Sara Barnard’s debut, ‘Beautiful Broken Things’, is a gorgeous, heartbreaking novel of friendship, love and getting in too deep. We’re lucky enough to have Sara taking us through the process that led to ‘Beautiful Broken Things’:
Several years ago, I watched an episode of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ called ‘The Body’. Now, the one thing you should know about this particular episode of this show is that it is VERY AND EXTREMELY SAD. It’s not a spoiler to say that “the body” in question is very much a dead one.
Anyway, so picture me, teenaged, with that sad, empty feeling you get after watching a piece of very emotional fiction. I went up to my room, turned on my computer and opened a new document. And that’s when I met Suzanne.
I say “met”, because that’s how it feels for me when I create characters. It never feels like a process of creation as much as it does meeting someone new. You know how when you make a new friend, you don’t learn everything about them all at once? You learn what you need to know as you spend more time with them. That’s how it is for me and characters.
So when Suzanne came along, I didn’t know much, except that she was very pretty but also very sad, and that was because she had parents who didn’t care very much. And that was my starting point for what would, many years down the line, become ‘Beautiful Broken Things’.
Clearly, it took a long time before I got the story quite right, and in that time a lot of things changed. In fact, pretty much everything changed: the setting, the timeline, the secondary characters, the plot… you name it – it went. Over the years, as that first idea grew, so did Suzanne in my head. As I got older, so did she.
When I wrote the first version of the story, it was what I now would call a kind of prequel to ‘Beautiful Broken Things’ – it was Suzanne’s story before she left the home she grew up in, and it ended when she left. So in the years since, as I started to think about what would happen next. I thought about how in reality you don’t get to close the book on trauma, even (especially?) if it’s “over”. You have to go on with your life. And if you’re a teenager and you’re still learning about yourself, what does that mean, and how does it affect your life and your relationships?
It was these questions, more than anything else, that lead me to write ‘Beautiful Broken Things’, and it’s where my other two main characters, Caddy and Rosie, came from. I decided to write the story from Caddy’s perspective because I wanted to show from the outside how residual trauma affects people. Caddy is Suzanne’s opposite in a lot of ways – she’s had a sheltered life and is able to take love, comfort and safety completely for granted. So there was a lot of emotional territory to mine between the two of them, and then of course there’s Rosie, the accidental balancer of the three. All three of them are essential to make the story work – it wouldn’t have been right without any one of them.
Some people have asked why I didn’t write the story from Suzanne’s point of view, and the best answer I can give is that that wouldn’t have been this story. And this is the story I wanted to tell.
The characters from this book, especially Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne, have been in my head for many years now, and though I never forget that they’re fictional, they feel very real to me. It actually felt incredibly strange when the book was finally finished for good and I had to let them go. My only hope is that they are as alive and as special for readers as they have been for me.
Oh, they are – we love Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne! Tell us about your best friend (real or fictional) at @maximumpopbooks!
Get ‘Beautiful Broken Things’ right now.
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