(Quercus, £5,99 paperback)
(Quercus, £5,99 paperback)
Ten-year-old Finn, a quirky, sensitive boy who worships Alan Titchmarsh, is tormented by bullies, and his parents are divorcing. Fifty-nine-year-old Kaz has a heart of gold but it’s tested as she cares for her younger brother. When Fin and Kaz meet, the chain of events set in motion takes in trauma and survival in West Yorkshire, with Green maintaining a characteristic eye on social and political issues.
Finn is the latest in a line of compelling child characters in your books. What do you like about writing children and what difference did writing through the eyes of a child this time make?
I’ve found child characters great for injecting humour and emotion into my novels, particularly when I’ve been dealing with difficult subject matters. Many of my favourite novels feature child narrators – To Kill a Mockingbird, Room, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – and they have an innocence and honesty, unfettered by what other people think of them, which is so refreshing. Writing from 10-year-old Finn’s point of view was the most enjoyable thing I have ever done as a writer. It made me work harder to ensure everything was portrayed through Finn’s eyes, rather than an adult version of what Finn would see and think.
What did the before and after structure of this book allow you to do with this book?
As soon as I realised that the plot to this novel hinged on what happened during one moment, which would naturally have fallen half way through the story, I knew I wanted to introduce a before and after structure so that I could have that moment at the end of the book. This enabled me to get more suspense into the plot but also to be able to contrast two characters’ lives on either side of that moment.
The book deals with current issues such as Universal Credit and food banks. Why is it important to you to be topical?
The stories of people who are suffering under this government’s benefit changes and austerity are crying out to be told and I wanted to do it now, rather than waiting 20 years to look back on it. Ken Loach has done it in film with I, Daniel Blake and Sorry We Missed You, but I wasn’t seeing these people’s stories told in fiction. In many respects the plight of the poor and homeless today are reminiscent of Dickensian times, and I have no doubt that if Dickens was alive today, he would be writing about them. I also think it is often more powerful to fictionalise people’s stories because you can reach readers in a novel who wouldn’t necessarily read
a newspaper report on the issue.
Will children always suffer if their parents are going through a divorce?
Children are remarkably resilient but I think it’s unlikely they won’t suffer to some extent, although there are things parents can do to mitigate this. It’s also the case that a lot of children suffer because of the arguments and tension between parents who are still together. I wanted Finn to be in the middle of two very different parents and for us to see them through his eyes. I didn’t want to portray one as necessarily always “right” and the other as “wrong”. They both have faults and make mistakes, and the before and after structure helps to highlight this.
How do friendships between boys sustain them when there is so much pressure on them to act in stereotypical male ways?
The pressure on boys to conform to the norm is huge and starts from a very young age. The definition of how a boy at school should behave and what they should be interested in seems, if anything, to be narrower than ever. Certainly, my own son, who is into performing arts rather than sport, has found that. The quote in the book from a boy saying “You’re either into football or you’re a girl” was said to him on numerous occasions at primary school. Consequently, it can be very hard to make male friendships, but finding a like-minded soul is hugely important and can make all the difference in surviving the hostile environment for boys who dare to be different.
How does living in West Yorkshire influence you as a writer?
The media often talks about the north as if it’s a homogenous place where everyone looks, lives and thinks the same way, and certainly one of the ways living here has influenced me as a writer has been in enabling me to see the lives and hear the voices of so many different types of people from so many diverse communities, whether it’s a quirky rural town like Hebden Bridge, a big city like Leeds – which has amazing things happening in it but also poverty and homelessness – or former mining and industrial towns, where many people feel they have been forgotten. I want to tell the stories of all of those people, and creating two characters like Kaz and Finn, from entirely different backgrounds, and throwing them together as I have in One Moment, has allowed me
to do that.
One Moment is your 10th book in 12 years. What the secret to your productivity?
I think having had 102 rejections from agents before I got my first book deal has helped me appreciate how lucky I am to be writing full time now and to ensure I keep going. Fortunately, there are still so many stories I want to tell that I don’t seem to be in any danger of running out of ideas!