Thursday, 8 March 2018

Debut Spotlight: Rhiannon Navin

Today it's my pleasure to be closing the Only Child blog tour by shining the spotlight on Rhiannon Navin and her debut novel which is published today.

Rhiannon Navin grew up in Bremen, Germany, in a family of book-crazy women. Her career in advertising brought her to New York City, where she worked for several large agencies before becoming a full-time mother and writer. She now lives outside of New York City with her husband, three children, two cats, and one dog.

Only Child is her first novel.
Twitter: @rhiannonnavin
Facebook: Rhiannon Navin books

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing journey?
My name is Rhiannon Navin. I am a stay-at-home mum of three children, living just north of NYC. I grew up in a small town in Northern Germany called Bremen in what I like to call a family of book-crazy women. My career in advertising brought me to New York City in my early twenties where I worked for a few large agencies before deciding to stay home with my kids full time. Only Child was my first real foray into the world of writing. I guess it took something that really rattled me to the core to open up the floodgates. It was like this story was already there, waiting for me. I don’t know how else to explain it. I sat down one day and wrote down the opening scene of Only Child where Zach hiding in his classroom closet in one sitting.

If you had to give an elevator pitch for Only Child, what would it be?
Ah, the dreaded elevator pitch! 

Only Child is the story of six-year old Zach, told from his perspective. Zach survives a shooting at his school by hiding in the cupboard of his first-grade his classroom. His older brother Andy does not survive. In the aftermath of the shooting, Zach’s family and their community quickly begin to unravel. His parents grapple with their grief, each in their own, very separate way and soon his mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them responsible for his actions. And in the middle of all of that, little Zach is left alone in trying to deal with his own grief and his many mixed emotions. 

Only Child is quite a topical theme based on recent real-life events, where did your inspiration come from?
The shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, five years ago left me completely devastated. That morning, when the twenty-year-old gunman marched into that school and killed twenty children and six adults, I had dropped my oldest son Samuel off at school like I did every day. Samuel was in first grade then—the same age as many of the young victims of this terrible shooting—and until that horrifying day I had never worried about his safety while at school. Then, all of a sudden, school didn’t feel like a safe place anymore. Ultimately, it was a very personal experience that gave rise to my story: Shortly after my twins Frankie and Garrett started kindergarten, they experienced their first mandatory lockdown drill at school. That same afternoon, I found Garrett hiding from the “bad guy” underneath our dining room table. He was petrified.

What made you decide to recount the events and aftermath from six-year-old Zach's viewpoint as opposed to his parents or a teacher?
When I found Garrett hiding from the “bad guy” underneath our table, I began to wonder: What would it be like for him to experience an actual shooting? And how would he navigate what came afterwards? I wanted Only Child to offer an authentic, but unencumbered look at the devastating effect a horrific crime like a school shooting can have on those who are forced to live through it and those who are left behind: the siblings, parents, family and friends. I didn’t want my own views regarding gun control to bleed into the story, but hoped this little boy’s experience would speak for itself and allow my readers to come away with their own conclusions.

Is there a message you'd like readers to take away from reading Only Child?
I wrote Only Child out of fear and worry, but also with great hope. It is ultimately little Zach, who, with his honesty and optimism and stubbornness manages to lead his family and their community to a path towards compassion and forgiveness and a chance to heal, together. I hope that Only Child can remind us of the emotional depth and wisdom our children and young people possess and can share with us if we take the time to listen. We usually think of us, the adults, as being the ones to teach our children about the ways this world works, whereas oftentimes, I think, it would do us good to pause and let our children guide us.  And of course I hope my readers will feel inspired and enegerized to want to take action so that their child, or their neighbor’s child, or the child across town doesn’t have to become the next Zach.

What lessons have you learnt during the whole writing/editing/publication process?
Oh my gosh, so so many lessons. Everything wbout the writing and publishing process was—IS—brand new to me, so there were nothing but lessons. Of course I knew I’d do well to listen to those around me, my agent, my editor, and benefit from their vast amount of experience. And on the flip side I realized it was because I trusted my gut so completely that I was able to write my story and it was important to continue to follow my instincts. I often joke that the future me (and the current me actually!) will always be jealous of the me that wrote Only Child. When I wrote Only Child, I wrote without any expectations, without an agenda. I focused on the story only and never actually thought anyone would read it, let alone that it would be published. It was a beautiful experience. One I know I will never have again, not like that.

Did you treat yourself to something special to celebrate your publishing deal?
It was such a surreal time when my agent went out on submissions with Only Child and everything happened so fast. Within just a few days, I had publishing deals not just in the US, but in the UK, and many other countries around the world. Mind blown. There was champagne. Lots of champagne.

Have you anything exciting planned to celebrate publication day?
Well, I’m here in London for my publication day, which is incredibly exciting! I will spend publication day meeting my amazing team at Mantle in person for the first time and visiting some book shops to sign copies. I just can’t wait to see my book on the shelf of an actual shop—that’s my wildest dream come true right there.

Finally what can we expect from you next?
I’ve begun working on a new story that I’m falling more and more in love with as I’m diving in deeper. But I’ll wait to talk about it for a bit longer so not to jinx it if that’s OK.

We went to school that Tuesday like normal.
Not all of us came home . . .

Huddled in a cloakroom with his classmates and teacher, six-year-old Zach can hear shots ringing through the corridors of his school. A gunman has entered the building and, in a matter of minutes, will have taken nineteen lives.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the close knit community and its families are devastated. Everyone deals with the tragedy differently. Zach's father absents himself; his mother pursues a quest for justice -- while Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and drawing.

Ultimately though, it is Zach who will show the adults in his life the way forward -- as, sometimes, only a child can.

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