Tag Archives: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

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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Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

If you have read Annabel Pitcher’s debut novel My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece you’ll know what an amazing writer she is.  My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece was one of my favourite books of 2011 and I’ve been dying to read Ketchup Clouds ever since Annabel first started talking about it. Ketchup Clouds, is every bit as extraordinary as her first book and it will stay with you long after you reach the end.

Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret – a dark and terrible secret that she can’t confess to anyone she knows. But then one day she hears of a criminal, Stuart Harris, locked up on death row in Texas. Like Zoe, Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder. Full of heartache yet humour, Zoe tells her story in the only way she can – in letters to the man in prison in America. Armed with a pen, Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich and begins her tale of love and betrayal.

Ketchup Clouds is an utterly beautiful, heart-breaking story, told in an original and very clever way.  The whole book is a confession of what Zoe has done, to someone who she knows will understand, but won’t be able to do anything.  I don’t want to say too much about the story for fear that I’ll let some important detail slip. Annabel gives you enough detail that you know vaguely what has happened, but you just have to keep reading to find out exactly what happened and to who.  She leaves you hanging on every word and dreading what is inevitably going to happen.

There are several things that I really like about Annabel’s writing.  I really like the way that she ties up the story at the end, bringing everything together and showing you how the characters have turned out.  Like her first book, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, you feel completely satisfied at the end and you’re left amazed at how her characters have developed over the course of the story.  I also like the way that Annabel portrays the parents in the story.  The parents have their own problems that they are dealing with in their own way, and they’re not always the best parents, but deep down they love and care for their children.  They are important parts of the story and Annabel portrays them as real people, not just characters in a book.

The main reason I loved Ketchup Clouds was the relationships between the characters.  The relationship between Zoe and Stuart was really interesting, because even though we never hear from Stuart, Zoe’s tone changes the more she writes to him.  At the beginning she calls him Mr Harris, and by the end she’s calling him Stu.  She seems to get more comfortable with Stuart as time goes by and becomes less formal with him.  Zoe and her sister Sophie have quite a close relationship and they talk quite openly with each other, especially when it comes to talking about their parents.  Zoe’s relationships with Max and Aaron are quite different and Annabel does an excellent job of portraying Zoe’s conflicting emotions and the tough decisions she has to make in their relationships.

Annabel Pitcher is one of those authors whose books I’ll read no matter what they’re about, and I certainly can’t wait to see what she will write next!  I’m sure I’m not the only person who wonders if we’ll ever get to read Bizzle the Bazzlebog.  Grab a copy of Ketchup Clouds from your library or bookshop now.

5 out of 5 stars

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My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

Ever since I saw the book trailer for Annabel Pitcher’s debut novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.  When I started reading it I knew that it was one of those special books that only comes along now and again.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is about a boy called Jamie and his family, who are still trying to cope with the loss of his sister’s twin, Rose who was blown up by a terrorist bomb in London five years ago.  Jamie, his dad and sister, Jas decide to move to the Lake District for a ‘fresh start.’  Jamie’s parents are still grieving – his dad has turned to drink and his mum has run off with the support worker.  His sister Jasmine turns to dying her hair, piercing and stops eating.  Jamie however doesn’t really remember his sister and he hasn’t cried at all.  Jamie is more interested in his cat, Roger, his Superman t-shirt, and keeping his new friend Sunya a secret.  Sunya is Muslim and Jamie’s dad keeps reminding him that ‘Muslim’s killed your sister,’ so he must never find out about her.  Jamie’s one wish is that his mum will come back to them and he’ll wear his Superman t-shirt until the day that she does.  When he sees an ad for a TV talent show, he comes up with a plan that he is sure will get his family back together again.

Annabel Pitcher has created a lovable character in Jamie that everyone can relate to.  Even with everything that is going in his family, Jamie holds onto the hope that he can fix things and get it back to the way it was.  He has a mind of his own and stands up for what he believes is right and wrong.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece will make you laugh and cry and leave you smiling.  It was the perfect book to read post-earthquake as it cheered me up and left me with a sense of hope.  It is definitely one of my top books of the year.

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My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece book trailer

I’ve just started reading this and it’s absolutely fantastic!  I wanted to get my hands on a copy ever since I watched this amazing book trailer.

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