I am thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book earlier this year and if you haven’t already seen my review, you can find it here.
For today’s stop in the blog tour, Nuala was kind enough to answer some questions about her story and the inspiration behind it.
The mystery woven throughout this story is brilliantly executed and I completely lost myself in it. Did you have a definite idea of the story before writing it or did you jump in to see where it would take you?
Thank you so much. I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. Right at the beginning I had a germ of an idea that I wanted to explore and it was the story of a female war reporter who had travelled the world reporting on war and injustice who returns home to find that something horrifying has been unfolding right under her nose without her realising it. It took a lot of drafts to get the story to where it is now but I find that once you start writing and the characters begin to take shape then the story starts to reveal itself.
There’s many different tangents to this story, each woven perfectly together with the others to create a gripping read. When writing, was it difficult to keep track of the different plot lines?
Yes, it is very difficult to keep track and I did have to draw up a big plot plan chart that I pinned above my desk with all the characters names and what they were doing at each point of the story written down. It can get confusing and while you’re writing it you’re immersed so it can be hard to see the bigger picture. It’s rather like working on a huge tapestry, desperately trying to keep all the threads together. This is where a great editor comes in. I am very lucky to have Katy Loftus at Penguin, who is such an insightful and innovative editor. She can always spot that loose thread!
Kate and Sally are both struggling with different things in their adult life. When writing about the sisters, did you prefer writing one over the other? Was it harder to write one over the other?
I definitely related more to Kate and thus found her easier to write. In a way her voice is very similar to mine and because I have been brought up around journalists (my father and sister both work in the industry) I felt comfortable in her skin so to speak. But as a writer I love a challenge and though she was very different to me I really enjoyed delving into Sally’s psyche and creating her voice. I loved how she developed over the course of the story and by the end of it I had grown rather attached to her.
There’s definitely a lot of issues between the sisters. Was it difficult to write about such topics?
Yes it was. This novel tackles some serious issues and I wanted to portray them as truthfully and sensitively as possible. I was lucky enough to secure Arts Council funding for the research phase of the novel so I could immerse myself fully in the subject matter. But exploring such dark issues as war, PTSD and abuse in great detail day after day really took its toll. I definitely needed to switch off at the end of each writing session. But then one of the reasons why I write novels is to tackle subjects that many people find uncomfortable. Things like war, trauma, addiction, abuse. These are all issues that we recoil from when faced with but they are a daily reality for a lot of people. In fact one of the startling things I discovered when I was researching the book was the fact that PTSD is still a taboo subject amongst war reporters. By telling these stories and exploring difficult subjects I hope to raise awareness and open up debate.
There’s mention of Syria and the devastating events that are happening over there. What inspired you to use Syria, and specifically Aleppo, in your story?
The horrifying conflict in Syria has become the war of our times and as I set out to write My Sister’s Bones I knew I would have to address it. As a mother, the plight of children trapped in Aleppo and those trying to escape on overcrowded boats chills my blood. As the daughter of an Irish immigrant I have been brought up on stories of the famine. My ancestors made perilous journeys across the sea to what they hoped would be salvation. The refugees fleeing conflict zones and the people trapped in Aleppo today could be any one of us, any one of our children. Through the character of Nidal (the child Kate befriends in Syria) I wanted to tell the story of a little boy who just wanted to play with his friends and feel safe, something every child deserves.
Finally, if you could compare your novel to another, what would it be? What books do you think readers of your novel would also enjoy?
I’ve always been inspired by Pat Barker. She grew up in the same town as me and I read her novel, Regeneration when I was a teenager. I was mesmerized not just by her haunting, spare prose but also the way she described trauma and the work of WHR Rivers the psychologist who treated victims of shell shock during the First World War. My Sister’s Bones explores similar themes: the devastation of war; the effects of trauma on the psyche. I would definitely recommend Pat Barker to readers who have enjoyed My Sister’s Bones.
But as well as covering hard-hitting subjects My Sister’s Bones is also a twisty thriller and for that reason I would also recommend some of my favourite thriller writers. They include Louise Doughty, Rosamund Lupton, Caroline Kepnes and Gillian Flynn.
I’d like to extend a massive thank you to Nuala for taking the time out to answer some questions for us. Your responses were fascinating and it was interesting to see the thought process behind the story.
Fellow readers, I can’t recommend this story enough. If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you check it out and keep an eye out for tomorrow’s blog tour spot over on The Book Magnet.