So, I’ve written a new novel! It’s called As Happy as Here, and it’s a coming of age story for 12 – 14 year olds, so, the readership is Years 6, 7 and 8.
The story is set in a hospital ward. I first started thinking about it several years ago (before the genre of sick lit, I promise!) when my son broke his collar bone, had surgery and was confined to his apartment, looking out on the world. His life had a kind of rear-window feel to it for a while there. I too had had an accident as a child which resulted in not being able to move. I wanted to write a story about someone who was quite trapped – in her body, in the hospital, and in the timidity of the world she lived in, by the expectations of those around her.
There are three main characters – Evie, Lucy and Jemma. They’re three very different girls from different walks of life, and they would never have met if they hadn’t found themselves sharing this hospital ward in Melbourne. Their room looks over a park (based on the Epworth Freemasons in Melbourne, which looks over the Fitzroy Gardens), and they witness something odd happening in the laneway and park beyond. Together they investigate what they see, and they end up getting involved in trying to solve what they think is a crime. Through this, they bond and each of their lives changes in a profound way.
I’m interested in the time of life when we’re leaving childhood behind, and the way in which we begin navigating adult life. The three characters are all at this liminal point between childhood and adolescence. There is a grieving for the loss of your own childhood, of who you used to be and who you are now. Another aspect of this time is that it's often when you first start to question the adults around you, to judge them as the flawed human beings that they are. First realise your parents aren’t invincible, don’t have all the answers.
For most of us, childhood ends gradually, through the passage of time, but it doesn't always feel like that. I personally feel that I am always still growing up, and learning with each new experience that comes my way, be it positive or traumatic.
I wanted to explore these ideas from the point of view of someone who is quite naïve, and what happens when her world is opened up in a dramatic way and she’s forced to question things she’s always taken for granted about identity, expectation, justice, society, fairness and, perhaps most importantly, class.
I also wanted to explore the notion of kindness – it seems to me that many young people are encouraged to achieve in an outward, obvious way, for example in sport or academic achievement. I see many examples around me of a world where kindness is not valued. Where young people compete, and worse, on social media and decency and respect seem to be strange anachronistic concepts from their parents’ generation. Evie is not a competitive person, but she learns that there are other aspects of self that are valid.
Each of the characters considers the notion of happiness. Although we might all be searching for some elusive form of success that will make us happy, being famous maybe, what is it that really forms you as a person? Of course the important and meaningful things in your life may have happiness attached to them, but they have other emotions too. And it's meaning, not happiness, that (as Carl Jung said) makes a great many things endurable, perhaps everything.
The story explores some big ideas: fate, fairness, expectation, personal identity, death, what makes us happy, what it means to grow up, and how we choose to live as we do that growing.
I hope the story will allow readers to vicariously experience what happens when one is suddenly removed from daily life and routine, and for a time has to exist in a different place (the hospital) where there is no peer group, no family, few possessions, limited social media - none of the usual props. In this context, an opportunity arises for the characters to look at themselves and the people around them in a new and different way, and hopefully for the reader to do the same.
I hope you enjoy As Happy as Here.