I would like to thank Carol Hedges for agreeing to do this interview about her book Jigsaw Pieces which I thoroughly enjoyed. I had so many questions about this serious and thought-provoking work. Here is how she answered my ten questions.
1. What inspired the use of the poem ‘Trench Winter” by Noel Clark?
As I was writing Jigsaw Pieces, I was also teaching World War One poetry to a Year 11 class. The poems and the stories behind some of the soldier poets were so harrowing and so evocative of a time long gone by, that I decided to incorporate the story of an imaginary poet Noel Clark, into the narrative. He is a composite of all the poets and lives so tragically cut short. I wrote his poems together with a very clever Year 11 pupil…. and yes, there are many people who think he is real, but he isn’t.
2. We know that the soldiers of WWI had to deal with the trenches. Hemingway gave me some insight into what they endured by using trenches. How would you describe the ‘trench experience’? What did your research reveal to you?
It is interesting how war throws up poets. Horrors that we cannot imagine seem to crystalise in men’s minds into poems .I decided, after reading all the well-documented accounts this is because it was their attempt to ‘control’ through words, the uncontrollable and terrible slaughter and randomness of life all around them. Poetry is a way of ordering disorder. There were lots of poets then, including hundreds of female poets, whose work is largely unknown. They never fought at the Front, but they shared in the suffering and the changed lives.
3. Annie is teased and called Viking. Why do you think that young people are cruel to outsiders or people new to a group or situation?
It isn’t just young people who are cruel to ‘outsiders’ alas. I think it comes from fear of the unknown though the effects can be devastating on the victim. I have blogged elsewhere how I was subject to teasing, bullying and ridicule when I was a teenager, as I found myself the only Jewish pupil in a girls’ school of over 800 Gentiles. It was easy for me to put myself in Annie’s shoes, and recall those times; if you have ever been bullied, the memories never leave. Even at 64, I can still see the faces of my tormentors!
4. Do you think that Annie’s assignment to the retirement home was a good strategy? What do you think that the headmaster hoped to teach her?
I think it was the best thing that happened to her at that time even though she didn’t see it of course! I’m not sure if it was ‘planned’ or just one of those random events that happen, but in hindsight, play such an important part in our lives. Maybe the Year Head wanted to break open her hard shell, and make her see that other people’s lives impacted, even if they were what society would consider ”over.” I certainly wanted the reader to consider what wisdoms and stories lie inside people at the end of their lives, and how important it is to hear them. Annie’s life was immeasurably enriched by her time at the old people’s home and I think it gave her a depth of compassion and understanding. Also, old people are far more accepting; ironically, it was where she felt most at home!
5. Is Billy’s mute condition symbolic? Why or why not?
Billy was based on a real life man, whom I read about in The Times. His story replicates exactly that soldier (now dead). Elective mutism is a known medical condition, often seen in children as a reaction to events they do not want to face. In Billy’s case, clearly it was a reaction to the horrors he experienced in the trenches. So many men who returned had no vocabulary to describe what they had seen or undergone. The contrast between their former lives and the maelstrom the entered was too vast to encompass words. However, as the poets sought to encapsulate their thoughts and feelings in the concentrated form of verse. Many others were war artists, putting down visually what they could not put into words. In Billy’s case, it was that one particular event, and of course, Annie subsequently found his diary and realised what it was he had chosen not to talk about.
6. What does Annie learn about life after delving into the cause of Grant’s death and putting her own life in danger?
I think Annie learns about herself. She finds depths of courage, and of resilience. She also realises that the world is not the safe place she thought it was, and that ‘adults’ are not the safe authority figures they set themselves up to be. Annie is very opinionated, and Grant’s death challenged the way she stereotyped people, or pre-judged them. I think she also learned that, like the WW1 soldiers, you cannot ‘control’ everything. She had to let events unravel and be part of the unravelling rather than the instigator.
7. How can Grant’s suicide note help our youth avoid those types of traps?
The story was written at a time when technology wasn’t so advanced as now. The letter was, however, a montage of letters I read on a suicide website. I wish I knew how to stop teens from taking their own lives. If the letter can show them that others feel the same pain, and that a decision to end their lives leaves so many loved ones suffering and hurting and asking why? Then, maybe it will do some good. There are even more pressures on today’s teens. I extend to them a massive hug, and say: each of you is valued and loved and important. The world would be a poorer place without you in it.
8. What does Annie learn from reading Billy Donne’s entry from his journal?
Annie learns from reading the journal that Billy was once like her: someone with hopes and dreams, and principles. She sees how courageous he was, how he tried through his writing to take a stand for what he considered right. She also saw how someone less resilient, Noel Clark, couldn’t cope under similar circumstances, and chose a different route. Annie has always scorned people who weren’t ”strong.” I think she learned that there are different kinds of strength, some of which may appear as ‘weakness.’ An outsider does not understand the internal torment of another person.
9. What helps Annie move forward and advance to the next step in her life? How did you choose the title for your book? Did you know from onset that it would be called Jigsaw Pieces?
Annie can move forward in her life only when she understands about other people’s pain, and admits that she too is vulnerable. These are the qualities that make us fully human. Once she has acknowledged them, both in those around her and in herself, she is ready to go search for her father and find ‘the piece of the jigsaw with my face on it’. The book was originally published in paperback form as Jigsaw. I rechristened it as Jigsaw Pieces when I got my rights back from the original publisher and republished it as an e-book. It started out as ‘Soldier, Soldier’ – with the idea of the real WW1 soldiers, and Annie as a modern-day ‘soldier’ battling prejudice. I changed the title as it made better sense and would be better understood. Books frequently go through several changes of title with me. It’s rare that I come up with the final one at once.
10. Have you written a discussion guide for this book?
I’ve never been asked to write a discussion guide; however I think if I did, most of the questions you’ve asked me here would form the basis of it. I’ve really enjoyed thinking about the issues raised, and delving into the thought processes that went into the writing of Jigsaw Pieces. Thank you for posing such searching questions!
Carol Hedges is a British author of books for children, young adults and adults. Her novel Jigsaw, about a teenager’s suicide, was shortlisted for the Angus Book Award and nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2001. Her most recent works are the Spy Girl series for teenagers and the Diamonds & Dust series, published by Crooked Cat and featuring the Victorian detectives Leo Stride and Jack Cully These books are written for adults.
She lives in Hertfordshire and is married with a grown-up daughter.
Amazon author page: http:// ow.ly/oZcIh
Lynn January 12, 2015