the Naked Novelist's fiction after reading this? Of course you do!
Discover a wild London novel that will eat its way into your heart and stay there! Philip the Dog.

Brilliant fiction by Carol Muskoron, The Naked Novelist

The amazing story of the Naked Novelist - through her just-as-amazing fan mail
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So I've written a novel - it's a beauty, and I'm looking for a literary agent.

I sit down to write a query letter and am tempted to start it thus:

'See this great novel? It will make you lots of money. I am a good person. 
Yours sincerely (very).
Carol Muskoron (aka the Naked Novelist - and yes, I really did take my clothes off).'

But I know this won't cut it. And I am prepared for this because I knew I was going to have to write this letter one day. Occasionally I'd take breaks from my prose and make drafts of the letter I would one day write to a literary agent. And so I am ready with my pithy description of the novel and with my pithy description of myself. But what I am not ready for is the soul searching that's necessary to complete the letter. Let me explain...

Once I'd written about me, and the novel, and had politely said that I was looking forward to hearing from the agent, I realised that something was missing. There was something I wasn't saying. And then I realised what it was. I hadn't explained why I had written this novel, or what had led me to write it in the first place. 

At this point, I found myself wishing that an angel who would reach down from the sky and pick me up and say, 'I know why you, little Carol Muskoron, have spent years writing beautiful novels and powerful short stories. There there. Don't say a word. I understand and I will make commercial sense of it all for you. Don't you worry!' 

Isn't it enough to write a novel without having to explain why you've dedicated yourself to a task through which you might not earn a bean? You might as well write:

'Dear literary agent, 
I am mad, quite mad. Attached is evidence of my madness, plus a synopsis of my madness.
Yours sincerely (very).
Carol Muskoron (aka the Naked Novelist - and yes, I really did take my clothes off).'

Go deeper, Carol, I told myself. I sat there and pondered: where had my journey begun? And I realised that it began with my love of the novels of John Irving and Angela Carter and Richard Brautigan and Isabel Allende - written by people with nothing in common except their eccentricity, their wild characters and their love of the fabulous. And at this point I realised that in my letter to the agent I had lied. I had written that my novel was a straightforward romcom  - it isn't a straightforward romcom - it is an eccentric romcom with wild characters and a fabulous plot. But guess what? I think the world is ready for  an eccentric romcom with wild characters and a fabulous plot.

It's a shame literary agents aren't angels - it seems that they're business people who can spot a great story. But I reckon with each query letter you write, your understanding of your 'business' and of what you have to sell grows. 

Right, enough navel gazing! I've got a new short story to publish tonight and some serious search engine optimisation to do on nakednovelist.com.

Yours sincerely (very).
Carol Muskoron (aka the Naked Novelist - and yes, I really did take my clothes off).'