An Interview with the Author: Jane Brittan
1. This books centres on the tragedies of the Bosnian War. Did the nature of this context present any challenges in the writing process?
In a way, because it is still so close, so charged, so raw in so many people’s memories – there are still over nine thousand people missing – that it was really important to be sensitive to that. This is one person’s story from one perspective, and although it wouldn’t have happened in quite this way without the war, I wanted to be careful not to conflate, suggest or rush in blindly.
2. The voice of the central character, Sanda, drives the book. What was your experience like writing Sanda? How did Sanda’s character develop? Where did her story begin?
I heard her in my head, and it was so clear, so vivid. I knew her exactly from the get-go. I think all my stories start with a voice knocking on the inside of my skull, demanding to be let out. I know her, because I suppose she’s a part of me and without her, with someone different, the book would be very different.
3. What, if any, cases, have you discovered, that are similar to Sanda’s story?
Incredibly, a while after I’d written the book, I came across a long-lost news story about a girl who was abducted by Serbian soldiers at the outbreak of the Bosnian War, thought to be dead, who was reunited after more than sixteen years with her father.
4. Did you feel a duty to represent the characters or the conflict in a particular way?
I don’t think so. Ultimately it’s a story about secrets and lies and love and revenge, and these make up the ‘seed corn’ of good stories, so other than naturally being sensitive to the issues surrounding the War, I didn’t want to feel ‘duty-bound’ or restricted in any particular way when writing it. There are good and bad characters on both sides: Elzina, for example, is shot by a Serbian soldier and left for dead, but is saved by a Serbian couple.
5. Was it a conscious decision to engage with such a socio-politically themed conflict or did the theme develop during the writing process? Did it ever feel like a risky place to venture into?
With any story, you always aim to create something that is truthful and coherent and I hope I’ve done that. Of course when the book has its basis in reality, you need to honour that, but I wasn’t put off by the difficulties or potential potholes.
6. Does Sanda’s story come before the story of the Bosnian conflict, or are the two inherently intertwined?
They happened together. I had her in my head and I knew I wanted the story to come out of the War, so, yes, they were intimately connected.
7. Can you explain your engagement with the theme of youth and self discovery? Why is this of particular interest to you? Can we expect more of this from you or Blowfish?
I’ve written before, that I’m fifty on the outside but fifteen on the inside. Being a teen is such a vital time in anyone’s life. It’s a battleground, it’s breathless, frightening, compelling: a time of darks and lights where everything is real and unreal. It’s a time and place where you are busy discovering who you’re going to be. I think for writers, it’s such an exciting thing to get your teeth into. I have three more books that will be coming out soon with Blowfish, and I’m working on a new book: a dystopian thriller set in post-apocalyptic London.
8. The anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement this year will mark twenty years since the official end of the War. As a writer focusing on the conflict, how do you feel the War has been remembered in the UK? What kind of commemoration do you think is important?
That’s why I’m pleased the book will be coming out this year. It seems very little is known about the conflict in the UK by young people who were born around the time the War started. It isn’t included on any educational syllabus and yet it is the first legitimate example of ‘ethnic cleansing’ on a large scale in Western Europe since the Second World War. Mass graves are still being excavated and thousands are still missing. We have many refugees in the UK from both sides. Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Serbian Democratic Party, is to be sentenced at the Hague this year for his part in war crimes.We should remember.
9. Blowfish is an exciting new indie publisher. Will your other planned releases be of a similar nature, or is there a variation in the pipeline? What can readers expect from Blowfish in the near future?
Blowfish is a publisher for YA and crossover fiction. The next release is a pacey sci-fi thriller set on Titan in the far future, by Lisa Taylor, called Summer at the Methane Lakes. My next YA book is one of two. It’s called Bad Blood, about Ben who’s 17. It’s about falling in love for the first time; about survival against the odds; about family; about biological warfare, death, disease and resurrection. It’s about how sometimes in life things aren’t always what they seem.
10. For The Edge of Me, who is your ideal reader?
That’s an impossible question! Anyone, of any age, who enjoys a good page-turner with heart and guts and teeth!
11. At times, The Edge of Me gets hearts racing, has there been a novel that you’ve read that has scared you? Is there anything you’d be too scared to read or write about?
Mmm. How about Dracula by Bram Stoker for starters? A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, had me blubbing like a baby at the end. It’s all about building tension and not giving away too much. I don’t think there’s anything I wouldn’t write about. I have a rather dark, gothic side, and I do love a wallow!
12. What book is next to your bed?
Good question! There are several! There’s Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil, there’s Runt by Niall Griffiths, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and a short story collection by Tove Jansson called The Listener.
13. How long have you been writing for and when did you decide to take it seriously?
I’ve always enjoyed making up stories but I suppose in the last seven or eight years I’ve begun to realise that this is what I want to be doing forever. I just wish I’d got there sooner!