Paula, your first novel The Truth about Celia Frost is full of striking themes – thought-provoking issues such as the morality of medical research; what it’s like to live outside society; mother/daughter relationships; as well as striking images – the babies in their cots; Sol and Celia in the flooded quarry.What came first?
PR: A great question with no straight forward answer.
I started with an idea in my head of what kind of book I wanted to write, i.e. a gripping, entertaining, thought-provoking tale. But then it was the image of Celia and Janice Frost that came to me so vividly that I not only saw how they looked, but their demeanour, mannerisms and quirks; once I had them standing in front of me, I knew what made them the people they were. There was something about Celia that her mother wasn’t telling her. From here the themes and the images started to interweave.
In the case of the flooded quarry, I wanted to find somewhere that would be an oasis for Celia and Sol, in sharp contrast to The Bluebell Estate. However, it had to be a place that was realistic whilst conveying a magical quality. As I love wild swimming it dawned on me that a flooded quarry, reclaimed by nature, fitted the bill perfectly.
This is your first novel. What are you most pleased with? What was the hardest scene to write?
My aim was to write a page turning thriller that encompassed some important issues and also works as a coming of age story about a teenage girl’s turbulent relationship with her mother. If readers feel that I’ve achieved this, then I’ll be extremely pleased. However, if readers just see it as a page turning thriller that they have enjoyed, then I’ll still be pleased.
The hardest scene to write, and the one I gave a tremendous amount of thought to, is near the end of the novel. Unfortunately, this is a scene I can’t go into detail about as it will give away far too much. However, for me, the psychology of that scene was complex and intense. You have an adult using incredibly powerful arguments to emotionally blackmail a teenager into agreeing to do something. I was determined that the adult shouldn’t come across as some crazed grotesque but as someone who has intellectually convinced themselves that their actions are justified (which I felt was much more chilling and thought-provoking). I did my best to get inside that character’s head and see it from their perspective, then I would switch into Celia’s head and try to convey the turmoil of her thoughts and feelings whilst being subjected to all this. I actually felt like I needed a drink after writing it!
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) encourages authors to discuss their work with each other. What was the best piece of advice you received on your writing?
The best piece of advice was not to dismiss advice out of hand! If you show your work to someone whom you respect then you must be prepared to ponder on their feedback. The deluded option is to just think that your work is perfect and believe that no one understands your genius! Take a step back and try to see your story in the light of the feedback. This doesn’t mean you end up butchering your work; it can result in changes that strengthen it.
The plot of The Truth about Celia Frost is action packed, with twists and surprises throughout. How hard was it to structure and to maintain the pace?
Celia Frost is the first novel that I’ve written and I quickly discovered that writing pacy, action packed narratives really suited me. I tend to write by visualising everything in my head, even down to the characters having conversations with each other. Sometimes I’d even wander around the room acting out a scene. This really helped to put me inside the unfolding story and maintain its verve. It made it easier to identify what was superfluous to a scene, so needed editing. However, I was also aware that I wanted quieter, more contemplative passages in the narrative and these seemed to fall into their natural place as the story found its rhythm.
As for as the twists and turns, these took a great deal of thought and I ended up with several Eureka moments where I’d wake up in the middle of the night having had some revelation that I’d then scribble down on scraps of paper by my bed.
Celia, her mother, her friend Sol, Frankie the detective, are all outsiders. Do you think you are drawn to writing about those outside society? If so, why?
Even when I was writing short stories for adults, I always seemed to end up with a protagonist who was an outsider (even if it was a comedy!) So, I’m undeniably drawn to putting a spotlight on people who are often invisible in our society.This is probably influenced by the kind of work that I’ve chosen to do. As a social worker you try to assist people in crisis, often people who are marginalised in society. It is all too easy for us to become cosseted in our lives and not want to see how some people have to live in our country.
And for me, it wasn’t just the characters who are outsiders in Celia Frost. I also wanted The Bluebell Estate to represent a dumping ground in a no man’s land where certain groups of people were put, out of sight and out of mind of society. As we know, this isn’t some image from a dystopian novel, this is a reality in modern Britain.
The end of the book seems to leave open the possibility of a sequel. Will there be one? What do you want to write next?
What I wanted to do with Celia Frost was to present a satisfying ending that would work as a standalone book. My hope is that, like me, the reader will be able to picture Celia and the other characters living their lives beyond the last pages of the book. However, in the back of my mind, I know that I’d love to do more with Celia, so I’ll see what happens in the future.
I was lucky enough to get a two book deal with Usborne so I’m now engrossed in writing another psychological thriller with a cast of really meaty characters, which I’m getting far too emotionally involved with.
The Truth about Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthorne is published by Usborne (978 1 4095 3109 8) at £6.99).
For information about The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators see: www.scbwi.org