One of the biggest surprises for me this year has been the absolute wonderfulness of The Summer of Telling Tales by Laura Summers. With a strong pair of narrators, a brilliant love interest, and a surprisingly dark plot, this is perhaps my favourite of the year for younger readers. When an interview request which took me two weeks to write (I was so desperate to get this one) got a positive response, I was over the moon.
1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, what do you see?
When the book’s finished, I’d like to imagine a whole variety of people might read it - the book-mad teenager who devours stories like chocolate bars, the non-book-mad teenager who is surprised that she can’t put it down, the mum who’s downloaded it on Kindle for something the kids to read on holiday, the teacher checking out new books for his or her class and maybe even a grandparent who’s bought it for a grandchild and starts reading to check it’s ‘ok’. I’d like to hope that whoever is reading it is hooked and really enjoying it. When I’m in the middle of writing I try take myself back in time to remember how I felt about love, life and the universe when I was the same age as my protagonists but I avoid thinking about who’s going to read what I’ve written, otherwise I’d be constantly agonising about what might appeal to other people and either end up with something that didn’t hang together or a blank manuscript! My logic is that if I just focus on creating the best story I can, hopefully anyone who picks it up when it’s published might just like it too.
2. You've written two narrators with exceptionally strong voices in The Summer of Telling Tales. Which of the two girls is the most like you as a teen?
I think there’s a bit of both girls in me as a teen. I’d love to say I had Grace’s stunning looks and musical talent and Ellie’s acting ability and gift of the gab but I’d be telling porkies. I became pretty shy and geeky as a teenager. I loved reading and drawing and spent a lot of time writing sketches and stories inspired by the Ealing Studio comedies like The Lavender Hill Mob and the St Trinians films which always used to be on the telly on wet Sunday afternoons in winter. Like Ellie, friends were important to me, particularly my best friend to share secrets and gossip with, but unlike Ellie I was not a talented actress– when I hit my teens I became quite self-conscious and would get rampant giggles.
3. Ellie and Grace's mum takes them to the place where she went on holiday when she was ten. What was your most memorable childhood holiday?
My family used to spend a couple of weeks every summer holiday at Pagham, on the south coast because my grandparents lived there. My cousins often stayed with them so there were always lots of kids around. There were loads of places to play and hang out including a nature reserve with a big saltwater lagoon, sand dunes with prickly gorse and an abundance of rabbits, the ‘Swamp’ - a few of acres of spooky, waterlogged land that I think used to be the grounds of a big house as there was the remains of an old tennis court at one end, and Pagham Harbour – with its massive fast flowing estuary. As we got older we became more free range and got up to a lot of stuff that thinking about now, as a parent, would turn my hair grey, like digging tunnels in the sand dunes and daring each other to hop across the sticky mud flats at
low tide. Fortunately we all survived, definitely more due to luck than common sense.
4. Between Grace's violin playing, Ellie's acting, and their mum's baking, they're clearly a talented family. Other than writing, what's your own most impressive talent?
Thank you. I wish I had something impressive to boast about. I once won a flower arranging competition in the Brownies but sadly have never fulfilled my potential in the world of floristry.
5. The Summer of Telling Tales surprised me because it was far harder-hitting than I was expecting from seeing the cover, which gave me the impression it was perhaps one for younger readers. What age range would you say the book was aimed at, and have you had any feedback from children or parents who found the book different to what they were expecting?
It’s difficult to pin point exactly the age range of the book but I would estimate 12 plus. It is very dark in some places and does have a serious message about the importance of speaking out. I have had a few comments about the discrepancy between the cover and the story but I really hope it hasn’t misled younger readers or deterred older readers from picking it up. As you probably know the cover design and blurb are down to the publishers who are very experienced in marketing and selling books, however, I think it would be interesting to see what would happen if writers were given free range to choose or produce their own book covers – something I’d love to do if any publisher is bonkers enough to let me.
6. How much research did you have to do into the topics you cover in the book?
Loads. Particularly about the impact of domestic violence on children and teens within families. There were too many heartbreaking stories of children and teenagers, from all sorts of backgrounds, too scared or ashamed to speak out, struggling within horrible family situations. Feeling totally isolated and trying to protect a parent were themes that came up over and over again. Domestic abuse is something very common, and happens in all sorts of families but sadly it’s often kept secret.
7. Ryan is a love interest who is sure to have teen girls swooning - he's adorable! Who was your first fictional crush?
When I was a teenager I don’t really remember there being many books written particularly for my age group so when I ran out of books at the library (the Narnia series, Swallows and Amazons, Just William and masses of legends and fables were some of my childhood favourites), I jumped straight into books by Agatha Christie and classics like Jane Eyre. I definitely didn’t fancy Hercule Poirot so I think my first fictional crush has got to be Mr Rochester.
8. Two of my favourite supporting characters were the two main teachers in the book, who both have their hearts in the right place but don't always know what's the right thing to do. As a teacher myself, I think it's brilliant to see that sort of realistic portrayal. Which teachers of your own did you particularly look up to when you were younger?
Three teachers stand out from my school days. The first, Mr Challoner, my year 6 primary teacher, was quiet, calm and totally brilliant because he nurtured us all by encouraging us to develop the stuff we were passionate about. For me, this meant allowing myself and a group of friends to take over the school hall at lunchtimes to rehearse (unsupervised) a play I’d written – which we later subjected - sorry – performed to the rest of the class.(I wasn’t so self conscious at 11!) We were so engrossed in what we were creating, we never even thought about mucking about. The second teacher was Mrs Ram, the deputy head at my secondary school. She was scary – with wild hair and a disapproving stare that could knock your head off at ten paces. She was very strict and fiery but incredibly charismatic, turning our RE lessons into amazing debates about moral dilemmas, getting the whole class fired up and involved. My third brilliant teacher was my sixth form English teacher Mrs Smith, who hooked me into a whole load of books I probably would never have read otherwise and encouraged my creative writing, even managing to keep a totally straight face when reading some of the cringingly embarrassing angst-filled poetry I’d written and shown her.
9. What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve got several books on the go. Dickens by Peter Ackroyd. I got into Dickens late. I didn’t realise how funny and clever at plotting his stories he was. If he was alive now he’d be running BBC drama or have his own mega-bucks film company. 100 Ways to Train the Perfect Dog by Sarah Fisher and Marie Miller. (Unfortunately a losing battle, as our dog had already read 100 Ways to Train your Dopey Human) and lastly What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn which is beautifully written from the viewpoint of a ten year old girl and is poignant, funny and off beat – three qualities I love in a good book.
10. What's next for Laura Summers?
I’m working on a story and researching my next book – I don’t want to reveal anything about it as I generally find that’s the best way to murder an idea before it’s fully developed. I’d also like to do some more children’s TV work. Writing is a solitary business; I miss the collaboration of scriptwriting.