Celia: Having moved, as you have, from Young Adult to Adult fiction, I'd love to know - what precipitated the move?
Sheena: I always wanted an Irish main character, and much of the book’s heart and humour lies in the culture shock experienced by both April, my Northern Irish heroine, and the English people she works with. After three novels based on Irish history, I was keen to escape from religion, cultural identity and politics, and that just wouldn’t have been possible in an Irish or Northern Irish marriage bureau! So it was a very pragmatic decision. I love inventing towns, and Easterbridge, a small Yorkshire town, feels very real to me. I hope it convinces the reader! I did live in the north of England for six years and of course much of my cultural background is English. I wouldn’t set a book in a country I didn’t know well.
Adele: I was surprised by the turn of events, (no spoilers) and thought the use of the double point of view worked so well. Did you ever consider a first person narrative? Do you have strong views about the First Person/Third Person debate?
Sheena: Yes! That was probably the biggest issue I had – I really wanted to maintain an uplifting tone, with warmth and a sense of community and, above all, hope, but I also wanted to explore some of the darker realities of the 1930s, in particular the rise of fascism, refugees and gender politics. Two things helped me. One was my experience of writing more overtly political novels – Name upon Name, Star by Star and Hope against Hope – but trying not to let the politics take over because the books were for a younger audience. The other was exploring how Call the Midwife, of which I am a big fan, negotiates that juxtaposition of serious social realism with sweetness and fun, without awkward tonal shifts. Because life actually is bittersweet.
|Sheena with her husband Seamus