Q1. You started off writing for adults, did you always intend to write for young people as well? How did it come about?
I have worked in children’s publishing for twenty years, and books for young people are very much my first love. It’s true that my first novel, Diving into Light, is very much for adults but in essence it is a coming of age story, with strong teen characters. I loved writing that part of the story, and I think it must have showed because after it was published a number of teen publishers approached me about writing for a younger age group. Obviously, I jumped at the chance.
Q2.Your debut novel for young readers was the historical romance, The Things We Did for Love. Why did you
choose to write something so different in The Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby?
I was obsessed with the war from childhood, when my grandmother used to tell me stories about it. My first two novels were also about the Second World War, though they took place in dual time, but after three books I felt that I had finally written it out of my system. And to be honest, both my adult books were much more about families than they were about war. With Bluebell I am going back to what I like doing best, which is exploring what it means to be a family.
Q3. How did you find writing in diary form, and indeed short film transcripts? Did you always plan to write the book using that format?
The diary form presents both a unique opportunity and a unique challenge. I think no other form allows you to get quite so much under your narrator’s skin. If you get it right, it gives you the opportunity to create a voice which is completely authentic and very intense. The challenge comes when you are trying to tell a multi-dimensional story incorporating lots of different characters and points of view. The film transcripts allowed for more flexibility. They’re still written from Blue’s point of view, but with a certain objectivity more difficult to achieve in the traditional diary. As to whether I always planned to write the book using that format… well, diary format, yes. I spent a lot of time before starting to write thinking about who my narrator was, and how she would tell her story. Blue is completely isolated in her grief. She badly needs a confidante but she has no-one to talk to. All she can do is watch other people, and it’s only natural that she should turn to her diary to pour out her heart. The video-camera was inspired by a book I read a long time ago, In a Land of Plenty by Tim Pears, in which another lonely child recorded his family history by taking photographs. The camera is a brilliant metaphor for isolation – it allows you to look closely at the world, without being a part of it. I took it a step further, by having Blue make films rather than take photographs, making the process an integral part of the narrative. The diary/film format aren’t just a literary device: they’re an expression of who Blue is, and I think that’s why they work so well.
Q4. There’s a lot of humour in The Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby, and heartbreak too. Which is easier to write? How hard is it to keep the balance between the two?
I firmly believe that heartbreak and comedy work best when they go hand in hand. Both are about letting go of emotions, and if you can make a reader cry and laugh in the same book (ideally on the same page!) you have achieved something precious indeed. Having said that, I was conscious all the way through that in the case of Bluebell the comedy should not outstrip the heartbreak, but serve it. The right amount of comedy leaves readers recipient to heartbreak, because they let down their guard, but too much comedy devalues it. Both require a similar lightness of touch, but I think that on balance it’s easier to be sad.
Q5. The press release with the book compares it to Hilary McKay’s Casson family stories, and the book’s
cover appeals to fans of Cathy Cassidy. Did you have any particular books or authors in mind when writing the book?
Oh so many! I am an ardent admirer of Hilary McKay. Nobody for me combines pathos and humour with such delicacy and sensitivity. Other books I had in mind were I Capture the Castle, Ballet Shoes, Mary Poppins, Madame Doubtfire, The Penderwicks, The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers and In a Land of Plenty by Tim Pears.
Q6. Will there be further adventures for Blue?
Yes, at least two more! I don’t want to say too much about the sequel because I’m still writing it but I can say that the rats have turned into a pair of feral kittens, Jas would like people to realise she is growing up, Blue is still struggling to find true love and Flora is involved with a very talented, very troubled guitar playing singer songwriter…