Good morning everybody :). I'm really excited to finally post up an interview with the brilliant Tabitha Suzuma, author of many YA novels, including the recently released Forbidden. I recently reviewed Forbidden and loved it - you can read my review here and you can visit Tabitha at her website here.
So, on with the questions!
1. In case any readers haven’t read the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about Forbidden?
Forbidden is a love story between sixteen-year-old Maya and seventeen-year-old Lochan. They are brother and sister.
2. Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?
I have no routine or targets to speak of! I have very little self-discipline when it comes to writing. I only write when I feel like it - which sometimes can be for forty hours straight and sometimes nothing for weeks. A 'good' writing day would be approximately three thousand words - anything less and I feel a bit disappointed with myself. However, I do occasionally write up to seven thousand words in one go which means I am 'in the zone' which is a terrific feeling.
3. In young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?
To make the character as real as possible. Characterisation is, for me, the most important part of writing a novel and persuading the reader that somewhere the character does exist is part of that. To achieve this, I have to know my characters very well and almost 'become' my main character, which can be really draining because it means going through all their emotions with them.
4. Forbidden obviously deals with sensitive subject matter, did you find it difficult to write certain scenes and were you worried that the book may be considered too controversial for teen readers?
I actually gave up on the book after writing the first few chapters because I believed that no-one would agree to publish a book for teens about consensual sibling incest. I was persuaded to keep going by my editor, however. But yes, the worry was there all along and the whole book was a battle between keeping the story as realistic as possible (i.e. not glossing over the sexual scenes) and writing a book that wouldn't be banned from every school and bookshop.
Writing the more explicit scenes was difficult because of the reasons mentioned above. But by far the hardest scenes to write were the ones where Lochan and Maya are suffering. As you can guess, the book does not end happily and writing the ending was one of the hardest things I've had to do in my life.
I found myself spiralling into deep depression and would often end up in tears and have to take a break and pace the house alone at night, sobbing. I could scarcely bear to re-read what I'd written and it got to the point that I was so caught up in the book that the story became more important and more vivid to me than real life. This eventually led to me having a breakdown.
5. What are the three most important things you need to be able to write?
A passion for writing bordering on obsession, an extremely vivid imagination and the skill to put words together in such a way that they convey as accurately as possible the story inside your head.
6. Some writers relate take great inspiration from music while they’re writing. What about you? If so, what artists/bands do you like to listen to while you write?
Music is one of my passions. My youngest brother is training to be a concert pianist and his playing inspired me to write my very first book, A Note of Madness, which is about a musical genius who suffers from bipolar disorder.
I listen to music constantly when I'm writing, but it has to be music without lyrics, or the words get tangled up with mine! I listen to a lot of classical music: Rachmaninov and Mozart are two of my favourite composers. I also listen to film soundtracks and try to choose ones that summon up the atmosphere or emotions I am currently trying to convey.
7. Did Forbidden always have this title or was that something that came later on?
Forbidden was the title decided on by my publishers. I wanted something more lyrical and went through a number of different possibilities: like 'They Tell Me it Rained' and 'So Far Away Beside Me' and 'Too Close to Touch'. My publishers wanted 'Forbidden Love' which I couldn't stand, so we ended up with 'Forbidden' as a compromise. I'm actually quite happy with now.
8. What advice would you give to writers who want to make the leap from writing as a hobby to actively pursuing a career in writing?
It's hard. Really hard. It's hard to get published, but harder still to make a living from it. Don't give up your day job, only do it if you can't bear the thought of not doing it and write about what you are passionate about. At the same time though, try not to let it take over your life. That's the part I struggle with sometimes.
9. The characters in Forbidden all have unusual names. How important do you think names are in a novel and how do you go about selecting names for your characters?
It takes me forever to select names for my characters. I can't see the character in my mind's eye until I have found the right name. I spend days scouring online baby name sites but there are very few names that I like and I always prefer my main characters to have unusual and memorable names.
With Forbidden, I resorted to having to invent two of the names: Lochan and Tiffin. I just couldn't find any 'real' names that fit. It's important that I really love the names I bestow upon my characters and that they feel right.
10. You’ve been nominated for lots of book awards. How does it feel to be nominated? More so, how does it feel to win?
When I first set out trying to get published, it never crossed my mind that I might someday be nominated for a book award. When I got my first few nominations, I was bowled over. But quite quickly I started wanting to win.
When I won my first award, the Young Minds Book Award in 2008, I was stunned and thrilled and moved to tears. It wasn't just winning an award that meant so much, it was winning that particular award because Young Minds is a charity that I support and that is very important to me because of my own experiences of mental illness. Things have been a little different since, though. Now, if I'm nominated for an award, I feel a lot of pressure to win it.
11. There is a lot of argument within the young adult market as to what is appropriate for teens to read. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you think teens should be protected from reading about taboo subjects or do you think they should have the freedom to choose their own reads?
I don't think teens should be shielded from any topic because encountering taboo or controversial subjects is part of their development, of learning about the world. I think teens should be informed about the books they choose so stickers like 'contains explicit material' or 'unsuitable for younger readers' are certainly useful for certain books. But if a teenager is determined to read a book containing explicit sex scenes or excessive violence, they will do so, even if they have to resort to the adult section.
It's part of natural human curiosity and part of growing up. I don't like books that contain gratuitous shocking material though, just in order to create a stir and attract publicity and curious readers. At the end of the day, a truly great book is not one that leaves you shocked but one that leaves you moved.
12. Thank you so much for your time, Tabitha. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?
I have recently started writing a new book, again for older teens. It deals with a topic that some people may also find controversial: euthanasia.