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January 2019

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Steve Antony on creating his new picture book, Amazing
24th January 2019 - Steve Antony

Steve Antony on creating his new picture book, Amazing

Amazing by Steve Antony

Amazing is a fun, expressive picture book about a little boy and his pet dragon, Zibbo. Steve Antony has created an upbeat celebration of friendship packed full of positivity for everyone; his central message of understanding, acceptance and being oneself is deftly conveyed with joy and exuberance.

Here, Steve Antony talks to us about where ideas come from and why he wanted to write Amazing.
 


I get asked all sorts of weird and wonderful questions at author events. There's no telling what a young child will ask or say.

 

"How old are you?" "What is your favourite colour?" "Have you ever accidentally set fire to your house?"

 

But when the questions start sounding more like proclamations (for example, "I want to be a unicorn when I grow up” and “I have a pet alligator” and “I need to go to the toilet”) a teacher or parent will almost certainly chime in with the following decidedly sensible question: "Where do you find all your ideas?”

 

I’ve been asked this question so many times now that I have a different answer for just about every age group. Inspiration can come in any manner of forms and can strike when you least expect it. But as odd as this may sound, I don’t necessarily think ideas can be 'found'.

 

I remember once making the mistake of describing ideas as dandelion seeds to a class of three and four-year olds. I said that ideas are like dandelion seeds that dance on the air and if you see one you must quickly clasp it with both your hands before it disappears forever. My metaphorical explanation got lost in a sea of blank-faced children who were far more interested in scribbling with crayons.

 

As an artist and creator of picture books, I like to think that inspiration and ideas are everywhere. They are in the people we meet, the places we go and the books, newspapers and magazines we read. They are in music, television and all over the internet. They are in overheard conversations on the bus, train or tube. They are born from happiness, sadness, joy and frustration.

 

Some people try to find ideas in the same way that some people try to find coins with a metal detector on a sandy beach. I tend to be more reactive than proactive and like to think of myself as more of a receptor than metal detector. I tune in to what's happening around me, and I do this quite naturally because I'm a people watcher and I’m easily distracted. A visceral reaction to something I've seen or heard might spark my imagination and spur me on to reach for my A5 sketchbook or make a note on my phone. Someone once told me that unless you record an idea within seven seconds you will forget it. I’m not sure how true that is, but what I do know is that unless I write 'milk' on my shopping list I will forget the milk.

 

Every one of my picture books was sparked by something I’ve seen or experienced. I have so far written and illustrated fifteen picture books, and I can clearly recall how each and every one them began.

 

My first picture book, The Queen's Hat came from a photo of the Queen grasping her hat by the trim of its brim on a windy day. It was from a newspaper article my hubby cut out for me. He thought it might inspire a story. He wasn't wrong. The Queen's Hat was shortlisted for the Waterstones Book Prize and won the Evening Standard's Oscar's Book Prize, and it spawned a series of four funny landmark-orientated romps.

 

Green Lizards Vs Red Rectangles: A Story About War and Peace was inspired by Malevich's painting 'Eight Red Rectangles'. At the time, I wasn't familiar with Malevich's work. I just happened to see it on the cover of an art magazine.

 

My deadpan Mr Panda series came from an obsession with drawing pandas and Unplugged came from almost bumping into a lamppost because I was glued to my phone.

 

But what I'm particularly eager to share with you is why and how I was inspired to create my latest picture book, Amazing, and I'm very grateful to Foyles for allowing me to do so on their blog.

 

Amazing may be my fifteenth author-illustrator picture book but its journey from idea to publication was a little more circuitous than that of my previous titles. You may be surprised to learn that I wrote and illustrated the first draft before my Queenie debut.

 

Simply put, in Amazing a little boy introduces us to his playful pet dragon, Zibbo. It’s a celebration of friendship and imaginative play (and the boy just happens to be a wheelchair user).

 

Illustration from AmazingI am not a wheelchair user, but as a gay man I too am a minority, and I know how it feels to not see yourself reflected in the books you read. As a child I never really saw myself reflected in any of the picture books I read, nor could I find myself in comic books or graphic novels as a teenager.

