Welcome to a special Q&A with the author of The Girl With the Green Eyes, JM Briscoe.
About The Girl With The Green Eyes
‘Bella is defective. You need to take her back.’
Nine-year-old Bella D’accourt has always known she was different; she was born into a controversial ‘designer baby’ eugenic programme, difference is in her DNA. Bella has been designed to be exceptionally beautiful, but when she uses her sadistic, manipulative charm to seriously injure another child, her mother brings her back to her creators and demands they ‘fix her’.
Thus begins Bella’s new life among scientists and other eugenic ‘Subjects’ at the mysterious Aspira Research Centre in Cumbria. But an enemy lurks in the shining laboratories set among idyllic mountains; an obsessive, murderous enemy who will, years later, drive Bella from all she has worked for and into a desperate, night-time flee across the country with her daughter, whom she will protect at all costs.
But Ariana, 12, isn’t so sure she wants to be protected by Bella anymore.
Long-listed for The Bridport Prize 2020
Part one of TAKE HER BACK trilogyGoodreads Description
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Q&A With Girl Wwith the Green Eyes Author, JM Briscoe
Where did the idea for The Girl with the Green Eyes come from?
The novel actually began life more than 13 years ago as the final project – a 10,000-word novel opening – for my Creative Writing BA at Royal Holloway. I can’t remember the title, but it definitely featured a small girl who could fly, an aging, kindly scientist with a poetic name and a partiality for Nietzsche (philosophy references were very much the thing among CW undergrads circa 2008 as I seem to recall) and an enigmatic anti-heroine called Bella.
Many years later I penned a substantial draft of the story and woefully misjudged the genre as Young Adult fantasy. The plot concentrated on what would become the Project C storyline – children who could do extraordinary things due to being brought up in an immersive setting of psychological suggestion.
I shelved the manuscript for a short time and then revisited it in autumn 2018. I realised that it wasn’t a children’s novel – that the potential for darker themes, the possibility of a more scientific-based approach, the heavy questions I was posing about what it is to be human, to be vulnerable, the innateness of traits versus suggestion – was all better matched to an adult readership. Not to mention the undeniable fact that the most intriguing character was not the 11-year-old flying protagonist but her slightly-villainous, femme fatale mother, Bella.
The child character evolved into Ariana and Nova. The kindly Dr. Blake was developed into a pioneering researcher whose preoccupation with pushing boundaries nicely muddied his likeability. And Bella took centre-stage where she would be the first to argue, she should have been all along.
What was it like to do research about eugenics for this novel?
Really interesting but also quite shocking. I studied Classics at A-Level so I already had some idea about the origins of eugenic ideas, but it was really interesting to revisit the theories posed by Plato about selective breeding as early as 370BC. It was also really interesting to read up about how the people of Rome and Sparta would ‘test’ the strength of infants by exposing them to the elements – it’s horrendous but in a way, it’s not that shocking when you consider the general ruthlessness of these ancient civilisations.
What I did find pretty sobering was learning about how recently some of the eugenic theories – forced sterilisations on the mentally ill, for example – have been accepted as standard care (as recently as the 1980s in some countries).
In your opinion, how far is too far?
I think it’s safe to say that every example of human genetic modification used in The Girl with the Green Eyes (and the Take Her Back trilogy as a whole) is “too far.” Use GM technology to eradicate disease, create vaccinations, solve world hunger issues by all means. Don’t create designer babies.
Did you base the characters of Bella or Ariana on anyone you know, or are they pure imagination?
Primarily, they are imaginary. As I mentioned before, Bella has been lurking around my head for a very long time and, in some form, Ariana as well. There are elements of their characters that are reminiscent of people I know, but for the most part, they are both entirely fictional.
Social media plays a part in this novel. Do you see a correlation between social media as we know it now and social media in the book? Do you find our everyday social media platforms dangerous? As dangerous as they are in the book?
Social media trends change all the time and there are platforms available now which weren’t around back in 2018, but it’s always been about sharing content. I think social media can be dangerous no matter your age, depending on how you use it. It can also be an essential lifeline to friends and family, and for some people, it’s an invaluable business tool.
In terms of how it’s presented in the book, I think it’s important to consider that Ariana is a very sheltered kid who just wants to be normal – she wants to be online like her friends are, she wants to know who her father is. For her, it’s partly Bella’s restrictions that make her reckless. But it’s also partly her being 12 and having that emerging self-awareness of adolescence.
Bella’s family designed her. Are they then to blame for not parenting well enough to keep Bella grounded, or are her genes to blame for making her uncontrollable?
I can’t say entirely because there are important aspects of both Bella’s upbringing and her genetic properties which come to light in book two. Her parents – both sets – are responsible for an awful lot of what makes Bella the person she is in 2018, both good and bad.
What impulse within Bella causes her to gain a conscience and go on the run to be a good parent?
I don’t think anyone can fault Bella’s maternal instinct to protect Ariana. Much as she struggles with the restrictions of motherhood – and again, this is something explored in more detail in book two – she loves her daughter and wants to protect her at all costs.
There are other instincts at play too, though. There’s a huge self-preservation element – she’s not just protecting Ariana when she goes on the run, she knows that Lychen is behind the chase and she knows what his price will probably be for her leaving him all those years ago. There are other reasons, too, but they are not fully explored/answered until book three!
About the Author – JM Briscoe
J M (Jenny) Briscoe is a sci-fi author, journalist, and stay-at-home-mum of three based in Berkshire, UK. She writes a strong female lead, bakes a mean birthday cake, and has been known to do both simultaneously. The Girl with the Green Eyes, her publishing debut, was long-listed for The Bridport Prize 2020. It is part one of a soft sci-fi trilogy called Take Her Back.