About Verity Sparks

VERITY SPARKS COVER

Verity Sparks was originally called Evensong Levine.        

The character of Verity (but not the name) came to me as I was walking past one of East Melbourne’s Victorian churches. On a board outside, the service times were displayed. Evensong was at five thirty. And from that I spun the story of a little baby abandoned on the steps of a church and found by a kind elderly couple who were walking past. They named her Evensong, and they gave her their surname –  Levine. They were old-clothes merchants. Not here in Melbourne, I thought, but in the East End of London in the 1870s.

I walked further, looking up at the buildings with their columns and carvings and big stone walls, and thinking that you’d feel so small and unimportant if you were a little foundling in a big, busy city. I could see, inside my head, that baby grown into a young girl, alone and dwarfed by great grey buildings of a huge metropolis. She was running here and there, delivering hats. Hats? Yes, hats. She was an apprentice milliner. She kept nagging at me to write her story, but when I got started, the name Evensong didn’t work.  My foundling had to be sensible, smart, brave and truthful. Verity, which means truthfulness, sounded just right. The old 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. Verity Jones. I was all set.

And the book’s title was different, too.

For most of the time while I was writing this book, it was called Verity Jones and the Secret of the Seventh. I had just about finished it when I was awarded a Varuna Fellowship. Varuna is a writer’s centre, a beautiful house in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains of NSW. The house belonged to a famous Australian writer called Eleanor Dark. I too

I was revising it my manuscript 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. While I was revising (and pondering my dud title) I started reading a novel by an English writer called 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.

My name is Verity Sparks, and I’ve got itchy fingers…

The Truth About Verity Sparks is a mixture of genres. It’s a historical-detective-murder mystery-melodrama for younger readers. There are no 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 helped me locate Verity’s adventures amongst the late Victorian craze for spiritualism. Professor Plush’s Society for the Investigation of Psychical Phenomena (the SIPP) is based on a real organisation – which still exists – called the Society for Psychical Research.

Verity can find lost objects by thinking about them, and her fingers itch when she’s getting close. Professor Plush is fascinated by her gift, and subjects her to hours and hours of experiments. Verity is rather a reluctant psychic! I wanted to invent a new “power”, so I  asked my mother to make up a word a bit like telekinesis (which means movement of an object at a distance, supposedly by paranormal means). Make it Latin or ancient Greek, I asked her.  According to my mother, tele is Latin for at a distance, ago is Greek for get or fetch and visio is Latin again, for see. Teleagtivism. So the idea is to see at a distance and then find. My mum died before the book was published, but I dedicated it to her.

The light and dark of Victorian London.

The Victorians are what we call people in England or English colonies who were alive in the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).
London was the centre of the British empire, and in the 1870s it was a huge, sprawling, bustling metropolis. Technology, industry and science were leaping ahead; British factories were supplying the world; railways were spreading all over the countryside…but not everyone benefited from progress. London reflected this with areas of fabulous wealth side by side with appalling slums full of unemployed people, many of them from country areas, and a huge criminal underworld lurked in the dark streets. I tried to show this contrast in The Truth About Verity Sparks.

I’d been to London, but not for nearly 20 years, and though it would have been wonderful to have visited to research the places where Verity’s story took place, it wasn’t going to happen.

But I studied history books about London, relied on old maps and guidebooks, researched on websites, read Victorian novels and watched DVDs of movies set in that era.

A picture’s worth a thousand words.

That’s what they say. I’m not sure that I entirely agree – after all, I am a writer. But I 
 often use art to help me when I’m writing. Gustave Dore’s engravings of life amongst the poor people of London helped me visualise some of the places where the story was set. Verity lived near a second-hand clothes market with her Aunt Sarah and Uncle Bill Bird, and she was chased though the slums of the East End at night. Dore’s dark, murky, scary scenes almost gave me nightmares.

Dore125Dore slum 1dore slum 3

James Tissot’s paintings help me describe rich people’s lives. The one below, called “The Bridesmaid” shows clearly the difference in dress between classes. The girls in the picture, probably servants or shop assistants, are very plainly dressed, as Verity would have been. But look at the bridesmaid – all those frills! 

Tissot_bridesmaid

When I read about James Tissot’s life, I actually ended up using him as a character in the novel. He really did have a partner called Kathleen who died of consumption  – what we call TB. This picture of a picnic was the basis for a scene in the novel where Verity goes with Judith to visit the Tissots, and meets Daniel and Mr Savinov there.