 

Because of this, while studying for an MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University I researched trailblazing children's authors and illustrators like Ezra Jack Keates (The Snowy Day) and Lesléa Newman and Diana Souza (Heather Has Two Mommies). Snowy Day was the first mainstream picture book to feature an African American child as a main character, way back in 1962. In 1989, Heather Has Two Mommies was the first picture book to feature gay people. But I struggled to find many UK trade picture books featuring children with specific needs. Susan Laughs (by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross) is a brilliant book about a girl who happens to be a wheelchair user, although this is not immediately obvious as a wheelchair isn’t featured on the cover.

 

While at uni, I also worked part-time as a Student Support Worker in Swindon Art College. I had never worked with disabled students before so I really didn’t know what to expect. One of my students was a wheelchair user. Every time I worked with him he would update me on all the fun things he’d done over the weekend. He’d even keep me posted on his social life. He had this infectious zest for life, not to mention a wry sense of humour. I worked with another wheelchair user who wanted to be a games designer, and I worked with and supported many other students with specific needs. Some were dyslexic, some wore hearing aids, some had ADHD, some had Asperger’s.

 

This was a truly eye-opening job, and as I settled into my new role I became more acutely aware of the challenges that many of my students faced on a daily basis, not least the narrow-mindedness of those around them. Let's face it, being a teenager can be rough at the best of times. Peer pressure, fitting in, feeling isolated, depression. It’s even tougher if you’re in a minority.

 

As an aspiring author, I developed a huge desire to write a story featuring a disabled child. But unlike many other books featuring disabled children, I didn't want my character's wheelchair to define his story in the same way that my students didn’t want to be defined by a disability. In my mind, my students were defined by their personalities, interests, opinions, hobbies and aspirations. Yes, they required different levels of assistance, but they really didn’t want to be treated any differently to anyone else.

 

I wanted to focus on possibility and what makes each and every one of us amazing, so I invented Zibbo. Zibbo is a loveable, cheeky dragon. He’s also very small, possibly the smallest dragon anyone has ever seen.

Illustration from Amazing

In Amazing the child tells us about his little dragon. “Some children have cats. Some children have dogs. I have a dragon...”

 

Zibbo embodies that very special something inside us all that makes each and every one of us amazing in our own unique way.

 

Like Susan in Susan Laughs I wanted the main character’s wheelchair to be incidental. I also wanted my character's wheelchair to be smack bang on the front cover of my book for all to see. This is very important. Believe it not, it’s rare to find this sort of incidental inclusion so boldly depicted on the front cover of a UK trade picture book, even in 2019.

 

I remember taking a dummy book of Amazing, which was then called Zibbo, to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. Again, this was before my first book deal. I actually managed to show it to some publishers and the reaction was mixed. One publisher said I should lose the wheelchair. Others said it was ‘too niche’ or ‘wouldn’t sell’. I did receive some positive feedback, too. One publisher said it was ‘very brave’ while another said ‘it’s got legs’ which I thought was an interesting choice of words. My now agent, Elizabeth Roy, loved it. But upon my return from the fair I decided to shelve Zibbo in order to focus on other ideas.

 

For five years my dummy book of Zibbo remained buried under a pile of old drawings in my wardrobe. I was quite happy to focus on other books (becoming a published author was a dream come true and suddenly I was very busy) but I hadn’t forgotten about my cute, yellow dragon. It wasn’t until last year, during a gap between books, that I decided to show it to my publisher for the first time. Emma Layfield, my editor and publisher at Hachette Children’s Books, loved it. Yes, it needed polishing up and my drawings of children had improved considerably since uni, thanks to illustrating books like When I Grow Up (written by Tim Minchin) which incidentally features an array of minorities. Finally, Zibbo was ready to spread his little wings and fly.

 

So, while some ideas may come and go in the blink of an eye, other ideas may take years to grow and become clearer. Some ideas may be inspired by something as simple as a photo. Others may be inspired by a lifetime of experience.

 

Ideas for stories are everywhere, but sometimes you have to feel them before you can see them.

