The inspiration for this novel was really around forced adoption – everything else grew from that. Like Stella’s birth mother, my grandmother was forced to give a baby – my father – up for adoption following an assault when she was a teenager. I met her for the first time when I was six. My father also put a baby up for adoption when he was a teenager – I have a half-sister out there who I’ve never met. It’s something that’s impacted me and how I view the world in lots of small ways. Many of the most important people in my life aren’t blood relatives while I have close blood relatives out there who are total strangers.
I also wanted to challenge a lot of the stereotypes around the sorts of people who’d live in a place like Fairyland Caravan Park, where most of How to Grow a Family Tree is set. This stemmed largely from my work with vulnerable families in the drug and alcohol sector. It’s so easy to make assumptions about people in challenging circumstances and to think you know their story. I wanted to examine how complex people are and how, overwhelmingly, people are just trying to do their best.
I hope that this book encourages teens to really think about their community and their families and the people they share their lives with. It’s a cliché, but it really is so easy to take the people we love for granted – particularly if we’ve known them since childhood. I also wanted the novel to highlight how sometimes people can’t overcome their traumatic pasts or their mental health issues, no matter how much they love you and how much they want to. And that this doesn’t make them bad people or weak people or anything like that. It just means that they’re human. The people in this novel are flawed – they love each other, they make mistakes, they say the wrong thing, they try to do better.
I’m also an ambassador for The Satellite Foundation. The foundation does fantastic work with children and young people who have parents experiencing mental health issues. As the child of someone with mental illness, I would have loved to have had access to The Satellite Foundation growing up! I think the foundation would have been a wonderful support for Stella and her sister, Taylor. I’m looking forward to having some of the young people visit the farm, pick food from the kitchen garden and spend time with our animals.
How to Grow a Family Tree by Eliza Henry Jones is out now