Holyday-(or-The-Picnic)

Saddington Plush is a real person, too, though I don’t know anything about him. I found the name on a grave in the Angaston cemetery in the Barossa Valley in South Australia back in 1994. Both Saddingtons (senior and junior) are wonderful characters. They are intelligent, kind and caring – as well as a little eccentric – and  I hope none of the real SP’s relatives think I am being disrespectful.

DSC_0095

35 Responses to About Verity Sparks

  1. Tracey says:

    I loved reading this piece. It was wonderful – very interesting and definitely inspiring for me as a writer. What great names you chose for your characters. Thanks Susan for sharing this process 🙂

    • susan says:

      Dear Tracey,

      Thanks for your comment – I’m really glad that you found some inspiration! I’m a bit like a magpie…I find ideas and inspiration all over the place, in some very odd corners too – like cemeteries. But sometimes ideas just drop in your lap. You have to be prepared to see if they work out or not (sometimes they don’t!) but it’s all part of the fun.
      All the best
      Susan

  2. I thought you might like my story. I am a 68year old grandmother of 4. My 9 year old granddaughter and I love to read. She rang me recently and recommended I read a book called ‘The truth about Verity Sparks’ . She said it is good and the further she gets into it, it is even better. When she recommends a book I get it from the library, read it and we have our own little book club discussion. I found this book delightful as my granddaughter said and quite frankly couldn’t put it down. Beautifully written and a great story. Thank you so much for your creativity for both young and old. I love your comments on this site about how you go about creating the story. kindest regards from ‘the bookclubbers.’

    • susan says:

      Dear Rosemary,
      I loved your story, and thank you for sharing it with me. Isn’t it lovely when there’s that two-way flow of ideas and enjoyment with children? I didn’t see a lot of my grandmother when I was little, but my son had a wonderful and close relationship with his grandmother (my mum) because my family lived with her. They loved sharing books, and they both gained so much from each other. You and your grandchildren are lucky!
      All the best,
      Susan

  3. Yasmin Mirshafiei says:

    I enjoyed reading this book very much it was very enjoyable and fun to read it also took me on an adventure to the past I loved the names too. It was an amazing book an I am enjoying reading Verity Sparks lost and found by far Susan Green is my favourite author 😀 🙂 😀

    • susan says:

      Dear Yasmin,
      Thanks so much for telling me how much you enjoyed my book! It’s so good when readers make the effort to do that – it means a lot. I’m glad you liked the names…I do have a lot of fun finding them or making them up.
      Happy reading! All the best,
      Susan

  4. Anneena says:

    I loved reading both Verity Spark books. I just finished lost and found, it was amazing. I’d love it there was another Verity Sparks book. The character’s names are amazing and so inventive. I think both books were so cleverly written. Susan Green is now one of my favourite authors. I think I’m going to start my own book about detectives or something like Verity Sparks, thank you Susan, you really inspired me.
    🙂

    • susan says:

      Anneena, I’m so glad you’re inspired! It’s always lovely to hear from readers, so thank-you for taking to time to tell me you enjoyed my book. It’s very likely there will be a further Verity book…I’m playing around with another really complicated plot right now…
      All the best,
      Susan

  5. Grace says:

    Hi Susan
    I have read your first book and starting your second book.
    I have one question where did you get the idea of the character Alexandra he is a selfish person?
    You inspire me a lot it is very interesting that you set the book back in time and why did you do that and I also wonder if you are going to write a third book I would love you to write another book.
    Your book the truth about verity sparks was so interesting I am trying to convince my friends to read your verity sparks book.
    I like how you write mystery books and it can be sad then happy mysteryious and don’t start me on giving you the thoughts I can think about your amazing books.

    I am getting very interested about lost and found I can not believe that she is going to school
    Your one of my fav authors!!!!!!!!!!

    • susan says:

      Dear Grace,
      Thank you for your questions.
      Where did I get the idea for Alexander? Sorry, I can’t give you a good answer because I really don’t know. I did like the idea of creating a character who seemed to be one thing (nice and good) but who was really the opposite (in Alexander’s case, very mixed-up and bad).
      Your other question is why did I set the story in the past. I think the story of Verity wouldn’t work if it was set today. For a start, she wouldn’t be allowed to work as a milliner’s apprentice at the age of 13. And I just love the gas-lamps and dark streets and swishing gowns and carriages…they are all part of the atmosphere.

      Thanks for taking the time to write!
      All the best,
      Susan

  6. Gracie says:

    Hi Susan
    Your books are awesome I really like your books alot and your book the truth about verity speaks has really inspired me and you have a very good creation and imagination.

    One question which verity sparks book inspired you the most?