 


Steve Antony author photograph

Steve Antony is a graduate from the prestigious MA in Children's Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin and the author-illustrator of The Queen's Hat and Please Mr Panda. Only debuting in 2014, Steve has had enormous success: The Queen's Hat won the Evening Standard's Oscar's First Book Prize, and was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize. Please Mr Panda was chosen as Picture Book of the Month by US retailer Barnes & Noble, who held over 650 Panda events over one weekend. 

Steve aims to create picture books that are slightly 'off the wall', books that children will laugh at and adults will tweet about, but most of all, books that he enjoys.

 

 

 

When Sadness Comes to Call: Eva Eland on difficult emotions
21st January 2019 - Eva Eland

When Sadness Comes to Call: Eva Eland on difficult emotions

When Sadness Comes to Call by Eva Eland

When Sadness Comes to Call is a gentle and poignant picture book written to help children cope with difficult emotions. Eva Eland’s debut has a strong positive message of acceptance, encouraging the reader to acknowledge all emotions, even those perceived as negative, such as sadness. By allowing these feelings in, we can better understand and process them. Eland weaves practical tips through this uplifting and hopeful story, and the book is full of empathy. The illustrations work perfectly with the text, drawn in a reassuring and calm colour palette. Below, Eland talks about her inspiration for When Sadness Comes to Call, and how important accepting our emotions is for our well-being.

 


The idea for this book is quite old already. I have really small thumbnails and notes that I jotted down in an hour or so, dating back to 2012 - which are almost like a very (very) rough blueprint of ‘When Sadness Comes to Call’. I called it: ’An unwanted guest - a manual’, and at the time I wasn’t thinking yet of venturing into writing and illustrating children’s books. I imagined it as a little booklet or foldable poster, almost like one of those IKEA manuals.

 

I revisited the idea in 2016, during my education at the Children’s Book Illustration master at the Cambridge School of Art and it went through many different forms and stages since. It’s interesting to me however that the shape and character of Sadness never changed much, besides some experimentation in between. It just arrived and lingered around until it made its way into the book. During the course, it wasn’t even my initial idea to make a book about sadness. All I was sure of from the beginning was that I wanted to make something comforting - and explore with image making and storytelling how I could achieve that.

 

I did, however, write at the time: “The intrinsic motivation to make a sequence about dealing with difficult emotions is that I believe that by taking more responsibility for our feelings, instead of banning them to our unconscious where they might start a life of their own, enables us to understand ourselves and others better. Instead of having the feeling we need to hide parts of ourselves, as if we are partly in disguise, we can stay true to what ‘is’, in the moment. Making it easier to truly connect, with ourselves, and with others. To give children the opportunity to explore such feelings within the safety of a book and simultaneously giving adult and child a tool to start a conversation about difficult subjects.”

 

It pretty much sums up what I still think is one of the powerful aspects picture books. We can see ourselves reflected in them, or they can provide pathways into territories that might otherwise remain unlocked, forgotten or simply be too intimidating. Offering carers of children an opportunity to explore difficult subjects with children. By reading a book together about a subject like sadness, I think you also give the child a very clear signal that it’s OK to feel sad, or scared sometimes. You can let them know that everyone feels like that at times, and that it is not something to be ashamed of.

 

By demystifying strong emotions like sadness and by understanding them better, we can also let go of the fear of them. Just like the child on the cover, we can adopt an attitude of curiosity and kindness towards our emotions. Emotions can tell us a great deal about ourselves and our needs - and we might as well attend to them. And when we can listen to our emotions and take care of them, we might discover how they also take care of us in a way.

 

As sadness comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and we all have our own stories and ways of coping with it, I deliberately created very minimal artwork and short sentences to create enough space for the reader, so they can make the story their own and explore their personal relationship with sadness.

 

Judging from all the responses so far, it seemed to have worked, though sometimes it’s still hard to believe that I (together with my editor Libby Hamilton and art director Beccy Garrill at Andersen Press - and before that with help of some excellent guidance from tutors at the Cambridge School of Art) managed to make something that resonates so strongly with others.

