By Libby Stille, Publicist
Today we talk to UK-based young adult author Lisa Heathfield. Her latest novel, Flight of a Starling, will be available in the US on February 5 and was called a “gem of a novel, one that is sure to be savored” in a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.
Not many YA books are set in a circus! How did you choose this unique setting?
Lisa Heathfield: I don’t feel I chose the circus setting–it’s more like it chose me. I was working on another book when out of the blue I sat down and wrote the first page of Flight of a Starling. Instantly I loved the character of Lo, but already I knew the tragic direction this book would take, so for a while I fought against writing it.
What was the writing process like? How did you research the book?
LH: The writing process was quite difficult with this one, as I constantly found myself battling against the horror of what was going to happen to Lo. During the editing process, I found myself wandering down a lot of wrong paths and sometimes it took a while to find my way back. The circus setting was always constant, though, as was the love between sisters Lo and Rita and also Lo’s love for Dean.
When researching the book I was lucky to have a friend whose mum was in the circus and whose dad married into that community. Tony lent me all his circus books and sat over cups of tea talking all about his years travelling with his wife. It was another, wonderful world and I felt very privileged to be able to share in his stories.
Lo and Rita share an incredibly strong sibling bond. What inspired their relationship?
LH: Lo and Rita’s bond is, for me, the axis of the novel–the relationship on which all others balance. They’ve traveled all their life, moving on from place to place–yet they always have each other. They share their own van and everyday they share their thoughts and dreams. In many ways they’re very similar, yet in others they differ greatly. It’s Lo who starts to question the traveling life. There’s a part of her that wants to know what it’d be like to stop, to lay down roots. I’m very close to my siblings–one brother and three sisters–even though we couldn’t be more different from each other, so it’s no surprise to me that I’ve written a novel about the strength of sibling love.
What do Lo and Rita use “flatties” to mean? How and why does Lo start to see flatties differently?
LH: “Flatties” is the term used by the travelling community to describe those of us who live in homes and stay still. Tony told me all about the Polari used among the circus community to this day–which they weave in and out of our language as we know it (Polari is a cant slang used in Britain by some groups to exclude or mislead those people outside of them. A sort-of secret language). I think that by the time Lo meets Dean she’s already seeing flatties in a different light than many within her community. She’s open to knowing them and having relationships with them, against the wishes of her Da.
Are there any other YA books set in circuses or books featuring sister relationships that you’d recommend?
LH: A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias is a wonderful book. It follows the tragic love story between a member of the Hitler youth and a girl from the Romani circus community, shining an important light on the horrors of the Holocaust. Another book which I’ve been longing to read, which is sort of circus-y, is Caraval by Stephanie Garber. As for a book about sisters, you’d be hard-pushed to find a more powerful story than Sarah Crossan’s award-winning One.
Read about designer Danielle Carnito’s cover design in this blog post!