So a while back I read and reviewed Tabitha Suzuma's Forbidden. Those that have read my review will know that I just couldn't stop raving about it (Still can't as a matter of fact). Because I loved this book, I really wanted to try and track down Tabitha's publicist in order to arrange an interview.
And I'm very happy to say that her publicist as well as Tabitha kind enough to agree to answering a few questions for me. The interview is quite lengthy, so I have decided to split it into two parts. I'll be posting part 2 tomorrow. So, Without further ado, here is some information about the book and part one's answers to the questions that I've asked her.
About the book:
Sixteen-year-old Maya and seventeen-year-old Lochan have never had the chance to be 'normal' teenagers. Having pulled together for years to take care of their younger siblings while their wayward, drunken mother leaves them to fend alone, they have become much more than brother and sister.
And now, they have fallen in love. But this is a love that can never be allowed, a love that will have devastating consequences ...How can something so wrong feel so right?
1. You're a published author of 5 novels, Forbidden being your most recent release. Considering the rather controversial and taboo topic Forbidden deals with, can you tell us a little about the road to publication for this novel?
It was quite unusual. I'd had the idea floating around in my head for a while and finally decided to take the plunge and have a go at writing it without telling my publishers.
However, about three chapters in, I lost confidence and suddenly realised there was no way anyone was going to be willing to risk publishing a book about consensual teenage incest for young adults.
So I abandoned it and started looking for a new idea but after a couple of months, still hadn't come up with anything.
One day, I happened to be visiting my editor Charlie Sheppard at home for a purely social call (we had become good friends) when, shortly before I was about to leave, she casually asked me if I was working on anything at the moment.
With some embarrassment I told her about my 'crazy' idea of an incestuous love story, now abandoned, but instead of rolling her eyes or looking shocked, her face lit up.
I firmly told her it was a non-starter because I really wasn't willing to write a book, supposedly about incest for shock-value, only to gloss over any sexual scenes - which I felt sure was the only way of getting a book on this topic past the YA gatekeepers.
She said she understood and we left it at that. But a week later, to my complete and utter astonishment, I got a call from my agent saying that Random House wanted to commission me to write the book!
I immediately replied I would only be willing if I could keep it gritty and realistic and write openly about the couple's sexual relationship. To my amazement, they agreed. It was the first book I'd ever been commissioned to write.
2. Were you expecting to encounter opposition to the publication of this novel considering that Forbidden deals with teen incest?
Of course, which is why I abandoned the book in the first place. Even after I accepted the commission, I knew there would be difficulties once my publishers actually saw for themselves that I really had written the story with absolutely no holds barred.
3. Incest is definitely a subject that almost everyone seems to avoid talking or reading about. Consensual incest even more so. What made you decide to tackle this subject and where did the inspiration of the novel come from?
It started with the desire to write a tragic love story about star-crossed love. It really just came down to incest by a process of elimination. I wanted the book to be set in contemporary London and I needed the two teens in question to be old enough for their love for each other to be taken seriously.
But I quickly realised that (fortunately) in modern-day Britain there are very few – if any – obstacles that could keep a couple in love apart.
Cultural and religious difference maybe, but if the couple were determined enough to go against their families' wishes, they could always run away together. I needed something that would be condemned by everyone wherever they went – a relationship that could never be and moreover, was against the law.
4. Without spoiling anything for any reader, I have to say that Forbidden was one of the most heartbreaking books I've read this year (I cried buckets). How did writing this book affect you on an emotional level?
As I start off by saying in the acknowledgements, writing this book was honestly one of the most difficult things I've done in my life so far. I came close to giving up so many times.
The ending was particularly tough. In order to portray the characters' emotions convincingly, I had to experience them myself, which was incredibly painful.
I found myself spiralling into deep depression and would often end up in tears and have to take a break and pace the flat alone at night, sobbing. There were times when I couldn't even bear to read through what I'd written.
I became so caught up in the characters and the story that it began to feel as if I were writing a book about something that had really happened. I shut myself away and did nothing but write until the story became more important and more vivid to me than real life.
This led to me having a breakdown: I was hospitalised and told by psychiatrists that I must take a break from writing for the sake of my health. My mother even went as far as to say the book was slowly killing me. I ignored them all of course and kept on going, but it wasn't an easy time.
5. Many people might argue that tackling teenage incest in YA novels is something that isn't necessarily appropriate for young adult readers. What are your thoughts on this? And have you received any negative backlash relating to this?
I am confident that if people take the time to read the book before rejecting its subject matter, most people will react positively. Of course, some will reject the book outright without actually reading it, and that's their choice.
However, I have been fortunate enough to get masses of wonderful emails from my readers. So far, the feedback on Forbidden has been overwhelmingly positive which feels great.
Adults as well as teens have written in droves to tell me how much the book moved them, usually to the point of tears, and many told me they were really quite shocked to find themselves rooting for a brother and sister to be allowed to have a romantic relationship but that their feelings changed completely during the course of the book.
I don't think teenagers should be shielded from any topic because encountering taboo or controversial subjects is part of their development, of learning about the world.
I think teens have the right to be informed about the books they choose, so warnings such as 'unsuitable for younger readers' can certainly be useful.
But if a teenager is determined to read a book containing say explicit sex scenes or excessive violence, they will do so, even if they have to resort to the adult section.
It is part of natural human curiosity and part of growing up. Personally, I don't like books that contain gratuitous shocking material though, that seek to scandalise just in order to create a stir, attract publicity and sell to as many people as possible.
At the end of the day, I firmly believe that a truly great book is not one that leaves you shocked or disgusted but one that leaves you moved and possibly even changes your outlook on society and the world.
End of Part 1
End note: This interview also appears on the site for which I work, the link of which can be found here.