Sarah Benwell – review

‘If you read one début novel this year, this is the one to read.’ The Bookseller

BGS was the venue for the launch of The Last Leaves Falling, a remarkable new novel for Young Adults. Author Sarah Benwell and her literary agent Gill McLay (Director of Bath Children’s Literary Festival) talked about ‘her journey’ as a young writer. Hers began when she was very small, sharing stories with her father; at thirteen she joined an adult book group, and at fifteen a creative writing group. Sarah travelled and worked abroad, before returning to Bath Spa to study economics only to realise that she wanted to switch to a different degree, creative writing. And now, still in her early twenties, she has had her first novel published, to great acclaim. Sarah, herself, can hardly believe it.

Her advice to aspiring writers? ‘Keep at it, stubbornly, persistently. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t.’ She spoke about how helpful she finds being part of a supportive (often virtual) group that offers feedback. Twitter is where she finds ‘critique partners’. From the BGS audience came the question, ‘Was that scary?’ ‘Yes, but not having one is scarier.’

Sarah is keen to push Young Adult Fiction beyond its conventional comfort zone. The main character in The Last Leaves Falling is a Japanese teenage boy dying of ALS, a rapidly degenerative – and always terminal – form of motor-neurone disease.

One fascinating fact: the area of the story dealing with teenage suicide had to be expunged from the American edition, which necessitated so much re-working that Sarah ended up with an entirely different book for that market. However, as she told us, she likes both editions equally!

Jennifer Benn

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