This is your first novel; it’s intensely original and haunting. What inspired it?
The inspiration mostly came from a news story that made the headlines in 2011. A teenage boy called Robin, but calling himself Ray, appeared in Berlin saying that he had been living in a forest in Germany for the previous five years with his father. He said there had been an accident and he had walked back to civilization alone. It turned out that the boy had made the story up and had in fact run away from home, but the articles I read sparked some questions for me: ‘What if Robin had lived in the forest for all that time, how might he have survived, what could have taken him there in the first place, and what event made him leave?’
Do you see Our Endless Numbered Days as a thriller, a fairy tale or a family drama?
I certainly knew all the main ones when I was growing up, but those were rewritten for children; the original versions are much darker. I am fascinated by them, and I had great fun putting in lots of references to fairy tales throughout the book, not just Hansel and Gretel. I think there are about eight others which are alluded to.
This has been described as a ‘coming-of-age novel’. Do you agree with that description?
That’s an interesting question. A coming-of-age novel shows the changes the protagonist goes through as she or he grows from being a child to an adult. Although Peggy ages – going from eight to seventeen – I’m not sure she truly becomes an adult by the end of the book; she learns many things about herself and the world around her, but because she was away from the usual childhood influences (friends, school, society), in many ways she is still a child when the book ends.
Because of the theme of child abduction and the fact that the narrative is told by an eight-year-old, your book has been compared to Emma Donoghue’s Room. Is that a work that inspired you?
I’m very flattered that my book has been compared to Room. That’s a novel I love – from the voice of the child, which is so authentic, to the detailed descriptions of the lives of the main characters. I read it a while before I started writing Our Endless Numbered Days, so it wasn’t a direct influence, but I’m sure, as with many of the books I read around that time, it was a subtle one.