I'm halfway through the thrilling Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein so it's exciting to share a guest post from Sarah about what inspired her to write the book and how it came together.
Sarah Epstein – Better Reading Kids
I started writing Small Spaces before I had any idea exactly what the format or genre was going to be. I only knew it would be for young adult readers and it might have a few suspenseful scenes. I’ve long been a fan of thrillers, particularly psychological thrillers, but was that where my mystery idea was headed? And, more importantly, did I have the writing chops to pull it off?
The seed of this story was my fascination with children’s imaginary friends. When my kids were little and attending playgroup and kindergarten, I’d hear stories from mothers about how they’d overheard their child’s one-sided conversations in the bath, or how their child’s invisible friend had to have a place set at the dinner table. I’d always think, where do these imaginary friends come from? Are they tied to emotional issues, loneliness or just boredom? Are they coping mechanisms, a cry for attention, or even, as some suggest, a spiritual presence that a child’s mind is open enough to see?
This got me thinking about how it might affect relationships with family and friends if a childhood imaginary friend reappeared many years later. I wanted to explore a story about a character who was desperate to win the trust of others when she isn’t even sure she trusts herself. I had a hook that interested me enough to want to explore it, and it wasn’t long before the title popped into my head as well. The idea of small spaces conjured up so many different meanings for me, and the challenge was getting it all down on the page with a taut plot and a protagonist that readers could get behind even if they weren’t sure whether to completely trust her.
For me, great thrillers present intriguing questions and convincing red herrings, and the pacing needs to be very tight. Slow patches will encourage readers to put the book down, and that’s something no author wants! My aim was to give readers a lot of information so they could start forming their own theories, then throw in a twist or two in the hopes of turning those theories on their head.
The non-linear narrative structure of Small Spaces developed when I realised a large number of flashbacks would be required to properly explain what happened in my protagonist’s past. But I didn’t want to tell all of those in the passive past-tense voice of Tash recollecting them. I felt this would dilute the tension and affect the pacing. Instead, I wrote these chapters in present tense using Tash’s childhood voice so readers can see how things played out in real-time through her eyes. I also introduced therapy session transcripts and newspaper articles written in a clinical tone to present other evidence that isn’t skewed by Tash’s point of view.
I found the climax of the story the most challenging part to write. I wanted it to do so many things while at the same time be fast-paced and absolutely gripping. Endings are always tricky – they need to feel completely satisfying for the reader while tying up all the loose threads and illuminating the story’s themes. I never start writing a story until I know how the ending is going to play out; then my challenge is figuring out how I’m going to get my characters there.
Would I write another psychological thriller? Absolutely! Crafting Small Spaces pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me the opportunity to play with a different format of storytelling than what I’d done with previous manuscripts. There is simply nothing more satisfying than entertaining someone with words and worlds you have created. I can’t wait to do it all over again.
Thank you so much Sarah! I love the structure of this book, so it's fascinating to get an insight into how it came about. I can't wait to see how Small Spaces ends and I'll be posting my review soon!