Jandy Nelson: ‘I found both my individuality and humanity in books’

Published on: 27 November 2015

Bestselling author Jandy Nelson talks to us about art, self-acceptance, and how she wrote her award-winning novel I'll Give You the Sun in a pitch-black room.

Jandy Nelson's debut novel The Sky is Everywhere was long-listed for the Carnegie award and published in over 22 languages.

Her newest YA novel, I'll Give You the Sun, is a New York Times bestseller. It is a radiant and lyrical novel about love, family, art, and finding yourself.

It tells the story of Jude and her twin Noah, who are incredibly close - until a tragedy drives them apart.

What the twins don't realise is that each of them has only half the story. If they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

Jandy Nelson & I'll Give you the Sun

What sparks the ideas for your books?

The characters come first. With I'll Give You the Sun, the main characters Noah and Jude arrived fully formed. They crashed through the ceiling of my mind.

For me, the characters seem to carry pieces of their story with them. And then I start thinking about them, and they start connecting, and it goes from there.

I had an idea, with I'll Give You the Sun, that each character was trapped in stone. Like the stone that Guillermo and Jude carve in the book, they were trapped in a prison of their own making - whether it was fear, or guilt, or grief, or societal expectations or parental expectations, or a million things. I felt like that with every single character.

Art, music and poetry feature heavily in both of your books. Why is that important to you?

I love art - and for a lot of the teens that I meet, art figures heavily in their lives. In my books, there is this idea of finding yourself as an artist. I think when teenagers are searching for identity, art can be this great vehicle for them to find themselves. I think that is part of it.

Art and reading were so important to me growing up. I feel like I found both my individuality and humanity in books.

It is funny with theme stuff, you don't realize till after, I didn't go in consciously thinking I want to write about self-acceptance, but I seem to keep writing about it. And in both of my books, art helps the characters find self-acceptance.

The settings in the books are so vivid, almost like characters themselves. Are the places in the books inspired by real places?

Thank you; I want the landscape and setting to be one of the characters. I take places in California - I really love California - that are in my mind. Then I give them a shot of lightning to make them more exponentially themselves. It is all taken to a magical realism kind of level.

What is your writing process like?

With The Sky is Everywhere, I wrote like a normal writer at a desk. But my writing process for I'll Give You the Sun was totally different.

I feel like I got closer to these characters and more inside the story because of working that way.

This book took three-and-a-half years. I realised about six months into the process, when I was writing it back and forth between the two voices, Noah and Jude, that it wasn't working. The only way to make sure their voices didn't blend, and to make sure each story had its own propulsion, was to write them separate.

So I wrote Noah's story start to finish, then Jude's story, and I locked the other twins' story when I worked - and that took about two years. I then spent a year interweaving the two stories.

Did you know how it was going to end?

I definitely explore when I write, I don't know everything that is going to happen. I know certain plot points - like what will happen in the middle or in the end. But I don't know how I'm going to get there.

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