    You have wrote two amazing verity sparks book but I wonder if you would write another book?
    You are one of my faviroute authors !!!
    🙂

    • susan says:

      Dear Gracie,

      Thank you for your lovely comments. I’m glad you enjoyed my imagination because I enjoy it too. Making up stories is a lot of fun. You will be pleased to know that I am writing another Verity Sparks book at this very minute. I have just finished Chapter 3. That is the good news. The bad news is, it will probably not be released until early 2015.
      You asked which book inspired me most. Not easy to answer because each book is different. My favourite Verity book is actually the one I am writing now!

      All the best, Gracie, and keep on reading.
      Susan

  7. Mia D'Andrea says:

    Hi Susan,
    My name is Mia and I am 11.
    Last year I read the truth about Verity Sparks. It was so good that I couldn’t put it down.
    I have just bought Verity Sparks lost and found. I can’t wait to read it.
    When I was looking through my new book, I read the section about you or in other words the author. I saw that you live in Castlemaine. That is where my grandparents live, it is a great town.
    Can you please write another new book soon. Mia

    • susan says:

      Dear Mia,
      Thank you for writing to me, and I hope you enjoy Verity Sparks Lost and Found as much as you enjoyed the first book. I have started on a third Verity book and it’s set in Castlemaine in 1880. I’m writing as fast as I can! There will be a bit of a wait, however – it won’t come out until early in 2015.
      And I agree with you, Mia- Castlemaine IS a great town.
      All the best,
      Susan

  8. Pang Xiu En,Rachel says:

    Hi Susan,my name is Rachel.I am almost twelve this year.I absolutely love your book <>and<>.You have also inspire me to became a writer .Can you tell me when are you going to publish your book???because I am so keen and I love your books.
    You are one of my favourite authors!!!so all the best for your next book!!!

    • susan says:

      Dear Rachel,
      Thank you for taking the time to write to me – I love hearing from readers. I’m so glad you found Verity inspiring. The next Verity Sparks book will be called “Verity Sparks and the Scarlet Hand” and it will be published early in 2015. I am nearly half way through the first draft, but I don’t write all the time. I spent today doing research. I really enjoy researching for my books – I always get lots of new ideas. And it’s fun. All the best for your writing!
      thanks again
      Susan

  9. Sowndy says:

    Dear Susan,
    I am a great fan of Verity. Thanks for your amazing book. I like every part of it. I have read it like a million times and i never get bored of it. Thanks again!!!!! 🙂

    • susan says:

      Dear Sowndy,
      Thank you so much for your enthusiasm! It’s very encouraging for a writer to get messages like yours. And yes, another Verity book is on its way. I am about half way through and there are lots of mysteries and complications (maybe too many…)! All the best,
      Susan

  10. Lily Edmondson says:

    Hi Susan Green!
    My name is Lily and I am 11 years old (almost 12). I have sent you a letter saying that you are my favorite author and that Verity Sparks is my absolute favorite book!
    I have read both Verity books and never get bored of them – in fact, I read them every night and every morning! I can’t wait for your new book to come out so I can read all about the mysteries and exitement that Verity gets up to!
    I will try to keep in touch with you.
    Regards,
    Lily 🙂

    • susan says:

      Dear Lily,
      I got your letter in the mail this week and it made my day. Thank-you for taking the time to write and to draw a picture of Verity (lovely drawing, by the way).The new verity book is coming along well and I only have about 10,000 words more to write. The trouble is, it has another very complicated plot and I have to make sure all the loose ends are tied up by the time I type “The End”. A letter like yours is very encouraging, so I will make this reply short and get back to Verity!
      All the best, and happy reading,
      Susan

  11. India Horton says:

    I LOVE your Verity Sparks books. They are one of the best series of books I have ever read! Are you going to write a 3rd Verity Sparks book? PLEASE! I can’t wait to hear the mystery of Alexander, is he on Verity’s side or against her? SO exited!

