This interview is sponsored by Bloomsbury.
Karen Gregory is no stranger to the YA scene after stunning us all with her heartwarming and heartbreaking, ‘Skylarks’. Now she’s back with her latest novel, ‘I Hold Your Heart‘. Showing how fast a relationship can spiral to being controlling and obsessive, this book will have you wishing you could turn the pages quicker than humanly possible!
We caught up with Karen to find out more about ‘I Hold Your Heart’ and which character from her books she’d most like to be friends with.
I Hold Your Heart looks at negative relationships — particularly the effects of mental abuse. How did you go about writing about these difficult topics?
I tend to write books about things I’m worried about or interested in, so often there’s been a fairly long gestation period in terms of reading around and thinking about a particular topic before the right character appears. Once they do, I know I’m ready to write the book. I do a fair amount of research, which might involve reading books, articles and blogs online, looking at the information from charities and other organisations or watching videos. For this book, I looked at both the impact on victims and also some of the things that might have influenced perpetrators to behave the way they do. I also have some knowledge of the Freedom Programme, which helped.
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Gemma has a strong interest in country music artists. Is that something you share with her?
Not especially! My knowledge of country music was limited to a ‘Greatest Hits’ type of country music CD my parents had when I was growing up, so I had to do some research to capture Gemma’s love of country. I’m really glad I did, as I’ve discovered lots of new music. I definitely love music in general though and singing too, though unfortunately, I don’t have Gemma’s talent for singing or songwriting!
It seems like different forms of love are themes throughout your work. Was that a conscious decision?
No, it just seems to have been something that’s been threaded through. I suppose love is something I’m so interested in exploring and delving into: what it is, what it means, what’s ‘real’ and what isn’t. We all wrestle with these questions, I think, so it feels natural they crop up a lot in my writing in different forms.
Which character from your books would you most like to be friends with in real life and why?
Yikes, this is a tough question because I love all my characters (with a couple of notable exceptions)! Can I pick two? I love Joni in Skylarks for her warmth, her courage in being herself and her love of nature, and I love Esi’s confidence and ability to see the truth of things. I think either would be a brilliant friend.
How would you describe ‘I Hold Your Heart’ in 3 words?
Emotional, intense, hopeful.
There’s a poignant part in the book where Aaron initiates sex with Gemma before she’s woken up. This must have been really difficult for you to write. Were there any other particularly difficult scenes for you?
The initial drafting doesn’t normally have a big impact on me emotionally, because I’m generally in the flow of writing so not altogether ‘there’. Editing is a different matter! You have to be more analytical, go over things time and again, so that’s when I’ll usually have a reaction. The exception to that was drafting Aaron’s scenes. I was writing in first person and I found as the book went on that his voice was starting to take over even when I’d intended a scene to be from Gemma’s point of view. It was quite an unsettling experience.
Gemma prepares Christmas brunch for Aaron, his father, and his father’s girlfriend. If you were having friends over, what would you cook them for dinner?
I was recently given a cookbook called ‘The Green Roasting Tin’, which is full of vegetarian and vegan one-dish dinners that are really quick and easy to cook, so it would probably be something from that! Then perhaps something with rhubarb for pudding, because I love rhubarb so much. I have a patch of it doing really well in the garden and I’ll happily eat it raw with a bit of sugar.
Aaron develops apps within the book and makes a fair amount of money from it! What would you say is the most-used app on your phone?
I don’t have game apps on my phone because I would be lost forever. I love gaming and recently got a bit too into Minecraft, courtesy of my children, so I really do have to limit myself otherwise I’d get nothing else done. I have the audible app on my phone and I listen to a lot of audiobooks, so other than social media that’s probably the most used one.
Lastly, what advice would you give to young writers?
I was going to say the usual — read and write a lot, write what you love, etc. — which is all great advice, but if there’s one thing I’m trying to learn at the moment it’s to take it all a little more lightly. Writing is hard work and publishing is stressful, but ultimately it should be more joyful than not. So have fun! Even when you’re writing about difficult things, there are usually still opportunities to find some lightness and humour too.
Get your very own copy of ‘I Hold Your Heart’ by Karen Gregory here.