For those of you that have read my review of Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma, you will know that I found it incredibly challenging and moving. I am humbled by the bravery and skill of Tabitha Suzuma's writing and I am truly delighted to have had the opportunity to ask her some questions.
My huge thanks to the wondeful people at Random House for making this possible and to Tabitha for writing such an outstanding book and for answering my many questions.
Without further ado, here is the interview:
Me: How difficult was it to make the decision to write about consensual incest? And what inspired that decision?
Tabitha: Consensual incest was a subject I had wanted to write about for a number of years. I kept rejecting the idea because I thought there was a good chance the subject matter would never get past the gatekeepers. I was only able to take the plunge once I had built up confidence in my writing ability through my previous four books. But even then I was terrified - not just that it would be deemed a subject unsuitable for teenagers but that I wouldn't be able to make it convincing. I was also really afraid of being unable to make the reader care enough about the main characters so that they didn't reject them and their actions out of hand.
I was inspired by the desire to write a tragic love story. It came down to incest by a process of elimination. I wanted the book to be set in contemporary London and I needed the two teens in question to be old enough for their love for each other to be taken seriously. But I quickly realised that (fortunately) in modern-day Britain there are very few - if any - obstacles that could keep a couple in love apart. Cultural and religious difference maybe, but if the couple were determined enough to go against their families' wishes, they could always run away together. I needed something that would be condemned by everyone wherever they went - a relationship that could never be and moreover, was against the law.
Me: I think Forbidden really pushes the boundaries of what issues you’d expect to find examined in YA. Do you choose to write about topical issues for a specific reason?
Tabitha: I don't seek out topical issues but I am constantly drawn to stories about people whose behaviour or way of thinking falls outside the norm. I am fascinated by psychology, especially mental health issues. I have plenty of personal experience in this area and this is why all my books feature main protagonists who struggle with problems of the mind.
Me: Are there topics that you still feel need to be explored through YA literature?
Tabitha: So many important topics have been explored through YA literature now, which is brilliant. I can't think of any specific topics that have been neglected and need addressing, but anything that challenges the reader to reconsider his or society's preconceived ideas is important, I think.
Me: In your acknowledgements you said that writing Forbidden was one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. What was the most challenging part of writing this particular book?
Tabitha: Oh there were so many! Keeping my sanity, for a start! Slowly transforming the sibling relationship into a romantic one was particularly tough. I had to try to make the reader believe that this really could happen. Writing the sexual scenes was also a challenge - I had to make sure that I made them realistic and not just glossed over whilst still somehow keeping them romantic. But the hardest part by far was writing the end. By then, I was so caught up in the characters and the story that it began to feel like I was writing a book about something that had really happened. In order to portray the characters' emotions convincingly, I had to experience them myself, which was really painful and frequently had me in tears.
Me: I loved every page of the book. I especially love that you didn’t make any compromises. As a reader, I was challenged the whole way through reading it. Every objection or perceptions that I had, Lochan and Maya discussed or considered. Did you consciously set out to do this?
Tabitha: I didn't consciously set out to have Lochan and Maya discuss or justify their feelings or actions. I just constantly imagined myself in their situation and how I would react, and thought of the kind of questions and worries and eventual explanations or justifications I would have myself.
Me: Lochan does some research into the legalities of his and Maya’s relationship. How much research did you have to do for the novel in terms of both their legal position and also the likelihood of this type of relationship occurring in our society?
Tabitha: I got in touch with a wonderfully helpful woman at the Metropolitan Police who answered all my endless questions, both about the characters' legal positions and the details of what they experience at the end. I was also very fortunate in that shortly after starting the book I caught two brilliantly-made television documentaries on the subject. I also found a couple of fascinating magazine articles about siblings who'd had consensual incestuous relationships during their teens.
Me: How do you feel now having finished the book and it being out there for people to read? Do you worry that people will react negatively to you exploring such a taboo topic?
Tabitha: I feel exposed of course, but no more so than I do whenever I've just had a new book published. There is always an agonising wait before the verdicts begin to come in. But as for people reacting negatively to the subject, I am not too worried. I am confident enough that if people take the time to read the book before rejecting its subject matter, most people will react positively. For any who reject the book outright because without actually reading it, I'd probably feel only pity for their narrow-mindedness.
Me: Are you currently working on a new book and if so can you tell us anything about it?
Tabitha: Yes. My new book is another for older teens and is also about what some might consider a controversial subject: euthanasia.
I don't know about everyone else but I cannot wait for the "euthansia" book. I also want to read Tabitha's earlier novels too. I am going to buy myself a copy of A Note of Madness to read during the Summer holiday.
If you haven't read Forbidden yet, I urge you to go and buy a copy!