Q. This Is Not Forgiveness is a contemporary thriller, but follows a number of critically acclaimed and very popular historical novels. Why did you choose to return to a contemporary setting now?
I’m probably best known for historical titles, like Witch Child, Sovay, Pirates and The Fool’s Girl, but when I first began writing, I wrote contemporary thrillers. I’ve kind of gone back to my roots but changing direction was not a conscious decision. Every book I write begins with an idea
and if it’s strong enough, I have to follow it. This idea came while I was watching Francois Truffaut’s film, Jules et Jim.It’s the story of two boys, old friends, who fall in love with the same girl, played by the wonderful Jean Moreau. She is an extraordinary girl, unconventional, a free spirit who won’t be owned by either of them. The film is set before and after the First World War, but for me it has a timeless quality. While I was watching, I suddenly thought, ‘You could up date this. Make it now.’
Q. The book has three different narrators, with very different narrative voices. Why did you choose that structure?
Keeping to one person’s point of view can be very limiting, especially if you are writing in the First Person. Changing viewpoints allows you more latitude. You can present what is happening from different points of view. Writing in the voice of a character allows the reader private access into that character’s mind, to experience what he or she is feeling and thinking, thoughts and feelings that he or she might not want to share with other characters, thus the reader is placed in a privileged position. By piecing together what the different voices are saying, the reader can work out what is really going on. Also, we can learn a great deal about a character from the Voice itself, not just what it is saying, but the words used (honest, bitter, angry) and how those words are expressed, is the language educated, pretentious, grammatically correct, slang, vernacular, and so on. Writing in Voice serves to differentiate and sharpen character. It is also fun!
Q. Caro, the central female character, has an extraordinary hold over Jamie, and the story seems at times to hint that she has magical powers. How much does she have in common with the heroines of Witch Child or Pirates?
Caro has had a passing interest in the occult. A phase lots of girls go through, especially those who want to see themselves as somewhat ‘alternative’, but I think that the hold she has over Jamie is rather more basic, although certainly as ancient as magic.
Q. Why did you choose the Red Army Faction to be Caro’s heroes?
The Red Army Faction was an urban terrorist group operating in Germany in ‘70s and ‘80s. They killed people and did terrible things, but they were educated, articulate, young, attractive and charismatic. There was a kind of Robin Hood/Outlaw quality about them. I thought that Caro might discover them on the internet, or through the people she met, and I needed her to be attracted to violence, prepared to cast herself in that kind of ‘heroic’ role.
Q. The book deals directly with both terrorism and the war in Afghanistan . Do you think authors for young people have a responsibility to deal with these subjects?
I don’t see it as an author’s responsibility to actively seek out and address any particular ‘issue’ but I do see it as our responsibility to reflect life as it is. We should not shy away from what we see on the grounds that it might be ‘unsuitable’, particularly if we are writing for Young Adults. That would mean a kind of censorship, a two tier literature, which would be wrong. Young people can see all these things happening for themselves. It would be odd if we did not write about them
Q. Which of your three central characters do you think is the most betrayed
That is up to the reader to decide.