Category Archives: Interviews

The Devil in the Details: Discussing Devilskein & Dearlove with Alex Smith

Devilskein  Dearlove cover image copyright Ed Boxall
Hi Alex, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. For those readers that may not have come across your work before would you like to introduce yourself to the audience please?

Thanks Matt. I was a teenager in the last days of Apartheid, it was a violent and oppressive society, and themes that seem to recur in my novels are alienation, escape and finding ways of dealing with injustice and trauma. I’ve spent time living in China, Taiwan and the UK, and have travelled a fair bit around Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe, and so somehow also, travel/migration, culture, religion and the experience of being a stranger in a new place seem to find their way in most of my stories.

Devilskein & Dearlove is your fifth book and second title for younger readers; did you make a conscious decision to write for Teenagers?

Yes. There seems to be more creative freedom when writing for Teenagers. Perhaps that is just my perception and I’m misguided. But also, I have a son and he loves books (he’s only on picture books at the moment), and I want to write novels that he will enjoy reading.

You have said that Devilskein & Dearlove was inspired by The Secret Garden – how did you develop the idea?

The Secret Garden is one of my formative reading experiences, and to me it’s about finding happiness and magic where you least expect it. And that story has always lingered. In the last few years, South African fiction has broken out of its overly serious ‘JM Coetzee Nobel novel’ straight-jacket, and in particular genre fiction is leading the way (with the likes of Lauren Beukes whose Zoo City won the Arthur C Clarke Award a couple of years ago). The Secret Garden has happy memories for me; and so I wanted to bring its kind of unencumbered charm to a South African contemporary context. I re-read it before I started working and then brainstormed. Travel and place are always important elements in my stories; I very particularly wanted to set the novel in a memorable part of Cape Town. Long Street is an amazing place, full of life, night and day, where past and present, and local and international influences all collide.

I have seen Devilskein & Dearlove compared to Neil Gaiman and Hayao Miyazaki’s work – are you a fan of their work?

All through writing Devilskein & Dearlove, I was imagining the characters as existing in a graphic world, animated like the inhabitants of Miyazaki’s films. I Absolutely love both Gaiman and Miyakazi – they are both geniuses, so fabulously imaginative, their stories are transporting, there is real darkness that must be overcome and but in some way it is overcome, so there is also lightness and a great deal of delight too. It was Neil Gaiman’s ‘Graveyard Book’, a kind of reworking of ‘The Jungle Book’ that first gave me the idea of going back to one of my old favourite novels for a concept idea.

arachneYour previous four novels were all published in South Africa by Tafelberg, Struik & Umuzi in South Africa? How did you come to be signed by Arachne Press in the UK?

I wrote a short story (Icossi Bladed Scissors) that was selected for a Liar’s League reading in London and then later that year Cherry Potts from Arachne Press created an anthology of stories called ‘Weird Lies’. She included that story in the anthology and during the editing process, she sent out an email requesting submissions of novels. I happened to be working on one, so I sent it to her and she like it.

Devilskein & Dearlove is also the first YA novel to be published by Arachne Press – how does it feel to be the YA standard bearer for the publisher?

That sounds a bit daunting. I like making up stories, that’s my job. Cherry has taken a big risk and I hope that Devilskein & Dearlove doesnn’t fail her. But to be honest, I don’t like to think too much about all the other stuff, although I know it’s very important.

You won Silver in the Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature for Agency Blue in 2009, the Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award for Four Drunk Beauties in 2011 and you were short-listed for the Rolex Mentor & Protege Arts Initiative, the SA PEN Literary Award and 2010 Caine Prize. Do you feel under pressure from all these accolades or are you able to ignore the expectations and just write?

In terms of being a person who likes to make things, in this case stories, I’m only as good as my last story. (Maybe a bit like cooking – you can make a really delicious meal, and everyone enjoys it and you all remember the good feeling, but every day is a new day, a new meal and the fun is in cooking, then the reading… I mean, eating, not so much in remembering last month’s dinner). So once something is edited and published, it’s over, there’s nothing more I can do to it, so the fun and the challenge are over. I’m always working on new things and that’s all I want – is to be in a position to keep making up stories that people enjoy (and getting paid a bit to do it).

