Candy Gourlay is a Filipino author based in London. Her debut novel Tall Story won the Crystal Kite Prize for Europe and the National Book Award in the Philippines. It was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for 13 prizes including the Blue Peter, the Waterstones Prize and the Branford Boase. Her second novel, Shine (published by David Fickling Books), is out on September 5th.
Can you sum up your new novel, Shine, in a few words?
Shine is set on an island where it never stops raining. It’s about Rosa, who suffers from a disfiguring condition that means she must stay hidden from the gaze of superstitious islanders. Her only social life is the internet, where she meets a strange boy named Ansel95. She yearns to see the ghost of her dead mother. Every day she lights a candle in the window – on the island it is said that this is a sure way of summoning the spirits. Then one day, there is a knock. Her mother is on the doorstep.
What inspired you to write Shine?
One of my favourite scary stories when I was growing up was the story of the Monkey’s Paw by William Wymark Jacobs – it is now in the public domain and you can read it here . In the story, a man makes a wish and it is granted in the most unexpected way. He tries to rectify the problem by wishing again . . . and only when he hears the knock on the door does he realize that no good can come out of yearning for something you cannot have. I retell the story in Shine and there is a motif of doors and unexpected things behind them.
In my travels, I met a medium who told me that ghosts were souls trapped in a moment that they had to relive over and over again – and the only way to free them from such bondage was to help them realize that they were dead. I thought about this – and I couldn’t help thinking that this sort of entrapment happened to the living as well. People who were unable to let go, who were unable to move forward with their lives because they clung to something. They were as good as ghosts.
Growing up in the Philippines, all our books were imported from America and featured pink-skinned people who lived in places that didn’t at all resemble the edgy corner of Manila where my family lived. Don’t get me wrong, I loved those books, but the fact that they were populated by only one type of person embedded the idea in my DNA that books were the preserve of only one hue of character. Besides, I had also never met any authors with the same background. So even though I was always writing, I never really believed that a book with people who looked like me would stand a chance of publication.
To what extent do you think that UK children’s books feature a diverse range of characters?
It is improving all the time – and rather than dwell on the lack of diverse characters, I would rather celebrate the exciting work that publishers like Tamarind are doing, telling stories that reflect the multiple heritages that make this world such an exciting place. And I salute author colleagues whose casting couches send characters of all hues on adventures for the sake of the adventure without reference to the colour of their skin. Paraphrasing my friend Sarwat Chadda (author of the Ash Mistry books), ‘A kid should be allowed to have a badass adventure even if he or she’s got brown skin!’
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
I had a LOT of favourite books but if I really had to choose it would be The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop. It’s a kind of trickster story – about five Chinese brothers, each of whom had a power which they use to great and hilarious effect. The Five Chinese Brothers at one point fell out of favour, critics pointed at how the illustrations portrayed the Chinese brothers as look-alike, inscrutable, yellow-skinned and slant-eyed. They called it racism. I dunno about racism. I just thought it was a GREAT story.
Why is it important for children to have books with central characters that look like them and share their experiences?
I was in my forties when I finally allowed myself to have a go at realizing my dream of writing a book. Before that, I didn’t believe I could ever become an author because I had never seen anyone like me in a book or writing a book. I really believe that I would have given myself permission to write much sooner if I had seen myself in books when I was a child.
The Newbery winning author Richard Peck said: ‘If a child does not ﬁnd himself between the pages of a book, he will go looking for himself in all the wrong places.’ I know that there are many children like me out there, looking but not ﬁnding themselves. My hope is that Tall Story – and all the books I write in the future – will act as a mirror. And that young readers, looking into the mirror and seeing themselves, will like what they see.
What for you would be important in terms of reflecting your heritage in a book?
Permission is important here – that a child of any colour will give permission to himself and others to become the heroes of just about any story. If they can do this with books, think of what they can achieve in every other thing that they seek to do!
Have you got any plans for a third book?
I am currently working on a book with a historical aspect to it – but told from the point of view of a people who have not previously told their own story. It’s challenging and very, very exciting. Watch this space!
Candy’s new book, Shine, comes out on 5 September 2013. You can order it here: