I really loved The Words That Fly Between Us (and the proof has one of my favourite covers of all time). It's a beautifully written, extremely believable teen novel about a young artist trying to figure out who she is and finding her voice. It comes out tomorrow (2nd May)! For my tour stop, I have a brilliant Q&A with the author Sarah Carroll.
I thought the motif of words through the book was really clever and I liked how it tied in to Lucy's character development. What inspired you to include it?
Actually, the story pretty much stemmed from the motif of words. The first words I wrote were the opening lines: Words can be sticky. They nudge their way into the grooves of the tiles, and get wedged in tiny cracks in the plaster, and seep into the grain of the floorboards. And they stay there. If you look closely, you can see them. Our house is filling up with them. People don’t realize, though. They think you can just fling them around.
These lines defined the tone and theme of the rest of the book. I wanted Lucy to be so fixated on the words around her that they became almost visceral. We see them soaking through the carpet, exploding like fireworks, following her like a dog’s growl. Words trip her up. Suffocate her. They elude her, and so she must find another way to express herself, which is through art.
Words are used cruelly in the book. But it’s often the weight of the words left unspoken that have the most impact, be that by Dad or by Hazel (the girl who bullies Lucy’s friend, Megan). Words are the weapons used by those who abuse throughout the book, but on the flip side, they are the very thing that both Lucy and Megan need to find if they are going to become the people they want to be.
Why did you choose to write for children?
I wonder that myself. In another (unpublished) manuscript that I have, an older character thinks to himself, ‘Young people. They get a hard rap from their parents for thinking they know it all. The way I see it, it’s because they usually do. Then they spend the rest of their lives unlearning it until they end up at war with everyone, especially themselves.’
I think there’s something in that. When you observe the world through the eyes of a child, you see it without the baggage of cynicism or the mistaken belief that your years of experience somehow give you a definitive knowledge on how things should be. When we look at the world with innocence, we hold a mirror to it, and, perhaps, we can see something in a fresh light. By using a child’s perspective, I can explore a story in a way I couldn’t do through the eyes of an adult.
Is there a message that you hope readers will take away from the book?
As a teenager, I was bullied in school, and some of the abuse highlighted in the book is inspired by those experiences.
There was one girl in school who enjoyed tormenting me. It was an insidious type of bullying, so hard to put your finger on. Sometimes it was the words, ‘Mmm, funny,’ delivered in flat tones after I’d made a joke. Other times, it was just a look from her that stole my words away. A few times, I found out about a sleep-over that all of my friends attended in her house, after-the-fact.
Three years it went on for, and during that whole time, I said nothing to her. Inside, though, I was screaming. Everyone else pretended nothing was happening for fear that if they spoke out, she’d turn on them.
Finally, it was one small incident that put an end to the years of bullying. One day, I walked past an open classroom door and overhead her mocking me. Suddenly, I’d had enough. I walked in, up to the group, and challenged her. She was so surprised, she didn’t speak at first. And her silence gave me the space to say what I needed to say, which was to calmly point out to everyone what was going on. And, honestly, that was it (actually, there was a bit of drama that I won’t get into, but in essence, that was it!). From that moment on, I stopped hiding away. It honestly was a turning point in my life.
So I guess, with The Words That Fly Between Us, I wanted to impart the message that you can find the strength to stand up for yourself. You can find your voice.
Can you recommend any teen books that you've really enjoyed?
Lots. Let’s pick three.
Geraldine McCaughrean’s Where the World Ends. I think it’s a triumph of the imagination that a story which takes place almost entirely on the cliffs of a barren sea stack can be so touching, compelling and uplifting.
Will Hill’s After the Fire. It is a first-person perspective of a girl who has grown up in an isolated religious cult run by a cruel dictator. Could. Not. Put. It. Down.
Any book by Sarah Crossan, but let’s go with The Weight of Water… Or One... Or Moonrise... I’d recommend them all. Sarah gets to the heart of a story and brings you with her.
What does your writing process look like?
An hour of exercise in the morning followed by four to five hours of writing/editing, five days a week. Then I try (and fail) to switch off at the weekends.
At the moment, I’m still in the early stages of drawing a few ideas together into a full, coherent story, so that involves less sitting and writing, and more walking around, pushing a pram, trying to keep the faith as I wait for ideas to formulate. I hate it. All I want is to sit down and write, but I’m one of those writers that can’t put pen to paper until I know exactly where I’m going with it.
Who is your favourite children's book character and why?
Do you know what? I’m not going to answer that! Because, for me, it’s not just about character. Or plot. Or theme. Brilliant books have all those things in abundance while also celebrating language.
As a writer, I love a strong theme and a well-constructed scene (or even just a cracker of a sentence). As a reader, I want a page turner, images I can wallow in and characters I can relate to.
In a way, it annoys me when one of these things take over… an issue-driven book that lets plot or characterisation fall to the way side, or a plot-heavy book that cares nothing for beautiful words.