Guest Post

Inspriations for Evie Brooks Marooned In Manhattan: Guest Blog by Sheila Agnew

Today I have the lovely Sheila Agnew on the blog talking about her inspirations for Evie Brooks: Marooned in Manhattan. My review for the book was up yesterday and it really is a great story for any middle graders out there looking for a nice contemporary story about finding out who you really are. I’ll hand over to Sheila so she can tell you more. 

I am irresistibly attracted to books that are a combination of darkness and humour. In modern times, that potent mixture is near its very best in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It’s a semi-autobiographical young adult novel narrated by Arnold Spirit, a teenager growing up on a reservation. Mr Alexie does not hold back from sharing the relentlessly grim aspects of growing up in such a place; the poverty, the prejudice and the pathos of alcoholism. It is also one of the funniest books that I’ve ever read and has exerted a lot of influence on my own writing. I am also drawn to the setting, the reservation; a place so seemingly distant from my own world.

Unfamiliar new lands are always a big draw for me. I am fanatical about travel literature and spend a lot of time scouring Project Gutenberg and second-hand book shops for out-of-print titles. Recently I came across Eothen, an account of travel in the Middle East by Alexander William Kinglake. Although written in 1844, it is incredibly fresh and often hilarious. As an added bonus, it is liberally scattered with sentences that patently had a powerful influence on Winston Churchill’s writing. Take this sentence: “. . . and all above is a world – one not created of God, not seeming to be made by men’s hands, but rather the sheer giant-work of some old dismal age weighing down this younger planet.” I felt a special thrill reading words that must have been read before me, more than a century ago, by a young Churchill.

But, in writing my children’s novel, Evie Brooks is Marooned in Manhattan, I think that the biggest influence was probably James Herriot’s books about life in a veterinary practice in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s. As a child, I adored those books, particularly the humour involving the Farnan brothers and the often eccentric pet owners. The wonderful BBC T.V. series is on Netflix. When I’m in a low mood, I only have to click on the opening credits and hear the music to get a hit of that all is well with the world feeling.

I’m not sure where Evie sprang from. One snowy night in February, 2011, I was sitting at my vanity desk in my apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, blow-drying my hair. I had bought the desk at a fire-sale from an old Broadway theatre and it had a semi-magical quality about it. That night, Evie’s story just kind of leaped out at me from the mirror. I stayed up writing until four in the morning in a frenzy of excitement. I wrote brief outlines for five books in the series and I wrote the first three chapters of the first book. I didn’t start writing the fourth chapter until February, 2012. That’s quite a gap but I’ve very glad that I closed it. The book was a huge amount of fun to write so I very much hope that it is fun to read.
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