 

Of course I already realised that sadness is a very universal emotion - but in the process of making this book I also learned to understand this feeling better for myself and in embracing my own sadness (sometimes!) and having conversations about emotions with others, I have never felt more connected with others as well. If we can see our own sadness without fear or judgment, we can also see it in others, without fear and judgment. It made me understand on a deeper level, that beyond all our differences, we really have so much more in common than things that separates us, and in learning to understand ourselves and our emotions from an early age on, we can develop more empathy, love and kindness, towards ourselves and others.

 

To encourage children to explore their emotions in a healthy way is very important I think, and it’s wonderful to see so many books out there now that help with this - books I would’ve loved to have read when I was a child.

 


Eva Eland author photograph Credit signefotar

Eva Eland is a Dutch author and illustrator who lives in England. She earned an MA with distinction in children’s book illustration from the Cambridge School of Art, and has also studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and the School of Visual Arts in New York. When Sadness Comes to Call is her first picture book. Eva grew up in Delft, Netherlands, and now lives in Cambridge with her fiancé.

 

 

Diane Setterfield on her new novel, Once Upon a River
17th January 2019 - Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield on her new novel, Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

"Its fable-like qualities and river-like winding work together perfectly to make a tale that is as near to oral storytelling as it’s possible to get with the written word."

Sarah, Web Team

 

Once Upon a River is a story lover’s delight. Diane Setterfield confirms her place as a master storyteller, with a tale woven through with magic, folklore and mystery. On a dark winter’s evening in the late 19th century, in an inn somewhere along the Thames and renowned for its stories the regulars’ routine is disrupted when a horribly injured stranger bursts through the doors carrying a drowned child in his arms. As they call for help and try to piece together what disaster has befallen the pair, the child comes back to life. How such a thing could happen and who the child is forms the core of this intriguing and compelling novel. From this beginning, Once Upon a River flows into an atmospheric story touching on life and love, and a society caught between the old and new ways.

Below, Setterfield writes exclusively for Foyles on the roots of Once Upon a River and how storytelling helps us make sense of the world.

We have a limited number of signed First Editions of Once Upon a River—get yours while stock lasts!

 

 


Storytelling

 

When I was four, my little sister was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart defect and our job as a family was to keep her alive till she was old enough for surgery to correct it. I was taught to watch her vigilantly: were her lips turning blue? Was she pale? Was it time to run for a grown up? It was frightening. What is more, we were living at this time next door to what is today known as a dysfunctional family. When my youngest sister was born at home, the boys from next door stood at the entrance to the cul de sac threatening all comers with knives. My grandmother was forced to turn back, unable to see her newest granddaughter. Soon after that the local doctor came to visit my mum and the same boys beat him up with an iron bar. All this was scary enough, but when the police came to do a stake out from our bedroom, watching for an escaped convict thought to be making his way to his girlfriend next door, I was terrified.  

 

I also remember the stories. Every night, Mum or Dad would read, a bedtime story from a familiar and trusted voice, and I felt safe. What were they, these stories that I found so cosy? They were tales of children in danger. They involved monsters, great jeopardy, calamitous events and wicked villains, and the children that faced them were seemingly as defenceless as I was. Escapist? Hardly. These stories brought me face to face with the big issue of my everyday existence: fear. What they taught me was that clever children can outwit scary monsters, that peril and danger might be passing moments to be followed by a happy ending, and that although you might be unlucky enough to suffer unthinkable loss, it was possible to survive it. These were good things to know when I was 5 and 6 and 7, and - though my sister has been out of danger for decades and I live in a place of peace and safety - it’s still helpful to be reminded of them.  

 

I was so impressed by stories in my childhood I that I took them for natural phenomena. Like mountain ranges or thunderbolts they seemed far too powerful to have been made by a mere person. When I learned that stories were in fact invented, I was as shocked as if I’d been told that lightning was carved by artisans in Devon workshops or clouds brewed in Scottish distilleries. Yet storytelling is actually hardwired into all human beings. Children spend most of their waking hours in a world of make-believe, whilst adults look for a fix of story as soon as they are not sleeping or working. We go to the movies, play computer games, daydream, even when we don’t read. Sports games and TV competitions are a kind of story in which forces are ranged against each other and only one can emerge the victor. When we gossip we arrange other people’s lives into narratives, and when we go to a counselor we pick over the story we have made of our own life to see whether we have somewhere mistold ourselves to ourselves – maybe there’s another story hidden in the pages of our life, a better one, that might surface if we studied it in a new light.  

