One genre I really haven’t read enough of late is Young Adult (YA) fiction and I believe I’m missing out on some wonderful books. As a result I’ve invited Sherry Mayes onto Linda’s Book Bag to tell me a little about her YA novel Stop the World. Stop the World is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.
Stop the World
She thought her life was over… but it was just beginning
Jody Angel Taylor believes her life is all mapped out: Glamorous, clever and popular, and due to marry her handsome boyfriend, she has it all. Until one night she has a devastating car crash, ending up paralyzed — and her perfect world collapses.
Committing media suicide and publicly blamed for her own accident, everything around her falls apart. She becomes a lonely recluse, feeling she’s lost everything including her legs — her boyfriend to her best friend, her father to an affair, her mother to depression — but above all she fears losing her mind. What she doesn’t know is that someone across the globe is about to throw her a lifeline. Can she find the courage to take it? Determined to love again and clear her name, she embarks on a new adventure that will transform her life beyond all expectations.
A Mini Interview with Sherry Mayes
Sherry, thank you so much for agreeing to tell me a little about Stop the World. Tell me, why did you choose to write for a YA audience?
I never intended to write YA, but light bulb moments comes in many forms, and as a former journalist, I was inspired by a young girl called Jenny, who I interviewed over a decade ago for a magazine. She crashed her car driving home after meeting up with a friend, and ended up quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down. I have a teenage daughter and couldn’t imagine how someone of that age would cope in devastating circumstances where many of us would assume any kind of normal life was over. But what intrigued me was her strength of character and that she still remained determined and feisty despite her circumstances – and she certainly became a catalyst for my novel.
How did you create Jody’s character given she is inspired by a real person?
I created a very different kind of character from the British girl I interviewed, imagining a sun-kissed, blonde Californian girl who has everything going for her – she’s gets top grades at school, and has a handsome boyfriend and rich parents. She’s also self-obsessed and vain. The kind of girl that would be very annoying to be around, because I really wanted to show transformation – how someone like that would respond to being in a wheelchair, thinking of herself as a ‘gimp’ or a ‘retard’, and losing the adoration she took for granted. I wanted to dismantle the mask and see what lay underneath when everything you rely on falls apart.
Why did you choose such a difficult subject matter?
I love to hear about feel-good stories; people that achieve happiness against the odds, because it reminds you that the hurdles of life can be overcome, and it raised many questions for me: How life can blow up in your face and change everything you think you stand for. What it’s like to be popular and pretty and then find you’re in wheelchair with a response perhaps of pity or sympathy instead of attraction. How do friends and family now perceive you, and how do your values and perceptions then change? I wanted to focus on how challenging events can deconstruct us, force us to reflect on who we are – and we all go through tragedy in our lives even if it’s experiencing the death of a loved one. Jenny’s story reminded me that we all a choice, to fall apart or focus on what can be achieved and writing this was cathartic in many ways.
(Having just experienced the death of a loved one I can fully empathise with this concept.)
What were the challenges and benefits of presenting such an emotional subject to this audience?
The challenges were really about getting under the skin of a teenager, understanding what a young girl would feel going through something so traumatising. Many girls of that age are so preoccupied with appearance, popularity and social media, so there was a lot of research involved. I had Jenny’s interview to draw from and a teenage daughter, but I also researched many case studies on the internet. The novel is written in first person, from my character, Jody’s perspective and I wanted to ensure that teens related to her as well as adults. I actually found getting her voice easier than I thought, despite the fact that I made her American. I wanted the story to reflect the prejudices many disabled people are faced with and also how important it is to develop resilience to difficult circumstances given the amount of depression amongst teenagers – so I tested the book on many teenage and adult beta readers who gave their feedback to ensure Jody’s voice felt right.
Do you think there are ethical aspects to consider when fictionalising a true event?
Certainly in fictionalising true events you would have to get signed agreement from the subject and ensure your facts are correct, but I didn’t fictionalise Jenny’s life through Stop the World as a true life biography – this is a fictionalised story, and like many stories there is always someone or something that inspires you to write it. Jenny was a British teenager with a loving family who supported her throughout her recovery. After eight months of rehab and with time to kill being stuck at home feeling trapped, she went back into an online chat room that she’d been on previously, and got talking to a guy on the other side of the world – and quite simply within weeks they fell in love, despite her disability, and went on to form a relationship and have a baby. Novels, though, do need cycles of conflict and resolution to work, and so I created a different kind of story about Pageant Queen, Jody Angel Taylor who lives in Cedarville, a remote desert town in the North-East corner of California. Her family life falls apart and her boyfriend runs off with her best friend, so it’s very different. You might ask why I chose the US as a location, but I wanted to set the story there simply because that’s where the ideals of beauty are paramount – school pageants and regional beauty contents are the norm. My protagonist is the spoilt only child of wealthy parents who lives and breathes social media, constantly uploading selfies and checking her thousands of followers. We all know someone like that, and I wanted to understand what happens when someone is enmeshed in that social media world and then has a crises. Do the thousands of friends they think they might have on social media really care or get in touch?
So, how has your journalistic background affected and impacted your fictional writing?
I focused on human interest stories writing for national newspapers and magazines – everything from a woman whose husband disappeared to someone who adopted a Roman orphan. They were emotional mini-biographies and I got to witness so many events where people found inner strength and overcame challenges. So that kind of writing really helped me to get inside a characters mind when writing fiction. The truth is crazy things happen in everyday life – painful events – betrayal, adversity, grief and murder – and we are fascinated to read about them because every human being feels pain. We can live vicariously through those characters, perhaps even empathise, and get another insight of life.
Do you believe that life is ultimately positive despite what it throws at us at times?
I do believe that life is what you make it and that you can’t help what happens to you but you can decide how to react to it. Stop the World is about so much more than a teenage girl who becomes disabled; it’s about showing how we can find inner strength, accept ourselves, and still love and be loved regardless of what we look like or what circumstances we are in.
Thank you so much Sherry. These are fascinating insights into how Stop the World came about.
About Sherry Mayes
Sherron, also known by her nickname, Sherry, has worked as a journalist for over twenty years. She has also written two self-help books, which were both published as paperbacks in January 2003 and 2004 by Hodder & Stoughton.
Her first YA novel, Stop the World was inspired by a true story.
Originally from Somerset, she currently lives in Berkshire, United Kingdom.