I’m so excited to bring you guys an exclusive interview with Phyllida Shrimpton, author of Sunflowers in February, as part of the YA Shot Blog Tour! We’ll be talking all things bookish and we even have a giveaway so one of you lucky guys can win a copy of her debut novel. Let’s get started!
Hello and welcome to A Redhead’s Rambling! Today we’re going to start with the synopsis of Sunflowers in February, Phyllida Shrimpton’s debut novel.
Lily wakes up one crisp Sunday morning on the side of the road. She has no idea how she got there. It is all very peaceful. and very beautiful. It is only when the police car, and then the ambulance arrive, and she sees her own body, that she realises that she is in fact… dead. But what is she supposed do now? Lily has no option but to follow her body and see her family – her parents and her twin brother start falling apart. And then her twin brother Ben gives her a once in a deathtime opportunity – to use his own body for a while. But will Lily give Ben his body back? She is beginning to have a rather good time…
How unique and moving does Sunflowers in February sound. So, what attracted you to YA and why do you think it’s important to write for teens and young adults?
Fiction tackles life’s important issues often in a much grittier and detailed way than in films or TV. As YA fiction tends to be written from the point of view of the protagonist, it is easier for the young reader to put themselves in that position. For this reason our young people can learn invaluable life lessons from modern books.
The journey from child to teenager to adult is a difficult one. It is the time in our lives when we realise that life isn’t simple, it isn’t permanent and it’s a whole lot more complicated than it appeared when we were children. Learning about the world we live in, vicariously through fiction is a safe way through which to empathise, immerse, believe, dream and create ambition.
I am proud to be part of that process.
Death is a really important topic for young people to understand. Why did you decide to tackle it in your novel?
I tackled death in Sunflowers in February because at fifteen years old I dreamt the story. When I woke up in the morning from that vivid dream, it was as if I had experienced both my own death and the opportunity to have another chance at life. That dream was a powerful lesson for me in how temporary life really is and how important it is to not let it slip by unnoticed and unappreciated. I wanted to share that with other young people.
It took me many years to find the confidence and the style of writing I felt would do this message justice, but it meant that I was able to use my own experience of life and loss gained over the years to add the layers and depth to it.
What three songs would you pick to create the perfect reading playlist for Sunflowers in February?
All We Do – Wonder
This track is perfect as it is about how we hide away, play it safe and live inside our self-built cage but if we could only look at things “the wrong way round” we could live our lives differently. All those things we tell ourselves we will do one day yet often never get round to, or all the things we avoid because of fear of the unknown are the things we will quite possibly regret when our time runs out.
At her own funeral, Lily says ‘If only I had the chance to die knowing that I had really lived’, this track is ideal for this moment.
Breathe me – Sia
This song is about feeling vulnerable and alone. Lily is so alone when she is trapped between life and death, able to see but not join in. She wants everyone to know she is still there, that she screwed up and desperately wants comfort from those she loves yet has to endure the agony of it all on her own.
The Promise – Tracy Chapman
This track is for the relationship between Lily and her twin brother Ben. The love they have for each other runs deep. Deep enough for Ben to give Lily the once chance she desperately needs, and deep enough for Lily to eventually give back that chance so Ben can live the rest of his life in the way she would if she could.
“Although I’ve travelled far,
I always hold a place for you in my heart.
If you think of me,
if you miss me once in a while,
then I’ll return to you.
I’ll return and fill that space in your heart.
Twins come with a built in best friend. What literary character would you choose as your twin?
I think this a great question! My mind went exploring through a world of literature for the kind of person I would choose, which was loads of fun but not as easy as it sounds. I have a bunch of personality traits that my literary twin would have to reflect in order to keep me happy. I love the countryside and the outdoors life, I worked on a college farm with students, I’ve moved house several times and even country once, I love to write, and I hate people who give up too easily. So with this in mind I’ve gone for Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child I read all her books in ‘The Little House’ series, and experienced a huge delight when I realised she was not a fictional character but a real person who lived through all that. (The TV series was loosely based on the life of the Ingalls family but I still enjoyed it.)