What is your favourite part of the writing process?

The first chapter, the last chapter and editing the final draft.

The South African YA writing scene seems to be exploding at the moment, can you recommend any works by SA YA writers that you enjoy reading?

I’m a great fan of anything by S.A.Patridge, Andrew Salomon and also S.L.Grey.

What is coming next for you after Devilskein & Dearlove?

I’ve got a short story long-listed for a competition associated with the National Arts Festival – that anthology (ironically called Adults Only) is due out around July too. And the novel I’m working on at the moment is called My Little Demon but it’s getting to be too dark for my present state of mind, which, in spite of toddler-driven sleep deprivation, is surprisingly positive.

You can find Alex online at alexsmith.bookslive.co.za

Some Interviews are Louder than Words! Eight Questions With… Laura Jarratt

Hi Laura, welcome to Eight Questions with… for Teen Librarian.

louder-than-words-laura-jarrattFor those readers that may not have encountered you or your books before can you please introduce yourself?
Sure – I’m a YA writer who writes books about characters I find interesting. Those books happen to include aspects of romance/thriller/mystery because that’s where the characters take me. I live in the North West of England and I’m of Irish heritage, which is pretty obvious if you stand me in the sun for more than five minutes on a summer’s day. I’ve got a daughter and a stepson, both of whom are way too young to read my books, and a husband who doesn’t read them either, although he does say he’ll read Louder Than Words on the beach this year as his friend gave me the technical support for the book. I am a lover of large skinny lattes and irreverent humour.

Louder than Words is your latest novel for readers of YA, how would you describe it to hook a potential reader?
It’s a thriller about hacktivism seen through the eyes of an elective mute girl whose brother gets embroiled with an anarchist collective when he falls in love for the first time. There’s some modern feminism in there that the characters are getting to grips with but mostly this book is about love in all its different forms.

Are any of your works based on personal experiences?
Only in that I slip in little things that have happened or have some significance in helping me form a plot. The riot scenes in Louder Than Words are based on events I saw happening on the ground and in the news afterwards when I was on a protest march in London a couple of years ago about public sector cuts. It was all very well-behaved where I was but you could see things beginning to kick off in the distance and later after we left it got bad. But none of my characters are ever based on people I know and I don’t have any personal experience of the issues in the books such as Rafi’s mutism or Jenna’s facial disfigurement.

Did you do any research into elective mutism when writing Louder than Words?
Some. I work in education and have done for nearly twenty years so I’ve some across kids with Rafi’s condition before. This meant I already knew a fair amount and also that I knew where to look to get more in depth information about treatment of the condition. What I found really useful was reading blogs by people who are or have been mute and they describe exactly how it feels when they want to speak – that really did help me to get Rafi’s experience right.

Have you had any brushes with Anonymous or hacktivism in general and what is your opinion of cybervigilantism?
I first heard of Anonymous a few years ago on a writer’s forum that was being trolled and the level of fear that seemed to be associated with getting attention from Anonymous seemed bizarre to someone who knew nothing about them. I have absolutely no time for trolling at all. The concept of spending your time trying to upset people on the internet is completely alien to me – I just do not get it. And yes, get a proper life is what springs to mind. However I began to see Anonymous on the news doing things I couldn’t be so condemnatory about like standing up to the Westboro Baptist Church in their abuse of homosexuals and the way they were picketing dead soldiers’ funerals and I realised something about Anonymous was changing. I watched a documentary on how this change came about and there were some people speaking in that documentary I found I had some time for. Spiteful trolling had shifted to hacktivism. This really interested me. I grew up in a time when environmental activism was relatively big so I do have a connection with that mindset.

What do I think of cybervigilantism? I have some cautious sympathy when it’s done to assist a worthwhile cause but like all vigilantism, it risks stepping over the line into the unacceptable. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards themselves? Or in other words, how do you know when you have gone too far? Once you break the law and descend into vigilantism then you walk a tightrope. I think you can see my opinion of it by watching what happens to ActionX and especially Dillon in the book. But on the other hand there is a lot of Lara that I love.

