Guest Post: Sarah Jasmon

Sarah Jasmon Author Photo

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.

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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.

Summer of Secrets Front Cover

This post is the final stop on The Summer of Secrets Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

Sarah-Jasmon-Blog-Tour

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.

Book Review: The Summer of Secrets

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The Summer of Secrets, by Sarah Jasmon, is simmering, evocative and charged with an undercurrent of apprehension. The author perfectly captures the concerns of the teenage protagonist, Helen, as she struggles to deal with her parents’ separation and rejection by her peers. When the bohemian Dover family appear on Helen’s doorstep it is no surprise that she is drawn to them. Their friendship will prove devastating for both families.

Helen is sixteen years old and is looking forward to a summer of peace and freedom. Home life has been chaotic since her mother left, her father seeking solace in drink. Helen welcomes the cessation of their bitter rows, and the relaxation of her mother’s strictly imposed orderliness. She is angry and lonely but also relieved.

Lying on the grass in her garden by the canal Helen wonders how she will fill the balmy days ahead. Her question is answered when a young girl unexpectedly appears in her hedge. Thus she meets the Dovers, who she discovers have recently moved into a nearby cottage, and is drawn to their enigmatic lives.

Victoria Dover is of a similar age to Helen and they soon become friends. They are not, however, equals. Victoria relishes her dominance, forever pushing at Helen’s trained reticence. As the summer progresses Helen ingratiates herself with the whole family before Victoria starts to push her away.

The author intersperses the story of the summer of 1983 with a narrative set thirty years later. Forty-six year old Helen spots a poster on the wall of new art gallery advertising an exhibition of photographs by award winning Victoria Dover. We learn that she has neither seen nor heard from any of the Dover family since that fateful summer, a summer that has scarred her life.

Helen’s life pivots on a night near the end of the summer, which she can barely remember. As the tension builds the reader knows that some tragedy is about to unfold. The denouement does not disappoint.

The byline on the cover of this book reads ‘One day she was there… And the next she was gone’. I did not feel that this represented what the story was about. It is a coming of age tale; it was not just Victoria that Helen lost.

It was good to be reminded that in 1983 there could be ramshackle cottages by an overgrown and neglected canal, before developers saw potential and tidied nature away. Likewise children could run free, time unfilled by planned activities not viewed as wasted. It is redolent of a time that is gone.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I do not quite understand why Helen’s life was impacted to such a degree by the events revealed, shocking as they were. I do not quite understand why she did not seek answers sooner. Perhaps this is the point. The denouement suggests that it was everyone else’s selfish inability to understand Helen’s needs which led to the cataclysmic outcome.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the Curtis Brown Book Group