 

In the Swan Inn in Once Upon a River, the drinkers are ordinary people.  They are gravel-diggers, watercress farmers and bargemen. They are also storytellers. They are observers, collectors of words, craftsmen. They practice their telling, honing details, balancing effects, creating drama and suspense to refine a satisfying ending. The story is everything. 

 

When one day a little girl is pulled drowned from the river outside only to come to life again later, the impossibility of what the drinkers have witnessed creates a tear in the fabric of reality. It destabilises their sense of the world and unsettles them. There is only one tool that can repair the damage and it is storytelling. So the regulars set to, recalling events and subjecting them to scrutiny, testing the accuracy of every word they use to account for the strange event. With each new discovery – and three different families turn up at the inn, ready to claim the little girl as their own – they reassess what they know to try and predict the future. They tell and mistell, untell and retell in their efforts to figure out why it happened and how it is going to end. In this, they are doing the same thing that we all do every day of our lives: they are using story to navigate the world and understand their place in it. We wouldn’t be human without it. 

 


Diane Setterfield author photograph

Diane Setterfield’s bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale was published in 38 countries, sold more than three million copies, and was made into a television drama scripted by Christopher Hampton, starring Olivia Colman and Vanessa Redgrave. Her second novel was Bellman & Black, and her new novel is Once Upon a River. Born in rural Berkshire, she now lives in Oxford, by the Thames.

 

 

Read an extract from John Lanchester's new novel, The Wall
16th January 2019

Read an extract from John Lanchester's new novel, The Wall

The Wall by John Manchester

"Like a kind of 1984 for Brexit and climate change, The Wall takes a present we didn't see coming and extrapolates it to a future we might."

Gavin, Marketing Team

 

John Lanchester’s breathtakingly prescient latest novel, The Wall, is set in a very-near-future society where climate change has stoked xenophobic fear and panic, resulting in a literally walled-off UK: in a world beset by rising sea levels, the country is ringed by the National Coastal Defence Structure, better known as the Wall. All young people must do two years' service as Defenders on the Wall, taking their turn to scan for and forcibly repel Others—desperate, displaced people looking for shelter. Add to that a blond baby politician, a chasm of understanding between generations and the use of asylum seekers as Help and you'll see why this dystopian vision is at once supremely topical and a terrifying what-if.

Read an extract below from the opening of this essential novel.

 


It’s cold on the Wall. That’s the first thing everybody tells you, and the first thing you notice when you’re sent there, and it’s the thing you think about all the time you’re on it, and it’s the thing you remember when you’re not there any more. It’s cold on the Wall.

 

You look for metaphors. It’s cold as slate, as diamond, as the moon. Cold as charity – that’s a good one. But you soon realise that the thing about the cold is that it isn’t a metaphor. It isn’t like anything else. It’s nothing but a physical fact. This kind of cold, anyway. Cold is cold is cold.

 

So that’s the first thing that hits you. It isn’t like other cold. This is a cold that is all about the place, like a permanent physical attribute of the location. The cold is one of its fundamental properties; it’s intrinsic. So it hits you as a package, the first time you go to the Wall, on the first day of your tour. You know that you are there for two years. You know that it’s basically the same everywhere, as far as the geography goes, but that everything depends on what the people you will be serving with are like. You know that there’s nothing you can do about that. It is frightening but also in its way a little bit freeing. No choice – everything about the Wall means you have no choice.

 

You get a little training but not much. Six weeks. Mainly it’s about how to hold, clean, look after and fire your weapon. In that order. Some fitness training, but not much; a lot of training in midnight awakening, sleep disruption, sudden panics, sudden changes of order, small-hours tests of discipline. They drum that into you: discipline trumps courage. In a fight, the people who win are the ones who do what they’re told. It’s not like it is in films. Don’t be brave, just do what you’re told. That’s pretty much it. The rest of the training happens on the Wall. You get it from the Defenders who’ve been there longer than you. Then in your turn you give it to the Defenders who come after. So that’s what you arrive able to do: get up in the middle of the night, and look after your weapon.

