Sea star summer: an interview with Sally Partridge

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Picture of Sally Partridge: Goodreads

Sea star summer
Sally Partridge
NB Publishers
ISBN: 9780798180955

Sally Partridge talks to Naomi Meyer about Sally’s new book for young adults, Sea star summer.

Sally, congratulations on Sea star summer! I can’t help asking: when you started writing this novel, could you have imagined in your wildest dreams what the world would be like now? Would you describe this book as escapism literature for young adults par excellence? Please tell our readers what the story is about.

I started writing this novel during a road trip to Jeffreys Bay, which is an eight-hour drive from Cape Town. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined what was coming. I set out to write a school holiday romance set in one of South Africa’s most popular small towns – which, incidentally, was my favourite holiday town. It’s about a girl from Cape Town who goes on holiday to get away from people and ends up having the time of her life.

For me personally, the book represents everything I love about road-tripping through South Africa – exploring new places, the little hidden gems, meeting new people. It’s very detailed in that respect. I hope it does become a means of escapism for readers. We’ve all been home for a third of the year, so, for a little while, readers can explore the shell beaches of the Eastern Cape and enjoy the feel of the sand between their toes.

The title of the book immediately makes one long for a summer holiday. Careless, in these pandemic times, a summer holiday now seems. As an Afrikaans speaker myself, I found that the title made me smile. Why call it Sea star summer, as opposed to Starfish summer?

My partner and I escape to Jeffreys Bay as often as we can. It’s our favourite holiday destination. It was during a morning beach walk on one of these trips that he pointed out all the “sea stars” in a rock pool. I was already writing the book, and that scene automatically made it in.

Please could you elaborate on the holiday town you chose as the setting and why this specific town has special meaning to you?

My partner originally comes from Pretoria, and he and his family used to drive down to Jeffreys Bay for holidays quite often when he was a child. When we first started dating, it was a special memory he wanted to share with me, so we drove up one weekend. Because I was in this mindset of seeing it through his eyes as a teenager, the seed was planted to set a book there in the school holidays. For me, it felt like such a quintessential South African experience.

Tell me about your main character, Naomi James. 

Naomi is a typical Cape Town southern suburbs girl. Her world is framed by status and what everyone else thinks – her parents and the girls at her school. So, her whole life – from what she wears to how she behaves – is influenced by other people. When she goes on holiday to this small town where she is all on her own, she is finally able to self-reflect and discover who she really is.

The main character starts off the summer holiday without friends, but during the holiday, she meets new boys and particularly one interesting girl. Did you just know which characters were meant for each other right from the start? Did you plan this book beforehand, or did the writing happen organically?

The book was originally going to be about an out-of-towner from Jozi who falls in love with a local surfer, but I wasn’t fully invested in that idea. I procrastinated for a while. It was during another trip when we were having dinner at Die Walskipper, which overlooks this beautiful crescent-shaped protected beach, that I noticed two young people swimming. It was like a bolt of lightning to the brain. Suddenly, Naomi and Elize were there, and the new story was born. It happened very organically after that.

You have written plenty of books for young adults. Why write for young adults, and how? Is it different to writing for adults?

For me, adolescence is the period in life when everything is happening for the first time – first love, first disappointment, first heartbreak, first betrayal. It’s such a raw and larger-than-life time. When I write books for young people, I try to capture that feeling of being young and all the roller coaster emotions that come with it. I love it.

Who is your ideal reader of this book?

Young, old, male, female. Anyone who loves love and road-tripping.

Which book(s) did you enjoy during lockdown?

In the beginning of lockdown, I found it difficult to focus, so I would pick up a book only to put it down again. I did manage to finish My dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, which is a deeply complex and dark read. I’ve mostly been reading graphic novels.

During these strange times on earth: what do you think is the meaning of life? Or the meaning of a writer during COVID-19?

During lockdown, all you can do is follow the news for updates, and you’re in this constant state of pivoting between despair, anxiety, anger, joy. For me as a writer, it’s become more and more important to address things like injustice, racism and homophobia. Books help you walk in someone else’s shoes and teach empathy, so I feel quite a sense of responsibility as a writer to help young people be able to reflect on what’s happening around them and see the world through someone else’s eyes. Now, more than ever, kindness, love and empathy are crucial.

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