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The Popcorn sessions: Sharon Gosling

4 May 2017

Medium fir cover image
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Reading Hackers from Rickmansworth Library interviewed Sharon Gosling about FIR, her claustrophobic, atmospheric YA horror.

When writing FIR and creating your characters, would you consider ‘the forest’ a character in itself?

Definitely. It whispers and moves, it inspires and it terrifies. I absolutely tried to imbue the reader with a sense that the forest is more than just an inanimate thing.

How would you have dealt with Dorothea, especially if you had to share a house with her?

Ooh, good question. I’d like to think I would stand up to her, but I think I’d probably end up running away, or trying to!

Do you have any experience of living in a forest, or a remote part of Sweden?

I don’t live in a forest and I’ve never lived in a remote part of Sweden, but I do live somewhere pretty out of the way in England, in a very small village at the bottom of a fell. There’s nothing behind us but wild, uninhabited land for many miles. About an hour north of us is Kielder Border Forest, a huge fir plantation that stretches for acres and acres. It’s actually what’s left of the tail end of the taiga forest, the huge northern boreal forest that I write about in the book. I did a lot of tramping around there when I was researching FIR. It’s a very atmospheric and at times creepy place. It would be very easy to get lost and stay lost amid the trees.

Were any of the experiences in the book based upon an actual life experiences?

The dying tree that the narrator comes across during the first trip into the old forest – that was something I saw on my first trip to Kielder. I stood watching it for a while, creaking as it see-sawed about, unable to fall because of the other trees packed close around it. It was very unsettling and I knew it had to go into the story!

There are so many dimensions to this story, what was your inspiration?

The original idea for FIR came straight out of a nightmare I had. I was in a truck that had jackknifed on the ice over a lake and I got out of the cab and climbed a tree to take a picture. Then I realised that I had taken other pictures, of other terrible things that had almost happened to me, and that there was something in the forest watching me. It was so vivid that as soon as I woke up I wrote it down. A little while later I realised it would be a good basis for a story. That was the start of FIR.

If this book was to be made into a film, would you like to write the screenplay?

I’d love to, yes! Actually, when I first started writing FIR, I wrote it as a graphic novel series, which is very much like writing a screenplay.

Do you have an interest in Folk stories?

I do. They can reveal a lot about how old communities lived and the difficulties they had to contend with – which are good to remember, because we often have similar problems now, but we’ve forgotten how to deal with them.

There’s a twist at the end of the book, can we expect a second installment or is the rest left to the reader’s imagination?

That’s the second question I’ve had about a sequel! I hadn’t thought about writing one, but perhaps there is potential there. I think often, though, it’s better to leave things up to the reader’s imagination.

While reading this book, I realised we don’t appear to know the character who narrates the story. Am I right, and are there any other writing anomalies I have missed?

You’re right. It was a deliberate choice not to give a name or a gender to the narrator. It ties in with the idea of identity and both how we think of ourselves and how others think of us. It’s been really fascinating to get reader feedback about whether they think the narrator is male or female, and why. Often a reader will have an instinctive idea of one or the other, but they’re not sure why.

What genre do you like to read, are you inspired by any particular author?

I read as much as I can of all different genres, non-fiction as well as fiction. I have many authors I admire and find inspiring – in the YA genre I love Kevin Brooks and Meg Rosoff and I’ve recently read Eowyn Ivey’s To the Bright Edge of the World, which is wonderful. I love travel literature and collect tales of Victorian women’s adventures, my favourite of which is Isabella Bird.

Would you consider yourself a tree hugger, similar to Tomas?

This question made me laugh! I do love trees – I’m fascinated by how very old the oldest of them can be: think of all that history they have lived through! Perhaps in my second career I should become a professional hugger of trees… But then, we probably all should be, shouldn’t we? They’re pretty important things…