What inspired me to write ‘The Apple Tart of Hope’
I found wisdom in ‘write every day’ and ‘read a lot’ and inspiration in Donal Ryan’s ‘The Spinning Heart’
Sarah Moore Fitzgerald: “I’ve tried to show how love can weather all manner of storms and struggles, and how kindness can make us strong and resilient in this unpredictable world”
One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever been given, is “write every day”. Like all good advice, I don’t always take it, but I wish I did. Day job and family life prohibiting, I tend to be a weekend and holiday novelist. It means that it can be a long stretch between writing sessions. But in those times in my life when I’ve managed to get to write every day (including during a bout of illness that had me bedbound for a few weeks), I’ve found the momentum creates an energy that’s its own form of magic. When you’re not confident or when you’re feeling unsure about writing, there’s something irreplaceable about the “just do it” attitude that a regular routine creates.
Another piece of advice often dispensed to writers is “read a lot”. I have found this to be generally very wise, although there are caveats. Some say it’s not always a good idea to read stunning, award-winning fiction while in the middle of wrestling with one’s own imperfect, unfinished story. However, in the depths of despair while trying to write my last novel, and suffering from a particularly virulent strain of writer’s block, I read Donal Ryan’s very wonderful The Spinning Heart. I’d realised that the only way to fix my story – which at the time felt broken and incoherent – was to write from two different viewpoints. Still feeling very much of a novice when it came to writing fiction, I wondered if I could pull it off, and I looked to greater writers for inspiration and encouragement.
The Spinning Heart is a breathtakingly brilliant novel. It tells of dark goings-on in small-town Ireland from very many points of view – each chapter belonging to a different voice. Reading it gave me courage: if Donal Ryan could have the magnificent audacity to write a novel from 21 different perspectives, then maybe, just maybe, I could try writing mine from two.
I wasn’t supremely confident that I’d be able to make sense of the challenge. But sometimes a writer doesn’t need supreme confidence. Sometimes, it turns out, all she needs is just enough nerve to give it a go. Having been trying to write in the third person, and not getting very far, I started to write The Apple Tart of Hope from the viewpoints of the two main characters. This effort felt like a breakthrough. I gradually found myself playing with the story in a way that allowed for the intertwining of two different interpretations of the world.
There is drama to be found in different perspectives on the same event; the elements of story can unfold through two voices in a way that can bring alive some of the elusive goals of plotting: tension and pace. At least that’s what I hoped for.
The Apple Tart of Hope is the story of Meg and Oscar, who have been friends since they were very young. It’s also about that fragile time between childhood and adulthood where everything that once felt solid and sure begins to shift, and the things that once could be relied upon suddenly seem brittle and ambiguous. It explores how quickly a happy, assured boy can stumble and fall; and the kind of strength it takes to keep hope in your heart when all is lost. It’s a look at how friendship can waver, and how new experiences can deceive.
I loved inventing Oscar and his best friend Meg. They’re full of contradictions: able to see things that other people can’t see, but completely blind to certain dangers and deceptions; quirky – Oscar has this unusual habit of making home-made apple tarts for people in distress – and brave, but also thoughtful and sensitive. Both of them have flaws and conceits, but I like to think they both have redeeming characteristics that make me love them all the more. Part of the story also focuses on how the simplest of misinterpretations can have disastrous, even fatal effects.
There are other themes too: how bullying gets its power from the strangest of things; how the more sensitive, wonderful and unique a person is, the more susceptible they may be to the cruelties of the bully. How easy it is for others to stand by, or to turn their faces away even when they see injustice and hurt.
Most of all though, The Apple Tart of Hope is a love story and in it, I’ve tried to show how love can weather all manner of storms and struggles, and how kindness can make us strong and resilient in this unpredictable world. It’s been a huge thrill to finish my second novel and see it make its way in the world. Those two common pieces of advice to writers – “write every day” and “read a lot” – somehow feel wiser than ever.
Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s debut novel, Back to Blackbrick, was published last year by Orion Children’s Books. Her new novel, The Apple Tart of Hope, is out now.