Edinburgh Book Festival #edinbookfest Sarah Crossan and Abbie Rushton


Thrilled to have the opportunity to attend another talk at The Edinburgh Book Festival, this time it’s Finding The Way with authors Sarah Crossan  and Abbie Rushton,  chaired by Philippa Cochrane, head of Reader Development, Scottish Book Trust.

Philippa began the talk by introducing the authors and sharing some background information with the audience.

Sarah Crossan, is an award-winning author with five books to her name, Breathe, ResistThe Weight of Water, Apple and Rain, and One.

Abbie Rushton is a debut novelist, her book Unspeakable  is one of the amazing books you can nominate via the First Book Award.

Vote via their website: www.edbookfest.co.uk.

Voting open until 16th October so get voting!

Sarah Crossan’s new book in verse is out on August 27th, it is simply entitled One, and is set in New Jersey where Sarah lived. One is about conjoined twins, Grace and Tippi.


Sarah read an extract from One, which starts with the first verse, Sisters, and then she read from the next verse, The End of Summer.

Abbie shared next from Unspeakable, a gay love story about a mute girl. She read a section about a dog struggling to free itself from muddy water.

These two books are different in many ways but do share things in common.

Abbie Rushton wanted to write a novel that suggested a young girl’s fear of who she is and to really get this across effectively she decided to write from a mute girl’s perspective. The idea developed from Abbie’s own teenage years which had been difficult, she had repressed her feelings, been quite introverted and had always found writing easier than talking.  Ah, Abbie this sounds familiar I find it so much easier to express myself in written words rather than to talk….

Sarah came up with the idea for One after watching a documentary about conjoined twins Abigail and Brittany Hensel. Fascinated, she set about researching the topic for her book. She found that the internet was not a particularly fruitful source of information so she continued her research in the British Library. Thereafter she tried to contact a conjoined twins specialist, Ed Kiely at Ormond Street Hospital but he was difficult to talk to. So she turned to Andrew Taylor a heart specialist at Great Ormond Street who managed to get her a meeting with Ed Kiley.

Conjoined twins is obviously a difficult subject to investigate as it is shrouded in a degree of secrecy. It is difficult to intrude on this private world, with this in mind Sarah Crossan tried to be as sensitive and thoughtful as possible.

Abbie Rushton mentioned that she loathes research, so obviously this type of in-depth research would not be for her. Sarah’s research amplified what she already knew about conjoined twins, most die, therefore it is undoubtedly an extremely sad subject matter.

On a lighter note Phillipa Cochrane celebrated the strong teen voices in both of these books, and wondered what pot of writing gold these two authors draw from.

Abbie Rushton doesn’t have much contact with teenagers, but it helps that she is a teenager at heart, and her memories and experiences serve as a base for her writing. Yes, I can relate to this….

Sarah Crossan was a school teacher for ten years. Ah, now we know why she likes to engage in research so much. That explains a lot! So she’s used to the ways of teenagers, but her daughter is only three and has a way to go to get to those teenage years, hurry up my dear…. Give her a chance she’s only little!

Then Philippa passed the questioning hat over to the audience, an audience member wanted to know about the author’s reading habits.

Abbie Rushton devours teen fiction. Sarah Crossan reads teen books, of course she does, but she avoids them when she is writing. Yes, writing for teens without reading teen books is most definitely a big No, No.

Then Phillipa steered the conversation on to the topic of believable parents, or more realistically deeply flawed parents, which are a feature of both authors’ writing style in these books.

Sarah Crossan said her mum was a bit put out, she wondered where did this flawed mother come from? But to a degree it sounds as if Sarah did draw from her own experiences,  her dad left and her mum couldn’t clean. This made me laugh. Her mum couldn’t clean and this is a flaw? She sounds okay to me…..  Yes, being a parent is hard.

Abbie Rushton said that Megan’s mum is not like her mum. She wanted to write a character that was isolated from friends. She enjoys writing complex characters and this applies to her subsidiary characters too. Sounds fascinating, really looking forward to reading Unspeakable, Abbie.

Philippa Cochrane was quick to point out that often roles get reversed, adults start to begin to behave like teenagers and teenagers act that parents. I have heard a few examples of this myself recently particularly with older teenagers, when maybe mum goes out for a drink with her friends, and forgets to tell her daughter, and teenage daughter gets worried…… Oh, yes role reversal is on the increase….

Philippa steered the conversation in the direction of developing friendships.

Abbie Rushton’s main character Megan develops a friendship with Jasmine, a bubbling, effervescent  character that is based on a friend of Abbie’s.

