Her Story: Ladies In Literature With Hayley Chewins

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as thirty-three authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!


About Hayley Chewins

Hayley Chewins writes books about magical girls with secrets. Her debut novel, The Turnaway Girls, is forthcoming from Candlewick Press and Walker Books in 2018. When Hayley isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading or cuddling her poodle. Her work is represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

I met Nao Yasutani, a suicidal sixteen-year-old girl living in Tokyo in 2001, in a library in Bath, England. It was March 2016. I was twenty-seven.

Nao was desperately funny and desperately sad. She was also real — so real I could’ve held her hand if I’d reached for it.

I met her in the pages of a book.

A book called A Tale For The Time Being.

It’s about a woman named Ruth who finds a diary — Nao’s diary — washed up on a beach in British Columbia.

In the diary, Nao writes about returning to Japan after spending the majority of her childhood in California. In America, she had friends and her father was successful. In Japan, her father is unemployed and she is an outsider.

Ruth and Nao are separated by years and oceans, but the diary is a bridge. The diary is a time machine.

When I met Nao, I had just returned to England after a summer at home in South Africa. I’d left behind the love of my life, a garden full of roses, three magical sisters, a dog that licked my cheeks in the mornings, the smell of summer rain, parents whose home was paradise to me, and the songs of weaver birds.

I’d arrived in the green country of my father’s birth, and I was alone. I was more alone than I’d ever been in my life. So alone, I felt like my heart was pumping darkness instead of blood.

I went to see someone about the darkness. He was cheery, eating crisps. He told me that my problem was simple: I needed to smell the daffodils. It was early spring, and yellow flowers were everywhere. Past-me, me-without-darkness, would’ve followed his advice. But I didn’t need flowers. I needed to feel like I wasn’t drowning.

The thing about pain is that you have nowhere to put it. But sometimes reading a book about a sad person when you are a sad person yourself means exchanging it. You barter your loneliness away. I’ll give you this particular quality of light for the memory of a city I’ve never visited. I’ll exchange the smell of my husband’s shampoo for the name of a friend I’ll never know.

That’s how it was with Nao and me.

We traded losses.

When I was reading her diary, my heart didn’t feel like it was pumping my own darkness anymore. It felt like it was pumping hers. She gave me relief from myself.

Books are time machines. We are all time beings but sometimes we need another time — a not-this-time — because This Time is killing us.

That’s what Nao gave me.

Another time.

And I survived because of it.

I survived having to tape pieces of paper over my mirror so that I didn’t stare at myself for hours, picking apart my flaws and convincing myself that I was too ugly to leave my flat.

I survived long, grey days during which I didn’t speak to a single person.

I survived waking up in the middle of the night not being able to breathe.

I survived feeling so anxious that I didn’t leave my bedroom for days.

I survived starving myself.

I survived not sleeping for what felt like months.

I survived the deepest depression of my life.

Today, I walked into a bookstore in Johannesburg, South Africa. I bought a copy of A Tale For The Time Being. I came home and put it on my shelf. I remembered the darkness I almost drowned in and the girl who saved me from it.

I’m glad Nao got her happy ending.

I like to think somewhere, somehow, she’s glad I got mine.

Title The Turnaway Girls
Author Hayley Chewins
Pages N/A
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
To Be Published 2018 by Candlewick
Find It On Goodreads

On the isolated, wind-whipped island of Blightsend, turnaway girls are trained to change music into gold for the city’s musicians — but they’re not allowed to make any music themselves. In fact, the last woman to attempt singing — the notorious Sea-Singer — was stolen by the ocean for her efforts.

Twelve-year-old Delphernia Undersea has lived in the turnway girls’ cloister all her life. But that doesn’t change the fact that she wants to sing. Night after night, she secretly crawls inside a hollow tree to hum songs in the dark — a distraction which results in her not being able to make any gold at all, to the confusion and frustration of her superiors.

Unsurprisingly, then, Delphernia is not chosen by one of the Masters — gifted boy-musicians who dress in bells — on the day she’s supposed to enter the city of Blightsend. That is, until Bly — a mysterious boy who speaks in poems — bangs on the cloister’s door.

And so Delphernia walks free.

But Bly has secrets of his own, and Delphernia soon finds herself having to choose between her safety and her voice.

Because — in Blightsend, anyway — a girl can’t possibly have both.

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