Author Cath Howe introduces her new book, The Insiders, exploring the misunderstandings between three friends, that nearly end in tragedy.
Author Cath Howe's books explore the everyday lives of children and the situations and emotions that they might experience. In this video, she talks about the kinds of stories she enjoys writing, and introduces her latest novel, The Insiders, followed by a reading. In The Insiders, we explore the lives of three children and what happens to their friendships when misunderstandings cause divisions between them, leading to a near-tragedy.
Q&A with Cath Howe
1. Can you tell us a little about your life as an author?
I worked as a secondary teacher for many years then switched to primary when I had my own family. My author life began with creating drama scripts. I still work in schools each week and I love to teach performing arts and creative writing.
All my books have been inspired by life situations which feel real and important to me, people I care about, or children I've taught. They all explore tricky times for children and the choices life throws at them. I'm a big optimist - I would never let a book end on a downbeat note.
2. Who are your favourite contemporary MG authors?
I am currently enjoying books by Zilla Bethel and Phil Earle. I always enjoy the work of authors such as SE Durrant, David Almond, Tim Bowler, Kenneth Oppel, Jo Cotterill and Maurice Gleitzman.
3. What kinds of stories do you most enjoy writing?
The stories I most enjoy writing are set in today's world with its pressures and joys. Even though I enjoy reading lots of genres, these are the stories I find I currently want to tell.
4. Can you tell us about your new book, The Insiders?
The Insiders reads like a thriller. A small group of children find their way inside a school at night and make a discovery with lots of consequences. The story is told by one of this group, Callie, and by two others who become involved in events (Billy and Ted). The three children's lives and voices are all very different
5. What inspired the story? Do real life incidents give you ideas for your books'?
During the lockdown I found myself gazing at a school near my house where I've done lots of teaching, imagining its empty corridors, the children's work still hanging on the walls and the secrets that might lurk inside it. There's a word 'kenopsia': a normally crowded place that's now deserted. That's part of what creates that strange emptiness and creepy atmosphere at night.
I've lost count of the number of notebooks I've scribbled ideas in. I'm always making notes and sketching in a notebook from my real-life experiences and exploring the experiences others tell me about.
6. Do your stories start with the character, setting or plot?
I usually start with characters and making them feel real. I imagine them faced with choices and what they might do. I write lots of character monologues and really get to know them and the plot begins to emerge. But, unusually for me, The Insiders began with thoughts about the school and Callie's dark garden that backs onto the playground. It was irresistible.
7. Which of these elements do you work on the most when you're writing?
I'm always exploring character. I love to write monologues and to draw my characters. Sometimes, if my book is working well, the characters surprise me as I write by taking the story in a whole new direction.
8. The Insiders explores the friendship between four children, and what goes wrong. Do you think these are common issues for school friends?
Yes - there are so many layers in friendships: having fun, little hurts, joys and acts of loyalty. All friendships have these qualities.
9. Why did you decide to give three of the children their own voice, where they narrate their own sections?
I found I cared about each one of them and wanted the reader to care too and see the impact they each have on each other. Having more than one narrator makes us all pause and think about who to root for. We can watch a character make a big mistake and see how this affects other children and what actions they then take. For me, that's the nature of empathy - exploring the world and choices of someone else from inside their head.
10. The children have their own back stories which you explore through the book. Which did you most connect with?
Billy has lots of charm. I have taught lots of Billys. Callie is trying to juggle her friendships and she worries about keeping everyone on board. As I wrote, I liked Callie's warmth whereas Ted I worried about.
11. Other than a great story, what would you like readers to take from The Insiders?
I would like readers to enjoy the layers and surprises - reading the story is like peeling an onion.
Also, children are more resilient than we always give them credit for. In Ella on the Outside, my main character says you can still be happy even if there is some mess. This is true for The Insiders too; even in the toughest times, we can bob up again.
I guess there's a theme here, too, about never knowing what's going on under the surface. Don't assume you know what someone's life is like. Take time and trouble. Ask and listen.
12. What are you writing currently, and where do you prefer to work?
I'm writing a new MG story with two narrators; a boy and a girl. There's a huge theme at the back of it and a dramatic event that kickstarts the plot. I love to write my books on a very old clerk's desk (made in 1857) that I can stand at. Lots of previous owners have drawn on it and carved into the very old wood. People have been writing at this desk for 160 years. I like to think of the lives that have gone before me.
13. What are you most likely to be found doing when you're not at your desk?
I love: art, drawing, making graphic novels and music but a key part of my day is getting out and about - My day isn't complete until I've stretched my legs and explored some green spaces. That's the way many of my plots begin to take shape.