Published earlier this month by Black Swan (a Transworld imprint), ‘The Summer of Secrets’ is author Sarah Jasmon’s debut. I was fortunate enough to be sent a copy by the Curtis Brown Book Group (you may read my review by clicking here) and was then invited to discuss the book at an on line meetup. Sarah took the time to answer a lot of questions!
As I said in my review, I do not quite understand why Helen’s life was impacted to such a degree by the events revealed. I am therefore delighted that, in this guest post, Sarah focuses on the relationships between her characters. Do you remember the summer you were sixteen? I know I do.
Please welcome to neverimitate, Sarah Jasmon.
The Summer of Secrets is mostly about friendship, about the intensity of those early proto-love affairs, when you find a soulmate who, for a season, becomes your constant companion. Think of films like Me Without You, or almost any story about high school. (In trying to narrow the choice down, I came across this excellent article by Rowan Pelling: The darker side of female friendship – Telegraph.) Such friendships tend to fizzle out in the end, with one or both participants moving on to different relationships and wider interests. In film and fiction, and occasionally in real life, they move into darker territory.
Helen and Victoria are not equal partners in their friendship. Helen has been unhappy at school, and is facing a summer with little interaction outside of her home environment. She is wary of Victoria even as she is dazzled by her, constantly on the lookout for snubs and dismissal. The younger sibling, Pippa, is safe in comparison, an uncomplicated child with a sweet nature. Victoria is tough, world-weary and single-minded. She is happy to take up with Helen whilst no-one else is available, but she’s not a friend to rely upon. She is exciting, though, her plans always hovering on the outer edge of acceptable.
It’s this imbalance that stops the friendship from becoming dangerously intense. Victoria is careless and occasionally cruel, but not malicious. Someone asked me the other day if I thought that, had the summer not ended in the way it did, would Victoria and Helen stayed in touch? And I think they wouldn’t. Victoria would have left, shedding Helen without much regret. Helen would have taken time to recover, but would have ended up a stronger person, with wider horizons. Except that fiction is never that straightforward.
The book is also about absent parents, and the effect that can have on events. I’ve always liked how children’s fiction allows for total freedom. The Famous Five are forever left to their own devices whilst parents go abroad, or find themselves too busy with important work to take any notice of what the children are doing. Arthur Ransome makes sure that the Swallows and the Amazons are without supervision, Just William goes out in the morning and evades the adults with chaotic consequences. I wanted to capture some of this release.
In any other summer of her life, Helen would have been unable to follow Victoria in the way she does. Her mother’s absence and her father’s self-absorbed depression are not her normal experience, unlike the Dover family with their long-lost father and the fragile mother who is always at least one remove from reality. But at the end of the summer, when everything has fallen apart, it’s Helen who is left with no emotional safety net. Her mother, having been absent, is now permanently excluded from her confidence. There is no return to normal, no resolution.
Another question that’s often asked is how can Helen have forgotten what happened so completely? I’m not going to answer that: being vague is the author’s prerogative after all! What I will say is that I think trauma and a guilty sense of half-recognised responsibility, coupled with shock and sudden change in circumstance, can lead to suppression. Helen has no-one to talk to, no fresh air or perspective to make the unthinkable into a manageable thought. She turns in on herself instead, and packs everything away. When we meet her as an adult, the person she was that summer is encased in a hard shell and hidden deep inside.
Meeting Victoria again forces her to chip away at that protected centre. I know what I think happens afterwards, but you’ll have to decide for yourself. Let me know.
This post is the final stop on The Summer of Secrets Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.
If you would like to know more about this author, her website may be found here: Sarah Jasmon – All the best writers live on boats.