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March Book Club Choice

First Fruits by Penelope Evans

Cover of First Fruits

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Kate Carr is the luckiest girl in the world. Everyone at school envies her because her father is such a charmer, the most mesmerising minister in Edinburgh. She is his first fruit, his only child, his offering. He is training her up in his image, to have "it" - his special power, the ability to manipulate people. And Kate, an impressionable adolescent, practices the skills he taught her on her equally impressionable friends. But haunted by the loss of her mother and a murky past, Kate's begins to see things in a different light... but how can she change her ways and discover the truth whilst under the scrutiny of her father?
Both a psychological thriller and mystery, this is a dark and gripping read about parental love and control, adolescence and the power of manipulation.

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Author Q&A

Q. How dificult was it, as an adult, to write from the point of view of a teenager? Were you worried about it ringing true?
Pat Durne, Bournemouth

A. For some reason I didn’t find it difficult to write as a teenager. I seemed to have kept quite firm memories of being 14 and 15 years old – there are certainly some pretty strong emotions attached. Maybe I felt there’s unfinished business there, part of me that never properly grew up, because I seemed to step back to that time with almost alarming ease. I don’t know if I would be so confident writing the same book now, though. My children, who were very young when I first wrote it, are now teenagers themselves and maybe I wouldn’t dare try to describe what is now their world. On the whole though, I do feel that book is a fair reflection of how it felt to be a particular kind of teenage girl at a particular time in Britain.

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Q. Did you draw on past experiences as a teenager yourself?
Karen Kirk, London

A. I absolutely did! If you want an almost perfect picture of Penny Evans at fifteen just look at Lydia in the book. That was me, right down to the brace and glasses and the overwrought excitement about absolutely everything. My family moved from Wales to Aberdeen, and I felt as if I had landed in a different country. I coped a lot better than Lydia did, but like her, I would have followed like a lamb anyone who was kind to me and didn’t laugh at my accent. I also drew heavily on the landscape and weather of Aberdeenshire which can seem very harsh and compelling to a soft Southerner. And then of course, there were all those lunchtimes spent in steamy coffee bars trying to impress boys who were only interested in my best friend...

Q. The book made me think about the "roles" people adopt in life, and the roles one falls into when interacting with different friends, and how sometimes we never grow out of them. Is this something you thought about a lot when writing the novel?
R Astor, Gloucester

A. We all play different roles with different people, right the way through our lives. I am different with my mother than when I’m with my children. I do it out of habit and preference, and to keep everybody sweet. But Kate is someone who has to play a role just to survive. Every day she has to pretend that she is Keith Carr’s good girl, special in the same way he is, special because she is his daughter. If she stopped pretending, even to herself, her world would crumble in violence around her. The book is really all about how she finds the courage and the self-awareness to stop the pretending, and see the world as it is. This is what I had in mind when I wrote the story in her own words. She is the ultimate unreliable narrator, describing her life as she thinks she ought to see it, but all the time, suspecting the truth is something quite different.

Q. Do you feel you have to like or sympathise with your main character (in this case Katie) when you write a novel?
M Peters, Chichester

A. I think I do have to like them. Maybe ‘like’ isn’t always the right word. What has to be true is that I need to see the world as my character sees it so that I can describe it to the reader and make it real. In Kate’s case it’s easy to like her – love her actually – because I know exactly why she does the (sometimes quite awful) things she admits to doing. She’s a child manipulated and governed by a man who would break anyone with less courage and spirit than she owns. She manipulates others in turn, but is still able to be touched by a kindness. She’s brave and clever and sometimes cruel. But most of all - to my mind - she’s the ultimate victory of Good overcoming Bad, all the more unlikely because at the beginning she doesn’t even know the difference between the two.

Q. I've just bought one of your other books, 'My Perfect Silence', which deals with the relationship between two siblings. Are the dynamics of family relationships something that interests you the most?
Sarah Gibbs, Essex

A. Yes, they probably do. Families form our first ever relationships, making them the blueprint for all relationships to come. We fall in love with people for reasons we don’t understand, we have insecurities and prejudices that we would love to disown. We bring up our children with preset ideas that we find we either need to adopt or jettison. All of these things happen – I believe – because of the nature of the people who first impressed us, who left their mark when we were most impressionable. Usually it’s all done in the name of love, and the love itself is the most enduring thing. But those relationships will keep playing themselves out in various ways long after parents have died and siblings gone to separate corners of the earth. And if those relationships are complicated or distorted – or even wonderful – they’ll make for more stories than there’s ever time to write.

Q. Where do you write your novels?
Corrie Layton, Staffordshire

A. I write them wherever there’s a source of heat! That can mean sitting at my kitchen table or if that’s busy, in my study where sadly it’s icy cold. I do need to be completely alone though. I always do, even if I’m just writing a letter. I’m just so distractible, and I can’t write about fictional people if there are real people round. But the best place for getting the actual ideas and having imaginary conversations between characters is always the bath.


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