I was utterly thrilled when Savita asked if YALMC would be like to be included on the blog tour for The Girl in the Broken Mirror — and even more excited when she agreed to doing a Q&A!
What’s your favourite thing about YA? About writing YA?
I love YA because it is really a ‘meta-genre’ which encompasses a whole range of genres from contemporary to historical, crime fiction to psychological thrillers, fantasy to dystopian, science fiction to magical realism. YA books can be read by all young people, from teenagers to the age of a hundred years old! I guess the only commonality is the writing must be immediate and accessible.
When I was growing up I read the contents of the children’s library, which basically meant that I read books in all those genres. I think it’s the reason why I read so widely today. I think it’s also the reason why I love writing YA. There is so much scope and range that a writer can explore in YA, so many voices, so many stories waiting to be told.
Do you have a favourite character in The Girl in the Broken Mirror?
Apart from Jay, of course, I adore Sita. I think she is a great role model – she had a career as well as a family, she understands girls from having worked so closely with them, and whilst she shares a similar heritage to Jay, there are some very big differences. To be Indian is to be many things. It is a country so vast that each region has its own language, traditions, and religion – and that’s before you factor in people of Indian origin all over the world. For Jay it is an eye-opener that being Asian can mean so many different things, and I think the same would be true for any non-Asian reader too.
I also have a soft spot for Ash, who tries to be a friend to Jay, and sticks by her despite the huge problems he knows it will cause him with his family.
For most of the novel, Jay is obsessed with Tess of D’Urbervilles, which makes me want to ask several questions! Stories shape the ways in which we view the world, and “the power of story” seems to be a theme running throughout the novel. Tess, in many ways, serves as a (broken?) mirror for Jay. What stories did you read when you were young Jay’s age?
I have to admit to a Thomas Hardy obsession when I was Jay’s age! I read everything he wrote when I was a teenager. I also read everything that Wycombe Library had on their shelves. So you are so right when you say there is a “power of story” theme that runs throughout the novel. It’s not an exaggeration when I say that books and stories had a huge impact on my life. I grew up in a very strict household where our only outings were to school and to the library. Education was very important to my parents – equally for girls and boys – so we were taken to the library every week. My world was my home and school life, and the worlds that existed in the pages of books. Stories opened my eyes to so many worlds, to a whole range of experiences, to so many characters and their thoughts and experiences and interactions.
Tess does serve as a ‘broken mirror’ for Jay. Jay’s life feels as splintered as Tess’s life was, despite the centuries that divide their stories. There are so many strands that run through Tess of the d’Ubervilles that reflect upon Jay’s life. The poverty, the reliance on someone else’s good will, the rape, the promise of love, the betrayal felt by both Tess and Jay by their parents, the need for revenge, and, ultimately, the feeling that there can be no happy ending.
Related were those stories mirrors for you? If so, where did they succeed? Where did they fail?
No, none of the stories I read growing up were mirrors for me. I didn’t see my reflection in any of the books in the library. I don’t recall reading any Asian writers as a child, or as a teenager, or as a young adult. I didn’t think I could be a writer as I thought that people like me didn’t write books. Stories for me were ultimately about escapism and the library was my safe space. So, there may not have been stories that specifically served as mirrors, stories meant something else to me. I lost myself in fantasy epics, which have remained a passion, in thrillers, in historical fiction, in contemporary fiction, in classics, in world literature, in…everything. I lapped up all the different, disparate experiences and stories of a huge wealth of characters. But very few were like me.
I discovered Asian writers when I was older. I would absolutely love teenagers and young adults to come across more diversity on the shelves of their libraries and bookshops, because not only might they find mirrors of themselves and their lives, other kids would read about them, too, perhaps understand the differences and commonalities in cultures and backgrounds better. With understanding can come tolerance, which I think is one of the most important things young people’s eyes should be opened to in today’s world.
Jay’s story covers some difficult ground – culture clashes and rape, specifically – what drew you to it? Made you want (need?) to tell it?
There are very few books that deal with the issue of culture clash in young adult literature. I think to some extent there is always a clash of culture in the lives of most young adults – their views on life, on politics, on social issues, their whole world-view can vary in a few degrees or more radically from their parents – and some of these clashes are present in young adult literature. But there are not many books that deal with the conflict in culture for a young adult living in a society where the culture in his/her home life is radically different to the general society they are being raised in.
In the UK, I know of only a couple of books that deal with rape in YA. Anne Cassidy’s No Virgin is an uncompromising read, and in Ireland, Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It. I highly recommend them. Both books deal with very different circumstances surrounding the rape. There is nothing in YA literature that tells the experience of a British Asian girl who is raped. It is a very different story to both Anne and Louise’s, yet it is a story of our time, sadly. Rape knows no boundaries, it’s a crime that’s not confined to any one community – so it needs to be talked about in everycommunity. Only by talking about it and raising awareness of the global nature of this crime can we move forwards in dealing with it.
Rape is also a very personal attack. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that it is a horrifying experience – yet it is one where the victim is often as much on trial as the perpetrator, and too often this stops the victim from speaking up. When society points the finger at you and says it was your fault, you shouldn’t have dressed that way, you shouldn’t have behaved in that way, then you will begin to believe that maybe it was your fault. It was very important for me to make it clear that it is NEVER the girl’s fault – in a patriarchal society where girls and women are often treated like second-class citizens, it’s even more important to speak up for girls like Jay, and to give girls like a Jay a voice.
I have to ask about the chapter from, Jay’s mum, Neela’s POV (it’s 15, for curious minds). I loved it! YA stories so rarely include parents (feel free to discuss!), and when they are present, they’re usually relegated to the periphery. Why was it so important to not only include the mother/daughter relationship but also to give Neela a voice in the novel – a YA novel (which typically excludes such)?
One of the most important relationships in any young person’s life is the one with their parents – necessarily so because the child is dependent on the parent, relies on the parent for everything, and as the child becomes a teenager, that relationship begins to change. Writers for teenagers and young adults usually keep any adult involvement to the minimum. Editors generally don’t want to see stories with too much parental or adult involvement. The same is often true of middle-grade books too. The question of how to get the kid away from the parent so they can have their adventure is one that’s often in a writer’s mind.
But children, teenagers and young adults don’t exist in isolation to their parents, and most of my writing reflects that. Their actions, reactions, views and opinions are informed by their parents – whether they subscribe to them or are in opposition to them.
For me, the relationship between Neela and Jay was central to the book. I think it was important to show how close they are, how much they rely on each other and how they are there for one another in the earlier part of the book. So that when they drift apart because of force of circumstance with the move to Primrose Avenue, the reader really feels the pain of Jay’s loss.
Neela’s voice, her chapter, came about naturally. I didn’t even think about the sudden change in POV when I wrote it. In that moment when Jay is in Sita’s house on her own, waiting for her mum to arrive, and she stops to think about what her mum might be going through – did she know or even guess at what had happened to her daughter? Was she oblivious to the pain that Jay was going through? And suddenly I really wanted to know what Neela was thinking, how she had spent her day, and where she thought her daughter was? That was when I wrote Neela’s chapter.
I was asked by an editor to consider removing it. But I think for readers it’s not only really interesting to see both sides of the same day, but also helps the reader understand both Neela and Jay’s very different points of view. They see Neela go through a whole range of conflicting emotions.
If you had to identify one theme dominating The Girl in the Broken Mirror, what would it be? I ask because there’s one jumping out at me (readers, I’ll confess mine below – after reading Savita’s answer!).
For me, the theme in The Girl in the Broken Mirror is that of survival after trauma. Coping or dealing with a difficult, dangerous or traumatic event is, I think, a recurring theme in my writing. In The Long Weekend, two eleven-year-old boys are abducted after school. The book is essentially a thriller, but the theme is that of survival in very tough circumstances. My next book has a similar theme, although the subject of the book is very different to both The Girl in the Broken Mirror and The Long Weekend.
I look forward to reading your answer to this question, Leah!
Mine relates! The dual theme of having a voice and being heard.
I feel like it underscores culture clash, trauma and rape, as well as Jay’s relationships in the novel. Jay feels like her mum doesn’t hear her. She’s afraid Matt won’t like what he hears. She struggles to speak about what happened, to voice how much its changed her. She discovers a true hear-er in Sita…
Anything else you want to tell us? Next project? The thing you’re most looking forward to reading?
I’m not sure I am allowed to discuss the next book yet! I will say that it is a much easier read in that it won’t be harrowing – it has a much lighter touch, it’s funnier without losing sense of the more serious subject of the story – and there are some great characters in the book! And, yes, I definitely have my favourite characters in the new book!
There are lots of books I’m looking forward to reading – my must-read pile is literally about to topple over! I was very lucky to meet Pooja Puri at the YA Shot event a few weeks ago, so I have a signed copy of The Jungle to read. I’m also looking forward to reading Toni Adeymi’s Children of Blood and Bone, and The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X R Pan.
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Leah, thank you so much for your questions – they were really interesting and insightful, and made me think! It’s an amazing thing to have a book out there in the world and in the hands of readers, and even more thrilling for the book to be The Girl in the Broken Mirror.
If your readers want to know more about me they can head to my website http://www.savitakalhan.com, or tweet me @savitakalhan. I love to hear from my readers!