Please meet Keren David, the lady behind the recently released “This Is Not A Love Story” (aka TINAL). Although not her first novel, this piece was the first one I came across by the author and loved it and you can read all about why right here. I am sure that just like me, after reading this book and maybe this interview you will all want to check out her back catalogue but before you do this let’s learn more about Keren below.
- How big of a step was it to go from being a journalist to an author of Young Adult fiction? Did you feel it was a natural transition?
It was very strange at first. My first book, When I Was Joe, is about a boy going into witness protection, and I pretended I was a journalist interviewing someone about the experience of taking on a new identity. Once I’d got over the shock of being able to invent stuff, there was no looking back.
- You have mentioned in the past that TINALS is one of your most personal work. Were there any part of the book you felt were emotionally difficult to write? Would you mind sharing one instance?
TINALS feels very personal for two reasons. First, it is set in Amsterdam. Second, two of the characters come from the north London Jewish community. I loved writing about Amsterdam, but when I moved there in 1999, it was a very difficult time for my family, as we’d just had a stillborn son. My first months in my new city were full of anxiety, as I was pregnant again. So, to a certain extent, writing about Amsterdam meant revisiting that time and the resentment I felt about having to move away from my family and friends. Luckily, I loved Amsterdam and found it a very healing place, and we stayed there for eight years. So I hope that love is reflected in the book.
Writing about the Jewish community was very difficult for me, partly because no one has ever done it in British YA fiction before. I grew up just outside London, part of a very small Jewish community, and then I went to work for a Jewish newspaper when I was a teenager so my experiences reflect both Kitty, the outsider and Theo, the insider. I wanted to be accurate, nuanced and authentic, showing a range of experiences, without boring the reader with too much arcane detail…and without upsetting my family, especially my son who is nearly Theo’s age and goes to a Jewish school. I didn’t want the book to be ‘about’ the politics of the Middle East, or antisemitism, because I felt these things would be quite peripheral to the characters, as they were to my kids. Then I finished the book, and the conflict broke out in Gaza, and there was a frightening feeling of rising antisemitism in Europe. From never talking about these things with my children, it felt as though we were always talking about them. I agonised about whether to change the book, but decided not to – the fear of contemporary antisemitism is there in the background. I hope very much that reading about contemporary Jewish kids will counter ignorance and thoughtless stereotyping in non-Jewish readers.
- We see Kitty as a reporter “en-herbe” using social media to document her new life in Amsterdam. Not wanting to take away from investigating journalism of course, can we see this facet of Kitty’s character as a *wink* to your previous career?
I think if Kitty were a journalist, she’d want to work for Vogue or a glossy interiors magazine, whereas I always worked for newspapers, dealing with news and comment. She’s all about making life pretty and glossy and nicer, whereas I’m much more about telling the grubby truth. When I lived in Amsterdam I worked for a photo-journalism agency, and I could see Kitty getting into travelling and producing wonderful photographic features one day, although they’d be aspirational and stylish, not so much social realism.
- Why was it important to include social media in TINAL?
What really fascinated me was the way in which young girls use social media to create a glamourised version of real life – a bit like making yourself the heroine of a romantic book or film. It’s a very seductive fantasy, and we can all do it. And nowadays you can’t really write about contemporary teens without social media, it’s so much part of people’s lives.
- Out of Kitty, Theo and Ethan, who do you feel you can relate to the most and why? Do you have a favourite?
Ethan is definitely my favourite. Loved him, loved writing him. Unfortunately, for much of the time he had to be enigmatic, for plot reasons, but I’m already planning to write a prequel in his voice for an anthology project that I hope will come off. I identified a lot with both Kitty and Theo – Theo’s family background was quite like mine, and Kitty’s feelings of being shy but not really shy, and also feeling like an outsider were very much me as a teenager. Also that thing of being desperate to fall in love…that was me!
- Have you thought about our 3 protagonists 10 years in the future and if so can you give us a little clue of what they have become? Are we likely to meet them again and future works?
I definitely have! Can’t say too much, without being giving away spoilers, but I think that one might be a bit of a free spirit, still looking for a path in life, while the other two are together, one working hard, very career-driven, the other one being a homemaker and looking after a baby. Stick in the names as you see fit. I have thought about a sequel – would love to write about at least one and possibly more weddings – but I have also thought about writing them into an adult book as 20-somethings. So, you never know.
- How much of the work you do with the youth gets in your writing? Is there maybe, a Non-Fiction project there?
If someone had said to me that writing books involved public speaking in front of large groups of teenagers, I’d probably have run away screaming! But actually I find I very much enjoy school visits, and it’s fascinating to see so many different sorts of schools. I felt very privileged recently to meet inmates at Feltham Young Offenders Institution, especially as I’d just written about life in a YOI in my book Another Life. I find that once you get kids talking about books and writing, other differences fall away.
I haven’t got concrete plans for a non-fiction project, although I have been talking with another YA writer about a book entitled ‘How to Survive Nearly Anything’ as between us we’ve had a few bad experiences to get through. I’d love to write something about education as well, and what actually works. I hate nearly everything about the British examination system.
- Can you tell us “10 things” we don’t know about Keren David? (Most people only go for 5 but I thought I’d try my luck again :))
- I have nearly been shot three times
- The flat in TINALS where Lucy lives is the flat that I lived in from 2003 until 2007.
- I once jumped out of a helicopter onto a moving ship.
- I used to do something called women’s sport-fighting.
- My favourite book of all time is Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist
- For my first nine years as a journalist we were still using typewriters (this is because I started very young!)
- HG Wells’ granddaughter taught me to ride.
- I was at school with Tracey Thorn of Everything But the Girl
- I’m useless at writing song lyrics
- I’m halfway through an Open University degree in Humanities with Art History, but now they’ve whacked up the prices I’ll probably wait until I’m very old to finish it.
- As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Definitely wanted to write books for children. Then my friend dragged me to see Abba The Movie when we were 14. In the film a radio journalist tries to get an interview with Abba. He fails again and again, but talks to lots of their fans, and right on deadline, he gets in a lift and Abba are there, so he gets his interview after all. ‘That looks easy,’ I thought. ‘I could do that.’ And I got a job as a messenger at a newspaper when I was 18, and I was an apprentice reporter by 19. Never got to interview Abba, but I wasn’t a big fan anyway.
- If you had to pack up again and move your family to another country, where would it be?
I’d go back to Amsterdam any time.
Thank you Keren for letting us getting to know you a little bit better