Sunday, 21 April 2019

#BlogTour As Far As the Stars by Virginia Macgregor


It's an absolute pleasure to take part in the BlogTour As Far As The Stars by Virginia Macgregor. It's a YA contemporary read, but also one for all ages.


About the Author
Virginia Macgregor: 'I was brought up in Germany, France and England by a mother who never stopped telling stories.  From the moment I was old enough to hold a pen, I set about writing my own, often late into the night – or behind my Maths textbook at school.  My maiden name is Virginia Woods: I was named after two great women, Virginia Wade and Virginia Woolf, in the hope I would be a writer and a tennis star. My early years were those of a scribbling, rain-loving child who prayed for lightning to strike my tennis coach.

After studying at Oxford, I started writing regularly whilst working as an English Teacher and Housemistress.  I taught in three major UK boarding schools for ten years until I met my husband who, as I like to say, ‘loved me into being a writer.’ He persuaded me to take year out to write full time. By the end of that year I had a publishing deal for my first novel, What Milo Saw, with Sphere of Little, Brown and two years later I landed a deal with HarperCollins for my first YA novel, Wishbones. I now write full time.

To date, I have published five novels: What Milo Saw, The Return of Norah Wells, Before I Was Yours, You Found Me and Wishbones. In 2019 I will be publishing my second YA novel, As Far As The Stars and my fifth novel for adults: The Children’s Secret: these last two novels are my first set in the US, which is where I now live with my husband and my children.'

Follow @virginiawrites @HQStories @Harper360 on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook,
Visit virginiamacgregor.com
Buy As Far as The Stars


About the book
How do you change what’s already written in the stars?

Christopher is the sort of guy that no one notices, yet when Air catches sight of him making intricate paper birds in the airport, she can’t look away.

But their worlds are about to collide in ways they never expected. Someone they love is on Flight 0217 from London Heathrow. And it’s missing.

Convinced that her brother was on a different flight, Air drives them hundreds of miles across the country, on a trip that will change their lives forever.

But how do you tell the person you’re falling for that you might just be the reason their life has fallen apart?


Q&A
Before we get down to business (i.e. talking about your book) I would like to ask a set of questions I call 'Breaking the Ice.'

The last book you read? (Inquisitive bookworms would like to know)
I’m currently reading All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It was recommended to me by a reader who read What Milo Saw, my first novel, as it has some themes in common: a child narrator in an adult book and the amazing resources of a child who is, or is going blind. It’s one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time: hugely moving, so intricate and a timely reminder of the atrocities that can come from extremism. It rightly won the Pulitzer prize. I’m going to press it into the hands of any friends who haven’t yet read it. 

The last movie you watched, which you felt left a mark (in your heart, soul, wallet...you name it)?  I recently watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. My husband is a big Martin McDonagh fan and I watched it more for him than for me – I thought it would be another one of those clever dark comedies that wouldn’t sit quite right with me. But I was proved wrong. The unrelenting love of a mother for her daughter and her longing to get justice for her, was beautifully and painfully rendered by Frances McDormand.

Writers or books who have inspired you to put pen to paper?
So, so many book and writers have inspired me. Writers range from Barbara Kingsolver, Jon McGregor, Anne Tyler, Carol Shields to Shakespeare and Michael Ondaatje and Roald Dahl. From when, as a child, I worked out that there were writers behind the stories I loved and that writing stories was their job, there was no going back: I decided that that was what I wanted to do. 

Which famous person (dead, alive, barely kicking) would you most like to meet?
Leondardo Di Vinci: I’m totally in awe of how he managed to fuse art and science and how he understood the world long before his time. A total genius.

A famous declutterer a la Marie Kondo has decided to help you organise your home - you have to get rid of all but three of your books (the ones you have written yourself are exempt) which three would you pick and why?
Well, first, I’d never let her do that! She can have my clothes and my kids’ toys and all the funny shaped cake tins I’ve only used once but she’s keeping her hands off my books! But if I had to give you an answer, I’d pick the following (and every day I’d give you a different answer): 
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. This book taught me about how powerful writing from multiple viewpoints can be – the story is told through the voice of five women, a mother and her four children. It’s a novel that has it all. Amazing characterisation. An epic storyline. An extraordinary sense of place. Universal themes that will be as relevant tomorrow as they were when they were written. And a book that makes you really feel deeply. I cried buckets when reading this novel.

The Selected Poetry of Mary Oliver. Poetry has that magical quality of revealing new truths every time its read and Mary Oliver’s poetry is just so beautiful – she makes us look at the natural world more closely and gives us so much joy and hope through her beautiful language. She also lived and wrote about New England, which is now where I live.
The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson – my favourite children’s book of all time: about as perfect a story as a gets. Courage. Love. Adventure. Friendship. Kindness.

