The Week of YA – Caroline’s Choice: Q&A with Rosie Rowell

I aspire to be an author one day, and I, like many readers relish any
opportunity to speak with authors and discover a bit more about the
people behind the books. I was delighted to pose a few questions to Rosie Rowell following my review of her new novel Almost Grace.

On with the interview…

Caroline: Do you prefer paper and pen/pencil or the computer for writing?

Rosie: I have a deep attachment to unlined Moleskin notebooks as I can stuff them in my bag and I find ideas flow more easily in long hand. However, as I was writing Almost Grace to a fairly tight deadline, I found myself going straight to the laptop. I do find that I can’t edit my writing on screen – I have to print it out, which makes me feel bad about the trees.

Caroline: I love the idea of the main protagonists living with you as fully formed characters. Do you write a character profile about them first and then let the story grow from there?

Rosie: No, I’m not that organised! I find my characters reveal themselves through dialogue. My scenes tend to start with snatches of dialogue that I play around with in my head initially and grow from there. The trouble with fully-fledged characters is that they are very opinionated and often refuse to go along with what you want them to do!

Caroline: Your book deals with many issues faced by adolescents with particular focus on eating disorders, anxiety and suicide. Why these issues? Do you see them as most prevalent for young adults?

Rosie: I think that young adulthood is characterised by change – internally and socially. Suddenly you are expected to be able to make adult decisions, and this can cause a great deal of anxiety. My character expressed this distress through her eating disorder but there are many other ways we behave when anxiety becomes overwhelming. I wanted to write about eating disorders because it is a particularly difficult mindset to understand from the outside.

Caroline: Despite these weighty issues, there is a feeling of optimism at the end. However this is reliant on Grace discovering the ability to accept responsibility for her choices. This is a recurrent theme across the history of children’s literature whereby the author conveys a degree of moral ambiguity to their characters. Was this the message you were hoping to convey to your young readers? That society is about accepting responsibility for your choices and discovering that the adult world offers moral ambiguity rather than moral certainty?

Rosie: Yes, I think that’s important. Accepting responsibility for your actions is a tough life lesson and many adults struggle with it their whole lives. But ironically you open yourself up to a wonderful degree of freedom when you can take that responsibility on and decide to navigate your own way through life.

Caroline: What is your definition of a YA novel?

Rosie: In some ways I struggle with the YA ‘concept’ because I think it pigeon-holes a wonderfully diverse range of books. Adult readers were all once young adults and many of us still feel adolescent in some way! I suppose my definition would revolve around the protagonist’s age and the specific issues they are facing. What I do think marks out many YA novels is the wonderful honesty and straightforwardness about the characters and I love that in the YA books I read.

Caroline: I really enjoyed the Sweet Valley High series when I was in my early adolescence. What did you read during this period?

Rosie: I adored the Sweet Valley High series! I had to sneak them home because my mother thought they were trash and banned them from the house. I was a rather naïve teenager and fell in love with every book. Judy Blume was another favourite. As I grew up in South Africa pretty much all the books available then were set in the US so there was an added sense of sophistication that I longed for.

Caroline: Do you think it had a significant influence?

Rosie: It did. I had a sense that my very normal life was horribly lacking because we didn’t meet up for milkshakes after school and have wonderfully torrid love lives. It took me a long time to see through that veneer and stop wishing I was somebody else, living a more exciting life. It also instilled in me a rather embarrassing love of romantic comedies.

Caroline: There has been the long-held view since children’s literature became a recognisable genre that authors have a responsibility to their readers and how they play a part, however small, in shaping the reader’s literary tastes and views of the world around them. Do you agree with this?

Rosie: I think that as writers we have a responsibility to write the truth in the best way that we able. It annoys me to find books that are dumbed-down to a perceived ‘age-appropriate’ level. Young adult readers are powerfully perceptive and intelligent and thoughtful and deserve to read books written in this way.

Caroline: You’ve written two books so far, what’s next? Do you have any more characters living with you at the moment?

Rosie: I have a grown-up character knocking about who keeps annoying me so I may have to let her out! I’m due to start a creative writing PhD in September at Goldsmiths College, which will keep me busy and hopefully produce another novel in the next few years.

Caroline: Lastly, if you were sat at that isolated campfire with Spook, what tinned food would you eat?

Rosie: I’m with Grace on that one –  I find the concept of tinned spaghetti gross. Perhaps a spicy tinned curry to disguise the taste!

My thanks to @rosierowell for taking part and supporting the @bookprojectblog during #theweekofya.  Her novels Leopold Blue and Almost Grace are available in all good bookshops.

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