For a fourteen-year-old to have a novel published is remarkable. Last month, approaching her fifteenth birthday, Lindsay Brown saw her second novel come out in hardback and her first is just out in paperback. We talked to Lindsay about herself and her writing.
Lindsay and her younger brother Rupert get on very well. She’s always told him stories. Two baby-sitting sixth formers read one and showed it to their English teacher whose husband, the writer Maurice Lindsay, sent it to his publishers, Robert Hale. The Treasure of Dubarry Castle appeared in 1978, just before Lindsay’s thirteenth birthday. It has everything: a circus, vicious villains, smugglers, and a ruined French castle with secret passages. The adventure doesn’t get started until half way – Lindsay is busy establishing her eleven-year-old characters (Sarah, Jack and Anna) – but the narrative moves at a spanking pace. It sold well; Lindsay read it on Jackanory, and Robert Hale encouraged her to try another.
So in the summer holidays last year Lindsay wrote The Secret of the Silver Lockets, another fast-moving adventure, in which cousins John (15) and Michelle (14) get caught up in a terrifying ‘treasure hunt’ involving rival gangs of ruthless murdering criminals. The central characters are older because Lindsay is; but the books seem to come out as appealing most to 8-12s. Rupert, now twelve, is the test: ‘If he says it’s good, it’s a good sign.’
Lindsay is learning the craft. Silver Lockets didn’t need cutting because she knew how long to make it. But it needed revision – very tedious. ‘There were lots of loopholes: sometimes the criminals’ plans weren’t very plausible.’ Dad helped her with that and ‘with grammatical things’. She likes writing descriptions; ‘but lots of children don’t like them, so I space them out.’ And she tries to have ‘an exciting bit at the end of every chapter’.
Michelle is ‘partly me. She’s shy and she has a lot of my opinions.’ Bits of Rupert are in John (‘he’s a cricket fan’); but the villains came out of her imagination. She gave them ‘all kinds of bad habits (smoking, drinking and not washing)’.
This novel, reasonably enough, is better constructed than her first. It’s a remarkably well-sustained story from such a young writer, inventive and full of action. There are also some moments (John near drowning in a Norwegian fjord) where the power of the writing lifts the experience right off the page.
Lindsay herself is pleasantly modest, ‘My English teacher says I use too many adjectives. I do tend to over-write,’ and unaffected. She tells with evident delight how the headmaster of her school (Cleveden Secondary – a 500 pupil comprehensive in Glasgow) announced the publication of her novel in assembly. ‘He got my name wrong; he called me Lesley!’ Apart from writing she enjoys drawing and painting, and is torn between university and art school. She admires Val Biro’s illustrations for her books. ‘The characters look just as I imagined them.
And he got the details right. Some illustrators don’t seem to have read the book.’
For reading she likes mainly adventure and mystery (Malcolm Saville and Agatha Christie); but she doesn’t think she’ll end up a full-time writer – it’s so difficult to think of a good plot.
The Treasure of Dubarry Castle, Piccolo 0 330 26210 6, 85p