A Q&A with Sarah Rees Brennan, Author of the Gothic-Inspired Unspoken
Editor's Note: Sarah Rees Brennan is the author of Unspoken, the first book of her young adult trilogy, The Lynburn Legacy. Kami Glass is an outsider in her sleepy English town mainly because she's in love with someone she's never met -- a boy she talks to in her head. When disturbing events begin happening, Kami realizes her town is hiding secrets, and a murderer. The key to it all might just be the boy in her head, who, it turns out, is deliciously real. Here, Brennan talks about her trilogy, Gothic novels, and reading minds.
Everyday eBook: What inspired you to write Unspoken?
Sarah Rees Brennan: I've seen in a lot of places the idea that reading someone else's mind would be romantic, and always thought it might be much more complicated than that -- shocking and difficult to deal with instead -- so the idea of a girl finding out her imaginary friend was a real guy was the first inspiration for the novel. And I've always loved Gothic novels, in which so often the hero is hiding a Dark Secret from the heroine (wife in the attic, say) and I love trope reversals. The idea of a pair investigating a Gothic mystery who really can't keep any secrets from each other appealed to me greatly. Thus I launched in on a yearlong attempt to read every Gothic novel in the world! Turns out they are absolutely chock-full of people getting buried alive. That's the major theme; I was surprised too.
EE: What was your favorite chapter, or part, to write and why?
SRB: The part where Kami and Jared first meet: the shocking moment when imagination and reality first intersect, with what I hope are surprising and interesting results.
EE: Which character speaks the loudest to you?
SRB: Different characters speak loudest at different times, really! Kami of Unspoken really works for me as a continuous voice, because she’s goofy and sees the world much like I do. I said recently of the hero, "I like it when Jared isn't happy, because he is SUPER FUN to write then." He's a really dramatic guy with many feelings. At one point he tries to strangle a dude with the tie to his own bed curtains. (Oh sorry. That's a spoiler. And it isn't even in the first book. But in the first book he does stage a dramatic break-up with someone he's not dating, so.) I think there's a time for each character to come center stage: I have this one very laid-back, funny character called Rusty who was a real help making the tensest scenes of book two be fun as well as tense.
EE: What was your favorite genre to read as a teenager?
SRB: As a teenager, I read much the same way I do now. (I'm, uh, very mature.) I read everything: lots of teen fantasy, absolutely, and Tamora Pierce and Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley were the best introductions a girl could have, but I also love romance, and crime, and science fiction, and literary fiction, and even poetry when I only have three minutes to have leisure reading. (Yes, I may have just admitted to reading poems in the ladies' bathroom.)
This post originally ran on Random Acts of Reading.
The First Story
THE RETURN OF THE LYNBURNS
by Kami Glass
Every town in England has a story. One day I am going to find out Sorry-in-the-Vale’s.
The closest this reporter has come to getting our town’s scoop is when I asked Mr. Roger Stearn (age seventy-six but young at heart) to tell me a secret about our town. He confided that he believed the secret to Sorry-in-the-Vale’s high yield of wool was in the sheep feed. I think I may have betrayed some slight disappointment, because he stared at me for a while, said, “Respect the sheep, young lady,” and ended the interview. Which leaves us with a town in the Cotswolds that has a lot of wool and no secrets. Which is plainly ridiculous. Sorry-in-the-Vale’s records date back to the 1400s. Six hundred years do not go by without someone doing something nefarious.
The Lynburns are the town’s founding family, and we all know what the lords of the manor get up to. Ravishing the peasants, burning their humble cottages. Fox hunting. The list goes on and on.
The Lynburns have “dark secret” written all over them. There is even a skipping song about them. Skipping songs may not seem dark to you, but consider “Ring Around the Rosy,” a happy children’s rhyme about the plague. In Sorry-in-the-Vale they sing this song:
Forest deep, silent bells
There’s a secret no one tells
Valley quiet, water still
Lynburns watching on the hill
Apples red, corn gold
Almost everyone grows old.
The song even talks about secrets.
During this dauntless reporter’s lifetime, however, the only Lynburn in Aurimere House was Marigold Lynburn (now deceased). Far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but it cannot be denied that Mrs. Lynburn was a ferociously private person. To the point of ferociously throwing her walker at certain innocently curious children.
Today, after seventeen years in America, Marigold Lynburn’s daughters have returned to Sorry-in-the- Vale. If the family does have any dark secrets, dear readers, you can have faith that I will uncover them.
Kami stopped typing and glared at the screen. She wasn’t sure about the tone of her article. A serious journalist should probably not make so many jokes, but whenever Kami sat down to the computer it was as if the jokes were already there, hiding behind the keys, waiting to spring out at her.
Kami knew there was a story in the Lynburns. They had gone away before she was born, but all her life she had heard people wishing that someone sick would recover, or a storm would bypass the valley, and in the same breath say, “but the Lynburns are gone.” She had spent the summer since she heard of their return asking questions all over town, and had people instantly hush her as if the Lynburns might be listening. Kami’s own mother cut her off every time, her voice equal parts severe and scared about her dangerously disrespectful daughter.
Kami looked back at the screen. She couldn’t think of a title besides “The Lynburns Return.” She blamed the Lynburns, because their surname rhymed with “return.” She also blamed the kids who were messing around in the woods beyond her garden: tonight they were making a sound that was almost howling. It went on and on, a noise that struck her ears hard and set her temples throbbing.
Kami jumped up from her chair and ran out of her bedroom. She thumped down the narrow creaking stairs and out the back door into the silver-touched square that was her garden at night. The dark curve of the woods held the glittering lights of Sorry-in-the-Vale like a handful of stars in a shadowy palm. On the other end of the woods, high above the town, was Aurimere House, its bell tower a skeletal finger pointing at the sky. Aurimere House, which the Lynburns had built when they founded the town, and where they had lived for generations, the masters of all they surveyed. There was no place in Sorry-in-the-Vale where you could not see the mansion, its windows like watching eyes. Kami always found herself watching it in return.
For the first time Kami could remember, every window was lit from within, shining gold.
The Lynburns were home at last.
The howling reached a pitch that raked up Kami’s spine and sent her running to the garden gate, where she stood with her eyes full of darkness. Then the sound died abruptly. Suddenly there was nothing but the night wind, shushing Kami as if she’d had a bad dream and running cold fingers through her hair. Kami reached out past the boundaries of her own mind and called for comfort.
What’s wrong? the voice in Kami’s head asked at once, his concern wrapping around her. She felt warmer instantly, despite the wind.
Nothing’s wrong, Kami answered.
She felt Jared’s presence slip away from her as she stood in the moonlit garden for another moment, listening to the silence of the woods. Then she went back inside to finish her article. She still hadn’t told Angela about the paper.