When life deals us a rough hand, sometimes all we want is a guardian angel. Someone to look out for us, to check in, to make sure we’re alright. Sometimes just the thought of that is good enough, to know someone cares enough to want to help and not run away.
This is what S. J. Morgan explores in her young adult novel, Heaven Sent. In this beautifully crafted, emotional novel, Morgan has given readers a story that lets us feel hope for the future, reminds us to love yourself exactly the way you are and shows that you don’t need anyone else to save you.
Heaven Sent is Morgan’s debut young adult novel, however she has been writing stories for many years and has won prizes for short fiction. She was also awarded a mentorship from the Australian Society of Authors for her children’s writing.
In an exclusive interview, Morgan opened up about her writing and all things Heaven Sent.
Q: How did you come up with the story for Heaven Sent?
SJM: Well, I think most writers fall into the category of pansters or plotters – they either make up a story as they go along or they have a definite plan. I’m very much in the first category: I write by the seat of my pants 😊. I’d love to tell you that I had the story and characters all carefully mapped out before I put pen to paper, but I only had the opening scene. I knew these two characters would have an unusual relationship and I knew that Gabe was going to be elusive and hard to fathom. Beyond that, though, I didn’t know how the story was going to run. For me, that’s half the fun. I enjoy having the story unfold as I’m writing.
At almost sixteen, Evie’s life isn’t all she’d hoped it would be. She lives in the dodgy end of town with her mum and her mum’s deadbeat boyfriend, Seb; and adolescent scoliosis means Evie’s forced to wear a back brace until she’s stopped growing.
Then one night, she meets Gabe. Breathtakingly handsome, he crashes, spectacularly, into Evie’s life. He says their meeting was no accident and convinces Evie he’s been sent to turn her fortunes around. Evie’s best friend, Paige, dismisses him as a pot-head, but Paige has issues of her own and has started spending all her time chasing older men instead of higher grades.
As the weeks go by, Evie’s luck seems to be on a constant upswing and she begins to wonder if she and Gabe really were ‘meant’ to meet; even if she’s noticed that so many aspects of Gabe’s story don’t add up… But there’s someone else waiting in the wings and, for Evie as well as for Gabe, life is about to get a whole lot more complicated.
Q: Scoliosis isn’t a very well-known condition, what made you want to write about it?
SJM: It wasn’t my intention at the start of the book to write about scoliosis, but as I wrote more about Evie, I knew she was facing some personal demons. I grew up with scoliosis myself and I knew how it made me feel. Although it’s a physical condition (in which the spine starts to curve instead of growing straight), many of the challenges are psychological. It’s a condition that tends to occur more in girls than boys, and it often appears at the most vulnerable time in terms of self-confidence: in early adolescence. I found it cathartic to ‘go back’ to that time in my life and pour some of my feelings about it into Evie. Through her, I could explore the whole experience of feeling different at the time in your life that you need, and desperately want, to fit in.
Q: At the start of your story it’s easy to relate to Evie because everyone has that longing to fit in, to feel a sense of belonging and a need to find a way out of our problems. Did you plan it that way to have the idea of a guardian angel?
SJM: Yes, the opening scene sets up the idea that Gabe could be a guardian angel – and, of course, that’s what Evie wants him to be. With the struggles she faces, I think it’s understandable that she wants someone to magic her problems away. But Evie isn’t stupid and much as she wants to believe everything Gabe tells her, there’s part of her that doubts. But at the start of the book, I hadn’t decided what sort of person Gabe would end up being – very bad; very good; or something in between.
Q: When I was reading the book, I found that there were so many beautiful underlying messages in it, especially about having hope. Was this deliberate?
SJM: I think hope can be very hard to find when you’re overwhelmed by circumstances, and for Evie, those circumstances were not of her making. It’s understandable to feel powerless and it can be hard to imagine yourself in another, better life in the future. But life has its twists and turns (twists and turns are not always a bad thing!) so I wanted her to feel hope for the future and to know that – even when life is messy and uncertain – good things can come from anywhere. And I wanted her journey to be the realisation that she didn’t need anyone to save her, and that the power to change really comes from within.
Q: Did you feel you related to any particular characters in Heaven Sent?
SJM: I have to say Evie, because of her scoliosis experience being akin to mine. However, I didn’t grow up with the same difficult home life as Evie. There was no drop-out dad in my life who grew cannabis in the shed! I enjoyed writing about Evie’s mum too. Although hers is nothing like my own mum, there were certain scenes (such as waiting in the hospital for Evie’s scoliosis checks) which felt very reminiscent of attending appointments with my mum.
Q: Are you working on any new stories or have anything coming up in the pipeline?
SJM: It’s strange – after Heaven Sent came out, the next book I had published was an adult psychological thriller called Hide. It couldn’t have been more different to Heaven Sent, so it felt quite weird moving from the world of YA to a world of crime and menace. Now, though, I have returned to a YA manuscript that I started ages ago and I’m really enjoying being back in the YA world again. I also started a women’s fiction/mystery last year, so I’m trying to keep that bubbling away in my mind as well. I really enjoy writing in different genres, so it keeps me happy to always have a bit of variety in my life.