Celia Rees

This Is Not Forgiveness

This Is Not Forgiveness cover

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Inspiration  for This Is Not Forgiveness

Every book begins with an idea and ideas can come from anywhere: books, pictures, places, newspapers, conversations. This idea came from a film: Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim.  I had just come back from Paris and was watching French films to try and extend the visit. I’d always loved the film, the story of two boys and a girl. The boys are old friends and they both fall in love Kate, played by the captivating Jean Moreau. She is an extraordinary girl, unconventional, a free spirit who won’t be owned by either of them. While I was watching, I suddenly thought, ‘You could up date this. Make it now.’

I began to see two boys, friends since nursery, been through junior school and secondary school together, now in the 6th Form. A girl comes to the school. She is like no-one they have met before and they both fall in love with her. What will happen? What will it do to their friendship? What will it do to them?

So that is how it started, but books quickly warp away from their initial starting point. The boys as friends didn’t work, so I decided to make them brothers. One younger, one older, both involved with the same girl but the younger one doesn’t know.

The younger boy, Jamie, would be the main narrator. I felt I knew about him straight away, but I had to find out more about the older boy. Who is he? What does he do? At the time I was thinking about him, more troops were being deployed to Afghanistan, sustaining casualties. On the news, people were lining the streets of Wootton Bassett. I decided to make the brother a career soldier. Rob. He joined up at sixteen and is now in his early twenties. He’s back home after being badly injured and has been discharged from the Army. His physical wounds have healed but he is finding it difficult to fit back into civilian life.

Then there was the girl. Who was she? How could I make her different? I decided to give her an interest in radical politics. Anti war. Anti everything. At the time, that seemed a bit ‘out there’. Young people interested in radical politics? Very ’Sixties. Then, suddenly students were marching through London, smashing windows, fighting with police, hanging from the Cenotaph, throwing bins at the heir to the throne’s car. I found myself writing and re-writing as events unfolded.

I had her. Caro. I had the connections between the three of them; the web of cause and effect that would mesh them together; the element of risk and danger that would give the story explosive emotional power.

Listen to Celia on the Guardian's podcast about This Is Not Forgiveness!

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