Sarah Crossan

Where the Heart Should Be
Sarah Crossan

About Author

Sarah Crossan introduces her powerful new verse novel, Where the Heart Should Be (Bloomsbury YA).

Sarah has lived in Dublin, London and New York, and now lives in East Sussex. She studied philosophy and literature before training as an English and drama teacher, and then becoming a writer.

Sarah was the Laureate na nÓg (Ireland's Children's Literature Laureate) from 2018–2020. She won the CILIP Carnegie Medal in 2016 for her novel One, which also won the YA Book Prize and the CliPPA Poetry Award. Moonrise was shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Awards 2017 and the YA Book Prize 2018.

You can find Sarah on Twitter



Where the Heart Should Be  (Bloomsbury YA)

March 2024

Read an extract from Where the Heart Should Be 

In Where the Heart Should Be, award-winning author Sarah Crossan revisits the time of The Great Hunger in Ireland, and a fictional love story between a maid and the British heir to an Irish estate.    Through their story, Crossan explores the daily lives of the impoverished families who depend on the land, and what happens when the land - and those in power - fail them. 

Review"Deeply affecting, totally immersive and utterly unforgettable."

Sarah Crossan introduces Where the Heart Should Be

Sarah tells ReadingZone what inspired her to explore this period in Ireland's history, why it took 12 years to complete,
and if she is planning to write more historical fiction

1.    Can you tell us a little about yourself - your loves and loathings, and what brought you into writing for young adults?

I love books and theatre and painting and pottery and Billie Eilish! I was a secondary school teacher for many years before becoming a writer for young people. I like teenagers. They make me laugh, and they challenge me. I find it curious to see life through young eyes. I feel teenagers are often maligned and that annoys me.

2.    What happens in your latest novel, Where the Heart Should Be?

The book is my first historical fiction novel and also my first set in Ireland. It's set during the years of what's called The Great Hunger in Ireland. It's a love story about a scullery maid trying to keep her family alive and the landlord's nephew who is himself somewhat powerless. I feel it's got a Romeo and Juliet vibe to it. It's dark but with loads of light moments.

"Verse is rarely boring. I haven't enough words to let scenes drag on. Everything gets straight
to the emotional heart of the matter."

3.    Why did you decide to write it in verse - what does this bring to your work?

Verse is rarely boring. I haven't enough words to let scenes drag on. Everything gets straight to the emotional heart of the matter. So I essentially like the speed with which one can read it. Writing it isn't as speedy though!

4.    How do your verse novels take shape - are they rooted in the voice of your protagonist, or do you have different ways to start writing? 

They begin in a very haphazard way. It's quite a chaotic process. I begin with ideas for scenes, small moments, and write those. Characters drive the narrative but I also want to create beautiful scenes that could stand alone. I probably write four times as many words than needed and cut it down.

5.    There is a love story at the heart of this novel, but why did you decide to bring together an impoverished Irish girl with an English landlord?

I know what the English did to the Irish, but living in England my whole life I also understand these decisions were made by those in power and not ordinary people, as such political decisions often are. I wanted to allow for good English characters without making any of them heroes. My protagonist is the hero. She is so bold and honourable despite everything thrown at her.

6.    How did you go about researching this period in Irish and British history? How difficult was it to immerse yourself in what happened at this time?

I've always had a good knowledge of the famine as my parents often spoke about it. But yes, I did have to do masses of research. I read loads of books and listened to hours and hours of an excellent podcast, too. It was endlessly sad and interesting and every time I read, I learned something new. I guess my main concern was to get it right.

I consulted Fin Dwyer, a respected writer and historian, to help get it pin prick accurate in terms of the politics and history. I guess some readers won't like that Johnny is British, but he suffers himself in certain ways, particularly being the victim of domestic violence.

'I probably took it out for a few months each year trying to reshape it. Nothing worked.
It was very frustrating.'

7.    Did this also make it a very difficult novel to write, emotionally, and was that why it took a long time to write - you have mentioned it took 12 years to complete?

It was unbearable! I began at a writers' retreat in Pennsylvanian where I went to get some peace and quiet. I wrote it quickly but when I sent it to my editor at the time he said it wasn't ready. I wasn't sure how to change it so I set it aside. I probably took it out for a few months each year trying to reshape it. Nothing worked. It was very frustrating. Eventually, during the pandemic, I realised I couldn't just write a grim book, it had to have joy in it, too. That's when I began to work on the Romeo and Juliet type love story. And bingo, it was ready!

8.    There are many details in the novel that bring the period and people's experiences to life; do you plan to write more historical fiction?

I love history but writing it is a nightmare! So much research is required and I prefer to write than to study, which is how it can feel at times. Now I've done it though, I like the idea of learning more. I have some ideas for historical fiction but won't say what they are in case someone swipes my idea!

9.    Was writing Where the Heart Should Be a very different experience from other novels you have written? 

I don't know. Once a book is finished, I half forget how I felt when I was writing it. All I know is that this one was important to me given my nationality. I wanted to make my family proud. I think they are.

10.    What does a favourite day away from your desk look like?

I love running. I am slow but can run quite far when the wind isn't too strong. Afterwards I make myself a good brunch with eggs, avocadoes, and brie. If my daughter isn't at school then we usually do things together. We like the theatre, our dog and re-watching Stranger Things. Jim Hopper is the king!

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