The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Katie Dale

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Katie Dale


Summary: What do you do when your mother dies of Huntington's Disease and you find out that she wasn't your mother at all? And that there is a person - a sister? - out there who may carry the gene for this terrible disease? Brilliant premise for a YA novel, no? So you can imagine we were very keen to chat to author Katie Dale about her debut book Someone Else's Life.
Date: 16 January 2012
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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What do you do when your mother dies of Huntington's Disease and you find out that she wasn't your mother at all? And that there is a person - a sister? - out there who may carry the gene for this terrible disease? Brilliant premise for a YA novel, no? So you can imagine we were very keen to chat to author Katie Dale about her debut book Someone Else's Life.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Katie Dale: That’s a tough one. Although the main characters in Someone Else’s Life are teenagers, I’ve had early reviews from readers of all ages, from teens to mothers – so I wouldn’t really rule out anyone over fourteen!

  • BB: Someone Else's Life is your first novel? Was writing it daunting? Or exciting? Or a mixture of both?

KD: Definitely exciting! Writing it was quite an adventure, as the story developed in ways all of its own, and I got to know my characters, and learn all about Huntington’s disease and New England before I finally found out how the story ends! And getting selected for Undiscovered Voices, a competition run by the SCBWI and Working Partners was extremely exciting – to have editors and agents asking to read my novel was such an unexpected delight! And then the journey to publication is such a thrilling rollercoaster through rejections and publishing deals and mountains of edits, but finally to see my actual book in print just blows me away. Very, very exciting!

  • BB: What made you write about Huntington's disease?

KD:I hadn’t planned to – in fact when I started writing Someone Else’s Life I had never even heard of Huntington’s disease. I knew I wanted my character, Rosie, to have been swapped at birth, but I needed a compelling reason why she’d find out about the switch. I decided if one of her parents had a genetic illness and Rosie took a test to find out if she had it too, she would discover that way that she was not biologically related.

So I started researching genetic illnesses and stumbled upon Huntington’s disease - a late-onset hereditary neuro-degenerative illness with symptoms including jerky, uncontrollable movements, mood-swings, weight loss and dementia. There’s a predictive blood test for over-eighteens, but there’s currently no cure.

This got me thinking – would Rosie take the test, knowing there’s no cure? What would I do, if I were at risk? What would you do? Knowing that you could never change the results – that there are only two possible outcomes:

a) Negative – a normal, healthy life.
b) Positive – a life knowing you’ll get HD, filled with tough choices:

Would you have children, knowing they’d be at risk? Would it be fair to get married, knowing your partner will probably become your full-time carer? What if one of your siblings had the gene but you didn’t – would you feel relieved? Or guilty? As I learned more about the illness, met people with and affected by Huntington’s, and heard personal stories about how it affects entire families, HD became a much, much bigger part of my story, even to the extent that part of the proceeds of the novel will be donated to the Huntington’s Disease Association and the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. But more importantly, I hope that as well as being a great read, Someone Else’s Life will also help to broaden public knowledge and understanding of this too often hidden and stigmatised disease.

  • BB: The book is all about the ways in which lies or omissions affect us. Rosie and Holly both discover that things they always thought to be true aren't. Yet they respond by hiding truths themselves. We think this puts them in an emotional landscape we can all recognise. Is truth always the best thing though?

KD: I think that’s a very interesting question, and one I am fascinated by. We are brought up with the lesson that honesty is the best policy, and in the majority of cases that’s true. But the world isn’t always as simple as that. Most of the characters in Someone Else’s Life hide the truth in one way or another, for a variety of reasons, but what would you do in their shoes? Would you lie to protect yourself? What about to protect someone you love? Is it okay to tell a lie that doesn’t hurt anyone? Or a lie that saves a life? Is hiding the truth the same as lying? I think the truth can be a very grey area and it isn’t always easy to judge what the right thing to do actually is until you’ve been in that situation yourself. .

  • BB: You chose to base your story on two sides of the Pond. Did your research involve any travel?

KD: Unfortunately not! Luckily, I had visited New England and New York before, so from a mixture of memories and research I was able to get the information I needed. Thanks to the wonders of the internet I was even able to virtually travel the streets of Provincetown – online! I’d love to go back, thoughs.

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

KD: I write on a laptop on my sofa – or in bed if the TV’s on in the lounge. I can’t write with any background noise – except classical music (the only time I ever listen to classical music!) because I find words too distracting – I find myself starting to type the lyrics!

  • BB: Which authors are you influenced by?

KD: I am a huge fan of Jodi Picoult. I really admire the way she paints a complete picture of a situation, showing you all the different sides of an issue, and the way her characters’ emotions tangle and clash so you end up feeling sympathetic for everyone, even though they’re all at loggerheads with each other. I also love Sarah Dessen, Caroline B. Cooney, and Sharon Creech. I know when I pick up one of their books I’m in safe hands and in for a great read.

  • BB: Which three books should every young person read?

KD: Gosh, that’s a tough one – just three?! Okay…

Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy. A master-class in suspense, with an unlikely narrator.
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. A simply wonderful book.
Peter Pan by JM Barrie – a timeless and magical adventure, and my all-time favourite. But then, I refuse to grow up!

  • BB: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

KD: READ. A lot. You can learn so much from reading good (and bad!) writing – and it’s great fun! Write, write write! When I was doing a writing course, my teacher made us all write an observation in our notebooks every day. It could be about anything, but it was a really good habit to get into, finding new ways to describe things and express ideas. Don’t get it right, get it written! It’s so easy to stew over how you’re writing something as you’re writing it, but just get it down first, because… Writing is Re-writing. Nobody’s first draft makes it to print – I’m certainly glad mine didn’t – it was 140,000 words! Enter competitions! Not only is the feedback really useful for your future writing, but you never know what doors it’ll open – the Undiscovered Voices competition run by the SCBWI and Working Partners played a huge part in kick-starting my career, and I’d recommend it to any aspiring writer.

  • BB: What's next for Katie Dale?

KD:I’m in the middle of writing my second YA novel, but this time it’s more of a thriller – here’s the blurb:

Tall, dark, and handsome, the first time Sasha meets mysterious Christian she knows he is The One. But Christian is hiding a terrible secret. Why does he clam up every time Sasha asks about his past? Why does he have the initials L.N. engraved on his watch? Why doesn’t he have any family – and why does he dye his blond hair black?

Then one day Christian’s house goes up in flames, his tyres are slashed, he flees for his life, and Sasha insists on going with him.

But as Christian’s secret is unveiled in front of the whole world, it seems everything he’s ever told Sasha is a lie. Even his name. Her loyalties torn, her emotions in tatters, Sasha must decide whether to stand by the man she loves, or turn him over to his pursuers. Can what they’re saying about him really be true? Should she trust him? Or is she in terrible danger…?

But Christian isn’t the only one keeping secrets

For what if their accidental meeting was no accident at all…

  • BB: Oh my goodness, it sounds so exciting! We're looking forward to it. Thanks so much for the chat, Katie, and good luck with both books!

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