Whilst working as story consultant on the TV hit show CASUALTY I gained a reputation for taking on so-called ‘difficult’ stories . The expected result might have been a drop in viewing figures. Quite the opposite happened – they rocketed from 7 million to 14 million.
And I’ve followed much the same game plan with WE’VE COME TO TAKE YOU HOME. Both Sam’s story and Jess’ are ‘difficult’, in the sense they are strongly rooted in reality, in small detail. My own mother died of a brain haemorrhage. I had many of the same experiences as Sam, including being too afraid to hold her hand, a fear I never overcame, but Sam does.
In Jess’ story, I don’t try to soften up what was a very challenging and harsh time. She loses her father, her baby brother dies of starvation, very common during the First World War, but not often admitted or spoken about, and her mother commits suicide, again not in the least unusual. She’s left alone, working as a maid in London, and ends up, at the age of 15, pregnant not knowing whether the father of her child, an officer on the Western Front, is alive or dead. Does she or doesn’t she keep the baby? It would be a very difficult decision for a girl of that age now. But can you imagine what it must have been like in 1917?
I didn’t want to go down the typical linear narrative structure instead choosing to run the two stories together, side by side. They bump into each other along route before tying up firmly at the end. And, guess what? This is the structure that was so successful on CASUALTY and one I believe will appeal enormously to young adult readers who so are used, and so able, to do multi-strand thinking. I read an interview with the agent Darley Anderson not so long ago – about young adult readers, the need to reach out to them, to offer something structurally, in the sense of narrative, different. And that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do.
And then just to make my life even more difficult – I add a touch of ‘fantasy’ or ‘magic’. Although I would prefer the description, ‘supernatural’ or even ‘spiritual’. Because in the context of WE’VE COME TO TAKE YOU HOME, there are no ghosts, only spirits, and they are as real as you and I. An odd mix but boundaries exist to be challenged.