A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Keren David’s Salvage – a beautifully crafted YA novel about two siblings separated by adoption – is my favourite book of recent years and I was delighted when Keren decided to answer some questions for Vulpes Libris.
1) I’ve just read Salvage and was completely blown away by the very real and vivid characterisation. Can you tell us how you came to write this story about family and adoption?
Thank you! I saw a news story about adopted kids being contacted by birth families through Facebook, and thought it was a great idea for a book, so I filed it away to think about. A year later I was chatting to another mum as we watched our sons play football and she said ‘I’ve got an idea for your next book’, which turned out to be the same thing. She’s a social worker, specialising in adoption so she was able to help a lot with research. I was attracted to the idea because I like areas where politics and emotions mix, and it also gave me the chance to write about kids in care.
2) How does it feel to be published? What are the best and worst parts of being an author?
I’m one of those people who has lots of ideas but finds it hard to get things finished, so each book published reminds me that I can take on a long project and get to the end. I love hearing from readers. The worse thing is trying to survive on an uncertain income.
3) If you could go back in time and give your teenaged self any advice, what would it be?
Believe in yourself as a creative person. Take up yoga, it might improve your flexibility. And never accept failure as anything but a challenge.
4) When I was Joe was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award. How did that feel and how did it affect your writing? Also could you tell us a little about the awards ceremony itself?
It’s a big honour to be shortlisted for the Branford Boase, and it’s especially lovely because it’s the one award that is also for editors. So I was just as thrilled for my editor Maurice Lyon as I was for myself. I also felt a little bit vindicated because my first book When I Was Joe was turned down by all the bigger publishers before being taken on by Maurice.
The awards ceremony is a bit of a blur, but I remember it being very hot, failing to speak to Jacqueline Wilson, which was a big disappointment, and having a nice time hanging out with other short-listed authors: Pat Walsh, Candy Gourlay, and Jamie Buxton.
5) Do you think that YA books need to have a particular moral to the story? Is it the YA author’s responsibility to set readers a good example?
I don’t really think in terms of morals or role models. I do tend towards a hopeful ending, and I do think that idiotic behaviour usually has some sort of consequence, but the teenagers in my books do make a lot of mistakes and are certainly not perfect.
6) Where do you stand on swearing in YA books? Do you drop the f-bomb?
My books are all (so far) told in the first person, so I have a ludicrous debate with myself in order to explain why my narrators are not swearing all the time. Usually I convince myself that they are telling their story to someone older, so they are on their best behaviour…but the occasional swearword does slip through. There is an f-bomb or two in the ‘Joe’ trilogy, but otherwise I have avoided it – there are lots of other words, and generally an f-bomb is not strictly necessary. In my latest book, Salvage, one narrator Cass is not a sweary girl at all, and the other, Aidan. would have had f-bombs littering every page if I’d let him. Hopefully they are implied.
I find that writing is a great way to escape feeling low, especially if you love your characters. Some people might think that I have already written bleak and harrowing stories, but I always mix in some humour. There are many things I would find very difficult to write about – war, rape, genocide – but I’d never rule out any subject.
8) Which book meant the most to you as a teenager?
I remember reading Wuthering Heights when I was about 13 and being knocked out by all the passion and longing and darkness at a time when my emotions were in constant turmoil, with no way of expressing or understanding them.
9) Finally, please recommend five books.
Longbourn – Jo Baker
Masha – Mara Kay
The Accidental Tourist – Anne Tyler
The Outsiders – S E Hinton
The Year of the Rat – Clare Furniss
Many thanks, Keren.
To find out more about Keren David, please check out her website.
This week, we scan biography, art history and current fiction.
Monday: Kate reads Frank O'Connor's two autobiographies about modern Irish history.
Wednesday: Jackie delves into Sebastian Smee's book of artists who influenced each other,The Art of Rivalry.
Friday: Moira negotiates the currents and quicksands of Jenn Ashworth's enigmatic Fell.