What is your favourite part of the writing process?
Editing! I detest first drafts. It’s like finding your way through a pea-souper fog. I never have any idea where I’m going and it’s just stressful with the odd moment of pleasure when you hit a sweet spot. Editing though is lovely because you really get to craft the raw material into something worth reading. However writing for me is all about making the characters and that’s the part I love – creating people. That’s why I keep doing it.

Were you a reader as a teen and do you read the works of other YA writers and can you recommend any authors or titles that you think may appeal to fans of your work?
As a teen I was a prolific and sadly pretentious reader. I spent far too much time reading books I thought I should enjoy. Then I grew up and now I only read books I will enjoy. I read a lot of YA, both the type of thing I write myself and lots of other sub-genres too. I highly recommend Jenny Downham’s Before I Die, Kevin Brooks’s Lucas and in a very different way James Dawson’s Hollow Pike to any of my fans. For historical YA, I love Marie Louise Jenson.

Have you had any feedback from teen readers? If yes what did they think of your work?
I probably get more teen feedback than the average writer because I work in a school so they’ll stop me in the corridors to tell me. I also get some lovely fan mail and fans tweet to me when they’ve read a new book. My favourite feedback is when someone tells me that something I’ve written helps them in some way. There is really no feeling like that. I also get told a lot that my teen characters feel real, which is very important to me as a writer. I was at the Portsmouth Book Award last week and By Any Other Name won, voted for by teen readers. Kids had done pieces of artwork and made fan videos about the book – to generate that level of enthusiasm feels amazing and not in the sense of bigging yourself up about how great you are (which isn’t my thing) but that you gave kids pleasure. I love getting so much into a book myself so it’s the moat awesome thing if I’ve managed to create that for someone else.

Thank you so much for participating in this interview!

Interview with Nerine Dorman Author of the Guardian's Wyrd

nerinepicHi Nerine, welcome to Teen Librarian. As is customary in these interviews I ask all authors to introduce themselves to the audience.

Thanks for having me over, Matt. In brief, I’m an editor and author of SFF/H based in Cape Town, South Africa. I have a passion for stories and storytelling, especially when it comes to genre fiction. Apart from that, I am nominally involved in the local indie film scene, and also play guitar. I curate the annual South African HorrorFest Bloody Parchment event, short story competition and anthology. For some reason, I’ve also been named The Vampire Queen of the South. Make of that what you will. 😉

Most of your previous works would be classified as dark fantasy for adults and while TGW is still on the fringes of that genre it is aimed firmly at Young Adult readers – why did you decide to write for teens?

Why not write for YA readers? I don’t generally make distinctions, and write what I will, when the story asks for it. I have a great love for tales that follow the progress of characters when they are still in their teens. They have their whole lives ahead of them, which gives the author lots of scope to develop their adventures and grow them as characters. If I think back to my favourite stories, most of the characters were youngsters (think Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings, Garion from the Belgariad, Lessa from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books, Fitz from Robin Hobb’s books… the list goes on and on). Most of those books were in the adult section when I was a kid. I think if they’d been written in current times, they may have been reclassified as YA.

GW_Cover_09_author c i (2)How would you describe The Guardian’s Wyrd in a sentence that would hook a potential reader?

Teen rebel becomes besties with a prince from a magical realm and discovers that he can wield magic.

The protagonist Jay is mixed-race which makes a nice change from the usual white protagonists in fantasy fiction. What are your thoughts on the under-representation of people of colour as protagonists in fantasy fiction?

I cannot even begin to tell you how bored I am with the standard Caucasian tropes in fantasy, so anything I can do to buck the trend, I will. I’ll mix it up, and even in my secondary world fantasy, I bring in non-standard ethnicities. I love fantasy where the template for a particular culture is recognisably non-European. For instance, I loved GRRM’s Dothraki, and I’m currently reading and loving Karen Miller’s Empress, where the people are most definitely *not* blond-haired and pale.

Good fantasy transcends traditional boundaries, and I’d like to see more authors doing that. The current climate that favours indie and small press authors is great for diversity, and I’d like to see more breaking with traditional roles. This is a difficult stance to take, because there is incredible reader resistance to non-standard settings. But I encourage other authors to be brave. The more of us that write what we want, the better it is for diversity in the long run.

