To celebrate the paperback release of the fantastic book ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece’ the author; Annabel Pitcher is doing a blog tour and today it’s my turn and I’m hosting the lovely Annabel as she talks about the character of Jasmine.
If you haven’t already heard about this absolutely beautiful, haunting book (which was longlisted for the Guardian first book prize award) check out the book trailer to find out more
“Ten-year-old Jamie Matthews has just moved to the Lake District with his Dad and his teenage sister, Jasmine for a ‘Fresh New Start’. Five years ago his sister’s twin, Rose, was blown up by a terrorist bomb. His parents are wrecked by their grief, Jasmine turns to piercing, pink hair and stops eating. The family falls apart. But Jamie hasn’t cried in all that time. To him Rose is just a distant memory. Jamie is far more interested in his cat, Roger, his birthday Spiderman T-shirt, and in keeping his new friend Sunya a secret from his dad. And in his deep longing and unshakeable belief that his Mum will come back to the family she walked out on months ago. When he sees a TV advert for a talent show, he feels certain that this will change everything and bring them all back together once and for all.”
THE FLOWERING OF JASMINE…
Before I could write about Jasmine, I had to figure out Rose’s character. That had to come first because Rose was born first and definitely the leader of the pair. As twins, I imagined them as two sides of the same coin, so it was impossible to know Jasmine’s traits without first defining Rose’s. In my head, I pictured Rose as the bolder, more dominant and moodier twin, and it is therefore apt that she is named after a red flower with thorns. There was certainly something spiky and dramatic about Rose’s personality! In comparison, Jas was softer and more innocent as a child, which explains her choice of flower: jasmine petals are white and delicate. Jas explains that, in the absence of Rose, she feels like ‘a shadow without a person’, and I often imagine Rose to be running ahead with Jas tagging behind, far more biddable and far less brave, very much like Rose’s shadow.
The fact that the two are both named after flowers is, of course, no coincidence. I wanted to reflect the strength of their bond, running deep, connecting the two, sort of like roots underneath the ground. There is something claustrophobic about this image too, which perfectly reflects how Jasmine feels: close to her dead sister but also suffocated by her, as if Rose’s roots are wrapping around her own, preventing her from flourishing. Obviously, all this changes on Jas’s fifteenth birthday. When she cuts off her hair and dyes it pink, Jas finally emerges from the shadows, severing the link with Rose.
In the first draft, Jas was a far more minor character. Though I knew a lot about her due to the planning I had done, I was so focused on Jamie’s story that all that really emerged about Jas in my first attempt was the fact she had pink hair, didn’t eat, liked punk music and rejected anything mainstream (in reaction to her parents, who had tried to keep her looking young and childlike and rather ordinary for many years). In the rewrites, I attempted to bring out her relationship with Jamie. I invented her obsession with astrology, which seemed appropriate for a girl who was scared of the unpredictability of the future after what happened to Rose, and used it to create some tender moments with her brother. Jas shows Jamie the ‘lion in the sky’ – the constellation for his star sign, Leo – to comfort him and give him a sense of protection. Jamie refers to this lion all the way through the novel, highlighting the importance of his relationship with his sister. Again, it is no coincidence that Jas’s boyfriend is called Leo, named after the constellation. One of the major themes of the novel is Jamie’s search for identity, particularly his search for courage and masculinity, and he looks both to the lion in the sky and Jas’s boyfriend for answers so I created that parallel through the name.
Like the rest of the novel, I wanted Jas to seem real and three dimensional, rather than blandly idealised. She is often impatient with Jamie, snapping at him and calling him ‘a bastard’ throughout, and she puts herself before her brother when Leo comes on the scene, often coming home late. Hopefully, this stops their relationship becoming overly sentimental. Jas is there when it counts – on Jamie’s birthday, at the football match, comforting him after parents’ evening – but most of the time I tried to show that she’s just an ordinary girl, a big sister very much like mine – sometimes grumpy and far from perfect and, I hope, more real and likeable for that very fact.
MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTELPIECE
£6.99 / Indigo / £6.99 / September 2011