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Holding on to memories

31st Mar 20

Home is noisy, so Iris loves escaping to her grandmother's house. But when her grandmother starts to lose her memory, Iris wants to find a way to protect her. Author SE DURRANT tells us about TALKING TO THE MOON.

Q: What brought you into writing, and what are the best and worst things about being an author?

A: I've written as a way of making sense of the world for as long as I can remember so it's quite amazing for me now to be a published author.

The best thing about it is having the freedom to make up a situation, throw characters into it and see where they go. I also really enjoy meeting readers and hearing their stories.

The worst thing about being an author is beginning a new project - staring at an empty page and wondering how the next book can possibly materialise.

Q: What for you is the heart and soul of a story?

A: For me the heart and soul of a story is the human story, the feelings and relationships between people.

Q: How do you know which of your ideas to follow through into a novel?

A: I start off with a theme that interests me, then try to weave a story through it. For example, when writing Talking to the Moon I was thinking about the power of memories so I tried to create a story that would explore the impact of memory loss on a family and, in particular, on a child.

Q: Can you tell us, briefly, what Talking to the Moon is about? What sparked the idea for the story?

A: Talking to the Moon follows a 10-year-old girl, Iris, who is temporarily living with her grandmother, Mimi. Mimi is beginning to forget things and Iris has to deal with the confusion that brings while at the same time trying to protect Mimi, who she loves dearly. During her stay, Iris finds a photograph of a mysterious child from Mimi's past and determines to find out what happened to her.

The idea for this story came from seeing the impact of dementia on families. I've thought a lot about what we are if we lose our memories and Talking to the Moon tries to explore that.

I set the book in Brighton, where I live, because the fleetingness of a human life is such a contrast to the constancy of the sea. A lot of the action takes place on the beach next to the remains of the The West Pier, which is now a metal skeleton rising out of the sea. For Iris, The West Pier is a window into her grandmother's past.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on a child who has a grandparent with dementia?

A: Because I write for children and speak to a lot of children I wanted to explore memories, and memory loss from a child's point of view. Many children have relatives with dementia so it's very much an everyday concern and I wanted to think about what can be positive in that situation.

Iris's grandmother is a young spirit and Iris feels they could have been friends, had they been children together, and is keen to capture her grandmother's memories before they are lost. I was interested in the idea that, despite being generations apart, they are not so different after all. They are also both happiest when they are living in the moment.

Q: Have any of the characters been inspired by people you know?

A: Some of the characters contain aspects of people I know, or have been loosely inspired by other people, though by the time they appear in the book they are entirely their own people.

I'm also inspired by children I meet in schools (my own children being grown up now). For example, the scene where Iris meets Mason was inspired by a child who popped up next to me on a school visit and, before any sort of introduction, asked if I had ever done a bungee jump.

Q: You explore many different ideas in this story, but is there one that you would like your readers to take away with them?

A: I would like readers to take away the idea that sometimes it is enough to find joy in the moment. Worrying about things that are out of our control will only take away that joy.

Q: Where is your favourite place to write, and what keeps you at your desk? Do you have any bad writing habits?

A: My worst writing habit is procrastination - I am very easily distracted and have to force myself to put some words down. Once I have written something I find it much easier to stay at my desk.

My favourite place to work is probably my daughter's bedroom - she is away at uni now so it's nice for me to have a separate room I use only for writing. Being in there also reminds me of her.

If I feel I need to get out of the house I will sometimes work in the Jubilee Library in Brighton or sit in a cafe. In those instances I write longhand.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your next book?

A: I'm still planning my next book but I think it will involve the NHS in some way. I haven't worked out how to do this yet - there are so many possible stories, so I'm just trying to focus on a few.

Q: And what are you most likely to be found doing when you're not writing?

A: I read a lot and I enjoy walking when I get the chance.

Q: Do you read other children's authors? Are there any new or recent books you could recommend to our members?

A: I do read other children's authors and I would recommend Kirsty Applebaum's book TrooFriend, which will be published next month. It looks at human values through the eyes of a robot who is beginning to develop human characteristics, and is a great story.

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