I’m pleased to say that I was asked to take part in a blog tour for the first book for adults by Costa Award Winner Linda Newbery. I’ve read the book and really enjoyed it, but I will review it tomorrow. Today, I’d like to welcome Linda Newbery, as she explains how the book took shape.
QUARTER PAST TWO ON A WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON: how it took shape
I’ve been working on this book for years, in the gaps between commissioned work for younger readers, finally making it my main project. Although it’s changed drastically over many drafts along the way, the initial idea remains: what would it be like if someone disappeared without explanation? How would that affect the family left behind, and especially a younger sister just entering her teens?
This became the story of Anna, now thirty-three, who’s grown up since the age of thirteen with a gap where her sister used to be. It was Rose, eighteen when she left one August afternoon and not traced since, who Anna looked to for guidance on behaviour, dress and attitudes. When Rose left, Anna continued to follow where she could, choosing similar subjects at school and even – disastrously – encouraging Rose’s former boyfriend. It’s apparent from this that my main interest is in Anna’s feeling of being stranded rather than in Rose; indeed, I began writing without knowing Rose’s fate. I was interested, too, in families whose response to loss and tragedy is not to talk; twenty years later, Rose’s name is rarely mentioned, and although Anna is aware of this toxic silence she feels unable to break it. My working title was Sidestepping, which I felt had several meanings. Rose has stepped out of her old life, intentionally or otherwise; the family sidesteps confronting their loss; and now it’s Anna who steps aside to renew her search, feeling that her relationship with Martin, her work, her identity, are settling and solidifying without conscious choice on her part.
My first draft, all those years ago, was entirely Anna’s story, with flashbacks to her childhood before and after Rose left. Revisiting, I realised that the story of the girls’ mother – Sandy, Sandra, Cassandra, each name representing a stage of her life and the way she sees herself – was worth exploring, too. Growing up in the sixties, Sandy unwittingly brought about a tragedy, or at least believes that she did, and has kept secrets from her husband. A crisis is precipitated when, on the point of finalising the sale of the Sevenoaks house where the family have lived for years, Sandra announces that she can’t face leaving – it would be too final a decision. What if Rose comes back? Her feelings of guilt and insecurity are manifested in panic attacks and irrational behaviour.
So, finally, after various experiments with viewpoint and tense, I settled on a structure in which the main narrative is from Anna’s viewpoint in the present-day, but which includes flashbacks to her childhood and teenage years; part from Sandy’s viewpoint in the 1960s; and parts giving her viewpoint now, for which I’ve used present-tense to heighten the sense of immediacy and blurred reality.
Writing a novel, while presenting a puzzle to the reader, is also solving a puzzle for myself – working out how the pieces will best fit together. That’s one of the main enjoyments of writing fiction.
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow to see what I thought.