Saturday, 31 July 2010

Keren David - Author Interview

We had planned to publish author interviews so when the chance arose we were delighted that Keren David, author of When I Was Joe, agreed to an interview. We have both read When I Was Joe and published reviews of it finding it excellent. She is shortly to have a second book published, the sequel to When I Was Joe, entitled Almost True.

Keren worked as a journalist and as a messenger girl for a national newspaper and she had several roles in journalism including reporter, a political correspondent, a news editor, a comment editor, feature writer. She lived in the Netherlands for eight years and worked in Amsterdam as editor in chief for a photographic agency. She grew up in Welwyn Garden City and has lived in London, Glasgow and Amsterdam. In 2007 she moved back to London and decided to try to write a book. She took a course in Writing for Children at City University which was tutored by Amanda Swift.
While on the course she had the idea of writing about witness protection and two years after starting the course When I Was Joe was published.

At the end of When I Was Joe it has a brief description of yourself. It says you had two ambitions, to write a book and to live in London. I am surprised about the living in London. What is behind that ambition?

It’s a bit of a family joke. I never seem to get my wish to settle down in one place.
I grew up in a small town in Hertfordshire. London was the big exciting city, just half an hour away on the train, so near but yet so far. I always wanted to escape to the city. But, whenever I’ve lived in London, something’s always intervened to take me away. So I lived in London in my twenties, then Scotland for a bit, came back to London got married, bought a house… then a few years later we moved to Amsterdam. Now we’re back in London, but still not really settled…who knows how long we’ll stay!

You grew up in a small town in Hertfordshire but When I was Joe is about knife crime, something more associated with inner cities. Why did you choose to write about knife crime?
Well, I’ve not lived in Hertfordshire for many years. At the moment I live in north London and my children are at schools in Haringey and Hackney. Knife crime seems close to home, although luckily it’s not something we’ve experienced.
When I Was Joe wasn’t originally meant to be about knife crime, the focus was meant to be more about false identity. But I was writing in the spring of 2008 and it seemed as though every day another teenager was dying on the streets of London and it crept into the book more than I’d expected.

I have heard that you like to write in cafeterias and places like that rather than at home. Why is this?

Ideally I’d have an office at home, but at the moment I have to make do with the dining table, which I find very distracting. So I’m always on the lookout for new places to work. I’ve concluded that I work best when my time is limited – so little bursts of energy at cafes works well.

Having been a journalist do you feel this has changed your approach to writing stories and has it made it easier at all?

It made it very natural to me to write about newsy subjects such as crime, politics and justice and to adapt real life cases into fiction. At times I was lifting words from real crime reports or politicians speeches and putting them into the book, much as I would as a journalist.
Journalism also affects my style – on newspapers, you learn not to waste words.

In When I Was Joe you touch on many subjects that affect young people, not only knife crime but single parenting, young mothers, bullying, relationships, self harm and others. Would it be rude to ask if any of these issues are of personal significance to you at all?

Not rude at all - it’s funny that no one’s asked before. The only issue in the book that I have particular personal experience of is growing up in a family where one sibling is disabled. My brother isn’t Ellie - although her phenomenal determination and competitive spirit was based on him - and I’m certainly not Claire, but I do know that feeling of some else’s special needs driving an entire family. I liked the idea of writing a book where one sibling comes out from the shadow of the extraordinarily impressive disabled person.

And another, perhaps too personal question, why did you make Tyler Catholic rather than set him in your own Jewish community?

I wanted Tyler to go to a school outside his immediate neighbourhood, but I didn’t think he was bright enough to have won a place at a highly competitive academically selective school. So I thought of a faith school. I didn’t really want him to be Jewish because that would have raised all sorts of awkward issues around taking a new identity, and there are hardly any Jewish secondary schools in London anyway. And I didn’t want to be a ‘Jewish’ writer - I might explore that one day, but I wanted to resist that label at the beginning of my writing career.
In writing When I was Joe and particularly Almost True I got very interested in Catholic ideas about sin, prayer, confession and hell. I wasn’t sure if I’d got it right - I was extremely chuffed when it turned out that the editor who acquired the book is a Catholic. I’m still amazed that I’ve written a Catholic novel! In the book I’m writing now there’s a strong Muslim character.

(For personal reasons I tried to, politely, pursue this a little further as I felt it didn't address everything I was trying to understand)

It was just that I felt that if he had been Jewish and then have to take on a non-Jewish false identity - to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb - then that issue would take over from all the others, that the strange feeling of pretending not to be Jewish and what that meant to him, would have been too dominant, in a way that would unbalance the book and could make it harder for readers to identify with. Jewish identity is a complex and subtle matter - too much for me to deal with in a book about taking on a new identity. (And my thanks go to Keren for her patience)

Tyler has to enter the witness protection scheme in When I Was Joe. How much research did you have to do about the scheme or did your experience forearm you?

I knew quite a bit about witness protection from my years as a news editor, and I did some research looking for details of actual cases to work in. I drew in particular on the case of Danielle Cable who went into witness protection as a teenager after her fiancé was stabbed to death. I also talked to a barrister who had worked with protected witnesses.

Almost True, coming out September, is the continuation of When I Was Joe which finished without a happy ending. How much can you tell us about Almost True without giving spoilers to either of the books?

In Almost True, Ty is on the run and plunged into danger, again and again. He’s under even more pressure than he was in When I Was Joe and at times he’s not sure what’s real and what isn’t. He finds out many secrets from the past, he makes a new friend, and meets people who become very important to him. And there are questions for Ty and others about when they should be loyal to a friend, and when they should betray that trust. I can’t promise a happy ending.
Oh, and to answer the question that everyone asks: Yes! Ty and Claire do meet again!

I understand there is another book in the pipeline. What can you tell us about it and when can we look forward to seeing it?

I’m working on a book called Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery. It’s about an ordinary 16-year-old girl who wins a jackpot of eight million pounds. The idea came when I started imagining what it would be like if my teenage daughter won a huge amount of money. On the one hand, great - on the other, what a nightmare for parents! It’s much lighter than the first two books, more of a rom com than a thriller. I’m missing the violence! The plan is that it’ll be out by September 2011, but first I have to finish it.

You can keep up to date with Keren by following her blog at
Our reviews for When I was Joe can be found:- Maryom's , TheMoles
Our reviews for Almost True can be found:- Maryom's , TheMoles

Buy Almost True or When I Was Joe at Amazon

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