All of the above questions are actually a pretty elaborate pysch evaluation disguised as random questions. Have no fear here come the real ones. Let’s talk about As Far As The Stars.

Let me just take this opportunity to tell you how much I enjoyed your book.

Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for this story?
I’ve always wanted to write a story of first love (I’m a hopeless romantic), so it’s been brewing for a while. But I didn’t want it to be a saccharine or clich├ęd. So, I waited until I had an idea that would make that first love come to life in an original way. I then became fascinated by how strangers are thrown together in the aftermath of a tragedy: how they go from not knowing each other at all to, sometimes, sharing the most intimate experience of their lives. When the Malaysian airliner went missing in 2014, I wondered how the friends and relatives of the crew and passengers would feel, not knowing what had happened to their loved ones or where they were and having to come to terms with the fact that they might never see them again or recover their bodies. There is also something a bit mysterious about how a big lump of metal can just vanish like that without a trace. All these ideas came together and formed the starting point for As Far As The Stars. 

There are quite a few important storylines in As Far As the Stars. The guilt Air feels, the relationships between the siblings, the relationship between Air and Christopher and the grief they both feel. Which one is the most important to you?
For me, all the strands work together but if I had to choose one it would, of course, be the relationship between Air and Christopher: meeting each other changes their lives forever. I loved writing about how these two young people fall in love – and grow and change as their relationship deepens.

Leading on from that, what would you like readers to take away from this story?
To be open to the strangers whose lives collide with yours – how those people might just become the most important people in your life. And how, even in the darkest moments, when you experience a loss from which you think you will never recover, there is hope.

Air takes Christopher on an odd sort of nostalgic road trip. Is it because she wants to find Blake at these special locations or feel him there, or perhaps both?
Air is in denial about what’s happened to Blake. She is forever convincing herself that he’s going to be okay – so much so that the reader keeps hoping too. But deep down, I think she does know and that visiting these places and showing them to Christopher is her way of clinging onto Blake and trying to keep him alive. 

You disentangle the hierarchy and complex relationships between Blake, Jude and Air.  Why is that so important in this story?
I love that you picked this up! The novelist, Anne Tyler, once said that the most interesting character question, for her, is birth order. In February I gave birth to my third child: a little brother to my two older girls. I wrote much of As Far As The Stars when I was pregnant with him and, as I sat there writing and growing my baby boy, I gave lots of thought to how children are affected by where they fall in the family and how my three would be affected by each other. I think I was trying to work out the psychology of my kids through my characters!

Grief plays a pivotal role throughout the story. It’s different for each character and their reactions fuel the story.  You weave emotions of attraction, shock, pain and grief to drive the characters and the story. Was this the way you envisaged it or did the story evolve that way?
Psychologists often write about the stages of grief that people go through when they experience a great loss. When researching this I realised that people don’t always go through those stages in the same order or at the same time: that grief is messy and complicated and full of contradictions. That there are moments of joy and humour and love even in the darkest times. How we can take one step forward and then spiral back again. And how the most important element to finding some kind of healing is connection to others.

Thank you answering all of my questions, even the odd ones.
Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure – your questions were so thoughtful.

Review
Sometimes there are books that can create an emotional bridge between the reader and the story. It's not the same as being completely enamoured by characters, a plot or experiencing empathy and a rush of emotions for certain elements of a story. It's the kind of bridge that connects words and heart.

The story is about two young people who become connected forever when a plane goes missing with their loved ones on board. Air thinks there has been a mix-up and Christopher isn't willing to speak about his own truth just yet.

Air takes Christopher on a road trip of sorts. In a way she is revisiting places she has been with her brother in the hope he will either be there waiting or hoping she will be able to feel him while she is there. Air keeps that sliver of hope alive for herself and for the readers. Perhaps it isn't beyond the realms of all possibilities that Blake could pop up somewhere along the route - he definitely got on a different plane, right?

I'm not sure if I can capture exactly why this story evoked such a visceral reaction in me, perhaps because I can understand the need to hold on to hope, even when the truth is that all hope is lost. It's a curious part of human nature, the part of us which needs unequivocal proof before accepting certain things. This is especially the case when it comes to death. It's often not enough to hear or read the words, sometimes we need to see and feel for it to be accepted as real.

Macgregor shows the similarities between two young people dealing with grief and the differences between the two of them. The result is a canvas bag full of emotional turmoil waiting to implode as they navigate the depths of their loss, and also as the reader waits for the external explosion. The finality of acknowledgement as it pours over the characters like a heavy spring rain shower.

This is a contemporary read, and although it comes under the genre of YA it is a read for all ages, because it is something everyone can relate to in some way, eventually. I loved the subtlety and softness of the approach to the topic of grief.

Buy As Far as The Stars at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer. Publisher: HQ Young Adult; pub date 18 April 2019. Buy at Amazon com.


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