Are there any books or authors that inspired you in the writing of TGW?

Definitely to a degree CS Lewis for the Narnia books. Yes, it’s an old trope to have an Earthling immersed in a foreign, magical realm, but it’s a good one. I recently reread The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which was a slightly poignant experience, because I didn’t quite see the book the same way as I did when I was little. However that sense of wonder still had me in its grip. But I do pay my respects to JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin and Storm Constantine for their epic fantasy, and especially for the sense of the reader stumbling into the tail-end of a story. Mystery, magic and wonder – not to forget the danger and adventure.

One thing I noticed – more by its absence than anything else was the lack of anything remotely love triangle-y (apart from the unrequited yearnings he had for his music teacher and the snog with the bird girl). Why do you think so many authors throw tangled love-lives into their stories?

Plainly put, love triangles bore the bantha pudu out of me. How many of us actually experience them for real? My teenage years were an interminable agony of unrequited love until I had my first proper boyfriend at the age of 17. I’m sure many of us can relate. Sure, I had a pile of unsuitable boys pine after me, but I didn’t return their feelings. Real life doesn’t follow a set script, and I suspect that many writers feel that the love triangle seems to be a convenient narrative device.

That being said, sometimes a love triangle is called for – just not in this story. It’s not something I’ll put in for the sake of having the trope there, and it’s very much *what* an author does with the trope that counts. It’s reached the point that when I read YA fiction with an obvious love triangle, I start rolling my eyes. In real life, there will be people you like. Sometimes they’ll like you back. Sometimes you’ll get involved with them even if you’re not totally in love with them. Maybe you’ll meet someone else you do *really* like. They might not like you back the same way, yet they’ll dance with you and hold your hand for a bit. Then they won’t ever call you back.

When you’re young, it’s difficult to hold onto that whole “one true love” concept. Yes, sometimes there will be that one person who’ll gut you emotionally, and you’ll walk around for years with the rusty knife in your back, but life goes on. You’ll meet someone new, develop feelings for them. Hey, maybe you’ll even get married.

To be honest, I’d like to see more authors write about characters who consciously work on a relationship with someone they choose to love instead of just falling in love. Where it’s a gradual, growing fascination rather than a *Zzzzzt! instalove! Across the room!* thing. And love isn’t always simple, easy or kind.

We had a taste of Sunthyst on Rowan’s world which is shown to be an extremely prejudicial society showed pretty blatantly with the use of slaves stolen from our world and a suspicion of magic users, do you have plans to show other nations or parts of the world that may not be as unpleasant?

I’m a sucker for a “warts and all” approach to my world-building. In real life, each nation is built on the subjugation of another, and they in turn are conquered or overrun. I don’t apologise for my outlook, and believe that as an author, it’s my duty to show the imperfections in society. Or at least in a story where there are heavy fantasy elements, I strive for a degree of realism. Anything less would be writing twee, cute and fluffy stories, and I’m sorry, that’s not what I’m about. My unicorns have fangs. They bite.

Conversely Jay and Rowan make a bit of an odd couple in the real (our) world do you have any plans to show their friendship developing with school and the demands and prejudices of this side of the portal?

Book two has been plotted, and yes, our two friends do test the boundaries of their relationship. Which one of your closest friends hasn’t at some point made you want to slap them? But you stick with them because you know they’ll do the same to you when you’re acting up. You friend can say stuff to you that you’d never tolerate from a stranger. In some ways, friends can be better than family, because you get to choose your friends – not so much with family, who can be unashamedly underhanded and nasty. Especially when it comes to inheritance, or favouritism with parents.

I enjoyed the instances of SA slang in the book (in some cases it was the first time I have seen certain expressions written down) do you think that international audiences will benefit from a glossary?

I’m a firm believer in letting readers figure it out for themselves. After all, not all the books I read from the US or the UK have a glossary, and I had no idea what the words meant. Granted, if an editor asks nicely, I’ll put one in. [smiles] I feel an author should be able to communicate the meaning of the slang through the context of the word. [Go read A Clockwork Orange without referring to the glossary. It’s real horrorshow.] That being said, these days you don’t have an excuse. I ask Google if I don’t have the answer. Google is my friend… 😉

Lastly, South Africa is appears to be experiencing a boom in YA writing, are there any other authors whose works you enjoy that you would like to recommend?

