Hi Sarah, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for Teen Librarian!
My obligatory first question is could you please introduce yourself to the audience?
My name’s Sarah Govett (but I guess you know that already!). My debut novel, The Territory, is out this month with Firefly Press. I was initially a lawyer, then a tutor, a mum and now a writer. Please buy my book as I really like writing and want to keep doing it!
How far in the future is The Territory set?
It’s set in 2059, but the exact date isn’t important. It’s just supposed to be enough in the future that environmental meltdown has happened, but close enough that people and their attitudes are pretty recognisable.
The global catastrophe that occurred – one of polar ice caps melting and the lower levels of land being flooded is potentially a very real threat, do you believe it is a catastrophe that can happen in our lifetimes?
I do. And it really scares me. I genuinely believe we need to take pretty drastic steps now to reduce population and carbon consumption, but I’m worried we’re collectively too selfish to do this. Humans are notoriously rubbish at prioritising long-term gain over short-term hardship.
Do you think that Britain is moving towards a police state?
There have been some worrying developments, but I think we’re a long way from a proper police state scenario. I hope, maybe naively, that us Brits value have such a strong tradition of liberty that we will stop any drastic infringements on our freedom. I don’t think, for example, that Spain’s draconian Citizen Safety Law would ever get through Parliament here.
The use of school students is a fairly common one in dystopian fiction (the biggest example being Battle Royale) but it is more realistic with them actually attending school and seeing the division between norms and the kids that have nodes implanted allowing them faster access to learning and near perfect recall. What inspired this?
I think the biggest influence has been working as a tutor these past 12 years. I’ve taught some incredibly bright and talented pupils at low performing schools, who, without additional input, have no chance of competing against their often less able peers at more spoon-feeding, exam-factory style schools. I wanted to take this unfairness and heighten it to a life or death situation.
I felt through the novel that you are not a fan of the levels of testing that students undergo today, nor the push to side-line the arts over the sciences – would you say that is accurate?
Absolutely. I have seen first hand the horrific pressure our results-obsessed education system places on students and I wanted my novel to reflect this. Teenagers work so hard to sit exams in 9 or more subjects, often to be rewarded by newspaper headlines denigrating their results and declaring this year’s exams to be ‘the easiest ever!’ The more creative students are forced to sweat their way through maths and science knowing that more weight will be placed on those results. And I think, growing up, I was as guilty as anyone of seeing maths and science as more important subjects or maybe better indicators of intelligence. I mean the stereotypically ‘brainy’ student is more associated with a lab or mathletes than poetry. I think my change in opinion has come through working closely with students who are clearly hugely intelligent but whose brains, for whatever reason, simply cannot process more abstract concepts in maths or science. And they feel terrible about it and somehow lesser. But the arts and humanities help foster an understanding of motivations and empathy, which I believe we need now more than ever to make the world a better place. When you imagine a world without stories, music and art you realise that whilst the Arts might not be necessary for human survival, they are necessary to preserve our humanity – even people with highly logical jobs like to relax at night with dramas and comedies, or perhaps even a YA book with crossover appeal.
Noa is a very unusual heroine, she comes across as flawed and human compared to many of her near perfect contemporaries on the dystopian YA bookshelf, what inspired you to create her?
I wanted a heroine who was a bit more relatable. I think that even in the most dystopian of societies people would be caught up in their own little trivial worlds, scared to act and, above all, determined to survive. The will to live is really, really strong, even if it means sacrificing others.
Will we be introduced to more of the drowned world in later stories or will we be confined to what remains of Britain?
Book two has the working title ‘Into the Wetlands,’ so there’s a clue!
Moving the spotlight onto your publishers for a moment, Firefly Press is a very new addition to the publishing market; apart from The Territory can you recommend any of the other titles they will be publishing?
They’ve got some great titles coming out. Also out this month is the mad sci-fi epic Lost on Mars by Doctor Who writer Paul Magrs (10+). In June they’re bringing out White Petals by Maria Grace – a warm and funny real-life drama set in a care home in the south Wales valleys (13+). And two great books in September – Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot by Horatio Clare, a modern day fable about a small boy determined to fight his dad’s depression (8 to 12); and The Boy Who Drew the Future by the brilliant Rhian Ivory – a YA fantasy fiction set in the past and present about two boys compelled to draw events that later come true.
Apart from what you may already have mentioned in previous questions, what inspired The Territory and what inspires you to write?
I’ve thought about writing for a long time and finally decided to have a go in snatched half hours while my baby slept. I’ve always been drawn to accessible novels about big ideas and my biggest influences are probably John Wyndham (The Crysalids is probably my all time favourite book), John Christopher (the amazing Death of Grass), Margaret Atwood (too many to name), Daniel Keyes (Flowers for Algernon – if you haven’t read it you need to get a copy, believe me), and more recently Gemma Malley (her thought provoking The Declaration). On a more personal note, my eldest girl is called Noa. My husband and I often panic about having given her such an unusual name so I wanted her to be able to read about a cool heroine called Noa to make her feel better about it all.
Apart from the sequel, is there anything else that you are working on at the moment?
I’ve written a few thousand words of a more humorous coming of age novel but I think I’ll return to this later. I want to crack on with the sequel!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions.