Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. In this post, Sharon Creech considers her inspirations for her latest middle-grade novel, The Great Unexpected (Harper 2012), described in School Library Journal as “part realistic fiction, part mystery, and part ghost story.” Enjoy!
“The Great Unexpected”
by Sharon Creech
Photo by L. Rigg
After I’ve completed a book and tied together a zillion different strands, I’ve pretty much lost my mind. When people ask, “What’s it about?” or “Where’d you get the idea?” I feel almost incapable of providing answers.
Writing a novel is such a long and twisty journey. How can I possibly unravel it?
I try, though. I say, “This is the story of how the unexpected can sometimes be great.”
Doesn’t tell you a whole lot, admittedly.
I’ll pull at a few strands and see what comes out:
For nearly 20 years I lived in a small village in Surrey, England, and every day I walked our dog along the winding lanes. Most of the tidy cottages were fronted by small gardens teeming with roses and flowers of all kinds and bore quaint names like Walnut Tree Cottage or The Jolly Gardener.
One place, however, stood out because it was overgrown with weeds and thorny bushes and wild roses creeping up the walls. Black birds cawed from the twisted trees. The name of this small, spooky place was Rooks Orchard. I knew I’d write a story about it some day.
The original Rooks Orchard in Surrey, England
Then, many years later, I wondered this: What if Rooks Orchard turned out to be something great, something unexpected?
Another thread of the story comes from thinking about how important story and imagination are, and how children’s imaginations are beautifully wild and free. Characters can be as vivid as ‘real’ people. People we knew long ago co-exist in our minds with those we know now. Places we once lived or visited or have seen on film or in books merge with places in the present.
Crazy grandkids with wild imaginations.
I thought: They all make up who we are now and shape what we see and hear and feel. I wondered: What if I could show that in a story?
There were many more thoughts and ideas to be woven in the making of The Great Unexpected, but one last one I’ll mention here: I’ve long been fascinated with coincidences and with connections between us all—connections that we may or may not discover.
I thought, Those connections can be so great and unexpected. What if they were all part of a plan all along?
And so, out of those and many more wonderings and what ifs, came The Great Unexpected.
As one of the characters says, “Lar-de-dar!”
– An original article by Sharon Creech
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Sharon Creech. All images courtesy of Sharon Creech.
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