EH: One of the things I really loved about The Secret Place and one of the things I don’t see in adult fiction is how seriously it takes the inner lives and the friendships and the relationships among teenage girls. Is that something that you thought needed more representation? And how did you tap into that mindset?
TF: I think teenagers’ lives are really important. You’re dealing with who you are, what you consider important, you’re floundering through all the things that are thrown at you to try to find out your identity, your priorities, what’s the bedrock on which you’re going to build your life. And that’s going to have implications for the whole rest of your life, and I think that does deserve to be taken really, really seriously.
Also the friendships you make as a teenager – and I think this definitely comes out in the book – these friendships last for life and they define who you are. I still have friends from when I was a teenager who, even if I haven’t talked to them in years, we instantly click back to being friends. Because these people know you at your most messed up and confused and silly and ridiculous, and they love you with all that, and there’s nothing that can really change that. No matter who you grow up into, that foundation remains the same, and that’s hugely important.
There’s a scene in The Secret Place where Holly’s mother comes back from having met up with one of her old friends who she’s been out of touch with for decades, and is dizzied by it. She’s completely lightheaded and spinning with the way this friendship is still in place. And the person she was then is still in place after all these years, and it’s impossible to overstate the importance of that, and of those friendships that are in the process of being made when you’re a teenager and that will make you who you are. You find out who you are through these friendships. So yeah, I think that deserves to be taken really, really seriously.
Getting into the mindset was partly just remembering what it was like being a teenager. The bit that’s hardest, that does slip through your fingers – even though at the time you swear it won’t – is the intensity of it, the fever pitch that everything runs at. Everything matters. Everything is either the end of the world, or the transformation of the world, everything just matters so much. That can be hard to remember, because you’re in your thirties, you can’t live at that pitch any more, and it’s hard to remember that you used to live at it all the time.
The other thing that took a bit of work was the slang, because it’s changed in the last twenty years – nobody’s talking the way we used to. So I spent a fair amount of time lurking on websites that are meant for Irish teenagers, or on Facebook accounts, or hanging out at bus stops as school was letting out, dodgily edging nearer to groups of teenage girls. I’m sure I looked like a total weirdo, but this is the thing – I doubt any of them ever noticed I was there. Because when you’re fifteen, a thirty-something-year-old woman doesn’t even exist. You’re not even on their radar – their own world is all that matters. I have kids, so if you’re pushing a buggy you’re just in a different universe, you’re just an obstacle on the footpath.