One of Sarah Crossan’s secondary characters,  Yasmeen is HIV positive, “this is incidental in some ways,” but she quickly added that she didn’t want this to sound disrespectful to HIV sufferers. She wanted a character who would be “other” who would come together with Tippi and Grace.

An audience member asked if Sarah had always wanted to write in verse?

Sarah found that she couldn’t get this particular novel to sound right in prose, she  tried very hard by the sound of it (she had written a substantial amount of the manuscript in prose,) but it just didn’t work, so she experimented by writing in verse and it worked. Initially she thought due to the technical nature of the story, the scientific aspects, it would have to be in prose but she soon found this was not the case. Sarah is passionate about wanting to share poetry for a younger audience and says there is not much in the way of poetry for teens in the UK. You’ve convinced me Sarah, I can’t wait to read One, I love poetry, and I think this will be an amazing read.

Then Philippa asked when did each of these writers start to feel comfortable calling themselves a writer?

Abbie says she’s now able to call herself a writer. She has been and still is an editor, but when she saw the cover she felt that was the moment. A writer moment. She adored it. Yes, I agree it’s a great cover. I love a beautiful cover Abbie, so exciting!


Sarah started to feel comfortable in her shoes as a writer when she did her masters in writing. Very modest, Sarah.

The next audience question stole Philippa’s next line of chit-chat from the tip of her tongue, of course it was the inevitable would you have muffins for hands or squirrels for feet? This seems to be going the rounds of the YA events in the festival this year. Both opted for the more practical and fast-moving squirrels.

Philippa’s next question was about desert island provisions, no, not food, why not, I ask my greedy tummy rumbling, oh I suppose there would be ample fish to eat….

Each author was asked to take three differing choices with them.

Here’s Sarah Crossan  choices:

Book:  Jeannette Winterson’s The Passion. Great choice.

Series choice: Breaking Bad. Yes, you wouldn’t get bored, that’s for sure.

One person – this was a bit cruel would you take your husband, child or someone else entirely? I think Sarah was tempted by someone else but opted for her daughter! Oops, I think her hubby might be giving her the cold shoulder.

Here’s Abbie Rushton choices:

Album choice was London Grammar. Never heard of them, but will be investigating this band.

Her one luxury item: Porridge. Is she keeping in with the Scots, or does she really like porridge? Porridge a luxury item….. the mind boggles.

Her one website: A website with lots of books. Fair enough, I’d go with that too.

As an editor Abbie gets to see the publishing process from both sides, this must be oh so handy. Consequently Abbie is sympathetic to editors pushing her to fulfil deadlines.

An audience member asked Sarah why she didn’t write Out from Tippy’s point of view. Sarah felt that it was Grace’s story. Fair point, Sarah, looking forward to reading Grace’s story.

Then an audience member asked a question that prompted a discussion on teens moderating what they read.

Abbie suggested that teens are mature enough to make the decision whether they should put down books that they don’t feel ready for. Sarah agreed, she said that teens are self censuring, and also she added that she didn’t think it was genuine to paint life like a bed of roses. Yes, on the whole I would say that this is true, but it is interesting how shocking topics seem to capture attention and possibly tend to be more marketable. So, maybe this should be a consideration when writers write, though ultimately you have to write what moves you and what is in your heart.

Philippa agreed with Abbie and Sarah about teens moderating what they read and added that YA deals with these more challenging topics more sensitively than a lot of adult books do.

It was a wonderfully interesting talk. I am so glad I had the opportunity to go along to discover Sarah Crossan who I haven’t read before, shame on me,  and a new debut novelist who sounds as if she has considerable promise.  Looking forward to reading both of these books very, very much.

Thanks for stopping by, hope you enjoyed my write up of the talk. Will be doing some more Edinburgh Festival posts so keep an eye out for them.

Bye for now!


Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx






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2 thoughts on “Edinburgh Book Festival #edinbookfest Sarah Crossan and Abbie Rushton

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  1. What a varied and in depth talk with two interesting writers. You’ve done a great job writing up the discussion, summarising not only the books, style of writing and current topics such as teen fiction but captured the the lively and love for writing these women possess. Fascinating to follow the journey of their books. Well done and it must have been brilliant to be there – I almost feel I was!

    1. Ah, thank you so much Annika I’m so glad that my write up kind of gave you the feeling that you were there. Yes it was brilliant, I enjoyed it so much, I love being in Edinburgh particularly at the time of the Festivals, for me Edinburgh truly comes alive then. 🙂

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