 

You usually arrive after dark. I don’t know why but that’s just how they do it. Already you had a long day to get there: walk, bus, train, second train, lorry. The lorry drops you off. You and your rucksack are left standing there in the cold and the blackness. There is the Wall in front of you, a long low concrete monster. It stretches into the distance. Although the Wall is completely vertical, when you stand underneath it, it feels as if it overhangs. As if it could topple over onto you. You feel leant on.

 

The air is full of moisture, even when it isn’t actually wet, which it often is, either with rain or with sea-spray splashing over the top. It isn’t usually windy, immediately behind the Wall, but it sometimes is. In the dark and the damp, the Wall looks black. The only path or sign or hint for what you should do or where you should go is a flight of concrete steps – they always drop you near the steps. There’s a small light at the top, in the guard house, but you don’t yet know that’s what you’re looking at. Instead what you mainly think is that the Wall is taller than you expected. Of course you’ve seen it before, in real life, and in pictures, maybe even in your dreams. (That’s one of the things you learn on the Wall: that lots of people dream about it, long before they’re sent there.) But when you’re standing at the bottom looking up, and you know you’re going to be there for two years, and that the best thing that can happen to you in those two years is that you survive and get off the Wall and never have to spend another day of your life anywhere near it – then it looks different. It looks very tall and very straight and very dark. (It is.) The exposed concrete stairs look steep and slippery. (They are.) It looks like a cold, hard, unforgiving, desperate place. (It is.) You feel trapped. (You are.) You are longing for this to be over; longing to be somewhere else; you would give anything not to be here. Maybe, even if you’re not religious, you say a prayer, out loud or under your breath, it doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t change anything, because your prayer says, please please please let me get off the Wall, and yet there you are, on the Wall. You start up the steps. You’ve begun your life on the Wall.

 


John Lanchester author photograph

John Lanchester is a contributing editor to the London Review of Books and a regular contributor to the New Yorker. He has written four novels and three works of non-fiction. His books have won the Hawthornden Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the E. M. Forster Award and the Premi Llibreter, been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and translated into twenty-five languages.

 

 

 

#FoylesFive: Haruki Murakami
12th January 2019 - Matt Blackstock

Foyles Five: Murakami Novels

#FoylesFive: Haruki Murakami

As Haruki Murakami celebrates his 70th birthday, Matt from our Web Team talks about why he loves Haruki Murakami and recommends five books he'd add to our TBR piles!

 

A friend of mine told me about Murakami and suggested I read his work. I took her advice... about two years later. I really wish it had been sooner because once I jumped into the world of Murakami there was no escape! Norwegian Wood was my first read, then straight into The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Both are completely different and both are brilliant beyond words.  Murakami can write about anything, he makes the mundane magical, and the world around us a much stranger place. Once you read one you'll want much more Murakami in your life.

 

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Murakami will stun you with this magical novel, taking you from a missing cat, to strange phone calls and a well. This spiralling tale of mystery from the master of the written word in modern fiction will leave you wanting more.


Killing Commendatore - Foyles Exclusive Edition 
With this novel, Murakami returns and brings with him his usual bag of metaphysical wonderment. An artist goes on a personal journey that changes his life and leaves him questioning his own reality, and when he befriends a new neigbour his world and another more haunting world start to merge...


Kafka on the Shore
This twisting tale shifts between a runaway and a man who works as a cat finder, as he can communicate with cats. Music is also a strong theme in this novel expertly knitted together by an author whose use of language is beyond reproach.


Norwegian Wood
A piece of music takes our protagonist back to his student days, his love of American novels and all the things and people he has loved and lost throughout his life. The classic Murakami novel that made his name in Japan and the rest of the world.


