INTERVIEW WITH CLARE FURNISS
Could you tell us about the plot of your latest book?
How not to disappear is about 17 year old Hattie who has just found out she’s pregnant which is a big shock, and not part of her plan at all. What’s worse is she’s pregnant by her best friend - Reuben - who’s totally unreliable and feckless, and has gone off travelling, so she doesn’t know what she’s going to do and hasn’t told him.
Her other best friend has gone off to another part of the country so she’s stuck at home in a diner job that she hates and she’s looking after her twin brother and sister who are hard work, and she just doesn’t know what she’s going to do. She then discovers that she’s got a great Aunt that she didn’t know existed, and nobody is the family really seems to have talked about.
Partly because she’s trying to escape her own problems, partly because she’s intrigued, and partly because everyone tells her not to, she goes to visit her Aunt Gloria expecting to find a sweet little old lady and instead she finds a fiercely independent, opinionated, gin-drinking Gloria who is in the early stages of dementia. Gloria has secrets and memories from her past that she realises if she doesn’t tell to anybody now, will be gone and nobody will ever know what happened to her when she was a teenager. They end up going on an unlikely road trip together to Whitby, because this was the place where something happened to Gloria, and as we go on the journey with them, we see flashes of Gloria’s past through her teenage eyes. The mystery of what happened to her in the past unravels throughout the book while Hattie’s deciding what she’s going to do in the future.
What are some of the important messages you’re trying to get across in this book?
I wanted to explore lots of different things. For example, the idea of memory and the extent to which memories are what make us who we are, and give us our identity, and question what are we if those memories disappear? So I wanted to look at that. My own grandma had Alzheimer's, so that’s something that I’ve always been interested in and wanted to explore in my writing. I also wanted to look at how life has changed, particularly for girls and women because we’ve got one teenage storyline happening now, and one happening in the 50’s. I wanted to question the change in attitude to things like sex, pregnancy and marriage, but also what hasn't changed in that time. It seemed like a really interesting thing to explore.
There are some very serious and hard hitting themes in this book, so why do you think those things are important to write about for a young audience?
I think there definitely are hard issues in the book, although I always try and write about things that are hard hitting but also make them funny, so it’s getting that balance right. I think teenage years are when you’re really starting to ask big questions, and it’s a time in your life where the world opens up. The world seems a very safe place when you’re small for most people, and you kind of accept what you’re told. Then, when you’re a teenager, you’re asking a lot of big questions about life and death, who we are, and what it’s all about. I think it’s the perfect audience to explore issues that really make you think and question things.
Before your writing career, what were you doing?
My family were very young when I started writing, so I was juggling them both. But before that, I worked in media relations, so I did a lot of factual writing like press releases, speeches, articles and things like that. I worked for the London Mayor and charities like Shelter. I was quite involved with politics, so I liked the writing side to all of that, and it was a really exciting field to work in, but I always really wanted to write fiction.
How do you think your career and the political side to it have influenced your writing?
In lots of different ways - although it’s a different kind of writing, I think when you’re writing for media you have to get what you’re trying to say across in the fewest possible words, and I think that’s a really good discipline for writing, and that you should be trying to do that in fiction. Also, I think having to write to a deadline is certainly very important when you’re writing for media, and for fiction as well although I’m probably not as good at meeting deadlines as I was when I was working as a press officer. I’ve always been interested in politics, and whilst my books aren’t party political or overtly political, that inevitably feeds into what I’m writing.
What made you choose a young teen audience?
I think it’s a really interesting audience to write for, because you can really engage with a lot of serious issues in a lot of depth, but you also have to write stories that keep people interested. You need to keep those pages turning, and you can’t be at all self-indulgent when you’re writing for teenagers because you need to never give anyone an excuse to put the book down and do something else, because there are so many other things for teenagers to do. It’s a very good discipline as a writer, because it’s difficult to write a really good YA book, but I enjoy writing for that audience. I love the fact that you can come along to things like the FLY Festival, and meet your readers. People respond in a very open way when you’re writing for teenagers and I really enjoy that.
What other books would you recommend for your audience?
There are so many. The book that got me writing YA, because I didn’t really know what young adult literature was when I was first writing, and I read a book by Meg Rosoff called How I Live Now, and I loved that it had this really strong, funny teenage voice in it, that addressed these really huge issues about war and all sorts of things, but was also personal. I realised what YA books could be, and that was really exciting. Around the same time I read The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness which I also loved. It has such an energy, and the voice is so strong and gives the book such a momentum. I’m currently reading a book called The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr and it’s so fantastic - a really interesting idea. Lately, I’ve been reading books from the YA book prize shortlist, and every single book is amazing and it’s such a diverse selection of books, but the book that won that was Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence and that’s a brilliant book which I would recommend to anyone.
Can you give us any spoilers about your next book?
We’ll have to see because it’s in quite early stages and I’ve had two ideas for books, but the one that I think I’m going to be writing now is about a party and about the end of the world. I’m really excited about it.
By Isabel Rolfe.