Margot McGovern Interview:
Questions asked by Poppy Nwosu.
Your debut novel, Neverland, was released in 2018, and is a dark and searing exploration of make-believe, repressed memory and tragedy. It is also a very beautiful book, almost bordering on magical realism, and one of my absolute favourite aspects is the way your protagonist, Kit, uses fantastic stories to deal with the world around her, which seemed so heartbreaking but understandable.
As a reader, I love it when authors pay homage to the stories that inform their work. It helps me understand where the author is coming from and adds another layer to the story. It also provides suggestions for further reading, which is always welcome. But, yes, as a writer, it’s tricky to include literary references in a way that doesn’t alienate readers or pull focus from your story.
The references in Neverland come from books and poems that hold significance for my protagonist and narrator, Kit. She’s spent most of her life on a small island and the books in her family’s library have been key in shaping her worldview, so she draws on these stories as she figures out how to tell her own.
That’s a great question. I was confident about the content—I firmly believe that anything teens deal with in real life has a place in YA—but figuring out an appropriate way to contextualise the more confronting themes was challenging. The story deals with suicide and self-harm and there are characters who behave in destructive ways. I wanted to underscore the seriousness of these themes and create empathy for the characters without romanticising their behaviour. I worked closely with my editors to balance the fairytale elements with more explicit moments and to develop Kit’s internal monologue to make it clear why she acts the way she does. The book has some dark moments, but the story is ultimately about hope.
I think studying creative writing is useful but not essential to being an author. Books ultimately make the best writing teachers. But my studies helped me become a better, more critical reader and in doing so accelerated my development as a writer. My studies also forced me to dedicate serious time to my writing and helped me develop a more disciplined approach to my work. University is also where I formed important friendships with fellow emerging writers—writing is a strange and solitary profession and that support is vital. But a degree doesn’t necessarily increase your chances of publication and, in my experience, agents and publishers are interested in the work you produce, not your qualifications.
Having a book published is a fantastic thing to have happen. I cried many happy tears when I held my first finished copy of Neverland, and it’s an incredible feeling to know that it’s finding its way to readers. But it’s also not the magical ‘solve-all’ it’s sometimes touted to be, and when the excitement around the launch dies down, there’s a new blank page waiting and you need to get back to work.
For me, working through the editing process for Neverland with my publisher Zoe Walton and editor Mary Verney was the real prize of landing a publishing deal. My writing took a huge leap forward in a very short period, and that’s helping the process with my current manuscript—I can better imagine it through their eyes and find the weak spots that need work.
I don’t know that having Neverland published has altered my goals; I’m still focused on writing the stories I want to tell and feel are important. But there is a different kind of pressure on the next manuscript. I want to show that I still have more to offer as a writer, and that I didn’t play all my cards with Neverland.
Keep reading, have faith in your work and cull the adjectives.
I’m working on a YA fantasy, but I’m also a full-time mum, so progress is largely dependent on my tiny human learning to sleep. It may be some time.
Thank you so much for your time, Margot! It was so lovely to hear your interesting answers!
Check out the other YA author interviews in this series if you'd like to:
Thanks so much for reading!
I'd love to know what books you've read or stories you've consumed that have really moved you or had a big impact on your life?
Tell me everything :)