Room Author Emma Donoghue Answers Your Questions

Hello, Bookies:

We’re always so grateful when authors choose to participate in our post-discussion Q&As, since we know they have to fit us into very busy schedules. So an extra note of thanks to Emma Donoghue, who took time out of her weekend in order to get her answers back to us quickly. Read on for what she had to say.

My questions for Emma Donoghue are as follows:
Was the story inspired by the story of Jaycee Lee Dugard? If not, what was the inspiration for the story??
Who was Grandma’s character inspired by? Also, who inspired Steppa’s character?? 
What other options did you consider for the escape?

Posted by: Bella| Friday, March 18, 2011 at 06:19 PM

No, the novel was finished before Ms. Dugard was rescued. It was the Fritzl case in Austria that inspired ROOM, though really all I took from it was the notion of the 5-year-old boy emerging into an unknown world. Grandma and Steppa have no real-life sources, they are just some interestingly flawed family members for Jack. The escape… I don’t think I really considered any other options, as I was so attached to the notion of an escape which would be a symbolic death and rebirth.

Ms. Donoghue: Great job! Wonderful book! Amazing storyline! What was your inspiration? How did you develop the characters? Why did you decide to use Jack’s perspective? Will there be a sequel? What happened in the court room when Ma faced Old Nick? Was justice served? How does one receive justice when seven years of your life are taken away?

Posted by: Nicole H| Friday, March 18, 2011 at 08:00 PM

Telling it from the boy’s perspective WAS the idea for the book; I would never have considered tackling a novel about sex-slavery from any other point of view. Letting Ma tell it would have inevitably led to both voyeurism and sentimentality. I have of course imagined the courtroom scene but I didn’t want ROOM to have the shape of a crime novel, focusing on the capture and punishment of the villain. For me, the true victory of Ma in the second half of the book is to make Old Nick drop out of sight; I tried to—just like Ma—keep him at arm’s length, not letting him set the terms of the story. There won’t be a sequel; I prefer readers to make up their own versions of Ma and Jack’s futures.

For Ms. Donoghue: What does the rug represent? Is it a piece of childhood, security, what helped him save his Ma? Is that why he is hanging on to it? Are you working on a new book? Have you thought about a sequel to Room? Did you have the end in mind when you started? I’ve heard that author’s characters take on a life of their own, did this happen for you with this book? I really enjoyed your writing! I would have to say this is one of the best books I’ve read and would highly recommend it to others.

Posted by: KSwanson| Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 02:24 PM

Rug and Tooth are both very physical, visceral symbols of the years in ROOM —pretty hideous memories for Ma, but always precious to Jack because that was his childhood. Yes, I knew what the last scene would be before I started; I’m a big planner, I see writing a novel as like building a house, it can’t be done by simply following inspiration. But there’s still plenty of room for spontaneity, and yes, the characters do start to take on a life of their own!

My question is this—I sometimes deliberately try and think like a child or see like a child, but having been an adult for a long time sometimes find it difficult. How did you find the child’s voice and keep it throughout? Kudos for this book. I really, really loved it.

Posted by: Cindy| Sunday, March 20, 2011 at 04:06 PM

I must admit that Jack owes more to my close observations of my 5-year-old son than to any very vivid memories of my own childhood… My son and Jack are not the same but they have enough in common for me to have captured that 5-year-old mind-set.

My question for the author: How did you define Jack’s language skills? In some ways, he seems extremely intelligent and advanced for his age and in other ways, he seems to have the speech of a 2-year-old. Is this complex combination a result of the obvious lack of social skills most kids acquire from the outside world? Do you think even if Ma spoke to Jack using “grown-up” language and taught him as best she could that his speech would still be delayed and if so, how come?

Posted by: Kelly| Monday, March 21, 2011 at 04:59 PM

Yes, everything I read about child speech deveopment as well as my own observation suggested to me that a child as intensively homeschooled at Jack could pick up a rather more sophisticated vocabulary than others of his age, but will still show the inconsistent grammar of any 5-year-old. You just can’t rush that. Children speak in a consistently inconsistent way—my 3-year-old comes out with mixed phrases like “My dolly gots a ravishing dress.”

Ms. Donoghue, from a writer’s perspective, do you think it would have been a plausible plot development to have her try to break the code on the key pad?

Posted by: Patty| Monday, March 21, 2011 at 05:06 PM

Oh, she tried, but if the code is a long one there’s no way she could break it. She lets Jack hit random numbers just to practice his digit-recognition and just in case of a miracle…

There seemed to be a lot of subtle or maybe not so subtle references to the whole idea of gender identification. In room, Jack didn’t seem to have any adult or societal imposed notions of “boy/girl.” Outside he was barraged with other peoples’ ideas of what is correct for boys and what is correct for girls. He was constantly being called a girl, he wanted the pink Dora bag (they didn’t want him to choose the pink one), etc. Then he cut his hair. I wanted to ask Ms. Donoghue if she had any specific message about gender indentification. Are you trying to tell us that it is taught and learned, hence the hair cutting, or do you think it is a natural progression to blue/pink, hence the hair cutting?

Posted by: Cindy| Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 09:18 PM

In my experience? Both. Meaning, some things seem to come hardwired; my boy and girl have been drawn to trains and dolls respectively since long before they were aware of the social rules of gender. But those rules do reinforce the divide, and finally erase behaviours that are outside the norm. I conceived of Jack as a pretty traditionally boyish boy, in his interests and his mind-set and his physical bounciness, but lacking peers he hasn’t had to learn rules such as “boys keep their hair short.”

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