Welcome to my first author interview!
Jim Carrington’s debut novel, Inside my Head, is a refreshingly new point of view on bullying, and the affects on everyone.
“This cleverly constructed narrative consists of three points of view: of Gary, constantly victimised by the school bully in a nasty, name-calling and vindictive way; the bully’s friend, David and a new girl to the school, Zoe. All viewpoints are revealing. Gary reveals the painful and often unsuccessful attempts by a young man to control his anger under great provocation – and his inability to communicate. David is someone who is uncomfortable with the bullying but doesn’t dare to do anything about it. Zoe is a young woman who can see Gary through different eyes and is independent, freethinking and brave. Also featured in this title are rampaging tractors, shotguns and cheese puffs.”
What inspired you to write about the affects of bullying on children/teenagers?
Inside My Head started life as a short story, written about a bullying incident that happened at my high school. I had been like David in the novel and stood and watched when the bullying took place. I had let it happen, laughed along with it, even lied to save my friends from getting in trouble. And because – like Gary does in the book – the victim had fought back with his fists, the victim had got in trouble. I felt and still feel enormously guilty for my part in it. And the more I began to analyse what happened, I realised that the reason that I had never stood up and said that what was happening was wrong, was that it was easier and safer to go along with the bully and keep yourself out of the line of fire.
The story grew from those beginnings and became Inside My Head. I had been in the position of each of my main characters – David, Zoe, Gary and Knaggs – at some point in my life and I wanted to show how the parts all fitted together, how it takes a number of people to allow bullying to grow. I also wanted to highlight the reasons that people behave the way they do and to show how being brave and standing up for what you believe to be right is possible and admirable.
Was it difficult to write with three points of views which interlaced?
I found it quite easy to write from the different points of view. I much prefer writing in the first person, as it really helps you to concentrate on the experiences of the characters. Because of that I think it makes the characters more rounded. In the case of Inside My Head, it seemed to make sense to write the whole story in that way, because no single character had the whole story and it was a situation that stirred the emotions of all the characters.
The most difficult point of view to write was Gary’s. It wasn’t always comfortable trying to get into his head, thinking about suicide and trying to represent his anger, whilst at the same time remaining quite uncommunicative. He wasn’t the type of character that spoke much about his feelings to other people, so the anger and embarrassment that he felt sort of bounced around his head and became very intense. The most fun to write was Zoe, because she would act more impulsively and do and say things that the other characters wouldn’t dare. Switching between Gary and Zoe’s point of view felt like suddenly being freed, even though Zoe obviously has her own insecurities and shortcomings.
You made the school setting really realistic for nowadays, how did you do it?
I wrote completely from memory of the high school I attended. Recently I was invited back there to do a book event and I was given a guided tour. I was amazed to see that almost nothing had changed, other than that the old blackboards had been replaced by projectors and interactive whiteboards. It goes to show that schools and school life don’t change much. The same relationship dynamics, issues, feelings and insecurities are also always present in schools
I suppose I was also helped by the fact that I’m a teacher (in a primary school) as well as a writer, which made it easier to get the school settings right.
Is there a reason why you chose the countryside for the setting of the book?
I grew up in Norfolk, in a similar setting to that in Inside My Head. As I wrote, the setting seemed to choose itself – it was an unconscious decision. It seemed like the place that the characters should be.
I found it easy and fun to write about that setting, because I knew it so well. When I was younger me and my friends would go and play in the fields and sometimes the barns in the countryside around our village, so I could easily picture the places that Zoe and Gary went to. I also wanted to include the north Norfolk coast. It felt like the right place for Zoe and Gary to run away to – there were chip shops, arcades and piers, but also the wild windswept beaches. It’s a beautiful part of the world.
I really enjoyed reading Inside my Head – will there be a sequel to it?
I don’t have plans for one at the moment – I think I’ve made those characters suffer enough at the moment! My next novel is called In The Bag and it’s going to be out in February. It’s for the same age group and is about two friends that find a crashed car in the forest. A little later they also find a holdall, which is stuffed full of money. They decide to keep the bag. The novel is all about how things go wrong when the main characters, Joe and Ash, start to lie and keep secrets to conceal their discovery. It’s just as pacy as Inside My Head, and it’s also from more than one point of view.
How did you make the bullys’ bullying so realistic? It made me squirm when I was reading!
I based a lot of the bullying on things that I had witnessed at school, or that I had heard about. Those scenes were at times great fun to write, but at others they were very difficult and upsetting. I wanted to provoke a reaction in the reader, so that they would feel the same way that you do when you see bullying happen – nervousness, embarassment, amusement, disgust, guilt, anger – and I hope that’s what the bullying scenes achieve.
I love reading the bit with the bottle of lemon squash when I visit schools. A little way in to the reading, they start to get an idea of what is about to happen and start to squirm in their seats. You can see the peculiar mix of amusement and disgust on their faces.
Inside my Head is out now!
His new book, In the Bag, is out February 2011, published by Bloomsbury
You can read my review of Inside my Head here