I’m starting to get excited about The Truth About Verity Sparks. Its release date is the 1st of August – and that’s soon. I’m going to have a book launch at Stoneman’s Bookroom, where I work, I’ve sent offers of ‘author talks’ to the local schools, I’m printing images of the cover to use as posters…and hoping like mad that my precious book gets bought and read and enjoyed by heaps of children.
Here’s an article that I wrote for the blog of my friend Simmone Howell, YA author of Notes from the Teenage Underground and Something Beautiful. (By the way, her blog is at postteentrauma.blogspot.com and her website is www.simmonehowell.com.) She asked a number of writers to talk about The Anatomy of a Novel – the elements that make a particular book or story. Here’s what I wrote.
The elements that make up the start of a story for me are (in no particular order)
(1) Names. In the cemetery in Angaston in South Australia, there stands a gravestone surrounded by dry grass and rusty wrought iron railings, and the name on the stone slab is:
Isn’t that a great name? Almost instantly I could see him; a young man circa 1878 who was unconventional, slightly bohemian, a bit of a dandy, with a weakness for checked trousers, false moustaches and fiddly documentation, who was braver than he thought he was, with an adorable smile. I fell in love with Saddington, and tucked him away in my memory for future use. (I found Sideney Dumayne in the Maldon Cemetery, and I plan to use her sometime soon, as well). So when I began dreaming up this book, Saddington Plush was just right for both father and son; Confidential Enquiry Agents, bibliophiles, herpetologists and collectors of long, obscure words.
The character but not the name of my heroine came to me as I was walking past one of East Melbourne’s Victorian Gothic churches. On a board outside, the service times were displayed. Evensong was at five thirty. And from that I spun a little baby abandoned on the steps of a church, found by a kind old couple who were walking past, and named Evensong. Evensong Levine, for they weren’t C of E, they were Jewish old-clothes merchants in Victorian London…
I could see, inside my head, that little baby grown into a young girl, alone and dwarfed by great grey buildings of a huge metropolis. She kept nagging at me to write her story, but when I got started, Evensong was the wrong name. Too drifty and romantic for this story (but tucked away for future use, too). My foundling had to be active, plucky, straightforward and very honest. Verity, which means truthfulness, sounded just right. The dear old Jewish couple had to be shelved also, for I needed Verity to be orphaned in order to have adventures, and I just didn’t want to kill dear Mr and Mrs Levine. I wanted an ordinary surname, and what could be more ordinary than Jones? A Mr and Mrs Jones, I decided, could be disposed of. So, Saddington Plush, Senior and Junior, and Verity Jones. I was all set.
(2) Title. At first, I had From the Casebooks of Saddington Plush above the title, and I started the book with a letter from him, saying that he’d taken down the story verbatim from the inimitable Miss Verity Jones.
The book’s title all the way until the final draft was Verity Jones and the Sign of the Seventh. I was revising it at Varuna when I realised that it was a rotten title. Too much like Harry Potter and the..(take your pick). Not to mention Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and even Bridget Jones Diary.
Each bedroom at Varuna contains part of Eleanor Dark’s book collection; my room had the British books. While I was revising (and pondering my dud title) I started reading Memento Mori (a great and very weird novel) by Muriel Spark. Suddenly I had my name. Spark. A name that was sparky and sparkling; that made you think of sparklers and bright sparks, and even, as the Bible says, that man is born to trouble as sparks fly upwards… I decided on more than just one spark for my girl. She was Verity Sparks.
Verity spends most of the novel trying to find the truth about herself. Who are her parents? Why did they leave her? Why did her adoptive mother leave her a ring and a medallion? Why is someone stalking her? I don’t think I am very good at titles, but when this one came to me, I knew it was just right. The Truth About Verity Sparks.
(3) An Idea. The Truth About Verity Sparks is a historical-detective-murder mystery-melodrama romp. It’s for younger young adults, and is completely without any teen angst, sexual yearnings or fumblings, or vampires. But it has a supernatural element. Ghost Hunters: The Victorians and the Hunt for Proof of Life After Death by Deborah Blum was the book that located Verity’s adventures amongst the late Victorian craze for spiritualism. I made Verity a rather reluctant psychic. She can find lost objects, and her fingers itch when she’s getting close. And that led to another absolute neccesity for me – a first line. It’s the hook to hang everything else on.
(4) First Line. My name is Verity Sparks, and I’ve got itchy fingers…
(5) Things to Look At. Finally, I find it really helps to have things to look at. I used Gustave Dore’s engravings of London low-life (here) and James Tissot’s paintings (above) of fashionable high life to help me describe places and people. I even incorporated the picnic in the garden and the real-life French painter James Tissot and his tragic de facto wife Kathleen into my story.
