December 19th, 2013

To say that Lio ‘loves’ his school somewhat misses the point. He lives for his school, it is the most important thing in the world to him (don’t worry, I appreciate my luck). Every morning he wants to be the first one there and every afternoon he wants to be the last one to leave. All the stress and anxiety, all that research and school visiting, all that negotiating in all those meetings has paid off better than I had imagined it might. The secondary school he’s at, a college about 15 minutes from home, is not only visually appealing, surrounded by acres of green, but I get the sense that they really understand him there. The teachers push him and support him in just the right balance and, at least at the moment, everything seems close to perfect.

Waiting for the bus on the first day of school knocking it for 6 Cricket at Glynde in July

He likes what he’s learning, but he is also blossoming socially as well. He’s got lots of opportunities to shine and show off, like the school’s Christmas play, A Christmas Carol. Lio got cast as Topper, the love-struck and drunk guest at Fred’s party. His scene got the biggest laughs of the night, by far.

With Zeno at Lago di Garda With Lucia in a pineta

Music remains his favourite subject. On the piano he’s reached the stage where he’ll just sit down on his own and practice for a bit, and then have a noodle on his own around the keyboard. He’s taking a break from piano exams though (which is fine with me—he’s been tested enough in recent years). Studying the exam pieces was getting in the way of him learning the pieces that he was really keen about (he’s got a thing for slightly ethereal music by Chopin and Enaudi, but also the Blues). He’s started composing his own pieces too, following a sequence that he likes, repeating it and then changing it. A few weeks ago, when Harvey (one of his best friends) had his appendix out, Lio put together an evocative little tune for him. He may still have some trouble with subtlety and subtext in his English homework (like some other 11-year-old boys), but he has absolutely no problem expressing himself with a piano.

Trichiana Twilight

While he continues to play trumpet at school and on the weekends (and even once with the BBC SO), singing is starting to take over as the second string in his musical bow. He sings in his school’s chapel choir, and last year he heard about the National Youth Choir, which performs in churches and town halls around the country, provides singers for important events and does things with the BBC. He did an audition for them this Autumn and has just been offered a place. He’s (rightly) proud of himself, and I am too.

drying off with cousins after a cave waterfall the pools of Val San Pierino

Last week we went to see both his physiotherapist and his orthopedic surgeon. He’s got 3.5 to 4 cm difference between his left leg and his right leg now. This is causing him some pain in his back and some awkwardness in his lift shoes, but in the grand scheme of things these are quite minor. Based on what we had gathered from previous appointments we had been planning on having another round of leg lengthening to start this summer. But this time the senior surgeon said, ‘You’re in good place right now. Maybe in another 18 months.’ Then, when Lio bent his knee so that his heel touched his backside, the surgeon said, ‘You’ve got to be happy with that.’ I am. Absolutely delighted. We can manage things for the next year with an increase to his shoe raise and see where we are then. Initially I left that appointment not knowing what to think. I had been psychologically preparing for the big six-month long lengthening process to begin sooner rather than later and while this does feel like a reprieve of sorts part of me just wants to get on with it. There is the potential (huge) added benefit that by the time Lio’s leg is ready for the procedure there may be a bit of new technology that could do the lengthening internally rather than have the external frame with its horrendous pin sites needing cleaning every day. This is certainly something worth exploring, even if Lio says he’d rather have the external frame because he knows what to expect. But we’ll wait and see.

Raspberry picking Carving pumpkins Halloween with friends in Kingston

The other thing to consider is the timing with Lio’s next school exams (GSCSEs). If we wait too long on the leg he could find himself in a frame when he’s meant to be taking these ‘extremely important’ assessments. The seemingly never-ending flood of tests and test prep that has engulfed our corner of the world strikes me as more and more crazy. I think back about how we were encouraged to sweat about the SATs tests last year (the tests that they take at the end of primary school in the UK). And we did sweat them—but given that every secondary school has its own tests for placing students in the right groups anyway, I find myself asking whether or not all these assessments are more for schools than they are for students.

A desert well

Lio and I snuck off to Morocco for a quick break during his Autumn half-term holiday. We had booked a ticket for Morocco seven years ago and we were meant to be there (Lio, me and his mother) the month after the accident happened. Lio remembered this and would periodically ask when we were going to go to the desert and take a camel ride. We finally managed it this year; the whole experience was intense and strange and beyond what he or I was expecting. The deserts were as barren as they were beautiful. The markets were startling, the food delicious and colours stunning. Parts of it though are still teetering on the edge of the Thrid World and many (maybe even most) people that we met had never traveled more than 50 miles from the places of their birth.

