Jenny Valentine

Us in the Before and After
Jenny Valentine

About Author

Jenny Valentine introduces her new YA book, Us in the Before and After, a powerful and absorbing novel about friendship, first love, and letting go. 

Jenny Valentine is an award-winning writer for Young Adults. Her first novel Finding Violet Park won the Guardian prize in 2007 and since then she has written many books, including Broken Soup and Fire Colour One, as well as young fiction series Iggy and Me. Her work has been published in 19 countries. In 2017 she was the Hay Festival International Fellow, spending the year meeting and learning from teenagers all over the world. She lives all over the place and has two daughters.

Interview

Us in the Before and After    (Simon & Schuster YA Books)

June 2024

Us in the Before and After explores the power of friendship through a single moment in the lives of best friends Elk and Mab; a tragic accident in which one of the teenagers dies. Told through moments of 'before' and 'after' the accident, we learn about the joy and fulfillment that their friendship brings, as well as the grief of bereavement and learning how to let go.

Review:  "Poetic and melancholy in tone, yet empowering in spirit, this is a book to be cherished." - Clare, ReadingZone.com    

Read a Chapter from Us in the Before and After

Author Jenny Valentine tells ReadingZone about the inspiration behind the story of Us in the Before and After, the power of friendship, and the joy off appreciating what we have.

 

Q&A with Jenny Valentine, introducing Us in the Before and After

"I think YA readers are smart and observant and don't tolerate too much showing off."


1.   Hello Jenny, thank you for joining us on ReadingZone to talk about Us in the Before and After. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself, and - as it's been a while since you've written a YA book - what you've been up to?

I'm a pretty shy bookworm and I live in a small town in the Welsh borders that is filled with books. I have written 14 books altogether, and Us in the Before and After will be my seventh YA title. Recently I have been concentrating on a middle grade series about an optimist called JOY.


2.    What draws you to writing for YA readers, and what is Us in the Before and After about?

I didn't know I was a YA writer until I'd finished my first book, Finding Violet Park. I think YA readers are smart and observant and don't tolerate too much showing off. 

Us in the Before and After is a love letter to friendship. It is about best friends Mab and Elk, and their love for each other, and the single moment in time that divides them.


3.    What inspired this story about first love, friendship and loss through the experiences of two teenage girls?

It was all Elk's doing. I only ever start a book with an idea or a voice. And this book started with Elk.


"I don't think I could write a whodunnit honestly. I'm more interested in people
and what they are thinking and feeling."


4.    The book centres on the 'before and after' the death of a teenager, but you don't make this a murder mystery; why did you want to focus on the girls' friendship, rather than justice for that loss?

I don't think I could write a whodunnit honestly. I'm more interested in people and what they are thinking and feeling than I am in catching the culprit. This story is more about being grateful than it is about punishing anyone. I guess I wanted Mab and Elk to be able to heal.


5.   Can you tell us how you chose the girls' names, Mab and Elk? Why did you decide to thread Elk's love of physics through the story, and to present Mab as the 'poet'?

It always sounds silly but I'm not particularly in charge. Elk appeared and she was called Elk and she was into quantum physics. I'm interested in quantum physics, so that helped. And it is Elk who sees Mab as a poet. I didn't think of her like that.


6.    This is also a story about Elk's struggle when her Gran died, and her first love, which we learn about through Elk's flashbacks. Why did you introduce these as part of 'before' for Elk?

This is a story about loss and about learning to accept it. We can't always have what we want. And even when we have it, in the end we will have to let go.


"I love the rhythm of dialogue and how much you can learn about a friendship by hearing it."


7.    Much of the story is guided by the girls' dialogue, does that bring you closer as an author to the characters? How invested do you become in your characters; how hard is it to let them go?

I love the rhythm of dialogue and how much you can learn about a friendship by hearing it. I get completely invested in my characters and for a while they are more real to me than anyone else. And then the book is finished and I watch them go out into the world and I start thinking about new ones.


8.    Us in the Before and After is a beautiful exploration of Mab and Elk's friendship, and of bereavement and healing. What would you like your readers to take from the story?

Hope. And an appreciation of all that we have, however fleeting.


9.    Where and when do you prefer to write, and are you planning another YA novel?

I have a beautiful desk, a gift from a friend, and mostly I write there. But when I get lonely I go to other people's houses to write, or to cafés, or just away somewhere new. A story is always with you. And I am always planning something.


10.    What kinds of things do you enjoy doing when you're away from your desk; where do you like to go and what helps inspire new ideas?

I love the cinema and I've been going to the theatre a lot recently. I live near the mountains, so I walk a lot and I also spend time with friends and family in London and Cornwall.  I am constantly on the move.  I'm quite a restless person.

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