The 10pm Question is a warm, surprising, quirky, intelligent novel you will fall in love with. It’s a coming of age tale of Frankie Parsons, a twelve year old boy (who thinks and acts much older) who worries incessantly about everyday life and the eccentric family around him. His new friend - colourful, creative, talkative Sydney - has relentless, unavoidable questions of her own that force Frankie and his family to face up to things that have lain dormant for years.  

Kate de Goldi has written a tender and endearing story that will break your heart and make you laugh in almost equal measure and the final icing on the cake - the quality of the writing is quite sublime. First published in the UK in 2010, this is a book whose preoccupations resonate even louder over a decade later with research reporting increased levels of childhood anxiety. The 10pm Question also has great crossover appeal to an adult audience, and is a great book for members of a family or reading group to enjoy together.

Here, Kate shares a message with her readers;

"I spent four years, on and off, writing this book, but it really began years before when I read somewhere about a woman who suffered from an anxiety disorder – specifically, a serious agoraphobia which meant she hadn’t left her home for more than a dozen years.

I made a note of that – as I do of many things in the world around me, things that intrigue me or amuse me, or that merely catch my attention for a reason I’m not yet sure of.

(Quite a lot of things in the novel have been gathered this way over the years: I’ve had the name Gordana in my notebook for more than a decade, knowing I’d find a use for it one day. Similarly, I’ve long been fascinated by document destruction trucks on city streets, and I’ve always wanted to call a cat The Fat Controller. Years ago I wrote in my notebook: ‘guy has beagle called Ray Davies’...

The second important moment in the life of the story was a young woman I met who lived a rather transient life with her mother and sisters...she was 12 years old, incredibly smart, and wise beyond her years, but generally uncertain where she’d next pitch up. I made a note of her, too.

Finally, between the ages (roughly) of 11 and 14 my son, Jack, was from time to time plagued by anxiety – about many things (the possibility of fire, ant invasions, global warming, earthquakes, the SARS virus, sundry illnesses...) I felt a lot of sympathy for this affliction since I’m a rather active hypochondriac and general worrier myself. Often, in the late evening, Jack would come into our bedroom and confess his current fear... we would talk about it, I would try and reassure him etc, etc...After several years of this he was well over himself and became kind of sheepish and exasperated about it all...One evening he came through the door and said, in a comically hang-dog voice, ‘it’s the 10pm Question'. Suddenly, all the half-formed ideas, the notes in my book, everything I was preoccupied with, connected up, and the starting point of the story was startlingly clear to me.

I didn’t know much more than that when I began writing (I never do with a novel), but it went from there, and I went along happily for the ride – entertaining myself with many details I’ve been longing to have in stories (a trombone-playing friend, a triumvirate of great-aunts, a cake-baking business, the ritual of a long bus trip to school, a Fimo army of lunatic second-lieutenants, a language-focussed teacher, etc etc etc).

Someone asked me recently what I thought The 10pm Question was about. It’s always interesting to think about this after you’ve finished a book – you don’t always know in a clear way while you’re actually writing it.

At the heart of the story is – I think (other readers may differ) Frankie’s need to separate out from his mother. He loves her very much and is deeply attached to her, but she is also, in a way, a great burden to him. The story works around his coming to understand these complex feelings towards Ma – his exhaustion with this burden, his acceptance of her ‘half-sad ending’ (that she may never leave the house), and his ending. That is, though he is deeply connected to her, he is also significantly different – he can, and will, make different choices.

My novels are always preoccupied with the progress a character must make away from the family/parents who have borne and loved him or her. All novels are about growing up, in some way – but children’s and teenage stories are especially about that – and the bittersweet fact of growing up is that we must grow away; in order to gain ourselves we have to – in some profound way – lose part of what we have loved and felt safe with – or, indeed, troubled by.

Of course, the novel is also about the great joy of friendship –with a ‘best’ friend (who simply accepts you and doesn’t ask difficult questions); with siblings – whose friendship is always the first and therefore the model for all other friendships; with aunts, schoolmates, teachers, and the passing parade of adults we come into contact with and who affect us in countless ways as we grow. And then – significantly – friendship with that occasional ‘rare bird’ who may come – sometimes only briefly – into our life and change it forever.

I think maybe, too, another lurking ‘theme’ in the story is that family life is always a complicated puzzle. It can be rich, hilarious, educational and enraging, painful, and sometimes tragic – (in other words, it’s a perfect microcosm of – and preparation for – life itself)!

I suppose I hope, too, that any reader of Frankie’s story might come away from the book thinking that this complicated puzzle of family life – and life in general – will never be fully solved, either...there will be semi-sad and often downright sad endings for some people..."

The 10pm Question written by Kate De Goldi is published by Old Barn Books and available to buy now. You can find our full review, and download the first chapter from the book here.