Between Shades Of Grey is a book set in 1941 during the Second World War and is based on first-hand family accounts and memories from survivors. It is a story of a young 15 year old girl, Lina, whose life is turned upside down when her and her family are dragged from their home in Lithuania and deported to Siberia by Soviet officers. It follows her journey to a labour camp in Siberia and what she has to deal with during this horrible time in her life. She deals with life changing events at the age of 15 which I feel no young person should go through. She sees members of her family die and people she has met along the way become her friends only to be ripped apart. She is separated from her love interest during her journey but is reunited at the end once she has been through the worst moments of her life. This book is incredibly powerful and shares a story of a strong and resilient young woman that would inspire anyone, especially young girls.
I asked the author, Ruta Sepetys, if she could possibly answer some of my questions which she did so I am extremely thankful for that.
Ruta Sepetys is a Lithuanian-American author of historical fiction. She is a New York #1 bestseller, international bestseller as well as a winner of the Carnegie Medal.
- What made you decide to become an author?
I wanted to be an author when I was very young. I wrote my first book in 3rd grade. But after a while, I lost my courage to write and feared I didn’t really have a talent for it. When I picked up writing again I did not start with historical fiction. I wrote a mystery for young readers and shortly after wrote the first chapter of “Between Shades of Gray.” An agent read both the mystery and the first chapter and told me that my authentic voice was in historical fiction. I’m so grateful for his advice!
- Were you inspired by any specific authors/books?
Yes, I was very inspired by Roald Dahl, Edith Wharton and Lois Lowry.
- Regarding your book ‘Between Shades of Grey’, why did you choose to write a novel about such a hard and difficult era and compelling story?
I’m interested in WWII because my father was affected and involved. My father fled from Lithuania as a young boy and some of his extended family was deported to Siberia. That inspired “Between Shades of Gray.” My father himself was a displaced refugee for nine years and that partially inspired my most recent book, “Salt to the Sea.”
- Why did you decide to make the central character a young teenage girl?
The idea for the character of Lina came from a woman I interviewed in Lithuania. She was a teenager in Siberia and her story was so powerful, her hope so strong. The Soviets had taken her family, her country, but she wouldn’t let them take her spirit. She found a way to speak, even though her voice had been extinguished. She became a role model for me so I used her to create Lina.
- Did you have a specific message you wanted to get across?
I am drawn to hidden history and stories of strength through struggle, so I look for topics that contain those elements. Writing historical fiction is like being a detective. I love discovering secrets and lost heroes. Sometimes history can be perceived as boring. But through characters and story, historical statistics become human and suddenly we care for people we’ve never met, we can find their country on a map, and then—the history matters. Through historical fiction we can give voice those who will never have a chance to tell their story. That inspires me!
- I consider Lina to be an extremely strong, powerful and resilient who is also very inspirational, would you agree? And was this the intention?
Yes and yes! It makes me indescribably happy that you say she inspires you. Thank you!
- Did you do any research whilst writing this book?
For “Between Shades of Gray,” the research was particularly challenging because there was very little information in English on the deportations of Lithuanians to Siberia and Lithuanians hadn’t spoken of the terror for decades. For research I first read all of the nonfiction sources available. I speak with academics and historians. I then travel to the country where the story takes place to research the landscape, the culture, and the people. I generally interview many people while researching a book. I then weave stories from many people together into one character so that way I’m representing a larger human experience and not just one person.
- Do you go though any specific process whilst writing?
For me, the writing process involves:
- Carefully researching the topic
- Interviewing witnesses or survivors
- Spending time thinking about the characters and story
- Spending hours writing and achieving a state of creative flow
- Revising, revising, and revising some more
- What would say was your favourite book/author?
I have many favorite books. Some are:
- A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry
- How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
- Do you have any advice for an aspiring author and/or avid reader in general or specifically when writing about a major event that happened in the past?
My advice for research would be to try to interview people who either experienced the time period or historians who have spent years researching it. Sitting down to speak to someone can sometimes yield more dynamic results than just reading about a piece of history. Once you have received testimonies and information you can then consult a historian or academic about the information you’ve received to evaluate the accuracy.