The FCBG annual conference is always jam-packed with exciting and interesting sessions, and at next month’s conference one I’m particularly looking forward to is the first one on Sunday morning with Anne Cassidy, Ian Beck and Sarah Crossan.
Sarah Crossan grew up in Ireland and England before moving to New York for 7 years. Before becoming a full time writer, Sarah was an English teacher. She’s the author of the verse novel, The Weight of Water, and two dystopian / Cli-Fi novels, Breathe, and Resist, and today I’ve a short interview with her.
FCBG: Sarah, you’ve three novels published already and whereas with some authors, after three novels a reader can already feel fairly confident about the type of novels that author writes well and enjoys writing, with you that’s not so easy. Part of you could be described as a dystopian (although perhaps more accurately post-apocolyptic) author shelved alongside Veronica Roth, whilst you could also be described as a poet, shelved along side Sharon Creech or Ellen Hopkins.
On the basis of your three books I have no idea what to expect from you next (apart from a great read!) – so how did you as an author come to have confidence in your own voice? It is more about having confidence in the process rather than an individual style?
Sarah Crossan: I have never worry too much about style or genre. I always write what inspires me at any particular time. The Breathe series is an unusual follow up to The Weight of Water, but it was something I was compelled to write at the time. My next novel, Apple and Rain, is a literary novel in prose though there are poems sprinkled throughout. I’m very lucky to have a publisher who doesn’t see my inability to stick to any one style as a bad thing!
FCBG: Given their very different styles, how was writing Weight for Water different from writing Breathe and Resist?
Sarah Crossan: I wrote Breathe and Resist after The Weight of Water, and in many ways it was an opportunity for me to cleanse my palate. I didn’t think I could jump back into verse because it was so connected to my character’s way of speaking. When I write verse I tend to use a notebook and pen to keep things slow and considered but when I write prose, I storm through the plot focusing on pace and character and then focus on the nuances of language on my second draft.
FCBG: Whilst in the US there is a fairly long and also current tradition of novels in verse, I think a lot of UK readers might be initially wary of a novel in verse. To your mind, what is it about Weight of Water that makes it a poem rather than prose?
Sarah Crossan: I get prickly when readers suggest that the novel is prose cut up to look like poetry, and I think the test would be to set it out in prose and see if it works – it doesn’t, I’ve tried! Poetry requires language to be pared down and imagery, melody and rhythm become essential parts of the storytelling.
FCBG: Beautiful, poetic, distilled language (such as in Weight of Water) can be found in books that are never marketed as novels in verse and I can’t believe you considered your words and phrasing in Breathe/Resist any less than you did in Weight of Water but…. well, can you tell me some of your thoughts about this?
Sarah Crossan: Well, I think that language always matters, of course, whether one writes in prose or poetry, but with a verse novel, pacing can be a little more relaxed which means the language can meander somewhat. I think for prose, the language I use is all about voice and whether or not a character would speak in a particular way. For poetry, I do hope to combine a genuine voice with poetic devices such as alliteration, repetition, rhyme, half-rhyme and so on. The language of poetry loses all its fat and tends to be lean meat!
FCBG: You’ve spoken in the past about how the world of Breathe/Resist was pretty fully formed in your head before you started writing, but I’m interested in hearing about the degree to which your characters were fully fleshed out before writing, or whether they developed considerably during writing; one of my favourite aspects of these two books is that the characters are not easy to pigeon hole – not least because they are able to change; you see characters develop in the course of the books. Was this always planned, or was it partly a case of the characters themselves taking over as they wrote?
Sarah Crossan: When I create characters who feel real, they tend to make a lot of the decisions for me. However, I am the puppeteer and have to manoeuver them into particular situations that could bring about the change. The key to writing books for children is to create characters who grow through their experiences and that’s partly about getting them right from the beginning, and partly about manipulating their circumstances.
FCBG: Can you share a little about your next book that’s coming out? Will it be poetry? Dystopian? Something completely different?
Sarah Crossan: My next novel is a contemporary prose novel called Apple and Rain and it’s out in August. I’m a poetry fiend so I found a way to incorporate verse in some of the chapters, and I would definitely put it in the literary fiction camp. It’s different from everything else but closest to The Weight of Water in tone. I’m excited to hear what readers think.
FCBG: What books by other authors (for teenagers or adults) would you recommend to people who have loved The Weight of Water and / or Breathe and Resist?
Sarah Crossan: Argh! I don’t know. I’ve never compared myself to anyone else before. But I love Patricia McCormick who writes both prose and poetry, and I think Karen Hesse is someone who hasn’t quite made a name for herself in the UK although she’s a legend (and Newbery winner) in the US.
My thanks go to Sarah for her interview today. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing her speak next month!