A while ago now I read “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver and was struck by how beautifully written and evocative it was – I had been saving up the “Delirium” trilogy to read in one big gulp, but when I was offered the opportunity to read her latest novel “Panic” (review to come after this article) and not only that, but meet the lady herself for a chat about it during one of her signings, I jumped at the chance – who wouldnt? So on Saturday, I took my friend Hayley and we set off to Waterstones in Oxford to do just that.
I will admit to being somewhat nervous beforehand, after all it is not every day that you get the opportunity to meet an author who’s work you admire, but that soon vanished as soon as we were in the room, Ms Oliver is one of those people who you immediately feel at ease with – open and friendly with a brilliant smile and as it turns out, passionate about her work and very insightful. Right there and then I knew that I wanted to capture her personality within this article so instead of carefully writing down everything she said, I’m just going to talk a little about our chat and what came out of it.
Panic is a novel about a small town, and in the way of small towns they have their own entertainment. Every year a game is played by the graduating seniors- a game of challenges, ever more dangerous, at the end of which one winner takes home a pot of cash. Of course that is not what it is really about at its heart, so I wanted to know where the story started to come into focus.
With another flash of that brilliant smile Lauren tells me about coming across one of Grimm’s more obscure fairy tales about a boy who could not feel fear, because he was simple – in the way of Grimm, this leads to him spending the night in a haunted castle in an effort to win the hand of the princess . A simplified version of a more complicated tale – those interested can find the full story here http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/authors/grimms/4youthfear.html It got her thinking about what we fear and why, and so Panic was born – the underlying thing for her being that what we fear cannot always be put in front of us in solid form for us to face – the youngsters in Panic may overcome their fear of heights, or small spaces, but these are not the real things that haunt us. It was fascinating watching her enthusiasm for this subject, and certainly for me she captured the essence of the idea in the novel, from her head to the page, a talent that I often wish I had myself…
Moving on to the characters that inhabit the place where Panic is played, she and I are of one mind on our favourite – that being Dodge, a character that for her started in a completely different story that never came to fruition. However, she tells me, the character himself stayed with her and by the time she wrote Panic, she knew him well – describing how he finally found life in this novel, he is obviously a creation close to her heart, again something that shines through in the story itself. Vengeance for an accident during the game that disabled his Sister seems to be the driving force behind his desire to win the game, but as always with Ms Olivers writing, that is far from the whole story. It is obvious from talking to her and reading her tales that she has an insight into human behaviour and a unique outlook on some of the things that make us who we are. Which is, I suppose, what makes her books so addictive for the reader. Certainly for me it is that added depth she brings that makes me love her work – the one thing meeting her has done for me is make me even more determined to keep reading…
We did talk a little more about other characters from the book – specifically the relationship between Heather and Nat – but later this month I am writing an article about Women in Writing which will focus on some of the influential women writers around today, and this particular subject, how friendships are portrayed in novels, and other things, will go perfectly with that piece. One in which I was always going to feature Lauren and her novels, so basically I’m teasing here – you will have to wait to find out what she told me. It will be worth it I promise.
The discussion moved on – I think I did manage to flummox her slightly when asking “Why Tigers?” – yes there are Tigers in “Panic”, to find out how and why you will have to read the book (and you really should, trust me on that) – for her, Tigers are something ancient and elegant, so featuring them felt right. With a wry smile she tells me that she can’t always clarify where the ideas come from or remember the exact process, they just are – referring to a scene involving cows in another of her novels and also telling me about the time someone pointed out to her that in “Before I Fall” the character goes through the five stages of grief, in order, something that she had not done intentionally – this speaks to the more organic flow she has to her storytelling, less research and planning, more how it happens as she writes.
Finally we talked a little about the ending of the novel, which for me was pitch perfect – she told me how she did not necessarily want a “happy ever after” finish to Heather, Nat, Dodge and Bishops story – but more the sense of hope, the path to a better life lying in front of them..again for me that is exactly what she put on the page. I have spent some time, and will probably spend more, thinking about where Heather will go next. In my head I’m sure that Happy Ever After will be it, but I’m sure the next reader may take a different path. Another sign of graceful writing that will speak differently to each person it touches…
So that was that for the actual interview – later, as she was signing books for Hayley and I, Lauren made me laugh, her enthusiasm for visiting Edinburgh, next on her schedule, was terrific, but she was perhaps not so happy about the thought of the 6 hour train ride that would get her there – I hope she had a good journey and managed to pick up a couple of the ready glasses of wine she told me she had discovered – a great idea indeed. I also hope I have managed to get across a decent sense of the lady – she was beautiful in that windswept stunning way that not many people pull off and so very friendly and completely natural – a perfectly normal and lovely person yet one with an extraordinary gift. I hope to meet her again one day, perhaps after I have read Delirium – I am sure there is a lot more to know. For now though, she definitely has another constant reader in me and she managed to make Hayley a fan before she had even read a word…
Find out more here: http://www.laurenoliverbooks.com/biography.php
Follow Lauren on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/OliverBooks
Purchase information for Panic: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/lauren+oliver/panic/10304874/
Available now in Paperback from Hodder and Staughton.
Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.
Panic is a wonderfully written and totally addictive novel, following a group of youngsters playing a dangerous game – but at the heart of the story is a coming of age tale, peppered with some terrific characters who’s motives ebb and flow as the game is played, and who will capture your heart in various ways.
The further I got into this tale the more I loved it – starting off with Heather rather impulsively joining in the game when she fully intended to avoid it – we move through a series of events that are at times heart stopping and at times extremely emotional. Heather struggles in her home life, with a drug addicted mother and a sister to look out for – she sees winning Panic as a way out, a chance to leave this life for pastures new. Along with best friends Nat and Bishop and joining up with the enigmatic Dodge, they traverse the waters of the increasingly dangerous challenges, ending up on a path of discovery about themselves and each other, one that could end up with redemption or disaster.
A clever story, one that speaks to the different fears that each and every one of us has – I loved the flow of it, that absolute sense of excitement the challenges invoke, the pure adrenalin rush that can come from the unexpected – but also the best part for me was the interactions, friendships and ever changing attitudes of the people playing. Well drawn and evocative, this captures some of the aspects of growing up perfectly. With an insightful eye, Ms Oliver tells us a tale about facing your fear – and understanding that which drives us.
Overall a beautifully written and compelling story, one that will stay with me for a while.
Happy Reading Folks!