To me, this book is a profound exploration of human behaviour, weakness and strengths; how sacrifice is needed to protect those we love the most. How would you describe your novel?
What a truly lovely description. You have really captured what I wanted to explore. I started with a desire to examine how we cope with grief and loss. This grew into an exploration of how grief is a shared human experience, something monumental that is present in the everyday, and how we can do terrible things when we fear or face loss. We can also do wonderful things, casting ourselves aside in an attempt to help others with their grief, as Kay does so much with Jessie. If I was to describe the book in a nutshell, I’d say it’s a novel about grief and the many stories we tell to protect ourselves and the ones we love.
You tie things up beautifully at the end. Many authors start from the end and finish with the beginning. How did you approach the writing?
I started with both I think. I always knew what the ‘secret’ of the History was going to be, but I started from the idea of a mysterious book hidden under the floorboards of an abandoned home. It was very much a process of going back and forth: finding something that fit with the History’s origins, but also ensuring it was something exciting, engaging and reflected something I loved or cared about. It was also important to consider how Jessie would respond to each history, so in many ways, the histories shaped the main plot (e.g. Jessie and the incident with the salt lamp was very much inspired by the Polish salt mine history). When I wrote, I had breaks where I would spend months researching a history, then I would write that history and Jessie’s following chapters, and then get back to researching the next history.
This is your debut novel and an immediate success story. What advice or suggestions can you give to writers struggling to find the path to publication?
I would first say, please know that your story is valid. If it hasn’t found a home yet, that isn’t necessarily a reflection of the writing or the story. One of my favourite books is an unpublished YA novel written by a dear friend. It still hasn’t found a publisher, much to my shock and dismay, but it is a clever, heart-warming, funny, enthralling and innovatively-told story. I truly believe the best books in the world are sitting on the hard drives of aspiring writers.
So, I would tell those writers to take heart and keep going. I sent out chapters for mentoring and manuscript competitions, and faced constant rejection until the Fogarty. Try to get involved with writing centres or find friends who can offer feedback and encouragement. When you feel your work is polished and ready, enter whatever you can: prizes, manuscript assessment competitions, mentoring programs, anything. Countless people saw nothing in The History of Mischief. It may take you years, even decades, but if you believe in your story, keep going.
Have you any ideas for your next book?
Yes, many! My next book started with just a few images and feelings many years ago. Stories have to brew with me for a long time. Recently the plot has taken shape and I now have a plan for most of the story, including the end.
Like The History of Mischief, this story will take readers on a journey through time, going back as far as 2000 BC. It currently features the following: blue whales swimming through cities, a hanged criminal and a world leader, immense longing and constant searching.
At the moment, I am in the research phase, though I have written a few early chapters. I am hopeful that it won’t take the 12 years it took to write The History of Mischief.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Only that I am grateful for these lovely questions and for everyone who engages with the book. I hope it will inspire readers to conduct their own loving, playful brand of mischief.