I’m very pleased to be bringing you a spotlight today on ‘Sanctuary House’ by Alexandra Stopford. Alexandra Stopford kindly agreed to write a guest post for Linda’s Book Bag, describing how ‘Sanctuary House’ evolved. I haven’t had chance to read the novel yet, but I think you’ll agree it looks fascinating.
About the book
‘Sanctuary House’ is a novel in the form of letters from Sophie to her absent father. Sophie’s life is turned upside down when a car crash kills her ‘almost born’ baby brother (Leo). This is the catalyst for her father’s subsequent disappearance and her mother’s breakdown, which ultimately leads Sophie’s mother into the clutches of Sunra, the leader of a small cult/community known as ‘Divine Passage’. The past narrative is punctuated by her present day situation, struggling to adjust to a new life in foster care and desperate to hang onto the memory of her father. While the past narrative reaches a pessimistic climax, the present day narrative shows a Sophie coming to terms with all that has happened and looking forward to her future.
The Background to Sanctuary House
I started this book as one for young children, as I wanted to explore a child with an imaginary friend, but when I came to think of the type of circumstance in which an imaginary friend might be required, I thought about being lonely and isolated, and the idea of a cult came to fruition. I have never been involved in a cult but a family member was (although I only remembered this after I’d finished the book, but perhaps it was in my subconscious mind somehow) and I started to look at cults on-line, how they are run, the kind of person that might join etc etc. I then invented Divine Passage and thought up Sunra, the cult leader.
Originally it was written as a chronological narrative all in the past, but when I did my MA I changed it to letters to Sophie’s absent father. Although it spoils the ‘surprise’ that she survives the cult, it allows me to keep the father alive for Sophie (otherwise he simply disappears at the start of the book and you never hear anything more about him) and also to see Sophie’s eventual triumph as she settles into her present day life, makes friends and faces her traumatic past. Many people who have read the book were disappointed that her father doesn’t reappear. I didn’t really plan this. It just happened to end that way. However, I do plan a sequel so who knows, he may reappear, or he may not!
Emotionally, I got very involved with Sophie and started to hate Sunra and find her mother very weak and disliked the way she treated Sophie. The introduction of Zara was also unplanned, she just popped into my mind and her timing seemed good for the plot. It’s amazing how characters inveigle their way into your psyche, without you really realising!
My college tutor who was my mentor on the book found the beginning so emotional she had to pass it to a colleague to read and assess, since she lost a baby while she was reading it. Although I obviously did not want to distress her, the fact she found it so emotive she couldn’t continue with it, made me realise it was very powerful.