YA author Helena Close has released a new book that we just couldn’t put down! We chatted with her about recent release Things I Know and why she wanted to tell this story. Read on below to discover more …
Can you tell us a little about your new YA novel Things I Know?
I always find this question so difficult to answer. It’s the story of eighteen year old Saoirse and her struggle through trauma, toxic friendship and loss. It deals with mental health, teenage suicide and spiralling anxiety and sadness but it is also a story about hope and recovery.
Your main character, Saoirse, is grieving the loss of her mother throughout this book, then unexpectedly must grieve the loss of an ex boyfriend too. What inspired you to write about these difficult topics?
Things I Know follows Saoirse and her journey through the difficulties and traumas of mental illness, suicide, bereavement and eventual recovery. My youngest daughter was diagnosed with cancer, aged just sixteen, and suffered mental health issues post chemotherapy. She accessed the public mental health system and it was an eye-opener. In some ways, even a shocker. I didn’t want to write about mental health – but I had to.
I suppose I was lucky (or unlucky) that I had witnessed my daughter’s journey and had a body of research already available. I also consulted professionals, teenagers, anyone who would talk to me about their own struggles and experiences. People wanted to talk. I think that surprised me. They wanted to talk about counsellors, good and bad, about medication, about the ongoing day to day struggle, about panic attacks, crippling anxiety, unresolved trauma.
This book is set in a small town in Ireland, where Saoirse feels isolated and trapped compared to where she lived before. It also features Irish phrases and dialect which roots the reader very firmly to the setting. Was this town inspired by somewhere you are familiar with yourself?
We moved to a small town in West Clare when my youngest daughters were thirteen and nine and spent six years there before returning to Limerick. It was a stunningly beautiful location but the daughters were city children at heart! I was immersed in a rural community so dialect, vernacular etc. came easily to me. I think it’s important to anchor stories in language that young people are familiar with and use themselves. Language that comes from the setting. There is a tendency sometimes in writing to sweep dialect and the vernacular away and I think stories lose a sense of place and personality as a result. Language is organic to story, it’s not something that should be imposed on it.
What do you hope this book might offer to a young person struggling with their own mental health?
I’m not an expert on mental health but I researched extensively to get the balance right. I wanted young people to see themselves in the story, to be able to relate to Saoirse, in all her mess and sadness and hope. We shouldn’t shy away from difficult themes, especially where young people are concerned. Things I Know is not Five Go Down To The Sea for Mental Health. It’s an honest and challenging read about mental health and the taboos surrounding it, about grief and how we deal or don’t deal with it, counselling, medication and professional help. If the voice and story ring true, young people will get it. They will understand and empathise. They will see themselves in the story, be comforted and consoled.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers who want to write young adult fiction?
Respect young people. Familiarise yourself with their world, their challenges. Listen to them. To the way they speak, act, respond. Give your work to a teenage reader – that’s how you will know if your story works or not. They are extremely insightful critics. (And terrifyingly honest!)
You have been writing full time for over 20 years. Can you tell us what might come next for your writing?
I am currently working on a new YA novel. I’m also working on a collection of short stories and have co-written a play for theatre that’s about to be produced.
From Limerick City in the west of Ireland, Helena Close has been writing full-time for twenty years. She has written or co-written seven novels, published by Hodder Headline (under the pseudonym Sarah O’Brien), Hachette Ireland and Blackstaff Press. Things I Know is her second young adult novel and out now in Ireland, UK and America.
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