Writing / Snakes and Ladders
Snakes and Ladders is a teenage novel. It won the 2013 young adult category of the Children’s Choice award at the NZ Post Book Awards. It was also short listed for the 2013 LIANZA awards.
It is the story of a boy, Finn Fletcher who lives with his mother in a small coastal town in New Zealand. His druggie father, a session drummer, who lives nearby, is involved in a hit and run one evening when he’s out working.
Finn’s mother, with the help of her own parents, arranges for Finn to finish his schooling at an exclusive boarding school in Auckland, to escape the fallout of his father’s trial.
At the new school, Finn tries to fit in with a group of boys who have been friends most of their lives. He is determined that his home life and his father’s sordid situation remain a secret. Everyone knows it’s a tough ask to keep things hidden and there is one particular boy who is onto him and begins to make Finn’s life a misery.
A condition of Finn’s entry into the school is his participation in the symphonic band and that is where he meets Mia, a rich flashy Italian girl. Mia represents to Finn the new life he has embraced in Auckland and when she invites him to be her partner at her school ball he is eager to say yes, no matter what the cost.
The cost of the ball is huge, not only in financial terms but also on his life and the lives of his friends. A tragedy at the after-ball is the tipping point for his pile of cover-ups and lies to come tumbling down.
I began writing Snakes and Ladders back in about 2006-7. I have four sons and, at that stage, the eldest was living in London, the second one was at Otago University and the younger two were still at school. I had weathered many parenting storms by then, but I knew I was still far from the safety of a ‘job-done’ port.
I read a quote: ‘I write because I am afraid to say things out loud’ and this resonated with my feelings as I began to write Snakes and Ladders.
Parents of teenagers always know they are just a phone call away from disaster, but back in those early days of my novel, it seemed as if we parents were running after our teenagers, trying to mop up the messes, instead of anticipating the disasters and averting them.
My sons were risk takers, competitive and keen to try everything. I was constantly nervous about the chances of getting all four boys through to manhood without serious injury, addiction or jail time and so I wrote some of my worst fears onto my fictional boy, Finn. In particular, I remember writing the scene in Snakes and Ladders when Mia invites Finn to partner her to the ball. I shook my head in despair, as school balls in New Zealand were at their peak of disorder back then. The timeless grace of the traditional ball had collided with new technologies for instant communication. Added to this mix were the slack rules regarding alcohol at that time and the over-the-top focus on the after-ball as the main event. A simple ball invite became a ticking bomb. I worried about Finn as if he were a real son.
And then life imitated art.
There were several high profile and distressing school ball disasters in New Zealand in 2010 and 2011. Snakes and Ladders was due to come out in 2012 and suddenly the story seemed more relevant and scarily less appropriate.
Changes were made to the way school balls were run and handled, and even though the liquor laws had been tightened there was still a significant problem with the way our NZ youth were drinking.
The book was released in May of 2012 and nominated for the awards the following year.
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