From Goodreads: Twelve-year-old Frankie Parsons is a talented kid with a quirky family, a best friend named Gigs, and a voice of anxiety constantly nibbling in his head: Could that kidney-shaped spot on his chest be a galloping cancer? Are the smoke alarm batteries flat? Has his cat, The Fat Controller, given them all worms? Only Ma, who never leaves home, takes Frankie’s worries seriously. But then, it is Ma who is the cause of the most troubling question of all, the one Frankie can never bring himself to ask. When a new girl arrives at school--a daring free spirit with unavoidable questions of her own--Frankie’s carefully guarded world begins to unravel, leading him to a painful confrontation with the ultimate 10 p.m. question. Deftly told with humor, poignancy, and an endearing cast of characters, THE 10 P.M. QUESTION will touch everyone who has ever felt set apart.
Worry-prone Frankie keeps his family secret under control--until a bold, inquisitive girl enters his life--in this warm, witty, and captivating YA novel.
This is a little gem of a novel. It is really unique and quirky, but at the same time I found it incredible accessibly and charming.
The story follows Frankie, who constantly
worries. At 10pm every night it all gets too much and he has to go down the hall and ask his Ma a question - Does he have food poisoning? Is the rash on his chest cancer? Have they replaced the batteries in the smoke alarm? She is the only one who seems to take his worries seriously. When a new girl starts at his school, a girl who has her own constant stream of questions for Frankie, he starts to wonder if he's been asking the right question...
Frankie is such a great character. He's charming, genuine, funny - and I completely adored him. I loved all the other characters too. Frankie's family is awesome - Louie and Gordana are both rather lovable in their own ways - and always provide amusement. Uncle George is also very funny and I loved the interaction between Frankie and his Ma. There really is a strong sense of family in this book and I loved it for that. And, of course, you can't forget Ray Davis - sooo cute!
Gigs and Sydney were the kind of friends I could really picture Frankie having. Gigs actually reminded me a bit of Louie and Syndey seems to be very much like The Aunts - who Frankie spent a lot of his childhood with. Both are very confident and I think this is a strong attraction for Frankie.
The story itself is very character driven - very much an introspection for Frankie - leading to him finally asking the question that has always been left unasked in his family. It deals with some serious issues in an very accessible way - it all felt very genuine and I very much enjoyed all the idiosyncrasies of Frankie's character. A great book!.
As part of her UK Blog Tour, Kate kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions...
What was the inspiration behind The 10pm Question?
There were three different things that propelled the story into being: Firstly, my son Jack, went through a prolonged period of anxiety – between about 11 and 14 years. He would have intermittent but intense bouts of worry about all manner of things. It was awful for him – and us: the worry would peak just after he turned the light off at night and he’d come into our room with anxious questions about say, food poisoning, the possibility of fire, insect infestation, disease etc. My job was to reassure him. I felt for him because I’d had intensely anxious periods myself (often about health – I’m a terrible hypochondriac)...but, it was also quite funny at times...Some of his anxieties were so nutty...my favourite was when he said: ‘What if I’m not intelligent when I’m older?’ Eventually, Jack himself got completely sick of his own pathology and would mock himself most entertainingly whenever he came in and asked an anxious question. One night – and by this time I was well on the way to developing the novel, but didn’t have a title – something I like to have before I really get going – he came into the bedroom rolling his eyes and sighing and said: ‘it’s the 10pm question. Bang! The story took off from there...But there were a couple of other elements in the mix by then, too: 1. Years before I’d read an article in a magazine about a woman who suffered from agoraphobia and hadn’t left her house for many years. 2. I was tutoring a 13 year old girl – a talented, impressive young woman – who led a very nomadic life (her mother was an adventurous spirit). She longed to spend a decent amount of time in one school. I was fascinated by both the agoraphobic woman and the girl who wanted to stay put, and that all married up with the idea of an anxious boy...
How did you come up with Frankie’s character?
Like all characters (or, mine at least), Frankie is an amalgam of a couple of personalities, with habits and conversational style and interests borrowed from further people still. He’s also got a little bit of me (mostly the phobic stuff – I too hate swimming pools). I particularly wanted Frankie to be a pre-adolescent....around 11, 12 years. I really enjoy that age – pre-adolescents are incredibly sophisticated, knowledgeable and funny – and they still basically like their parents! They haven’t yet tipped into the more ego-centred teenage years (I don’t mean to condemn those years – they’re a crucial and rich developmental time, but they’re, by definition, a more closed-down time). I wanted to write about the slightly more straightforward, open period before adolescence. I say slightly, because that period does have its own complexities...Around 11, 12 years, one is suddenly aware for the first time of profound existential matters like the essential aloneness of the human person, like the myriad dangers and potential sadnesses facing one in life...that dawning awareness demands a big personal adjustment – and things are even more complex if one has family difficulties (and who, after all, doesn’t, to one degree or another?). I wanted to write about a funny, sweet, thoughtful, smart young man in that period of his life.
What was the hardest/easiest part of writing The 10pm Question?
