Claire, who was CBCA short-listed for her previous book The Sky So Heavy, was kind enough to answer some questions about how she came to write The Protected.
The Protected took you 9 years to write, why was it such a long process?
It was my first serious attempt at a novel, so it had a lot of problems that came from inexperience. Hannah’s voice was inconsistent and it took me an entire re-write to realise she was actually three characters in one. It also took me a long time to work out how important a character Hannah’s sister, Katie, was. It wasn’t until I had her character totally fleshed out that the narrative began to work. The manuscript spent a lot of time untouched in my bottom drawer and I wrote The Sky So Heavy and had two babies in the time between starting it and getting it published. I just couldn’t give up on Hannah, it was her that kept me coming back and trying to nut out the problems.
In The Protected you deal with high school experiences, as well as sibling relationships. Were you inspired by your own experiences?
Definitely. My experience wasn’t quite as brutal as Hannah’s, but I was miserable at high school. There are certain things that happen to Hannah which I experienced and things that I watched other people go through. I also wanted to touch on the flip-side of bullying through Katie: the pressure that comes from being at the top of the pile, the feeling that you have to behave in a certain way or you risk slipping down and becoming the victim. It’s not as simple as the bully and the bullied. As far as the sibling relationship goes, I don’t have a sister, but I do have an older brother. We didn’t get along at all growing up, there was always tension between us. Now that we’re adults we get a long really well and I’m so grateful that we got to grow up and get over ourselves and have a good relationship. I wanted to explore what would happen in a family that didn’t get that opportunity.
Was it confronting to write about a family dealing with an unimaginable tragedy?
Yes. Another reason it took so long to write was because I wasn’t digging deep enough to get at what it would be like to experience that kind of tragedy, particularly from the mother’s point of view. No parent wants to imagine losing a child. The character of Hannah’s mother didn’t become as well drawn as she is until I became a mum myself and forced myself into her shoes
It’s important because no other medium puts the audience in someone else’s shoes the way books do. Other mediums like television and film can sometimes get there, but I think it’s more direct with books, it’s more intimate. Reading a story and getting to know characters and how they look at world is essentially an exercise in empathy. The ability to empathise with others is the most valuable skill a person can have. Humans have an innate desire and ability to connect with each other through stories and it’s never more evident than in childhood. Every child loves a good story.
How can parents encourage their children to develop a love of reading and writing?
I can only draw on my own experience to answer this one. My Mum always read to us as kids and she let us read whatever we were interested in reading. Any reading was good reading as far as she was concerned. Adults tend to get quite hung up on what kids should and shouldn’t be reading but kids are very good at self censoring and working out the kinds of stories that they will enjoy themselves. When I was about eleven and Babysitters’ Club books weren’t cutting it anymore I read her books: Ruth Rendell, John Grisham whatever was around.The other important thing is, kids imitate what they see. My Mum was always reading and reading widely anything from Jackie Collins to Tim Winton, she didn’t care who the author was she just liked a good story. What’s interesting from my own experience is that while I have become a writer and obviously am embedded in a creative industry, my brother who is a fire fighter in the armed forces lives in a totally different environment and culture, is still a voracious reader. I’m pretty sure that’s down to my Mum.
Who'll love this: Teenagers will relate to it and teacher/librarians will love it!
Publisher: University of Queensland Press