Happy Book Birthday to Sheena Wilkinson and STILL FALLING! Emma Pass finds out more.
Hi Sheena! Welcome to the blog, and happy (belated) book birthday! Can you tell our readers a bit about STILL FALLING?
It’s a YA contemporary novel about two seventeen year olds who fall in love. Luke’s the new boy at school, attractive but secretive. Esther’s shy and plump and doesn’t quite believe it when he falls for her. When Luke is accused of something terrible, Esther tries to prove he’s innocent, but she starts to doubt him… And the reader should doubt him too, even though he’s a narrator and we want to trust him…
How did the idea for STILL FALLING come about?
I wanted to write from the point of view of a character who would remain quite elusive to the reader. Luke has some obvious issues — he has epilepsy, he’s grown up in care — but he has other, hidden things going on — hidden even from himself, and I wanted to try to write a story where I made the reader fall in love with a character and then think, hold on… I don’t quite get this guy…What made you decide to write about a character with epilepsy?
It wasn’t in the original plan, which seems weird now because it’s so central. Luke is a character for whom two things are very important — being invisible, and being in control. I wanted to make this difficult for him — not because I am a sadist but because it makes for a good story, and one day I was in a bus station when a woman had a seizure. Luckily she was fine, and someone helped her, but it really stayed in my mind and I did a lot of research about epilepsy and especially on being a teenager with epilepsy. It made so many things about Luke really make sense, too.
Your books always strike me as being novels-within-novels – the characters have rich and complex backstories which are woven expertly into the main plot. How do you decide where to start your characters’ stories?
That’s such a lovely thing to say! I very much work on the iceberg principle — that I should know everything below the surface about my main characters even if you, the reader, only see a fraction of it. I do masses of thinking and planning about my characters before I ever start writing and I do stuff like, if I’m at a party, or in a new situation, or even just walking down the street, imagine, How would Luke feel if he were here? orHow would Esther deal with this? For me, character is where it all starts and ends. Often, though, I don’t know all the backstory when I start writing. I can be surprised along the way which is delicious.
Does STILL FALLING have a theme song? If so, what is it?
Yes, definitely! Early Taylor Swift — the first three albums. Esther is a fan and so am I. Her heartbreak songs are so much part of how Esther experiences her first big heartbreak. And the book is dedicated to my goddaughter who introduced me to Taylor Swift, so that’s lovely.
What was your journey to becoming a published writer like?
It was long! I’m in my forties and on my fourth novel. I was a typical bookish child, always reading and writing, but I let myself get distracted from the writing in my twenties and early thirties. Then I started to take it more seriously and along the way I did all the usual things — wrote crap stuff, wrote better stuff, went to Arvon, did a Masters. Now I’ve been able to leave my teaching job and try to make a go of being a full-time writer, but most of my income comes from school visits and events. It’s quite precarious but I’m so happy. I’ve been very well supported by the NI Arts Council. They gave me such a great break, and it means a lot when someone has that kind of faith in you.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
When I am writing — i.e.. not doing school visits, admin, blog posts, festivals, book events, teaching — I try to be at my desk at nine. OK, half nine. I work all morning with a short lunch break and then by about four I tend to do some admin and then go out for a walk. I’ve out on weight since I stopped teaching and started writing so I try to walk every day. I think about my books, yes, when I walk but I’m also always plugged into a podcast — generally Radio 4.
If you were stuck on a desert island, what is the one book you would have to have with you?
This is such a tough one. It would be Jane Austen. You CAN get all her novels in one volume. Is that cheating? If only one, then I think Emma. I love Austen’s style and wit and the way she can make you care about characters who are deeply flawed. I read lots of different things, and I read heaps of modern fiction, YA and ‘adult’, but if I could only have one, it’d be Jane.
And finally… what are you working on next?
Too much! I’ve just finished another YA called Street Song, about a bisexual love triangle in a band, and that’ll be going on submission very soon. I’ve got a historical middle grade coming out in September, but I — um — have to write it first!
Since the publication of the multi-award-winning Taking Flight in 2010, Sheena Wilkinson has been established as one of Ireland’s most acclaimed writers for young people. Grounded won the overall CBI Book of the Year award in 2013, and her new novel Still Falling has been described (Inis Magazine) as ‘heartbreaking and heartwarming…an instant classic’. Sheena lives in County Down.
Emma Pass has been making up stories for as long as she can remember. Her debut novel, dystopian thriller ACID, was the winner of the 2014 North East Teenage Book Award and the audiobook was named as one of YALSA’s Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks for 2015 in the US. It was followed by THE FEARLESS, another stand-alone thriller for young adults, in April 2014. By day, she works as a library assistant and lives with her husband and dog in the North East Midlands.