Friday, 13 October 2017

Of course mothers never have Sheena Wilkinson

Apart from ‘How much money do you earn’ and ‘Do you know any famous writers?’ the most frequent question children ask me is, ‘Which of your books is your favourite?’

I’m always reminded of The Railway Children: ‘Of course mothers never have favourites, but if their mother had had a favourite it might have been Roberta.’
Mothers never have favourites...

I generally say something in praise of each book, a canny way to remind them of the titles (heh heh, see Question 1). But if I’m being really honest, my favourite book is usually the newest one. It kind of has to be.

And now we are seven, as Star By Star is just about to be published. And … well, it really might be my favourite so far. Some books are just easier to love, and this one has been a joy from the start.

It all began last May. I had had (as I confessed on here) a difficult few months professionally: out of contract and nothing on the horizon. Then I got an offer for Street Song, a YA contemporary about music, from the lovely people at Ink Road (Black & White Publishing), which was exciting as it was, in effect, my UK publishing debut. I was thrilled, but it felt strange not to have a book coming out with Little Island, the small but wonderful Irish publishers who had published me since Taking Flight back in 2010. I’d loved writing the historical Name Upon Name for them, and my dream was to be asked to do another. 
2017's first book

And then, a week after the Street Song offer came my dream commission from Little Island: a novel for teens about the 1918 election when women voted for the first time in Britain and Ireland. I remember the thrill as I read the email; I think my response was simply YES YES YES!
my first teen historical novel

I’d always wanted to write an overtly feminist book, and this was my chance. Stella, my outspoken, well-intentioned heroine, a 1918 flu orphan with a burning desire to change the world, especially for women, just walked off the Liverpool boat one stormy grey October morning, with her heart heavy but her chin held high. And I recognised her at once. 
It’s not always like that: often I have to really search for the truth of a character, but Stella was open and honest with me from the beginning, a plain-dealing girl.  Often I don’t hear the character’s voice until I start writing – after months of planning, but Stella started talking before I could even open my notebook.

That’s not to say the book didn’t take a lot of planning, writing and editing. They always do and this was no different. The story changed as I went along; unnecessary characters were written out or simply killed off (a distinct advantage to setting a book in the middle of the most deadly pandemic in history.) But Stella was steadfast. When I saw designer Niall McCormack's gorgeous cover, I couldn't believe that, even in silhouette, he had captured her exactly as I saw her.

Star By Star

Last month I wrote about the courage of Honor Arundel in creating heroines who were not always likeable, and now I realise that I too have often had difficult narrators – unreliable, self-deluding, jealous, selfish, or simply full of doubt. I loved them all, but they didn’t half drive me a merry dance some of the time. Stella was, as writer Deirdre Sullivan, who gave me a lovely cover quote, said, ‘confident, outspoken and kind,’ and she was kind to me too during the months I laboured to bring her story to the world.  I hope readers will be kind to her.


A. Colleen Jones said...

I can't wait to read about Stella, Sheena! She sounds pretty awesome. xo

Pippa Goodhart said...

Well, I, for one, now want to read it!