Today I'm taking part in the blog tour for 'The Year of the Rat' by Clare Furniss. I have a wonderful guest post from Claire all about the books that influenced the writing of her novel. If you haven't read this title yet then you are in for a treat but have some tissues handy too as this is a real weepie!
It’s hard to know where to begin when thinking about the books that influenced the writing of The Year of The Rat. To some extent every book I’ve ever loved has played a part in inspiring me to write. But these are five books that stand out as having an obvious influence:
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
This may seem like an unlikely choice – it wasn’t until I re-read it a while after finishing The Year of The Rat that I realised what an influence it had been. I loved this book as a child, and I remember listening to an audiobook of it over and over again. Mary Lennox is a very interesting main character for a children’s book: we know she’s been through a terrible ordeal losing both her parents, but she’s hard to like, unsympathetic. It always struck me that because of this she felt real. This was something I wanted to try to achieve in writing The Year of The Rat; I wanted to be honest about the effects of grief. It can make people difficult to be around and I didn’t want to shy away from that. Mary’s cousin Colin has a difficult relationship with his father because his mother died when he was born. Again this complicated relationship fascinated me as a child, and I think that was probably in the back of my mind somewhere when I thought about Pearl’s relationship with her baby sister Rose, whose birth caused her mother’s death. Mary’s redemption comes through growing to love and trust those around her and this is reflected in the discovery of the garden and Mary and Dickon’s efforts to bring it back to life. In a very small way I used this imagery in my own book too, through Pearl’s growing relationship with the boy next door, Finn. It’s amazing how your writing brings things out that have been stored in your subconscious for years!
Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now
This was a big inspiration. It’s a book with a teenage protagonist that speaks to readers of any age because it doesn’t limit itself. It deals with big, serious issues, it’s funny and moving and clever, and it has such a strong, charismatic voice. I read it before I had any serious thought of becoming a writer and it inspired me to give it a go!
Enough Is Too Much Already by Jan Mark
I read this book as a teenager in the 1980s when it first came out and I absolutely loved it. There wasn’t really ‘YA’ then in the way there is now – books specifically for teens were a pretty new idea and there weren’t too many of them around, and many were written by US writers. This was a book showing the everyday lives of British teens, told entirely in dialogue. It was quick, funny and felt completely fresh and different from anything I’d ever read. It was the first book I’d ever read that seemed to show something resembling my own life. This book showed me the power of strong dialogue, the humour and pace you can inject into a story by using it, and how it can reveal character. This was a big part of what I tried to do in The Year of The Rat.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
This is one of my all-time favourite books and I went back to it for inspiration while I was writing The Year of The Rat. It shows the power of an utterly convincing, quirky voice and it’s so funny. The characterisation is brilliant, we love every character despite – or perhaps because of – their flaws. The setting is vividly drawn and the relationships are so real and touching. It’s one of those books I will always go back to in the hope that somehow some of its magic will rub off on whatever I’m writing. I think the thing it showed me as a writer was not to hold back. Every idiosyncrasy of every character is celebrated. I really tried to do this in my book. Reading it reminds me of the joy of writing, the reason I want to do it.
Dear Nobody by Berlie Doherty
I read this book many years ago and fell in love with it. It tells the story of Chris and Helen, A Level students whose lives are turned upside down when they discover Helen is pregnant. The story is beautifully written and it deals so sensitively with the relationship between the two teenagers and Helen’s relationship with her unborn baby. It doesn’t shy away from how complicated the emotions of the characters are, and how it makes them act in ways they don’t necessarily want to, or even understand. This was something I really tried to do in The Year of The Rat.
Skellig by David Almond
This is such an extraordinary book. It tells the story of Michael, who finds the mysterious Skellig in the garage of his new house, an ancient man with wings on his back and a love of Chinese takeaways. As Michael’s family struggles with the fact that his prematurely born baby sister may die, Michael’s relationship with Skellig and with Mina, the precocious girl next door, develops. I love how it unquestioningly mixes the mysterious magic of Skellig with the very real, ordinary life of a schoolboy in Newcastle and this was something I tried to achieve in my own book. I think it showed me that if you believe what you’re writing, your reader will follow. Like The Year of The Rat it’s a story of a family under intense emotional pressure as they all deal with the fact that they may lose Michael’s little sister, and it perfectly captures the strain this puts on their relationships and the complexity of what they are all feeling. David’s writing is so spare and poetic and beautiful – everything he writes is an inspiration for me.
Don't forget to check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour for 'The Year of the Rat'.