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>> The Last Summer of Us

The Last Summer of Us
23/05/2015

The Last Summer of Us


In their last summer together, three friends embark on a final road trip. As tragedy and secrets are exposed, their lives are changed forever. We spoke to author Maggie Harcourt about her latest novel and the songs it's inspired by the Bookshop Band.

The Last Summer of Us was inspired by the road trips the author made as a teenager around her native Wales. Here, she explores the lives of Limpet, Jarred and Steffan as they head off on their own road trip. It is their last chance to be together before Steffan has to leave Wales for a new life in the States.

Each of the friends has tragedy in their lives: for Limpet, the recent death of her mum, something that Steffan has already experienced, while Jarred's parents prefer to imagine he doesn't exist. But they also have secrets and, gradually, those secrets are brought into the open, challenging and changing their friendship.

We asked author Maggie Harcourt to tell us more about the inspiration behind The Last Summer of Us, music, writing for teenagers and growing up.

You can listen to the Bookshop Band songs that were inspired by her story here http://bit.ly/1CVpezg


Q: What draws you to writing about teenagers?

A: When I was growing up there weren't many books in which I could see me or my friends. Most of what we read was set in London or was imported from the US and I remember trying to find the books that were about us, doing the kinds of things we do - so on one level I guess I'm writing the book that I could never find.

I also think teenagers are a brilliant group to write for because they won't let you get away with things that aren't 'real', they know when something feels false, and it's brilliant to have an audience like this. As a writer you really want to engage your readers and if you can't convince them, then you know the story is the problem.



Q: How much of The Last Summer of Us is drawn from your own teenage years?

A: Many of the places in the book are real and I describe the sorts of places we would go to as teenagers. There's something romantic about getting in a car and just driving and not really having a plan or a goal, just the journey.

I grew up reading books from the US, where they have a lot of country. In Wales you tend to run out of road quite quickly. Most of west Wales you can drive around in a day, so it was more of a case of sending the group of friends here and there, which is what we did as teenagers. We'd just park for a few hours and then start driving again. It's great when somebody in your group gets a car and you have that new freedom.



Q: The story is told in the first person by Limpet. How did her voice and character develop?

A: Her character was in my head for a long time, from when I was 16 or 17 I could hear her voice. She was quite sarcastic, not the kind of girl that gets pushed around, and I decided to combine her character with the idea I had for a story about a road trip.

It felt natural to put Limpet with a couple of boys as her closest friends. I'm very interested in how boy and girl friendships work. When I was growing up a lot of my friends were boys and I've still got a lot of male friends but when you're 15 or 16, you feel that you can't have very close friendships with the opposite sex, so I liked the idea of two really close male friends and felt like they were the kind of people Limpet would spend her time with.



Q: Why have you given each of the three friends such a difficult home background?

A: I wanted to write a story that reminds you that you are not responsible for your parents and that you are not your parents. You have to find out who you are and be proud of that, and not be tied to what your parents want you to be.

It can be difficult to step back from your family. It might be that you make a big change in your life for this to happen, like going away to university, or you may just find that having been close to your family, now you're moving away from them. Sometimes it's easy and sometimes it isn't, but this is about looking forward to that change.



Q: The story also covers some quite dark issues, including alcoholism which affects Limpet's parents. Can you tell us why you introduced that?

The characters have a good time but they are also dealing with big problems and complications in their lives. As a writer, you can't belittle those issues, these are real problems.

The alcoholism came in as a theme when I started thinking about the town where I grew up. There were lots of pubs and although we're all used to seeing teenagers going out and getting drunk and feeling terrible the next day, when you see adults trying to drink themselves into the ground it can be shocking.

I know families that have had problems with alcohol, it's so destructive and hidden away and there is a huge amount of stigma attached to it. When that is going on in a family, it's hard for the children to not feel responsible for it but here I am saying that young people can move away from their parents and who they are; they are not responsible for them.



Q: How difficult was it to 'reveal' the characters' secrets without giving away too much at the beginning?

A: I had to sit down and think about these teens and their individuality and what secrets each of them might be holding and keeping. Everyone has secrets but what secrets wouldn't they want to tell each other?

The gradual revealing of their secrets is a balancing act between not giving away too much and giving away enough, but I want the reader to figure it out for themselves, I want them to work it out before you get there.



Q: Music is a real passion for your characters and features heavily in the story; you even have two songs created by the Bookshop Band, inspired by your story. How did that feel?

A: I remember having my headphones on permanently through my teenage years. Music is such a big part of growing up and for me, it was one of the first things you used to work out your tribe; you think about the music you like and which of your friends would also like it.

I remember at that time bands like Super furry Animals and Catatonia were on the scene and suddenly there was lots of really cool Welsh music and everyone was listening to it. Some of those bands turned up on the playlist for The Last Summer of Us but I have tried not to be too nostalgic about it.

I have been a fan of the Bookshop Band for a while and I love listening to their songs. I listen to music as I write to help inspire the story and now, to feel that reflected at the other end of the process with the Bookshop Band's songs, is mind blowing, incredible. There's something so amazing about hearing or seeing someone else's work that you have kind of inspired.

Their songs are called Here in my Heart and The Lights - do go and listen to them:
http://bit.ly/1CVpezg



Q: If, like your characters, you could take off on a road trip, where would you go?

A: I have always wanted to do one of those big US road trips but at the same time, I love the costs of Wales and Cornwall so I'd be equally happy pottering around there. I love the beaches in Pembrokeshire, it's a huge tourist attraction but the bay where Limpet, Jarred and Steffan have their picnic is based on one beach that is a little haven and quite gorgeous on a beautiful sunny day. You can go and visit most of the places in the book.



Q: Where do you write?

A: I write mostly at the kitchen table or in a camper van that's sitting in our drive, it's my equivalent of the writer's shed at the bottom of the garden. It's not a lovely vintage one, it's modern and white, but I can go in it and make a cup of tea and lock the door and write.



Q: What are you writing now?

A: I'm working on another contemporary YA novel set in a small town. I like writing about small towns and the relationships you get in them; teenagers see everything even if they don't let on and small towns are so full of politics, things going on below the surface, and it's fascinating or - if you're a teenager - terrible! Because everyone seems to hear what you've been getting up to.

It's nice to be writing with different characters again, although I spent so long with Steff, Limpet and Jarred that I felt sad to leave them.



Q: What are your top writing tips for young people?

A: You just have to be persistent. There's a lot of luck involved when it comes to getting a book published and there's so much you can't control, but what you can control is what you're writing. You need to be able to finish things you start writing, don't give up and abandon it. Keep going, either carry on writing what happens next or go over what you've just written. Writers write, they won't stop and there's nothing wrong with writing just for the sake of writing. I write because I just wanted to tell stories.
 
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