Your book, Finding A Voice, focuses on mental illness, coping with the pressures of life and the idea that people don’t always come across as being the way you expect them to be, how did the story come about and was there any major inspiration for the book?
I truly am not sure how the story came about. I suppose like any story, it came from my experiences in life weaving in and out of my imagination. Many of those experiences have been through my work supporting and teaching people with challenges such as mental illness and disability, so it was natural for the themes you mention to emerge.
As this is my first (finished) novel, I was pretty naïve about how to go about it. I didn’t have an outline or any idea where I was going when I started. Little inspirations kept saving me. For example, Chris, who happens to have cerebral palsy and is unable to walk or talk because of it, was inspired by something that happened over twenty years ago. I was working as a camp counsellor and one of my campers had a disability that made him unable to verbalize. Unfortunately, the electronic communication board he usually used was in for repairs. I can’t say too much without giving away the story, but that camper taught me a lot about making assumptions about people, and inspired a major part of the plot of Finding a Voice.
I drew from my experience in supporting people with very complex mental health challenges to write about the crisis Jo’s mum experiences. It is a really tough place for anyone to be in, to hit a wall that requires hospitalization, and I’ve been there with a few people unfortunately. I think it is important to point out that not everyone struggling with mental illness has these kinds of crises, but yes, I think there must be many kids experiencing mental illness in their family. These kids deserve books that let them know they are not alone.
I definitely don’t want to ‘teach’ teens anything through this book! It is something I wish I would have realised a lot earlier in life though. I remember, as a teen, thinking that everyone else was soooo happy and sure of themselves. It made it harder to cope with feeling so unsure and unhappy myself. What I didn’t know, was that the kids I envied were often struggling with their own problems. Some of these problems were pretty horrendous, and there I was wishing I could be as ‘cool’ as they were. You often don’t know what people are facing. It makes for interesting writing; but real life requires a lot more empathy than I think is usually out there.
Writing for teens definitely just happened—I was half way through writing this book before it occurred to me that it was probably for teens! Now, I’m not sure I can imagine writing for anyone else. It’s such a raw age for a lot of people--full of passion, angst and finding out who you are. This is all great stuff to write about!
As far as tackling adult topics, I think teens are not given enough credit for what they understand. Also, they are dealing with these topics in their lives so it doesn’t make sense to try to protect them. When I was writing this book I wanted to capture how it felt to be almost-fourteen-year-old Jo. If the perspective is that of someone your own age, hopefully it makes difficult topics accessible and easy to relate to.
A lot! I’ve always struggled with the dichotomy of providing the help someone needs and yet facilitating someone to live the life he or she wants to live. It’s a fine line and one that everyone supporting someone with a disability needs to be mindful of, especially if that person can’t speak up. It was fun to see this ‘care’ through Jo’s eyes. Her anger at the lack of respect for Chris at times is very familiar to me.
Oh, the dreaded question! This question is so hard to answer because there were so many authors who influenced me as a child. From the time I was six, until I went to university, everything inspired me—I read everything, and I wrote every sort of story and poem because of these influences. I loved fantasy writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, and reality writers like Judy Blume. I loved Scott O’Dell, S.E. Hinton and Madeleine L’Engle. There were so many more, but it would take hours to mention all of them.
And then, that inspiration turned to intimidation when I started university. With my love of books and writing, it was obvious I would study English , but I didn’t do well in my first English Literature courses. I hated discussing books as allegory and motif and I became intimidated to write anything myself. How could I ever achieve what all of these great writers had? I wanted to write STORIES, not think about what it all might mean.
Twenty years later, I finally got the nerve to ignore all of the ‘literary devises’ I learned about in school and just write stories again.
When I moved to Ireland, from Canada, one of the things I had to leave behind was my books. I have dozens of boxes of them still stored in my sister’s shed, but they are just too heavy for me bring over. I miss looking over my shelves to find the particular book I need for the particular hurt or insecurity I happen to be experiencing. There isn’t one that covers everything; different books take on different meaning as I (hopefully!) change and grow (yes, even adults keep growing). Luckily, my partner has some of the books I love—but it isn’t the same as having my first loves around me.
For pure comfort I love A.A. Milne’s Now We are Six. I also love all of Robert Frost’s poems. I don’t know a lot of poetry, but I do love the way poetry can exactly capture how I feel sometimes.
I actually know almost no authors! In fact I know one, and she is in Canada. I’m planning to meet Sheila Buglar (a new crime writer who is from Ireland, but lives in England) for a school event this autumn. I really hope I can meet more authors, because writing is a very isolating thing to do and it would be nice to have others to talk with about the challenges of writing.
Three authors I adore are Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver and Meg Rosoff. I am in awe of their works, but they also seem like women who would be incredibly interesting to talk to about life in general.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to answer some very interesting questions!