Blogging friends will know that some authors who get in touch work quite hard to find a connection – and I always do appreciate that little bit of extra effort. When Phill Featherstone e-mailed me recently (and I do hope he won’t mind me telling this story!), he mentioned that he’d seen my review of Louise Walters’ A Life Between Us, and told me that Louise had favourably reviewed his book, Paradise Girl. I was interested enough to dig a little, and found it actually wasn’t that review that hooked me, but a quote from Sarah Vincent, author of The Testament of Vida Tremayne (another one of my favourites):
“…impossible to put down… writing of a high literary standard, with the kind of psychological depth which lingers in the mind long after reading.”
And then I took a closer look at the book itself (published by Matador as both paperback and ebook), really loved its premise and description, and decided it was one I’d really like to read. I sadly can’t do so until July/August, but you might just feel you’d like to read it too:
Paradise Girl is told through the diaries of 17 year-old Kerryl Shaw. The Shaw family live on a remote hilltop farm, and they think this will insulate them from a highly infectious virus which sweeps the country. It doesn’t, and Kerryl finds herself alone, her family and all around her gone. Her diaries show how isolation and loneliness affect her, and build to a dramatic conclusion on the moors.
I’m delighted to welcome Phill Featherstone as my guest today on Being Anne…
My thanks to Anne for the opportunity to contribute a guest post to her excellent blog, and to tell you how I came to write Paradise Girl.
I’m lucky to live surrounded by the bleak grandeur of the Brontë country, and when I look out from my writing desk it’s easy to imagine the moors being traversed by Heathcliff or Catherine Earnshaw. It’s a great location for a story.
The idea for Paradise Girl came to me in the summer of 2013. There was a power cut, and I worked on my laptop until the battery gave out, then I went outside and sat on the terrace. The day was hot and still, and I realised that I could neither see nor hear any signs of life. There were no vehicles moving on the opposite hillside, no tractors in the fields, no sounds from the valley below. It was as if no-one else existed.
I began to fantasise about this. Where might everyone have gone? Why? Could they have been evacuated to escape some threat? Had they been beamed up by aliens? Wiped out by a plague? Yes, that could be it, the advance of a deadly virus. And just supposing I were to be left on this hilltop farm on my own, what would I do? Could I survive? The idea for Paradise Girl was born.
The character of the heroine, Kerryl, was already in my head, in a story about organ harvesting I’d been plotting. It wasn’t going well and I’d decided to put it aside, but Kerryl seemed ideal for this new situation. A bright, observant 17 year-old with her life before her, she would have plenty to say and plenty to reflect on in the dystopia she faced.
I felt that the book needed the immediacy of a first person narrator but if, as I hoped, readers identified with Kerryl they’d want to know whether she survived. Were she herself to be the storyteller that question would be answered from the start. I thought about this for a long time and then I had an idea; Kerryl would indeed be the narrator, but she would tell the story through her diary. As a bookish girl in love with English, it’s natural she would write one. It would be private, a place where she would express her ideas, thoughts and innermost feelings. It would also chronicle the advance of the plague. The existence of the diary wouldn’t imply that its writer was still alive. She might be or she might not.
However, there was another problem: why would she continue with a diary once she realised that there was no one to read it? Why go on with such a thing if she thought she herself was going to die? The answer was to have her imagine a reader, a good looking hunk called Adam. Kerryl began to write for this phantasm, and as she did he became increasingly real for her. Much of the book deals with Kerryl’s mental state as Adam assumes flesh and her loneliness and isolation bite.
One final issue remained, and it was probably the most crucial of them all. You can see from my photo that I’m no longer in the first flush of youth! Could I, a male with my teen years long gone, write as if I were a teenage girl? I thought I could. At college I’d done a lot of drama and at one time I’d considered a career on the stage, so I think I have an actor’s ability to adopt a role. Also I used to teach teenagers and I like them (on the whole!). I’ve read a lot of YA fiction, too. Finally, I think that even in my mature years I’ve never properly grown up.
It’s not for me to say whether I managed to pull it off and capture the voice of a 17 year-old girl. I hope that readers will judge for themselves, and let me have their thoughts. I can be contacted through my website – where for a limited period you can order a signed copy of Paradise Girl at a reduced price, sent carriage free.
You can also get Paradise Girl in paperback or Kindle format from Amazon.
Thank you Phill – and I’m sure everyone can now understand why I was so intrigued, and why I’m so looking forward to reading Paradise Girl.