A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Today is launch day for acclaimed Irish YA author Sheena Wilkinson’s STREET SONG, a captivating novel about music, identity and the dark side of fame. It’s published by Black and White Publishing as part of their new Ink Road imprint and I absolutely loved it, so I decided to chat to Sheena and find out more about how she came to write it.
Congratulations on the publication of your latest novel, Sheena! Tell us a bit about STREET SONG – what inspired you to write it?
Street Song is about a young TV talent show winner who finds that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After a violent incident he finds himself on the run, re-inventing himself and learning all over again about music, friendship and what sort of person he really wants to be. Mostly through meeting a fellow musician, Toni, who’s a sparky, outspoken feminist.
I suppose I was inspired by the fact that music has always been a big part of my life. I used to sing a lot in bars, in bands, concerts, etc. and I wanted to share something of the intensity of making music with people.
Can you tell us more about STREET SONG’s journey to publication?
It wasn’t straightforward! I started writing in spring 2014, and then had lots of interruptions, including having to take months off between drafts to write another book which was commissioned (Name Upon Name). When the book was sold to Black and White Publishing as one of the first titles in their new Ink Road imprint, I was thrilled. It’s my sixth novel, but it’s my UK debut in a sense. And Ink Road have been amazing!
What did you enjoy most about writing the book?
I loved the main character, Cal. (I know everyone calls him Ryan but to me is always Cal, even though that is his assumed identity.) He goes on a huge journey and I felt quite guilty about everything I put him through, but I loved how resilient he was. Some of my previous characters would have lain down and died, but he’s a real survivor. I also loved writing about music and singing, though it made me feel quite wistful as I don’t perform much anymore, just sing in sessions, etc., and it made me want to join a band and jump on stage!
And what did you find hardest?
There are some darker elements to the plot — grooming in various guises, and homelessness, and some of those scenes were tough to write. But to be honest, no grittier than things I have written about in previous novels. I suppose the hardest thing was the fact that it was written without a contract — I had to write the whole book and then HOPE my agent would sell it. My last few books had either been commissioned or contracted at least before they were completed, so it was hard sometimes to keep the faith, especially as the book kept being interrupted by other projects.
What sort of research did you do to write STREET SONG?
I spent a morning with a homeless charity in Belfast, who were wonderful — so helpful. And read lots of articles about young people who had been groomed, etc. I also had some experience of this myself, in a rather different context. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/life/features/he-asked-for-kisses-he-tried-to-grope-me-35617820.html. But the NICE research I did was, finally, in my forties, learning to play the guitar, something I had never done before, though I always loved singing. This was HARD, but definitely one of the best things I have ever done. I love my guitar and play every day, and I’m glad that the book inspired me to do it. Sadly my playing is more of Toni’s standard than Cal’s!
Does the book have a theme song or playlist? What’s is it/what’s on it?
Weirdly, given the subject, it doesn’t! That’s deliberate, though. The music I love — mainly country, folk and stuff like Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, etc — most likely won’t be shared by most of the readership. I consciously kept any references to actual bands etc very vague — I wanted people just to imagine their own favourite music, whatever that is. Because it’s not about WHAT music you love; it’s just about loving music.
If you had a theme song, what would it be and why?
What a fascinating and strangely hard question! It’s not the same as asking what my favourite song is, either! Can I sort of cheat? In the book, there is a song called ‘Plastic Girls’: the girls in the band, Toni and Marysia wrote it as a reaction against being expected to be a certain type of girl — doll-like, pink and plastic. I always felt a lot of freedom to be the kind of woman I wanted to be, and if this had been a real song when I was eighteen, it might have been my theme song!
And if you were a musical instrument, what would you be and why?
I’d be Toni’s guitar! It’s a vintage Martin, from the seventies! It’s a bit battered and lived in but it’s got a beautiful tone and plenty to say for itself!
Finally… what’s next?
I have another teen historical novel coming out in the autumn with my lovely Dublin publishers, Little Island. It’s about women voting for the first time in 1918, so though it’s very different from Street Song, they both share an interest in feminism! I’m also working on an adult historical novel.
Thank you, Sheena. I wish you every success with STREET SONG, and I can’t wait to read your next book, either!
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. Groundedwon 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, won the 2014 North East Teenage Book Award, was picked as one of YALSA’s Top Ten Amazing Audiobooks for 2015 and was nominated for the Carnegie Medal. Her second novel, THE FEARLESS, was also nominated for the Carnegie and won the 2016 Concorde Book Award. Emma lives with her artist husband and crazy greyhound G-Dog in the East Midlands, and, when she’s not writing, runs writing workshops in schools and community settings. She is also the co-founder of the UKYA and Children’s Extravaganza (UKYACX), a regional book event celebrating the huge diversity of children’s and YA literature in the UK.