Congratulations on the launch of “The Truth about Verity Sparks”, we don’t have much in the way of bookstores around here, but I have found it on Fishpond. Looking forward to reading it. Regards, Jane
OOh Lala! Go verity! how do you pernounce it by the way? it it ver et ie or ver ai et ie?
Thanks MikiLove – it’s very exciting to be shorlisted. I am half-way through the sequel (should be writing right now!). And you say it “ver-it-ee”).
My daughter (age 9) zipped through Verity in a day, and highly recommended it to me.
I’m only a few chapters in, but I agree!
Thanks, Alex. It’s lovely to get reader’s responses. I was thrilled to be given some photos of a girl at Castlemaine Primary School’s Book Week “Dress-as-your-Favourite-Character” Day. She was Verity, complete with blue dress, centre part and braids and of course the little red bag. I feel like I’ve really made it now!
I have just blogged your terrific book – congratulations on a terrific story I really enjoyed it.
Thanks Momo – glad you enjoyed it. The publishers have hinted about a sequel and I have just sent off an idea so we shall see. I’d love Verity to have some more adventures.
I really enjyed your book. It was amazing! I”m an avid reader so very few books make my favorite books list. But, this book easily did. Thanks so much for an amazing book. It was really well written and would be ecstatic if you wrote of sequel or even made it a triology! You are a very talented writer and the book was very well plotted. I love the bit with Alexander…….. I was a lovely unexpected turn and I was thrilled! Your the best! Keep up the good work! – MikiLove(Btw i’m 12)
Just letting you know, MikiLove – the sequel to The Truth About Verity Sparks has just gone off to Walker Books. They hope to have it in bookshops in January 2013. Thanks for your encouraging comments.
it is an AMAZING mystery and i couldn’t stop it is so inspiratinal.
Verity is a really lovely character; she’s so sensible and brave. I have enjoyed writing about her.
I loved “The truth about verity sparks”. I couldn’t take my eyes of the book for one minute. It’s totally mysterious. It’s a bit sad when she loses her job but on the positive side she figurs out her birth parents and a brother that tried to kill her. Her powers are awesome!!!
It’s great to know that you found Verity a real page turner!
Thanks for replying. Our library teacher Mrs. Marshall told me today that you replied and i was so happy to hear. It’s going to be really fun meeting you tomorrow at our school. My friends are also a fan. It’s going to be a wonderful time tomorrow!!!
Lovely to meet you and the rest of the Bookclubbers. It really was the nicest school visit I have ever done!
WOW its an amazing adventurus book
Thanks Eliza. I like a book with lots of adventures and a really twisty plot.
I would just like to say thankyou again for coming to Ballarat High School and talking about Verity Sparks and your writing career. I loved the book The Truth About Verity Sparks and could not stop reading!!! It was filled with all my favourite generes and my favourite part was the exillerating ending! Everything tied in perfectly and excitingly. I cannot wait to read the second Verity Sparks book!
I had a wonderful time at Ballarat High School; it was a really good feeling to share some of my experiences with such interested and intelligent readers.
thank you for inspiring us with your book i loved the adventure
Thanks Zac, and keep on with the writing! Susan
I’m really happy that you enjoyed your vist to Ballarat High because i know that we all were really excited about meeting you! Thanks for coming!
Thanks Kelsey, I really did have such a lovely day. I bet is is FREEZING COLD in Ballarat right now; I’m glad I came over last week. Susan
Thanks for come to BHS, it was so much fun to be with such a great writer. Verity Sparks is a real page turner and i am going to read it again. I can’t wait to read the next book.
Dear Johanna, I had a great time with you all. It’s wonderful for a writer to meet an enthusiastic audience! Susan
I really enjoyed having you come to talk to us, and The Truth About Verity Sparks is a great book. Thank you for coming and chatting, I loved the ghost story!! It was really exiting to meet you and thanks again.
Dear Hannah, thanks for your comments. I wonder if the ‘ghost’ was a poltergeist cat? Susan
Hey I love love love love your book an the sequel as well. Hope there’s a third; Verity’s my favourite book character. I want to go as her to my school book fair! Can u tell me what she looks like/how she dresses?
Thankyou for telling me that you love my character Verity. I love her too! And I have started on the third book, so you won’t have too long to wait. As for dressing up, I’ve seen a few girls go as Verity for school events – they’ve worn a blue dress and carried a little red bag, just like the illustration on the front cover of The Truth About Verity Sparks. Her hair is light brown and she is small for her age. Hope that helps you! All the best,