The Twins is an outstanding debut novel.
British author Saskia Sarginson writes like she's been doing it for years. She took me straight into the lives of her main characters - twins Isolte and Viola.
The identical girls are inseparable and lead a free and wild life, living in a cottage on the edge of a forest. Their mother, an ex-hippie and commune dweller, is happy for the girls to roam at will.
Years later, Isolte is a successful career woman (on the surface) while Viola is battling to stay alive because of a eating disorder.
The question is - what happened in the woods all those years ago? What happened to make the twins grow so far apart?
It's time for answers, but are these two young women strong enough to face the past?
The Twins is exciting, funny, sad and tragic, but most of all it's a damn good read. I look forward to more from this author.
I asked Saskia some questions.
What made you decide it was time to write a novel?
Since I was a child, I've scribbled down poetry and stories. Later, I worked as a health and beauty editor and also as a ghostwriter, copywriter and TV and feature film script reader. But I'd always wanted to write a novel. I eventually felt the time was right after I'd had my fourth child. I had a clear picture in my mind of the setting and the characters and knew it was time to try and get it all down in a narrative form.
Tell us why you chose twins as your main characters?
My eldest children are identical twin girls; it was seeing the complications of their relationship and their extraordinary bond that made me want to write about twins. Since they were toddlers, I've watched my daughters struggle for separation and their conflicting need for each other. I think that twin conundrum says something about the way we are as humans. I put another set of identical twins into the book because I thought it would be interesting to explore how the dynamic would work between the four of them. I wanted them all to share the mystery of being twins, but also to be undermined by the insecurities and jealousies of that relationship.
Do you think twins have more of a bond than siblings?
Twins have a different bond. I have two single children as well and they also have a bond, but it's less complicated, less intense.
What's the secret to creating believable characters?
You have to understand your characters as well as you do your own family. You need to know everything about them, from their eating habits to their musical tastes, from their dreams to their fears. As you write, you constantly ask yourself - what would they do now? How would they react? What would they say? Your characters define the action of the book.
How important do you think characters' names are and how did you choose your names?
Names are very important because they tell the reader something about the character immediately. The twins are called Viola and Isolte because their mother, Rose, is a romantic hippy who would have chosen unusual names. At one point in the book, Isolte explains that her mother chose those names because they belong to literary heroines, women who knew what it was to love deeply. This also tells us more about Rose. But the boys in the book are called Michael and John because those names were typical of Suffolk children in the 1970s.
Tell us about a typical day while you were writing this book.
I got up early to see my youngest off to school.
Then I walked my dogs for an hour. Exercise and fresh air are a great start to the day and gave me valuable thinking time. I generally spent about five hours at my desk while the house was quiet with just my two cats and two dogs for company, although when I was finishing the book, I spent more hours at my laptop. I cooked for my family in the evening and ended the day with an early night and a good book. I dance tango and find that it's a wonderful way of relaxing, but staying creative. So once or twice a week I found a few hours to dance tango as well.
Has reading and writing always been a big part of your life?
Yes, reading and writing have always been two things that are central to my existence.
What is the first book you remember reading?
It was probably an Enid Blyton. But the first book that had a big impact on me was Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse.
What are your top three tips for aspiring writers?
Read a lot and read widely.
Write everyday even if it's just notes and observations.
Taking things out is as important as putting things in; editing is an essential part of a writer's skill.
What's next for you?
I'm just putting the finishing touches to my second book, out next year. It's about a family that is devastated by the supposed drowning of their eldest daughter. The theme of the book is really about strangers: The stranger that enters your life and changes it. But also the strangers that we live with that we think we know - and the stranger in ourselves. I have an idea for a third book that I'm developing at the moment.