    • susan says:

      Thank-you for writing to me, India. I am finishing the 3rd book right now and it will be published in early 2015. Alexander won’t make another appearance in the 3rd book; in Verity Sparks Lost and Found he redeemed himself by saving both Papa and Verity. That might be the last of Alexander…
      If you enjoyed the two Verity books, you might like the Sally Lockhart mysteries by Phillip Pullman. Have a look in your library and try them out.
      All the best and happy reading,
      Susan

  12. Matilda Stepto says:

    Hi Susan I am 9 years old and it’s book week at Ocean Grove Primary and all the students have been asked to write a letter to their favourite author and you are mine. I love your Verity Sparks books I have read both of them, I can’t wait till your third one is published. Thanks for writing these fantastic,adventurerous books and even my Mum has read them! 🙂

    • susan says:

      Hi Matilda,
      Thanks for your message. I am very flattered to hear that I am your favourite author! I am still working on the 3rd Verity book. I can tell you that it will be called Verity Sparks and the Scarlet Hand, and it will be released in June 2015.I hope you enjoyed Book Week. Have you read A Most Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks? It is set in Victorian London (like The Truth About Verity Sparks) and it’s very exciting. A bit scary, too. I enjoyed it very much. All the best,
      Susan

  13. Meagan says:

    Hi Susan! I have read this piece so many times now, but I still find it interesting every time! You probably wouldn’t remember me, but I certainly remember you! You signed my book (the truth about verity sparks) when I was on a holiday to Castlemaine. I often look back at the page and think about how amazing it was to meet you! I was just wondering if you had a set time for the arrival of your 3rd Verity Sparks book? or if you are still going to even publish it??

    Thank you so much, and I cant wait to see more amazing reads from you.
    Meagan

    • susan says:

      Hi Meagan,
      I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply…! What’s my explanation? I have been busy finishing the next Verity Sparks book, Verity Sparks and the Scarlet Hand. There IS a release date – it’s August (not June now) this year. It is set in Castlemaine in 1880, and I have again used some real historical figures – this time, it’s Ernest Leviny (whose house, Buda, is a Castlemaine treasure) and his family. I’m glad you enjoyed meeting me – I always love to meet readers, and I love surprising people in the bookshop when they come up to buy a Verity book by saying, “Actually, I wrote that. Would you like me to sign it?” At first I was a bit shy about doing it, but I realised that people do like to have a signed copy!
      All the best, and thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to write,
      Susan

  14. Skylar Klease says:

    I read this book about two years ago and loved it, the second one was great as well. I had just remembered it and knew I wanted to re-read, but I had completely forgotten the title, (it’s much better than Verity Jones). So I went onto Google books for an hour writing phrases of the plot line and coming up with sentences to describe Verity, and finally remembered your book was short listed for the 2012 children’s book council, and went to their website to find your book. Lo and behold I’m here and so glad I found this website. I truly enjoyed this series and you’re a very inspiring author, with an abundance of talent,
    Cheers Skylar

  15. Fe says:

    I’ve read this book at least three times and loved it more every time. I’ve tried hard to find the second one, but to no avail. I like writing myself, and you are a great role model. If my writing ever becomes a tenth of as good as yours (if that makes any sense) I’ll be more than satisfied,
    Please keep writing,
    Fe.

    • susan says:

      Hi Fe,
      I think your comment slipped by me – so sorry – blame the Christmas and New Year silly season for that. Thank you for letting me know that you liked by book – the second one, ‘Verity Sparks Lost and Found’ is in print and should be fairly widely available. Dymocks seem to have all three in stock. If you enjoy writing, keep at it and don’t be too self-critical. Readers only generally see the polished final product as it appears in print – if you could read the first drafts you might get a surprise! It’s like anything else -practise. And of course, read!
      All the best, and many thanks for taking the time to write,
      Susan

  16. Poppy says:

    Hi Susan!
    I have read each and everyone of your verity sparks books at least twice and loved every minute of reading them!!! was just wondering a few things… is there going to be a fourth? and if so, will the character Harold from the third be in it? and Della Parker, will she? Also how old is Verity in the third? thanks so much! keep writing amazing books!!!!!
    from your biggest fan since 2011.
    Poppy
    P.s yes, Poppy is my real name!

  17. Brianna says:

    Hi Susan

    I have read your first book and I was so in to it I am writing a review on it

    Thanks and PS is there an Illustrator in you book

    • susan says:

      HI Brianna,
      Thanks for writing – I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the first book in the series. The cover art is by illustrator Lisa Coutts.
      All the best,

      Susan

  18. Lindsey Warren says:

    I am thinking of using your book, Verity Sparks Diamonds and Deception, for my Children’s Reading group. I am looking for inspiration for activities that they can do, once they have read the book.
    I found this article very interesting, amazing how you pull the characters and places together.

    Lindsey

  19. Emily says:

    Hi Susan Green
    I was just wondering how old verity was in the book? I’m writing an essay for school on your book and I would just like to know 🙂

    Thanks
    Emily

    • susan says:

      Hi Emily, sorry I took a while to get back to you but I’ve been away. Verity is 13 when the story starts. Hope your school work goes well.
      All the best,
      Susan

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