Q&A interview with Branford Boase Award shortlisted author and editor of Little Bits of Sky
S E Durrant’s debut Little Bits of Sky was edited by Kirsty Stansfield of Nosy Crow. The judges described it as ‘well-constructed and full of emotional intelligence’; ‘interesting: a quiet, unconventional story in an ambitious form’; with ‘beautifully described relationships and characters you remember’.
Can you tell us about the inspiration forˇLittle Bits of Sky?
I wanted to write about children trying to make sense of the world and find a place in it and I particularly wanted to write about a child who is resilient, despite her difficult life.
I was living in south London when the poll tax was introduced and I thought that period would be an interesting backdrop to the children’s lives because there was so much protest they were bound to come across it. Setting the book in the late 1980s also let me project some of the children into adulthood so it allowed me to give a little bit of follow up. It also meant I didn’t have to deal with social media, mobile phones etc. My plot couldn’t have worked if it was set today.
What did you enjoy most about the editorial process and working with Kirsty?
I most enjoyed Kirsty’s enthusiasm for Little Bits of Sky throughout the editing process. She has a passion for the books she loves, as I experienced when she read my book on submission and then shared it immediately with the whole Nosy Crow team. She had great confidence in the book and was a calm, reassuring presence, pointing up elements which made it stronger while at the same time allowing me to feel it was still very much my book. I am very grateful for her commitment and her calm and consistent approach.
What is the best piece of advice Kirsty, or indeed anyone else, has given you as a first time author?
The best advice I received as a first time author is to complete a piece of work. It sounds obvious but I have a mountain of unfinished work that I simply lost confidence in and put away. I now realise that without a completed manuscript a book doesn’t really exist except as an idea. Having a manuscript (however rough) is hugely satisfying and is the point at which you can start to pull it into shape.
What most excited you about Sue’s manuscript when you first read it?
I completely fell in love with the writing. It’s so, so good!ˇI love her pared-back style; it felt so fresh and the perfect way to deal with the subject matter. It makes the story entirely believable and moving without any mawkishness or sentimentality. Everyˇsingle word works so hard, seemingly without effort (though I know this is far from the case). And the characterisation – perfect. Then there was the 80s setting – that was the icing on the cake!ˇ
What were the things you concentrated on when editing it with her?
Plot mostly, I think – making more of theˇ‘ghost’ angle, for one. And checking that, given the 80s setting, things were clear enough for a modern child to understand. I looked back over my notes and I have to say, embarrassingly for an award shortlisting that honours the editor too, I don’t think I had to make all that many suggestions. It felt very nearly good to go, really, which is a testament to how ruthless Sue is with her work. I mostly just gushed!
What’s your favourite scene in the book and why?
So hard to choose! I think it’s the scene where Martha forgives Zac for what happens to Dash. Gets me every time! It could be all mushy but it’s not, it’s beautiful. And I think it’s because her characterisation is so good and her characters say just enough and no more.
Thanks to Sue and Kirsty for answering our questions.