I've had the pleasure of being in contact with Keren David, writer of When I Was Joe. I'd like to thank Keren for taking time out to answer a few questions for Nayu's Reading Corner. Even if you haven't read the book, please read the interview - there aren't really any spoilers here.
1) You've said the inspiration for writing came from the City University's Writing for Children Evening Classes. Where did the idea for such a topical novel come from?
I saw an item on the news about a couple and their son who had been caught up in a robbery. They had to change their identities and go into witness protection. It seemed that they were almost punished as much as the criminals.
2) The book addresses more than knife crime and witness protection. It looks into self-harming, the image that people like Ellie convey to the world. Did you plan to include these areas of life when the story idea first came to you, or did they spring up as you wrote it?
The story started as a plot-planning exercise in class. We had to work together in pairs, each contributing a character and then weave them together to make a story. I was working with the tutor, the writer Amanda Swift. My character was a boy in witness protection, hers was a disabled athlete. Later - with her permission - her character became Ellie in my book.
I did think quite a lot whether I’d got too much on my plate in tackling disability as well as everything else in this book. But I think realistic books should reflect life, and life isn’t tidily sorted into ‘issues’. So I developed the characters as I wrote.
3) The truth behind the murder Joe is witness to is revealed bit by bit over the novel. Will the reader get the whole story by the end of the sequel, Almost True?
Funnily enough one of the questions Almost True examines is whether you can ever tell the whole story about anything. Certainly you know much more about the murder and about Ty/Joe by the end of Almost True.
4) After Almost True, have you got ideas for other stories you would like to release? Would they be along the same vein as When I Was Joe, or would they cover different genres?
I have got another idea for a story, which I plan to start writing in the new year. I don’t think it’ll end up as a crime thriller. I like writing about people in interesting circumstances, circumstances which mean you can examine bigger themes. I hope I’ll write many more stories, in whatever genre seems right for that particular story. I can’t quite imagine tackling fantasy right now, but you never know.
5) What happens in a typical writing day for you?
First thing in the morning I check what I wrote the night before, and give it a little edit. Then I spend the morning doing mindless things which give me thinking time - going to the gym, shopping etc - all the time thinking about what I’m going to write later. I might write a bit in the afternoon before my kids finish school, but I’m quite likely to be distracted by emails and Facebook. Then I write like crazy between 10 and midnight - averaging around 1500 words a day. Every fortnight I go to my writing group, which is a great chance to discuss how it’s going and give and get feedback.
To be honest though, I rarely get a typical writing day - too many other things going on, and of course sometimes I’m working in an office and then I get no thinking time at all.
6) A few random questions: Can you write through any distraction (music/children/guinea pig chatter etc) or do you need silence? What is your favourite writing snack/drink?
I prefer silence, but I don’t always get it. I can certainly edit through any noise (years of practice, working in a newspaper office) but writing is harder. I can’t write with music on, which is annoying - I’d love to listen to music while I work. I drink tea almost constantly.