I always find the first quarter of a book the hardest to write. That’s the time when the rubber hits the road, so to speak – when you’re testing properly the glorious idea you’ve had swilling around in your head for some months. The idea in your head is always a work of genius, but as soon as you commit it to paper (or screen) its imperfections – and one’s own as a writer – become horrible apparent. I usually write the first quarter of my books over and over, testing the narrative voice, living with the characters, finding my way through the geography of the story, generally exploring. It’s an equally exciting and tense part of the writing because you know it might not come off...That bit can take me months...the next three quarters moves along much more speedily – a beneficiary of the earlier work. There was a dreary few months when I simply couldn’t get Frankie and Gigs off the bus in the first chapter...They just kept talking and talking...but in a funny way, I knew this was how I’d find my way out of the problem – letting them chat...dialogue is a great way to get to the next place you need to be in a novel (you can get rid of lots of it later...). As a general rule I would say that if the front part of a novel is well sorted the rest plays itself out with a kind of nice inevitability...I always know what the ending of my story is (the emotional ending, if not the concrete details)...I just don’t usually know how I’m going to get there, but working and working on the first few chapters reveals the ultimate trajectory...
Is there a scene in the book which really stands out for you?
Hard to say...as the writer you’re over aware of how it all fits together, so it’s oddly hard to separate scenes out. I rather enjoyed writing the scene where the family are playing cards with the aunts – on Louie’s birthday. It’s a relatively light-hearted scene, but I enjoyed the demands of belaying dialogue, shifting from one character to another, moving from Frankie’s interior thoughts to the exterior action. I like the scene between Frankie and Gordana – in Gordana’s bedroom. It’s quite a crucial exchange in their relationship and in the development of the story and it’s rather sad. I suppose dramatically speaking, the scene between Frankie and Alma is the cathartic one – and I was very aware of wanting to control it carefully, stay as close as possible to an emotional ‘truth’. I had an acutely clear visual of that scene – I mean it’s all invented, but I could see it incredibly clearly, and all the sensory details...
Have you always wanted to become a writer?
Probably. Even if I never quite admitted it to myself the desire was always there. It just revealed itself in roundabout ways. I was a manaical, obsessive reader. I wrote and produced plays all through school and scribbled away at home in a very undirected way (I spent years writing the first few chapters of a book about King Arthur returning to...Christchurch in New Zealand! I love Arthurian literature). I made my sisters record taped dramatic versions of my favourite children’s novels. But, I was shy about properly declaring the desire to be a writer...it seemed kind of presumptuous...so I did other things that were kind of substitutes...I worked in libraries, studied English literature at university – even married a poet! Then, when I was 28 and had had my first child, Luciana, I suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to write a story about my grandmother (I’m sure birth and ‘birth’ of a first fully realised story – especially one about a grandmother - are not unconnected). That story became part of my first book, like you really (which was published under a pseudonym, Kate Flannery – because I still wasn’t quite admitting that I wanted to be a writer...). I finally ‘came out’ properly with my first YA novel, Sanctuary, published under my real name.
Are there any authors that have been a strong influence on you?
Dozens. Many of the great post-war writers for children have been seminal influences on me: William Mayne, Jane Gardam, Barbara Willard, KM Peyton, Jan Mark, Elizabeth Enright, EL Konigsburg, Russell Hoban, Richard Peck...that’s by no means exhaustive. Currently, there are a number of writers I admire enormously: David Almond, Paul Fleishman, MT Anderson, Margo Lanagan, Ursula Dubosarsky, Jack Lasenby – and Geraldine McCaughrean, who is, I think, a genius. But that’s just writers for young people. I have been very influenced by writers for adults, too: Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich, Ethan Canin, Elizabeth Knox, Lorrie Moore (maybe my favourite), and non-fiction writers like: Martin Edmond, Annie Dillard, Simon Schama...I could go on for a very long time...
What is a typical writing day like for you? Are there any ‘must haves’ you need before you can sit down to write?
It depends. If I’m teaching or doing ‘paid’ work it could be quite varied and would probably involve some travel around the country. If I’m writing, a typical day involves firstly some elaborate avoidance (housework, emails, correspondence) until I get down to it...I like to have a run before I sit at the computer...it gets the blood to the brain, or something. I’m a bit OCD, so I like the house to be tidy too before I start writing (dishes, laundry, etc. done)...I can’t usually write for more than four or five hours (and I get up and down a great deal while I’m doing it). My writing desk is on wheels so I can roll it round the house and chase the sun. Sun is pretty important to a good writing space. I spend a lot of time reading each day (I have several reviewing jobs). I write a lot of letters (on actual paper)...I talk on the phone quite a bit...I probably need to get out more...
What is next for you?
I’m working on several things at the moment...My biggest project is a non-fiction work about a children’s library built by a New Zealand bibliophile and philanthropist, Susan Price – this is a fascinating project that gives me the opportunity to write about both children’s literature and a magnificently unusual person. I’m also working on a novel (it’s at the writing/re-writing the first quarter stage). I’ve nearly finished a small children’s book. I’m at this minute writing a speech about the influence of place on writing. There’s always something new coming up...
Thanks Kate! I also loved the scene between Gordana and Frankie! And I really loved the one with Louie and Frankie when they were trying to decide who would be what bird - subtle but also really powerful.
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