A Q&A with Ele Fountain
Posted 5th March 2020
Lola’s life is about to become unrecognisable. So is Lola.
Everything used to be comfortable. She lived in a big house with her family, where her biggest problems were arguing with her little brother or being told she couldn’t have a new phone. But as one disaster follows another, the threads of her home and family begin to unravel.
Cut off from everything she has known before, Lola must find a new way to survive.
Now, an ordinary girl must become extraordinary.
We sat down and spoke to author Ele Fountain about her experiences as a writer and a reader of empathy-led fiction. As this year’s World Book Day theme is all about sharing stories, we wanted to find out just what makes her want to tell these stories. So, let’s dive in…
Pushkin: Hi Ele! First of all, congratulations on the huge success of Boy 87, your first novel about young Shif and his life-changing journey, which you recently won a Sheffield Book Prize for. How did that feel?
Ele: It was a day I will remember for a long time. There was a fantastic atmosphere. More than 700 children made it to the event, despite the rain and terrible flooding which had left some stranded in a shopping centre overnight. Many of the shortlisted authors and illustrators travelled long distances to be there – including from the Netherlands. We had no idea who had won, and I was totally amazed when I heard the words ‘Boy 87’ read out as winner of the longer novel category. I think I might have squealed with excitement! It was fantastic to be able to thank all the readers, teachers and librarians in person.
Pushkin: Your next book, Lost, publishes next week. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Lost is the story of an ordinary girl, who has everything she wants, and an ordinary boy, who has nothing. It’s about what happens when thread by thread, the girl’s home, family and ‘normal’ life begins to unravel, and the unimaginable happens – their worlds collide. Now the girl has nothing and must learn – quickly – how to survive on the streets, whilst searching for her missing brother. The boy must decide whether she’s worth helping or not.
Pushkin: Both of your books take on some pretty serious social issues. Why do you choose to centre your books around these themes, and how do you go about writing them?
Ele: I never intended to be a writer of serious issues, but it’s very important to me to write about things I care about. Having been a book editor for many years, I know that the story must always come first. I am very careful about how I present the grittier elements. Combining story and serious theme seems to feel more natural if you’re writing about a subject close to your heart.
Pushkin: Friendship and family are very important to the main characters in Boy 87 and Lost. How do you construct these relationships, and why do you choose to make them such a big part of the characterisation?
Ele: As we grow up, friends and family shape our worlds. Stepping inside other people’s shoes, to see how these relationships affect them, can help us to see beyond ourselves, to develop empathy – which is key to our emotional development, if we are to thrive as adults. In Lost I wanted to show that ‘family’ doesn’t always mean, Mum, Dad and sibling. It can simply mean those who care for you, who are there for you. I think empathy is a key skill for writing too.
Pushkin: And finally… the theme of World Book Day this year is Share A Story. As a writer, reader and parent, what importance do you think sharing stories has on our children and ourselves?
Ele: One author described books as ‘portable magic’. Part of that magic is the chance to step into other worlds – real or imaginary, or to read about other people like ‘us’; to feel reassured. It’s unsurprising that independent studies show reading for pleasure increases children’s feelings of resilience and well-being. Reading with your children takes you to other places together – leading to so many questions and conversations. Stories can make lives richer.