Silence is Also a Lie: Beginnings

Love story, mystery, and political dystopia – Silence is Also a Lie is all three, and each aspect of the story came to me separately, one after the other. With each, I felt the story gaining shape and focus, but it was only once all three were in place that I felt I had a coherent plot and could begin writing.

I started with a vague aspiration to write a love story. I had just finished writing a novel about the relationship between a brother and sister, and knew that I wanted my next story to have the different emotional heartbeat of a romance. The names Ash and Zara came to me early, as did the idea that their relationship would play out in the shadow and aftermath of Ash’s sister’s death. But in the beginning, that was all. I had no notion of what their story would be.

Inspiration came in a playwriting course run by the writers Bernard Kops and Tom Fry, which I had been attending for some time. Each class followed the same pattern: we were given 45 minutes or so to write a scene, and then what we had written was handed to the two actors who attended each session, and performed by them, ink still wet on the page. It was, I suppose, the pressure of that exposure that made the classes some of the most intense writing experiences I have ever had: often terrifying, occasionally inspiring (I came to love them, and profoundly miss them now that they have stopped). Though there were often set themes or prompts for our writing, we were free to follow our own paths, and I started using the classes to explore possible stories for Ash and Zara. About four weeks in I wrote (out of the blue: I hadn’t thought of it before I started writing) a scene between Ash and Zara which rapidly becomes an argument, as Ash learns that she has been keeping secrets from him about his sister, Sophie’s, death. As the actors finished reading it, Tom said, ‘Ooh. That’s story,’ and I knew immediately that it was. The scene felt like a moment of condensed energy that held all the DNA of a story. I could instinctively sense how that mystery – of a girl staying silent about something utterly and absolutely important to the boy she loves – could generate a tangled backstory, and a forward-driving plot full of tension and conflict.

But why would Zara not have told Ash what she knew about Sophie? There could have been so many answers to that question, and I spent weeks turning over possibilities: this could have become a psychological thriller, or a crime novel… But I have always been attracted – as a reader and a writer – to works that connect individual stories to the big narratives of history and politics. And this was late 2014 and early 2015: that moment in the UK when right-wing voices on immigration, national identity, membership of the EU and so on, were increasingly audible. There was a sense of something different and disturbing in the air. What, I wondered, would a fascist government look like, in 21st century Britain? And then – what if the events of this story happened under such a regime? – if Zara belonged to a politically proscribed group? – if keeping under the radar by staying silent about what she knew was necessary for her survival? Setting the novel in this near future dystopia gave the story shape, a clear drive, and an added urgency.

So here it is: love story, mystery, and political dystopia: each thread an essential part of the woven whole. You can read chapter one here.

Night of the Party wins the Bristol Teen Book Award

An enormous thank you to the Bristol librarians and schools who put on such a wonderful event for the final of the Bristol Teen Book Award on Thursday 13 February (which, coincidentally, is the date of the critical election in Night of the Party!) It was great to meet so many enthusiastic and insightful readers (there were some brilliant suggestions in the workshop about how Ash and Zara’s story might have turned out differently, and some really really challenging questions about writing in the panel session).

It was a great shortlist. I had enjoyed and admired the other books a lot. So I DEFINITELY wasn’t expecting to win… But it was a delight to know that Ash and Zara’s story had resonated with, enthused, and engaged so many young readers.

SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards

So… utterly unexpectedly and utterly wonderfully, this happened:

Night of the Party has been shortlisted for the SCBWI-BI Crystal Kite Award.  It’s hard to express quite how wonderful this feels. For one thing, it came as a complete shock: there were so many great books on the long list, that I absolutely hadn’t expected to make it through to this stage; not even in one of those wistful if only dreams that can’t quite be dispelled from the back of the mind.

It means so much too, that it’s a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) award. I started my writing life as a solitary creature, discovering SCBWI only after five years and three books, at a time when I was feeling very lost and disenchanted. SCBWI played a huge part in getting me out of that dip, connecting me with a wonderful crit group (Dale Mathers, Carolyn Boyes, Julian Gibbs and Sarah Dalkin) and, through the 2016 Agents’ Party, with my wonderful agent Molly Ker Hawn. And as well as all that, this group has been a source of so much advice, information, debate, challenge, enjoyment, celebration – and above all, friendship: I have truly made some of the best friends of my life here.

So, this is the best thing. And I am delighted.

 

 

Interesting Times UK Bookshop Tour

From C16th England, to First World War France, to a dystopian near-future UK, the INTERESTING TIMES tour spans countries and centuries. Black Snow Falling by Liz MacWhirter, The Goose Road by Rowena House and my own Night of the Party are diverse and different novels. At first glance about the only thing they have in common is that they’re all UK debuts published this year!

But when we came together with the idea of doing a bookshop tour, and started to discuss our books in more depth we found a common thread running through all of them.

These are all stories where big histories have an impact on individual lives: where cultural, social and political forces create constraints and challenges for the people caught up in them. In these three different worlds, our teen protagonists have to struggle to survive, to carve out a space for action, to pursue their various visions of a good future – dilemmas which, surely, resonate for us all in our own interesting times of 2018.

We were delighted to start the tour this weekend, with events at Waterstones, Argyle Street, Glasgow, and Blackwell’s, Edinburgh. Our huge thanks go to the shops for hosting us, and to Elizabeth Frattaroli and Sarah Broadley of SCBWI for chairing our discussions and for their penetrating and challenging questions!

We’re looking forward to being on the road again in 2019!

 

 

SCBWI London Book Group

I’m so pleased to have been invited to discuss Night of the Party at the SCBWI London Book Group. SCBWI’s been such a great source of support and comradeship while I’ve been writing, so this invitation really means a lot to me.

My brilliant editor at Scholastic, Linas Alsenas, will be there too, and we’ll be talking about Plot, Pace and Tension: how to keep your readers chewing those nails and turning those pages…

Madge Eekal Reviews

Huge thanks to Madge Eekal Reviews for this lovely review of Night of the Party.

If you’re a children’s books fan, you’ll want to check out the rest of their site too: it’s fairly new, but already has a good range of interesting and thoughtfully written reviews of books for children of all ages.

Night of the Party: London scenes

London in Night of the Party is a bit of a mash up of what’s real and what’s imagined; so when Zara stares downriver from the footbridge over the Thames she’s seeing more half finished sky-scrapers than actually exist here and now. But Hampstead Heath in the book and in life are pretty much exactly the same. Here are some pictures of where Ash and Zara run together: the woods, the cafe, the bandstand and the mound of dark trees where he first tells her about Sophie.