Wednesday, 18 March 2015

#TeamSalvage - Keren David Author Q&A

(Collect 1 SchemeScav Point!)

On the run up to the YA Book Prize, I set myself the task of reading as many of the shortlisted books as possible. To date I have made it to 5 (Half Wild, Lobsters, Trouble, Only Ever Yours and obviously Salvage). Not too bad an effort in my books...

Salvage is the one that had the deepest effect on me. This is mainly because:
- I am part-adopted
- I have never met the biological other half of my 'family'
- It is something that I have been mildly curious about over the years
- I identified very strongly with Cass' middle class, good girl persona

I was lucky to meet Keren at the UKYA Extravaganza a few weeks back. At that stage I was only about 50 pages into Salvage, but I was already very interested to have a conversation with Keren about adoption, foster care and what inspired this book. Keren said she was particularly interested to hear my views on it as she had not yet heard a reaction from someone who was adopted. I promised her I would get in touch with my thoughts, and she was kind enough to answer some of my questions. 

So here is our Q&A: 

1. What inspired you to write about adoption and foster care in Salvage?

I read an article in a newspaper about birth families contacting adopted teenagers through Facebook, and immediately thought it was a very interesting subject to explore, but that it would be difficult to write because of all the different viewpoints involved. So I filed it away to think about and wrote a different book (Another Life). Then I was watching my son play football, and talking to another mum of one of his teammates, and she said 'I know what you should write about,' and it was the same idea. It turned out that she was a social worker specialising in adoption, so the perfect person to brief me about the issues involved. 

I'd wanted to write about foster care for a long time, since I was a journalist on The Independent. It seemed to me that so many social issues that we covered -  crime, homelessness, abuse -  had their roots in the poor standard of care that looked-after children often suffered. 

2. What research went into Salvage?

 I talked to my friend the social worker, and to another friend who had adopted her daughter. I read a wonderful book  Family Secrets by Deborah Cohen which includes a history of attitudes towards adoption in the UK. I read a lot about children in care and children coming out of care.  I also watched several excellent television documentaries about adoption.

3. Having not interviewed any foster children, did you have any concerns when writing from Aidan's point of view?
I found Aidan very easy to write. I needed him to have a basic core of love and hope  which hadn't come from his early life, so I gave him wonderful, loving long-term foster parents who cared for him from the age of 8 to 12.  I thought this would also show the positive side of being in care, which should happen for all such children.  Almost everything about Aidan stems from his fragmented upbringing, from his outer charm, to his conviction that happiness can't last. He's damaged, but salvageable. 

I think if I had interviewed foster children I would have got concerned about telling their stories and not Aidan's.

4. From my reading, Aidan has a slight victim mentality, whereas his boss has more of a 'get on with it' outlook. What do you think of these two different reactions to being in care?
Oooh...well, they were different ages, I suppose. Maybe Clive was more like Aidan when he was 18. Clive had had longer to get a grip on his life, build his own family and business, and put the past behind him. Aidan was only two years out of care, and struggling. I liked the way Clive tried to help kids coming out of care by giving them a helping hand and a bit of guidance. He was doing a lot for Aidan -  a job, somewhere to live, driving lessons, and, at the end, encouraging him to do an accounting course.  My hope for Aidan is that in thirty years' time he'll be a bit like Clive -  a successful business -  maybe as an accountant - a secure family, a nice home and no more drinking.  And then he'd be strong enough to help kids coming out of the care system in his turn. 

5. What are your personal feelings about the adoption/foster care system in the UK?
I think the child's needs should be at the centre of any decisions made about its future. Sometimes children get caught in the court system for years, and miss out on the chance of a new family.  For some children though, long term foster care is a better option. Children and parents need a lot of support, pre and post adoption. 

6. If you found out you had a mystery sibling like Cass and Aidan, would you seek them out?
I wouldn't be able to resist.

7. Any other personal comments you have that don't fit into these questions about adoption and foster care.
Salvage opened up so many questions for me about families, and how we build them. I ended up caring so much about Aidan and Cass and all the other characters -  it was difficult to stop myself writing a completely unrealistic sentimental Hollywood ending! I really hope Aidan -  and all kids like him -  gets their happy-ever-after. 

So as you may be able to tell, reading Salvage was a very personal experience for me. The story really hit home for me, particularly the idea of extended families getting in touch and what you open yourself up to. In way of a mini review, I really enjoyed the dual narrative, Aidan's very believable characterisation of someone with no self-esteem and the never contrived or forced portrayal of family dynamics. I have to admit, I wasn't as sold on the ending or on Neil's character but overall I loved SalvageAlthough I have never been in the same experience as these characters, I really feel that Keren hit the nail on the head with the mood, voice and that intangible 'rightness' that all the book I really enjoy have. 

So ahead of tomorrow's announcement of YA Book Prize Winner, I have my fingers crossed for Keren and Salvage! 

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