Wild Sheep Chase
A nameless man is given an offer he cannot refuse - to search for a sheep. But this is no ordinary sheep; it is one that holds the key to a great mystical power. This is a perfect book to start off with if you have never had the adventure of reading a Murakami before.

 

 

 

 

The Binding
10th January 2019 - Bridget Collins

Bridget Collins tells us about her new novel, The Binding

The Binding by Bridget Collins

"The Binding is a book about books and the power of their contents; it’s a book about love, how it binds us and sets us free, and it’s a book about knowing and accepting yourself."

Sarah, Web Team

 

The Binding is Bridget Collins' first adult novel, and it's set to be one of our favourites of the year (and it's only January!). In a tale laced with magic and unforgettable characters, Collins explores the importance of memory to our identity and how this might change if we were able to permanently erase parts of our past. Below, exclusively for Foyles, the author tells us about the inspiration for The Binding, how love is at its core, and how she feels about her characters.

 

We've a limited amount of signed first editions, order yours while stock lasts!

 


I started studying bookbinding a few years ago, and I was immediately seduced by it: by the processes, the materials – the coloured papers, gold, leather, beeswax, silk – and the tools, which are made of wood and bone and metal. It was all wonderfully tactile, with a sort of subtle glamour that made me imagine another, older, world. When you restore books, you start by taking them apart, and it’s like going backwards through time: by the point when you’re ready to start work, you’ve learnt something about the original binder, and you feel surprisingly close to them. You see the mistakes they’ve made, the shortcuts, the places they’ve been lazy or taken extra care. Being an incorrigible daydreamer, I suppose it was inevitable that I’d pretend I was an apprentice, and start to imagine the life I would have led; and Emmett – my main character – seemed to materialise at my shoulder, learning the craft along with me.

 

At more or less the same time, I was a volunteer with the Samaritans. There I had the privilege of hearing people’s stories, which were often traumatic or painful, and ‘holding’ those stories for them, feeling that my act of listening somehow helped them to heal. But occasionally I’d come across someone who was ‘stuck’ – whose whole life had become defined by a narrative where they were a victim or a villain – and I began to wonder what would happen if I could simply reach out and take that memory away from them, leaving them to begin again. Would I do it, if I could? What would it be like? And what would the wider implications be? It was out of that juxtaposition, I think, that the central idea of The Binding was born: that people can put part of their lives into a book, and walk away remembering nothing. I’ve always been fascinated by memory loss, and the way it can make the simplest things heart-breakingly poignant (I’m haunted by the time my grandfather turned to my mother, after my grandmother’s death, and said, ‘I wonder why Joy doesn’t write to me…’) and so gradually I came to see that this was one way to tell a story about it, and about our sense of identity, about desire, about consumerism – but most of all, about love. After all, The Binding is about two people who find, love and betray each other – although not necessarily in that order… At its heart, it’s shamelessly romantic!

 

The Binding is my first adult novel, and in some ways it felt like beginning over again, writing for myself without a thought to what would happen once I finished. When I started I didn’t even know what sort of book it was going to be, and so I wrote in a fever of discovery. I always fall in love with my characters, at least a little bit, and I remember the butterflies-in-stomach, broken-sleep, no-appetite joy of writing some of the scenes. I particularly loved taking on the different voices: Emmett has a kind of innocence as he discovers the new world of binding, and his journey of discovery reflects the reader’s; Lucian is more complex, more troubled, and darker. I’ll let you guess which was more fun to write! But perhaps most of all I relished the dynamics of knowing and not-knowing that are constantly at play. There’s hardly a single scene in the book where both the protagonists know everything – so it was a constant challenge to juggle what I knew and what they knew, not giving too much away. Sometimes it was quite tricky to keep it all straight!

 

It’s always a bit scary when your book comes out. For years it’s been my story, unfolding in the safety of my own head, but now it’ll meet the people who count. I really, really hope that you enjoy The Binding – which, being about books and about lovers, is a book-lover’s book in more ways than one.

 


Bridget Collins Author Photograph

Bridget Collins trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art after reading English at King's College, Cambridge. She is the author of seven acclaimed books for young adults and has had two plays produced, one at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Binding is her first adult novel.

 

 

 

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