This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published The Insiders – a wise, heartwarming story of friendship and family from Cath Howe, the highly-acclaimed author of Ella on the Outside, Not My Fault, and How to be Me. And today we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Cath on the main themes in the book!
I’ve been doing some thinking about what made me want to write The Insiders. Here’s some thoughts on the big themes in the book.
School at night
I’m fascinated by places at night: how different they feel. There’s a word for this, kenopsia-a place which is normally full of people so you feel weird being in it when it’s deserted. Everything’s changed at night; distances are confusing and sounds are magnified. When I was writing The Insiders, I thought a lot about other places at night; stadiums, shopping centres and office blocks. I suppose you’re always asking the question, “Is anyone else here too?” Much of the book was written in lockdown so many places which would normally have been full of people were eerily empty.
A big theme for me is friendship. How do we support our friends? What would we do to help them if things got tricky? How does someone turn into a friend? My books test friendships; you don’t really know how strong a friendship is until you test it. And then there’s family- what happens when you keep something secret from your family to protect a friend? I love to create plots that give the characters key choices and then show to results of the choices they make.
I like stories where the reader is the one who knows the most about what’s going on. The Insiders is a thriller; there are moments of Oh no don’t do that and then sometimes the viewpoint switches so the fate of a character is left hanging and you keep wondering about it. That’s one of the things that keeps you reading.
People are icebergs
Callie says, right at the start, that we think we know people but they are really icebergs with loads going on under the surface. I do think it’s true that we only ever know a small amount about a person and, as a result, we can easily jump to all the wrong conclusions. By having three narrators, the book lets you see deeper into the lives of the children and the mistakes they have made and go on making about each other.
Bullying takes many forms. It affects a wider group than just a bully or victim. There’s a trickle- down effect from bullying which affects the whole community. This story begins with a practical joke on Ted but it also contains: cruelty in the way that Billy has been bullied, the power of the group in the way that people tease Ted, Ted’s revenge on Billy and a teacher who is harsh with his class. There are also inspiring moments of kindness and friendship. These are a balance to bullying and we see them everywhere in schools.
Schools should be places where we feel safe and happy. The Insiders was based on one actual school where I’ve done a lot of teaching over the years. I used the layout of the school and details of the library, hall and playground to help my descriptions and scenes feel real. There are gardens backing onto this school playground too. I’ve often thought about the children in the houses looking out onto the deserted playground at night-time and in the holidays and hearing the place come to life each day as it fills with people. And it’s definitely true, in my experience, that the children who live nearest to school are the most often late.
Read the first few chapters below: