Interview with Annabel Pitcher

Annabel Pitcher is one of my favourite authors.  Her first two books, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and Ketchup Clouds are absolutely brilliant and I can’t wait to read what she writes next.  Annabel very kindly answered some of my burning questions about Ketchup Clouds and her writing style.

  • What was your inspiration for Ketchup Clouds?

The plot took a long time to figure out. The only thing I knew from the very beginning was that I wanted to write about a girl, Zoe, who kills someone and completely gets away with it. I imagined a dramatic scene occurring at sunset, which is where I got the title, Ketchup Clouds (i.e. red clouds). Apart from that, I had no idea what the story would involve. Slowly, over a few months of planning, thinking and generally just daydreaming and calling it work, I decided to make it a love story.  However, I desperately didn’t want it to be one of those cheesy high school tales, so I tried to think of an unusual way to tell Zoe’s story, a quirky way to explore the well-worn theme of first love. I experimented with all sorts but eventually came to realise that the best way to tell Zoe’s tale was through a series of anonymous letters. Zoe has this terrible secret that she can’t reveal to anyone she knows, so it makes sense for her to try and confess to a stranger. That’s when the whole book really took off and became something exciting! I could just imagine this distraught, teenage girl, wracked with guilt, tiptoeing out in the middle of the night after a bad dream to hide away in the garden shed and write a secret letter. The question was, to whom? I thought of celebrities, The Pope, even Santa Claus (!) but nothing felt quite right. Then one night when I was driving home from my parents’ house, I suddenly remembered that I’d written to an inmate on Death Row in America when I was a teenager. I’d got involved in a ‘pen pal’ scheme through Amnesty International, and the strange thing about writing to someone you’ve never met, someone who has done something wrong, is that you become far more open about your own life and flaws than you would to a friend. Because you’ll never meet them, you can tell them anything. That’s when I knew that Zoe had to write to a criminal on Death Row. So, in answer to your question, there was no real direct inspiration for the novel. I worked hard to come up with an unusual story, but once I had the pieces in place, it was relatively easy to write.

  • I love the way that you portray the parents in your stories.  They aren’t always the best parents but deep down they love their children.  Why do parents play such an important role in your stories?
I think it’s because I like to write coming-of-age stories. Though Zoe in ‘Ketchup Clouds’ is a lot older than Jamie in ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece’, they are both coming-of-age tales: both characters grow up in the novels, they both learn something, and they both mature. Inevitably, when talking about a child or teenager growing up, you have to explore their relationship with their parents and how this changes. One of the things most people come to understand as they get older is that their parents aren’t perfect. Depending on the situation, this is either a positive or negative moment of awakening, but it happens to most of us at some point in our childhood or teens, so it seems a natural thing to focus on that in a YA book.
  • Ketchup Clouds is a story driven by relationships.  How do you create realistic relationships between your characters?
The honest answer is, I do a huge amount of talking out loud! The neighbours probably think I’m crazy! Getting dialogue right is so important if you are to construct a realistic relationship, so I write a bit then act it out to see if it sounds authentic. If anything jars, I delete it straight away. I listen very closely to the way that people talk. Conversations are full of false starts, pauses, repetition, hesitation and so forth, so I try hard to capture that in my dialogue. I think it also helps that I am fascinated by people. I study humans – the way we interact, our psychology, why we do the things we do and how we screw up – and I use all of my research in my books to try and construct three dimensional characters who are neither good nor bad, but somewhere in between. Then it’s just a matter of putting a few characters together and trying to guess what they would say to each other!
  • Both Ketchup Clouds and My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece are told in first person.  Is this a style that you prefer or did it just seem right for the stories you were writing?
I do prefer it, both as a reader and a writer. I love the intimacy – the ability to get inside a character’s head so completely. As a reader, I was drawn to novels with a strong narrative voice (How I Live Now, Broken Soup, The Catcher in the Rye, Perks of Being A Wallflower) so, when I set out to write my own book, I wanted to try it in the first person. It is so much fun trying to capture a character’s unique voice. You have to really listen to them inside your head, hear their dialect, and then try to work out how to represent that on paper so it seems as if they’re really talking. Should they pause here?  Stop completely there?  Elaborate that point further? I love making those decisions! Saying that, I do think I need a break from writing in the first person. In ‘Ketchup Clouds’, I was keen to make Zoe sound totally different from Jamie in ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece’, but I don’t know if I come up with a third completely contrasting narrative voice just yet. I need a break – so I’ve started writing my third novel in the third person. It’s going okay so far and it’s a nice change.
Ketchup Clouds is released in NZ today so grab a copy from your library or bookshop.  You can also enter my competition to win a copy of Ketchup Clouds.
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1 Comment

Filed under authors, books, Interview, young adult, young adult fiction

One response to “Interview with Annabel Pitcher

  1. Pingback: Ketchup clouds : another great book from Annabel Pitcher « booktrailers4kidsandya

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