Moroccan spice and pigment shop Essaouira Essaouira ramparts

Lio took it all in, absorbing it like a sponge. He went surfing for the first time in his life, helped me (genuinely) navigate through the insane outskirts of Marrakesh and did finally get to ride that camel. When our guide corrected me that in Morocco they have ‘dromedaries,’ rather than ‘camels,’ Lio laughed and reminded me about it for the rest of the trip.

Sarhara Dromedary

Lio and I also left a poppy for his mother on a windy sand dune in the Sahara. Lio’s grandmother, Sasha’s mother, had been making tiny porcelain poppies in memory of Sasha (whose last writing about beauty included some lovely meditations on poppies). She then asked friends and family to take them and leave them in places they thought were ‘beautiful’ on their travels, then take a photo which she put into a book and I put up on the web. We left the last one of these poppies on a golden dune outside of Merzouga with views across the desert into Algeria and before we had said our good-byes and slipped away into the evening the sands had completely consumed it.

the Dunes of Merzouga

I think I might have found something in the desert too. In recent months I’ve been fielding more and more questions about and requests for a next book. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do a sequel but have been kicking around a bunch of topics all related to our story (height, Ritalin, single parenting, etc.). On the edge of the desert I happened to meet a man named Ali with four-year-old twin sons in tow. He and I had a long chat, and in spite of a significant language gap and massive cultural differences it was clear that there was a common thread running through our experiences. I went away thinking that my next project was definitely going to be about fatherhood—a history of the idea, a narrative, or maybe just a collection of all the arguments I’ve had with myself and all the things I’ve learned a bit later than I would have liked in recent years. It will be nice to get stuck in to a new creative project. I’ve been missing that feeling of making something concrete.

at Ait Benhaddou

Tomorrow we leave for Christmas with Lio’s grandmother in New Jersey and my phone app tells me to expect snow. Lio is already asking when he can go sledding with his cousin Kevin.


February 4th, 2013

A lot of time has past since our last post.  (Thanks for all your email gently prodding me to write another update.)  The truth is that no news has been gloriously good news.  Typical summer, typical Halloween, typical Christmas—typical and happy doing everything a 10 (now 11) year old boy should be doing.


In school Lio is learning, maths remaining his strength and music remaining his pride.  Outside of school he’s playing with his friends and picking up a new instrument at every opportunity—trumpet is the latest addition to piano, guitar and singing.  Life is very good for him at the moment, if a bit manic for me:  I’m doing more at the University of Sussex.  Last term I had to cover as head of my subject area because of a colleague’s cancer recovery.  But more importantly, this spring I’m going to really push myself to make some headway on my next writing project, which is likely to be a book about being tall as told through the lens of all Lio’s leg operations.


Our big preoccupation at the moment is perfectly normal, something faced by most families:  the choice of a secondary school.  We’ve looked at just about every school within a 45-minute radius and Lio’s done some entrance exams for a few independent schools.  I’ve had countless meetings with head teachers and educational needs people.  I’ve been completely open and honest about the spells Lio is going to have to spend in a wheelchair in the future and the remaining speech and language issues (mostly reading comprehension).  Some of them have come back saying that they don’t think they’d be able to cater for Lio, which is absolutely fine.  We want to make sure we find the right situation for him—like with doctors, there is no abstract ‘best school’ out there.


While Lio’s doing more and more sport and pushing himself physically every week, it feels like his next round of leg lengthening is certainly nearer than his last one.  He really wanted to do a running race with his school last week.  I was in two minds, but he did it–and did it very respectably; however for the past three days he’s been limping around in real pain.  When he went into the garage last night to fish out his old crutches my heart sank.  I can’t and desperately don’t want to hold him back.  I want him to have as physical a childhood as he wants to have, but it still hurts to see him in pain, especially when we both remember how things were during the last bout of lengthening.  I’ve made a touch-base appointment with his brilliant physio here in Lewes and we’ll talk things over with his surgeon at Great Ormond Street when we next see him in a couple of months.


