Shift the Blame – an interview with Jeff Povey

shiftHi Jeff welcome to Teen Librarian – would you like to introduce yourself to readers that may not have come across you before

Hello Matt and firstly thank you for letting me do this. I’m usually a scriptwriter. I’ve written over 250 episodes of prime time British TV over the past 20 years. EastEnders, Casualty, Silent Witness, Grange Hill, Holby and quite a few others. I have also written original pieces, one of which I directed. I also write film screenplays, all of which never get made. I also had a couple of plays on in London many moons ago. About eight years ago I wrote a novel called The Serial Killers Club which was a black comedy about a lonely guy who inadvertently joined a Chicago based serial killers club – and found love. It was published by Warner/Hatchette in America and in quite a few other countries but the UK wasn’t at all interested. I loved writing it though and swore I would write another novel one day. Trouble is I really love writing scripts and before I knew it, quite a few years passed and I still hadn’t done it.. Til now of course.

Did you make a conscious decision to write for teens or did you write Shift and think “hey this would be perfect for YA readers”?

That’s a good question. I actually just thought it would be a much more exciting story if it was about teenagers rather than adults. I hoped there would be a naivety to teenagers who don’t know as much about themselves and the world as perhaps an adult would and thus it would be a bit more dangerous and a lot more thrilling. But I also thought they’d be a bit more daring and free and that when it came to relationships and friendships it would be more fun – and funnier. I also write adult characters every day of my life and a little bit of me didn’t want to do that. I also like teenagers, I have four kids and the house has always been full of teenage kids who you find sleeping in the hallway or you sit down to dinner and they’ve already eaten everything. They are bold and brash one minute and nervous and self doubting the next. They have their whole lives ahead of them and have so many huge decisions to make and I remember being like that – ready to rule the world one second, and then scared stiff of it the next. One of my kids friends turned up one day wearing his mum’s wedding dress and I thought now there’s a great character. I was also going to write this as a blog from the main character’s – REV – perspective. I was going to publish it online and do one chapter/blog a week. I probably have those pages somewhere but I was really interested in putting a story onto the web and seeing what happened. (Probably nothing!) But I hoped teenagers would maybe find it and maybe enjoy it. I’m droning on now but I think if you write a novel then you just write it, I didn’t know I was writing YA fiction, I was just thinking about who best served the story. I was very happy when someone said I’d written a YA novel though.

Shift made me think of a cross between Stephen King and John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) in the Twilight Zone – what were your inspirations for writing it?

That’s a great description. The Breakfast Club only became an inspiration when I suddenly realised that I had been inspired by it if you know what I mean. I hadn’t watched it for years but then it suddenly sunk in. John Hughes was a brilliant film maker, one of my favourites, and although I’ve only recently read Stephen King he is incredible and I wish I’d started reading his books years ago. What a writer. The main inspiration was a simple ‘What if’ question. I always do this if I come up with a story. I’ll look at a bit of life, or a person or an event and ask myself “What if that happened, or what if they said this, or what if that didn’t happen and something else did instead. For SHIFT it was obviously What If some schoolkids stepped out of school and found the world was empty? That’s all I really had. The harder part is answering that question, but it’s also the best part. Sometimes you can’t answer the question there and then and you leave it to simmer for a year or two. I had this question for a year before I could figure out an answer. I think we are bombarded with images and music and ideas every second and sometimes you don’t even know that your brain has taken them in – and then twisted them into something else. But I always get inspired when I ask that question: What If….

Did you do any scientific research for the story or is it pure science fiction?

I did a little bit of research and there are theories on the multiverse – but that’s all they are. Just theories. No one has proof so I decided that I would be the master of my reality. My main aim was to make it logical, that even if I made this new world up, it would have to have a logical sense to how it operated etc. But also we’re dealing with 16/17 year olds and if they suddenly start spouting great swathes of theory and scientific understanding then I don’t think anyone would believe in them. The characters are not interested in WHY so much as they are in HOW the hell do we get home? I would be the same, I would have one major thought – let me get home! REV’s dad has written a paper on how and why it happens but only one character, The MOTH, can get a grasp of it. Even if he explained every last detail to the others they probably still wouldn’t quite grasp it. I don’t recall The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe stopping to explain itself. I might be completely wrong there, it’s been a long time since I read it. But sometimes if you explain too much then you take away a bit of joy a reader may have in the wonder of it all, and also in coming up with their own theories. (I hope anyway). I’m not saying don’t research though because the more grounded and believable the better. It was just a hard one to research when alternate worlds may or may not exist.

Shift is the first book in a trilogy – I am looking forward to books 2 & 3 can you let us know when they are due out?

I’m writing the Second one now and I think it will be published around 6-8 months from now (April 2014), and the Third instalment will appear 6-8 months after that.

Are you currently working on any other stories?

Only for television but as everyone knows you really need to have your second and third ideas lined up just in case someone asks you to come up with something else. I’m asking those What If questions again. But I know it will be YA fiction because it’s brilliant to write. I’m a little worried though because I really love the characters in SHIFT and I fret about making up new ones that I love just as much. I can see why JK Rowling wrote so many Harry Potter books, she loved those characters unconditionally. Also, do I go back to apocalyptic worlds? They’re my favourite type of fictitious world but would I just be copying myself? I think I’ll just wait til the right What If presents itself. There’s a few bubbling away.

Do you ever read the works of other Teen/YA authors? If yes what can you recommend?

I have a list of books by my bed now. The YA world is very new to me and as soon as someone said I had written a YA novel then I made a point of not reading any. I didn’t want to be influenced by them. I didn’t want people telling me that I had been influenced by them either. Someone mentioned Michael Grant to me and I immediately looked him up on Wikipedia and thought, ‘My God it’s almost the same idea I had!’ I e-mailed Simon & Schuster and told them what I’d found and of course they obviously knew all about Michael Grant and said don’t worry I was a very different type of writer. But I really panicked for a while. As a writer you strive for originality and think you’ve hit on the best idea in the world and lo and behold someone’s already thought of it. So I have a lot of books, some of which you recommended to me, and I am waiting until I’ve written my second book in case they get into my head. Also they might have a style I like and I’ll ape it before I even know what I’m doing. And worst of all they could be much better writers and my fragile mind doesn’t need to know that. One thing I would say is before I started this, I would go into bookshops and not look at YA. It was not drawing my attention, I’m older obviously, but I used to stick to the world I knew. I don’t think that’s a good thing because avid readers like me are probably missing out big time. Anyway my list comprises of Scott Westerfeld, Neal Shusterman, Darren Shan, Clare Furniss, Suzanne Collins to name but a few.

Do you ever do Library visits to Teen Reading Groups? If yes, what is the best way to get into contact with you or your agent about it?

I have never been asked but I would do that in a heartbeat. Just send an e-mail and I will do whatever I can.

Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by Teen Librarian!

Thank you for asking them! I know I waffle a bit so apologies for that.

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