Laura’s life as a child of a pioneer family was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but because of that, it was full of adventure. In her own words it was a life of ‘sunshine and shadow’ which I guess is the same for most people, but she was a strong, determined person, who did what it took to survive in her era. I would like to think that if I had been born in the 1800’s, I would have been a Laura rather than a frilly dressed girly girl who’s only talent was embroidery and shaking my ringlets. Laura became a teacher, a writer and continued to work her family farm until she died at age ninety – not a bad choice for a twin me thinks!
Without any spoilers, can you tell us your favourite part of Sunflowers in February and why?
I really like the part where Lily seizes the opportunity to live for a bit longer. Whether her decision is right or wrong, it’s what she does because she’s desperate not to be alone anymore and because of that, it’s the moment when she realises that life is super wonderful. Lily is suddenly able to touch, taste and smell again, delighting in the simple things we take for granted in life like hugging her parents, eating tasty food, feeling the water from her shower on her skin.
This part is the essence of mindfulness which is the message I wanted to get across to teenagers. It is so easy to rush through life without noticing it and the simple act of spending a little time focussing on the world around you can improve wellbeing and ultimately happiness.
What are your most anticipated books of 2018 (besides your own, of course)?
The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan – published by Troika Books in May 2018
This appeals to me because it is about a girl who finds herself having to conform to the strict conservative Indian customs of her aunt and uncle having already experienced a more relaxed way of living. I love learning new things through books and am very keen to delve into the Indian culture through the mind of a teenager.
My Box Shaped Heart by Rachel Lucas – published by MacMillan Children’s Books in May 2018
This book is about an unlikely friendship which I always enjoy seeing evolve and develop. I’m also interested in the fact that the protagonist Holly has a mum who’s a hoarder – a subject I have some knowledge of and would like to tackle myself in the future. I’m looking forward to seeing how Rachel Lucas approaches this aspect in her book.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – published by Zaffre in January 2018
It is an adult book but I’m really interested in all aspects of WWII. The idea that a true love story between the tattooist and a young Jewish girl in an environment so unbelievably difficult should flourish and survive is fascinating. I’m also a firm believer that this topic should be remembered and learned from by all generations now and to come.
Where I live by Brenda Rufener and published by HarperTeen in February 2018
I quite like the look of this. It is about a homeless teen secretly living in her high school, struggling against the hardships of her past. As it’s quite similar to my own idea for book two so I’m keen to compare and contrast our approaches.
Do you plan to continue your career as an author and can you give us a sneak peak of what that might look like?
YES! By the time I had finished writing Sunflowers in February, I already had the plot for my second book, The Colour of Shadows in my head. I have now completed this and sent it off to HotKey. It is about a seventeen year old girl, Saffron, who has a massive argument with her dad after discovering he had lied to her for ten years about her mother. Saffron embarks on a personal mission to discover the truth and in the process comes across a small band of homeless people. In particular she strikes up an unlikely relationship with an older homeless lady nicknamed Crazy Maggie, so called because she’s been on the streets for years and spends most of her days drunk. Maggie plays an important part in Saffron’s personal journey to self-discovery. The Colour of Shadows will be published by HotKey Books in February 2019.
After that I just want to keep going with writing because my head is full of ideas for future contemporary YA novels which tackle day to day issues experienced by young people.
I can’t wait to read The Colour of Shadows now! Thank you so much to Phyllida Shrimpton for taking part in my Q&A as part of the YA Shot Blog Tour. Stay tuned to learn more about Phyllida and where to buy Sunflowers in February and how to enter my GIVEAWAY!
Meet the Author:
Goodreads: Sunflowers in February
I’m so excited to be partnering with Hot Key Books to give you guys the opportunity to win a copy of Sunflowers in February by Phyllida Shrimpton! All you have to do is head over to my Twitter via the link below, retweet my giveaway tweet and don’t forget to follow me.
UK only. Ends 14th April.
Thank you so much for tuning in to my spot on the YA Shot Blog Tour! It’s been a real privilige to have been a part of this and I’ve loved interviewing Phyllida Shrimpton. Sunflowers in February sounds so moving and I know I’ll be reading it as soon as I can. Keep an eye out for Phyllida at YA Shot and don’t forget to read her book.