As his legs grow, so does he as a person.  Last month he decided he wanted to start reading After the Crash.  I had expected that he’d be curious about it when he was approaching adulthood (and I partly wrote it with a grown-up Lio in mind—as a kind of testament to some future Lio about how strong and courageous he’d been as a child), so I was a bit apprehensive about it in the hands of an 11-year-old Lio.  But like his running race, I decided to let him experiment with a bit more autonomy. Not far into it he started pulling our old photo albums down from the shelf and went off into a whirlwind of drawing based on the pictures of him in hospital, some with a remarkable depth of feeling and sensitity—particularly one of him hugging a young doctor at his leaving party.


I’m thinking about how to nurture and encourage this energy and creativity in the midst of all his homework and music practice.  I’m thinking maybe I should clear out the garage and put a few more tools and a workbench for him in there for some ambitious building projects; it would be another nice connection to things I did with my own father.


We’re off to the continent for some doctoring (and the to Italy for a few days) for Lio’s half-term holiday in a couple of weeks.  We haven’t been there since the summer and we both miss it.   Maybe we’ll get to play in a bit of snow on the Alps.  Lio had a fantastic time in the States for Christmas, with snow falling on Christmas Eve and lots of sledding and ice skating with his cousin Kevin.  He really is a creature of winter my Lio.  His sprinkle-covered birthday cake on December 26th was blue again, just like it was last year.


It’s possible that we’ll be back in the States again for Easter to coincide with the American release of After the Crash.  It all depends on what the publicist and distributor can arrange in terms of interviews.  They may decide that they want to do their blitz in May.  In any case, I fear that I’m going to have begin the social media bombardment again soon.  As you can imagine, I’m thrilled that it’s finally coming out in the US and am really looking forward to it reaching more people back home.


After the Crash has been doing fantastically in the UK.  It was my publisher’s best selling book in 2012 and has been in and out of Amazon.co.uk’s top 100 since it was published.  I’d be pleased beyond belief if it reached as many people in the US, but we’ll just have to wait and see.  I’m just glad that it’s out there.  Thanks again for all your warm wishes—they’ll always mean a lot to Lio and me.


Thank You

June 21st, 2012

After the Crash has been out four weeks now and the responses to it have been as intense, overwhelmingly generous and heartfelt as they have been humbling.  Dozens and dozens of people from all over the world have sent us messages (some of them visible here in comments to previous posts) congratulating us for the road we’ve traveled and wishing us well.  Others have thanked me for being so open and honest about our experiences, and for giving them the opportunity to see the world, and their own children, in a slightly different light.

Thank you all for taking the time to find us, to reach out to us, to share your own stories and to encourage us to go that much further.  I consider Lio and I very lucky to have all these thoughts sent our way and I’m very glad the book seems to have stirred up so much good feeling.  That was why I wanted to write it.

All our best,

Martin & Lio

A Milestone

May 18th, 2012


I’ve often thought that life doesn’t give us enough chances for a fresh start, chances to reinvent ourselves, to figure out what really matters to us and to act on it.  September 7th, 2006 —that unspeakably sad and brutal day— turned out also, with the bitterest of ironies, to be one of those chances.  And I like to think that, painful as it was, Lio and I grabbed hold of that chance, wrestled with it, tamed it and made it into something good, something worthy of his mother Sasha.

Next week, I think, is another opportunity for a fresh start.  A chance to draw a line under something, but also the beginning of something new.   My book, After the Crash, which charts Lio’s incredible recovery and how we rebuilt our lives, will be published with much ceremony and publicity by Mainstream/Random House in the UK (my Facebook and Twitter accounts are quivering in anticipation).  It will likely have its US release sometime next year, but you can have it delivered wherever you are from next week.

Lio and I still have a ways to go.  For better or for worse there will be more surgery and more therapy in his future.  But the most difficult patch is certainly behind him and I’m confident there is nothing he can’t tackle.  While Lio and his strength and determination have certainly been the most important part of his astonishing story, of his breathtaking journey, it didn’t happen without the help of our friends.  For that we will always be grateful.

Love & Love,

Martin (& Lio)


After the Crash

June 28th, 2011

Dear everyone,

Lio continues to amaze thanks in no small part to the kindness and support you’ve sent our way over the past four years.  I will always be grateful to you.

I like to think the story of Lio’s inspiring recovery has also brought you some measure of good feeling.  Lio and I are extremely pleased to announce that this story, and the story of how we rebuilt our lives, will soon be published as book called After the Crash.  It is set to come out in May 2012 as the lead title by Mainstream Publishing (a part of Random House).

Please look out for it.

Love & love,

Martin & Lio