One way of thinking about this novel would be to describe it as a ‘coming of age’ story – was that something you set out to explore or did you start with your protagonist Ruby and develop the book from there?
It began with Ruby. I had a very powerful image of a young girl running through a house into an unkempt back garden and lifting her face to the sky and singing. This is Ruby and she’s just received some momentous news on her thirteenth birthday. The image was the catalyst for the whole story.
The Doll Funeral also explores familial relationships – both blood relations and families constructed through marriage and friendship. Is the idea of what defines a family a subject you’re really interested in?
I find the subject really fascinating – the question ‘What is family?’ Ruby sets out to find her birth parents which turns out to be a dangerous and complex mission. Not only are all sorts of secrets uncovered but she is challenged into discovering what the true meaning of family is to her. One of the central ideas of the novel is this – can we ultimately choose who are our real families?
Place almost feels like a character in this novel, both the woods as Ruby’s refuge and the house she comes to occupy with other lost children – how fundamental is the setting to your novel? Could you imagine the action taking place somewhere else?
I actually tried to write the novel in two other locations but when I stumbled across the Forest of Dean on a day out I knew instantly that my book had found its true location. As I wrote, the forest began to feel like a character in its own right.
The Doll Funeral has a unique relationship – as does Ruby – to people who are hugely influential but not necessarily physically still with us. Was the idea of how the people we have loved stay with us something you set out to explore? Did any of the relationships in the novel surprise you?
One character states in the novel ‘the real ghosts are family’, and I’d say this idea is at the heart of the book. One relationship really was a surprise – without spoilers – when Ruby joins a group of kids living semi-feral lives, she believes she has discovered her soul mates. But they have an agenda for keeping her there and the betrayal at the heart of the book startled even me!