Today I’m pleased to welcome Sara Gethin to the blog. Sara is the author of Not Thomas which was published by Honno Press on 19 July 2017 and was shortlisted for the 2017 Not the Booker prize run by The Guardian newspaper.
Sara kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Not Thomas.
Not Thomas is my first novel – I’ve been writing for children for a few years, but this is my debut novel for adults. It’s about a child called Tomos who, for the first five years of his life, has had a very happy and stable upbringing with his lovely foster parents, Nanno and Dat. But now Tomos has been sent to live with his neglectful mum, life has gone downhill for him and he longs to return to the love and security he had before. The whole novel is narrated in Tomos’s simple five-year-old voice, but an adult reader understands much more about the story he’s relaying than he does.
2. What inspired the book?
I worked for around ten years as a primary school teacher and my earliest teaching posts were in very disadvantaged communities. The poverty and neglect I witnessed left a lasting impression on me. The character of Tomos isn’t based on any one child I taught, but he’s a mixture of many children I knew and heard about when I was teaching. His is an extreme case, but sadly there are many, many children living with neglect of one sort or another in every single community.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?
I do plan, but not conventionally. I need to have the whole story complete in my mind before I’ll even contemplate typing it up. I carried the entire plot of Not Thomas in my head for at least ten years before I began writing it. It took 14 years, from the time I first sat down to start typing, until I was ready to send it out as a submission to publishers. I didn’t work on it with any urgency as I never believed it would be published. I thought a novel for adults with a child’s voice would never see the light of day. And then Emma Donoghue published ‘Room’ and my opinion changed overnight.
4. What have you discovered about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
I discovered, to my utter amazement, that writing the novel isn’t the hardest part by any means. Promoting it wins that accolade by a country mile! I’m so glad I became familiar with Twitter and Facebook long before Not Thomas was published. Lots of authors feel that social media eats up precious writing time, and I once thought like that too. But I found the network I’d created by liking and sharing posts on Facebook, and by tweeting and retweeting, was worth its weight in gold once I had a novel to promote, so time on social media was definitely time well spent.
5. How does it feel to be shortlisted for the 2017 Not the Booker? What does it mean to be recognized this way?
It feels wonderful! It’s absolutely fantastic that so many of my readers cared enough about Not Thomas to want to see it on the Not the Booker shortlist. The voting process was by no means easy for a lot of voters – the number of people who spent hours navigating the website and entering their review only to have it deleted when they pressed ‘Post Comment’ was astounding. It’s really heart-warming that so many of my voters persevered. I can’t thank them enough. Being on the Not the Booker shortlist isn’t the friendliest place in the world –some of the comments on their online page can be pretty harsh, but I was completely prepared for that, having followed it for a few years. It’s certainly worth having a thick skin and braving the nasty remarks, though, as being on the shortlist has raised the profile of Not Thomas far beyond what I thought possible.
6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I love reading. It is a bit of a bus-woman’s holiday, I know, but I’d spend all day reading if I could. I browse bookshops (again, work-related!) and love going to the theatre, especially in Dublin where I spend most of my down time. I enjoy taking long walks at the weekend with my husband, Simon, along the beautiful coast where we live in Wales – in fact, spending time with Simon and our two grown-up children plus dogs, is the best relaxation of all.
7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
Without hesitation, I would choose ‘Angela’s Ashes’ by Frank McCourt. I’d always find something new to laugh or cry about in it. I saw a musical version in Dublin recently, and it was absolutely fantastic. Sadly, it was on the last night of our stay – I’d have gone back to see it again the following night if I could!
8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
What a great idea! The question I’d like to be asked that I never have been is: Do your characters carry on having a life after you’ve finished writing about them? The answer for me would be most definitely ‘yes’. In my mind, Tomos is growing up and getting on with living. I’m quite proud of him – he’s Child Number 3 in our family. And all the other characters from Not Thomas are moving on too. I don’t think I’ll be writing another novel about them just yet though.
You can read more about the Not the Booker prize on The Guardian website here.
About the book
The lady’s here.
The lady with the big bag. She’s knocking on the front door. She’s knocking and knocking. I’m not opening the door. I’m not letting her in. I’m behind the black chair.
I’m waiting for her to go away.
Tomos lives with his mother. He longs to return to another place, the place he thinks of as home, and the people who lived there, but he’s not allowed to see them again. He is five years old and at school, which he loves. Miss teaches him about all sorts of things, and she listens to him. Sometimes he’s hungry and Miss gives him her extra sandwiches. She gives him a warm coat from Lost Property, too. There are things Tomos cannot talk about – except to Cwtchy – and then, just before Easter, the things come to a head. There are bad men outside who want to come in, and Mammy has said not to answer the door. From behind the big chair,
Tomos waits, trying to make himself small and quiet. He doesn’t think it’s Santa Claus this time.
When the men get in, Tomos’s world is turned on its head and nothing will ever be the same again.
About the author
Sara Gethin is the pen name of Wendy White. She grew up in Llanelli, an industrial town in west Wales, and studied theology and philosophy at Lampeter, the most bijoux of universities.
Her working life has revolved around children – she’s been a childminder, an assistant in a children’s library and a primary school teacher. She also writes children’s books as Wendy White, and the first of these, ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’, won the Tir nan-Og Award in 2014.
Her own children are grown up now, and while home is still west Wales, she has swapped industrial living for a small town with a large castle. She and her husband enjoy travelling to Ireland, and spend much of their free time in Dublin.
‘Not Thomas’ is her first novel for adults.