Wendy Storer is my runner-up buddy in the Mslexia children’s novel competition. Lu Hersey won the competition (yay Lu!), but both Wendy and I were that close. Since finding out we missed the win by a hair’s breadth we’ve exchanged a few e-mails, tweets and I read her book, Bring Me Sunshine. The book is not my usual fare of dark paranormal for an older YA audience. It’s for a slightly younger crowd and is realistic fiction. Had I seen it on Amazon before knowing Wendy I may not have picked it up. Which would have been a mistake, because the book is emotionally engaging, well written, and uplifting. It’s a mistake I don’t want YOU to make, hence the interview here:
Could you sum up Bring Me Sunshine in a few sentences?
Bring Me Sunshine is essentially a story about Daisy, a teenage girl, whose dreams of being a drummer and running off into the sunset with the gorgeous Dylan are thwarted by her Dad’s deteriorating mental health. She finds herself looking after her dad and little brother, and her own life is put on hold.
2. What was the inspiration for writing this novel?
I heard someone use the phrase “ladder to the moon”. It conjured up all sorts of images about the impossibility of putting a ladder up to the moon, and I got to thinking about how I could use it in a story. I came up with a plot about a boy who needed to find a way to be happy, despite the impossible circumstances of his life. The first few drafts were called Ladder to the Moon, but somewhere along the line the story evolved into something slightly different. The main protagonist changed from boy to girl, a little brother was added, the narrative changed from past to present tense, a ‘first love’ story emerged, Dad developed dementia, Mum died, a long lost uncle was added to the mix… and so on. But despite these changes, the core of the story was always the same. It was always going to be a story about a child caring for a member of his/her family and finding a way to live with him/herself, happily.
At about the same time as I was developing the dementia story line, I read a book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle which answered an eternal question for me, about how we find happiness. Tolle’s belief is that “In the Now, the present moment, problems do not exist. In the Now, we discover that we are already complete and perfect…” and it seemed to not only provide an answer for my young protagonist, but the theme of ‘being present’ also enhanced the idea of Dad having Alzheimer’s, which is a very ‘in the moment’ kind of illness.
And the other big inspiration, is the town where I live; Kendal. In early drafts, the story was set in a fictitious place, but after a few drafts I thought, this is a story about real life events, why not set it in a real live place? Kendal was the obvious choice. If you came here, you could find all the places mentioned in the story, you could go to the Torchlight Procession (featured in the opening chapters), you could go to the school, the college, the castle… They are all real places.
3. What was most difficult about writing Bring Me Sunshine?
If I had to say one thing, I would say it was researching Alzheimer’s Disease. Watching videos of AD victims was very very sad, and I cried many times.
4. Have you learned anything from writing this book?
I volunteered with my local branch of Young Carers for two years and got to know a little more about how the issues that arise when you are a carer. I suppose that what I didn’t expect was that these kids, for the most part, do what they need to do without complaint. They just get on with it. But just because they don’t complain or moan about their lot in life, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Society expects a lot from these young people and I think we owe them a huge debt of gratitude and a large dollop of understanding. I firmly believe that carers (of all shapes and sizes) make the world a better place.
I also learned a little bit about Zen Buddhism and how to apply it to every day life, and something about drumming technique, famous drummers, and the Zen of drumming. The drumming research was by far the most entertaining piece of research I have ever embarked on, and I had such fun finding the right song to name each chapter after.
5. Is there a particular aspect of writing in general that you find challenging?
The middle of a book is always hard; all your plot points are up in the air and you have to keep the story moving without letting anything drop. It’s easy to feel over faced and want to give up at this point. I have more than one manuscript lying in a drawer, half finished, abandoned!
6. What else have you written? And can you tell us about your current projects?
Where Bluebirds Fly – a story about a girl who gets sent to a residential school for girls with ‘problems’ and discovers a secret which changes her life forever.
And I have another book which I am about to publish called How to be Lucky, about friendship, luck and taking chances here… This should be available before May.
7. Where can we buy Bring Me Sunshine?
As well as Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, Waterstones… and me!