Wednesday, January 23, 2013

3 WOW Wednesday: Celia Rees on Updating Old Ideas to Create Something New

Today's WOW guest is the Celia Rees, the author of many books for young readers including the bestseller Witch Child. She has been shortlisted for both the Guardian and the Whitbread children's fiction awards and her novels have been translated into over twenty languages. Celia lives in Leamington Spa, England. You can find more about her on her website.

Updating Old Ideas to Create Something New

by Celia Rees

The question people ask me most often is: where do your ideas come from? Ideas can come from anywhere: books, pictures, places, newspapers, conversations. Every book begins with an idea and ideas that turn into books are rare and precious. I can remember quite clearly when those ideas came, even down to where I was and time of day. The idea for This Is Not Forgiveness came from a film: Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. I’d always loved the film, the story of two boys and a girl. The boys are old friends and they both fall in love with Kate, an extraordinary girl, played by the captivating Jean Moreau. She is unconventional, a free spirit who won’t be owned by either of them. While I was watching, I suddenly thought, ‘You could update this. Make it now.’

I could see two boys, friends since infancy, been through school together, now in the 6th Form College. A girl comes into their lives. She is like no-one they’ve ever met and they both fall in love with her. What will happen? What will it do to their friendship? What will it do to them?

That’s how it started, but books don’t always go like you want them to. The boys as friends didn’t work, so I decided to make them brothers. One younger, one older, both involved with the same girl but the younger one doesn’t know.

The younger guy, Jamie, would be the main narrator. I knew about him straight away, but I had to find out more about the older brother. Who is he? What does he do? At the time I was thinking about him, British troops were being deployed to Afghanistan, sustaining casualties. On the news, people were lining the streets of Wootton Bassett, a small town in Oxfordshire next to the air base where the coffins arrive. I decided to make the brother, Rob, a career soldier. He joined at sixteen and is now in his early twenties. He’s back home after being badly injured and has left the Army. His physical wounds have healed but he is finding it difficult to fit back into civilian life.

Then there was the girl. Who was she? How could I make her different? I decided to give her an interest in radical politics. Anti war. Anti everything. At the time, that seemed a bit ‘out there’. Young people interested in radical politics? Very ’Sixties. Then, suddenly students were marching through London, smashing windows, fighting with police, hanging from the Cenotaph, throwing bins at the heir to the throne’s car. The Occupy Movement had started. The Arab Spring was kicking off. I found myself writing and re-writing as events unfolded.

All books require a certain amount of research into characters, their potential lives, place and setting. I always like to set my books in real places. I visit locations, make notes, take photographs, then change and twist what I find into what I want them to be like in the book. For the characters, I think about what their lives would be like, what interests them, makes them tick. I have to make sure I know enough about them to make them real. Rob is a soldier, a sniper, who has been wounded in Afghanistan, so I had to find out about the Army, life on active duty, sniping, weaponry, Combat Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and so on. I had to discover Caro’s obsessions and how they linked with Rob’s bitter isolation. I had to follow the two of them into some very dark places. Then the trick is to make it all work together into a coherent story that grips and convinces. I hope I managed to do that with This is Not Forgiveness.


  1. It's always wonderful getting a chance to see and read about the inspiration behind great stories. :-)

  2. So interesting! I love hearing about the birth of stories! I love the title of this one and the complexity of the characters sounds wonderful. Thanks for the tip and the info :)

  3. I love books that required research.

    I'm impressed with the extent you go to, Celia, to research the settings. :)


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