As huge fans of Clare Furniss’s Year Of The Rat, we’re very excited to read her recent release How Not To Disappear (published by Simon & Schuster) and we’re delighted to have her talking about her inspirations for the novel today!
How Not To Disappear tells the story of pregnant teenager Hattie who takes her independent, gin-drinking great-aunt Gloria, who is in the early stages of dementia, on a road trip. On the journey Gloria’s own teenage story, which has some pretty dark secrets, unfolds as he faces up to her past while Hattie faces up to her future. Put like that, it sounds like a coherent idea for a story, but for a worryingly long time it felt like a jumble of ideas that I knew were all linked somehow but had no idea how were going to become a complete story. Thankfully in the end they did! But where did those ideas come from in the first place?
The starting point for the book was my own experience. My grandma had Alzheimer’s when I was growing up and I remember how strange it seemed to me as a child that although she would forget the present almost as soon as it had happened she could remember incidents from seventy years before in vivid detail. When she told these stories it was clear she could see them in her mind, it was as if she was actually there and I wanted to try to capture some of that immediacy, of the past feeling like the present, in How Not To Disappear. There were a lot of strong, dynamic older women in my family when I was growing up and they played an important part in my life in my teenage years. Gloria definitely reminds me a bit of my own great-aunty Eileen, who was glamorous, opinionated, and mixed a lethal gin and tonic.
Films were another source of inspiration. The feminist road trip movie Thelma and Louise is one of my all-time favourites. I watched it myself when I was 17 – the same age as Hattie in my book – on a little road trip of my own in Dublin with my best friend. I came out of that cinema feeling like the world had changed. This was certainly an inspiration for Hattie and Gloria’s road trip. Okay, there are minor differences, like the fact that they’re going to Whitby rather than the Arizona desert… but it definitely taps in to some of the same themes as the film. How exactly? Well, that would be telling.
Juno, Diablo Cody’s film about a pregnant teenager, was another film that I loved and was there in the back of my mind when I started the book. I loved the humour, which is an important part of How Not To Disappear.
And then, inevitably, there are books.
Memory by Margaret Mahy was a book I read as a teenager, and tells the story of Jonny, a troubled teenager, and Sophie, who has Alzheimer’s. I loved it – I guess it struck a chord because of my own experience of my Grandma having dementia but also it’s just a wonderful book. Margaret Mahy was a magnificent writer, and her portrayal of the relationship between the two central characters is beautifully done.
Berlie Doherty’s Dear Nobody and Granny was a Buffer Girl were two more books I read and loved in my teens. Dear Nobody tells the story of a teenage couple, Chris and Helen, who unexpectedly discover they are expecting a baby and sensitively shows the story from both their perspectives. I loved Granny was a Buffer Girl because although it centred on a contemporary teenager, Jess, it also tells the stories of members of her family when they were young. I think the realisation that your parents and grandparents were young once, just like you, is a big part of growing up – it’s part of the realisation that you are a bit-part player in other people’s stories as well as having the starring role in your own! This was definitely something I wanted to explore in How Not To Disappear.
Finally, there’s One Day by David Nicholls. I read this book just before I started work on How Not to Disappear and one of the things I thought was great about it from a writer’s perspective was the letters the two main characters, Emma and Dexter, write to each other. You get to hear the characters’ voices in such an immediate way and get all sorts of insights into their relationship. What a shame no one writes letters any more except the bank to tell you you’re over your overdraft limit, I thought. A while later I was sitting at my desk trying to work out how I was going to get the character of Hattie out of my head and onto the page and without really deciding to do it I started writing an email from her to best friend/love interest/Reuben, who is the father of her baby but doesn’t know she’s pregnant. It was such fun! I found out so much about her just from that email. I decided that this would be a great way of depicting Hattie and Reuben’s relationship through the book.
(Clare with her Grandma.)