Genre: Nominally YA/NA, general fiction
Release Date: 27 January 2017
Kerryl Shaw has always kept a diary, but this one is different because she knows she is going to die.
A highly infectious and incurable virus spreads worldwide. Seventeen-year-old Kerryl lives with her family on a remote farm. They think they will be safe, but the danger advances. One day a stranger arrives, and it soon becomes apparent that he has brought the plague to their door.
Kerryl is sure it’s only a matter of time before she catches the infection and dies, and decides to record what she thinks will be her final days. She realises that her diary will never be read, so she imagines a reader and calls him Adam. Loneliness and isolation affect the balance of her mind. Little by little Adam comes alive to her, and she sets off across the moor to meet him.
Introductions are boring, but unless I take time to explain things it will be confusing for you. Me first. Not very polite, I know, but it’s probably the best place to start.
My name is Kerryl – or that’s what my family and friends call me. My proper name is Cheryl. Cheryl Alison Shaw. They call me the Paradise Girl. Don’t get excited – it sounds sexy but it’s not. I’m seventeen years old and still a virgin. I’m not a nun, I’ve been out with loads of boys – Tim, Mark (two of them), Nathan, Jake, Tristram, Steve – but I wasn’t that keen on any of them and they didn’t last. The exception was Mark II. He was older than me, fearsomely good looking and he had a nice car. I thought he was really hot. When I wasn’t with him I was thinking about him. But it seems he wasn’t as keen as me, and one day my best friend, Josie, told me that he was going out with Monica Woodbridge and saying I was a frigid cow. It seems everybody knew I’d been dumped and I was the last to find out.
The worst thing was the shock. I thought Monica Woodbridge was my friend. As well as that, all the girls in our group had been going out with the same boys for a long time, but I seemed to keep a boyfriend for only a few weeks. Was there something wrong with me? To be honest, I’m not a great beauty. I don’t mean I’m a train wreck or anything. I’m not bad looking, but I’m not like Charlene Brooker or Suzy Simmonds. They’re electric, both of them. Charlene could be a model, and Suzy’s always surrounded by a gang of drooling boys.
They’re gone now: Charlene, Suzy, Josie, Monica, all of them.
Sorry for the break there. I had to stop to have a little weep. I’ll try not to do too much of that. I suppose I can console myself with one thing: with everyone else dead, I must be the most beautiful girl in the world!
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The inspiration for writing Paradise Girl
Writers are often asked where the idea for a book came from. We’re all different and we all work in different ways, but I think most of us would agree that it’s rare for a plot to appear suddenly, fully formed. Usually it’s an object, a person, an event, something read, a random thought, perhaps even a dream that provides the grit in the oyster shell around which the book forms. According to the critic Christopher Booker there are only seven basic plots. All have been told a million times before. The writer’s task is to use the grit of the idea to shape one (or several) of those plots and create what she or he tries their very best to make into a pearl.
The grit for the novel I’m currently working on – The Poisoner’s Garden – was reading about an innocuous-looking yellow flower; the grit for the novel I’ve just finished – The God Jar – was an object I found years ago on a Cornish beach; the grit for Paradise Girl was an event.
I live high on the Pennine hills. My house is secluded, but there’s always something to see and hear. A neighbouring farmer might be working his fields, or a dog might be barking in the distance. From my windows I can see traffic weaving along the valley bottom, and if I’m outside I can hear a train trundling along the trans-Pennine link, or the siren of an emergency vehicle, or the bleep of a delivery vehicle reversing. Being close to the flight paths for Leeds/Bradford and Manchester airports and the polar corridor for flights from Heathrow to North America the sky is usually latticed with vapour trails. So although you might think my home is remote, there are always plenty of signs of life.
In 2010 the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull (try saying that with a mouthful of biscuit!) erupted. Although relatively small as volcanic eruptions go, the ash cloud caused enormous disruption to air travel across most of western and northern Europe. This meant that for several days in April the skies above me were clear. One afternoon during this lull I was alone in the house. I went into the garden and I was struck by how still it was: there were no vapour trails – I wasn’t expecting there to be any – but there was no sound or movement from around or from the small town in the valley below either. The whole place was still.
A thought struck me: suppose everyone else had vanished, disappeared. Suppose there was no one left alive but me. What would that be like? What would I do? How would I survive? Could I survive? It was not so much fending for myself – I knew I could do that – but if there was nobody to talk to, no one to listen to, could I endure the terrible loneliness? If everyone else had gone there’d be no shops, no schools or offices, no transport, no internet, no TV, nothing; just an empty world with only me to fill it. Wouldn’t it make a great plot for a novel?
Of course, it’s not a new idea. Robinson Crusoe is the classic example of a tale of loneliness and isolation. More recently the story was picked up in the brilliant novel and film The Martian. The central characters of both those are men. That was one reason why I didn’t want to write about myself, an older male, as if it was me that was the sole survivor. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to have somebody younger describing what happened? Everything would be fresh to them, and because of their age the prospect of death would be more poignant. And how would somebody in their teens manage without all the paraphernalia that they now take for granted – Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, smartphones, streaming and so on? Gradually the character of Kerryl Shaw emerged: a farm girl, bright but from a non-academic home; imaginative but unsophisticated; a young woman on the cusp of adulthood, who has all the promise of her life slowly and painfully whittled away.
The question that remained was how to tell the story. It seemed obvious that it should be narrated in the first-person, Kerryl describing the things that happen to her and her reaction to them in her own words. However, that would take away what ought to be a key question for the reader: does she survive? If it was her talking it would be obvious she had, but I wanted it to be unclear. Then I had an idea. Kerryl could write a diary. It’s a well tried format, from Adrian Mole through Bridget Jones to Alice, I Think – not to mention the very many 18th and 19th century examples. The advantage for me is that Kerryl could write about what was happening to her and set down her thoughts, the diary would be there whether Kerryl remained alive or not. It would be necessary to read to the end to find out.
But then, why would she write a diary if she was sure there was nobody around to read it? Enter Adam.
Of course, the plot details had to be worked out and there was a lot of drafting and redrafting, but that’s how the idea for Paradise Girl came to me, and how Kerryl, the paradise girl herself, came to life. I hope I’ve managed to turn the bit of grit from that day in 2010 into a pearl; it’s up to my readers to judge.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phill Featherstone was born and brought up in the north of England. He trained as a teacher and taught English in comprehensive schools. In the late 1990s he and his wife, Sally, founded a publishing company specialising in education books for the early years. In 2008 the business was acquired by Bloomsbury, after which they moved to Yorkshire. He now spends his time writing, travelling, on the arts and on conservation work. Phill has degrees from Cambridge and Leicester Universities, and is a member of the Society of Authors. Paradise Girl is his third novel, although the first to be published.
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16347499.Phill_Featherstone
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