Q&A interview with Branford Boase Award shortlisted author and editor of
Yaba Badoe’s debut YA novel A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars was edited by Fiona Kennedy of Zephyr. The judges described it as ‘packed with memorable scenes and an extraordinarily vivid sense of place’; adding ‘language and story are equally interesting’ and ‘things don’t come more original than this’.
Can you tell us about the inspiration for A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars?
A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars had a long gestation. I attempted to tell Sante’s story twice before, thanks to my editor Fiona Kennedy, I finally found her voice. I was inspired to ‘keep on keeping on’ because I find stories about babies separated from their parents enthralling. There’s a mythic quality to them, which I enjoy, especially when I think of the tales of Moses in the bulrushes, Romulus and Remus and Tarzan. I decided to place such a story in a contemporary setting and tell it from the viewpoint of a young teenager of African descent.
You have written for adults, what was the thing you found most hard when writing for a younger readership?
The main protagonists of my first novel, True Murder, were children aged eleven and twelve. However the narrator was a Ghanaian woman in her twenties remembering the murder of her best friend at prep school in Devon. In many ways, once Sante’s voice started rattling about in my imagination, I found writing for a YA audience very liberating. I could indulge my passion for fast-paced action sequences and settle into the teenage intransigence and determination of my narrator with glee. I remember enjoying Daphne Du Maurier’s novels when I was around fourteen, so I try not to patronise YA readers. At the same time instead of going into the gory details of people and sex trafficking, I try to show these issues from Sante’s perspective – which is that of a highly moral, passionate young woman.
What did you enjoy most about the editorial process and what do you think was the most important suggestion or piece of advice that Fiona gave you?
Being introduced to Fiona through our mutual friend Jinny Johnson was literally a godsend! Having read the manuscript I’d sent her, Fiona gave me two pieces of brilliant advice. First of all she praised the characters I’d assembled – Sante and her family of travellers – and then she suggested that I give Sante’s story a contemporary setting. Initially the story had been set in a dystopian future. Once I’d taken Fiona’s advice on board, I finally found Sante’s voice!
What most excited you about Yaba’s manuscript when you first read it?
Yaba’s soaring imagination and her rich, vibrant voice. Everything about her script felt fresh and different. I loved the way she could step seamlessly from the real world to a fantastical one. It’s genuinely exciting to find an author with talent like hers.
What were the aspects that you worked on most when editing it with her?
Mostly plotting and pacing and some tiny details to help strengthen Sante’s extraordinary skills and experiences in our world and others. The voice, the lead characters – Sante, Priss the eagle, Taj the white stallion, Cat and Cobra, Scarlett and Mama Rose – I barely breathed on – they were already entirely memorable – full of their own wisdom and energy.
What’s your favourite scene in the book and why?
Too many for a single favourite. First the opening – to me it has everything a first chapter should have – how could you fail to be drawn in and not want to read more? After that probably chapter 18, where Sante, flying with Priss, meets her parents. That’s such an incredible moment. All that yearning. Her mother’s love, the African landscape, the spirit world, fairy tale elements in her father’s gift of a protective golden bangle and having to leave before the ripe mango falls from the tree. Ghosts gathering. I can read it over and over and feel the power of Yaba’s writing – her affinity with words and worlds.
Thanks to Yaba and Fiona for answering our questions.
Photo of Fiona Kennedy by Jay Rowden Photography