Cat Hellisen, definitely. Though her books are more adult, in my mind, her debut novel When The Sea is Rising Red was released for the YA market. Then Suzanne van Rooyen has totally wowed me. Like Cat, she isn’t too concerned with trends and her writing is gritty and poignant in all the right ways. I can’t recommend Rachel Zadok enough, and would recommend her to YA and adult readers alike, purely because she writes like the secret lovechild of Nick Cave and Poppy Z Brite.

Then for lovers of contemporary YA, there’s SA Partridge, who really knows how to nail the issues that teens face, and with so much compassion too. As for other South African authors in genre fiction, I recommend SL Grey, Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg. Granted, SL Grey is those two writing together, but you really can’t go wrong with them as both are utterly wicked in all the delightfully wrong ways. A recent addition to the local genre fiction scene would be Dave-Brendon de Burgh, who’s writing epic fantasy that should appeal to those who enjoy the likes of Robert Jordan and Steven Erikson.

Follow Nerine on Twitter (@nerinedorman) and sign up for her newsletter (http://eepurl.com/JoPUv). Add The Guardian’s Wyrd to your Goodreads list and purchase at Amazon or Kobo.

James Dawson and the Countdown to June 5th

countdown
 
Yesterday you read 20 Random Questions with Holly Smale over at Sister Spooky’s site.

Tomorrow you can read about Jennifer Gray at Big Book Little Book.

But TODAY… today we are BLESSED for we have James Dawson here, brought to you by the wonder that is digital video:

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.

Eight Questions With… Sam Osman

chasing darkWhat influenced your decision to write for Teenagers?
I have two teenage children, a boy of fifteen and a girl of thirteen and I really wanted to write the sort of books that would keep them and other teenagers reading, despite all the distractions of phones, friends and Facebook.

How do you get into the heads of your characters?
I listen to my own children and their friends and sometimes I try to think back to my own feelings as a teenager but very often I imagine that I am the character and I talk to myself!

Do you know instinctively what will appeal to Teens or is it more a hit or miss process?
Like readers of any age, teens love gripping stories but the important thing is to have characters whose lives and emotions they can relate to. I’m writing crime fiction for teens at the moment and although the crimes in the stories may be very similar to those in an adult novel my detectives are very different. They are teenage boys and girls, not raddled old cops with alcohol problems and rocky marriages!

QUICKSILVERWhat is the most satisfying part of the writing process for you?
Sitting down at the computer and writing a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph or a page that conveys exactly what I can see or hear in my head.

Do you ever read the works of other Teen/YA authors? If yes what can you recommend?
Yes, I read lots of Teen/YA novels. One of my favourite books is Guantanamo Boy by Anna Pereira. For older Teens I would recommend Tanya Byrne’s Heart Shaped Bruise and for younger ones Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Are any of your novels based on personal experiences?
Not directly in terms of plot but I think that some of the emotional reactions of the characters come from my own experience of pain, conflict or loss.

serpentsgoldAre you working on anything new at the moment or do you have anything planned?
Yes I am writing a crime novel about an Afghan girl whose family come to London to escape the Taliban. It’s at the very early stages at the moment but when her brother is accused of a terrible crime she turns detective to expose a massive conspiracy.

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?
Yes, I do a lot of school, library, and reading group visits. The best way to contact me is via my www.samosmanbooks.com website

Eight Questions With… Sandra Greaves

skullwoodWhat influenced your decision to write for Teenagers?

I’ve always loved children’s literature and YA. I didn’t make a conscious decision to try and write for teenagers, but when I started plotting ‘The Skull in the Wood’, my characters Matt and Tilda just emerged as aged 12 and 13. I feel very happy writing that for age group, and I’m interested in writing for an older YA readership too.

How do you get into the heads of your characters?

It’s a cliché that your characters take over, but they genuinely do. I try and imagine how they behave in all sorts of situations, not just the ones on the pages of the book. I even wrote a few scenes that I never intended to appear in the book, just so that I knew how Matt and Tilda had reacted at crucial times in their lives.

Do you know instinctively what will appeal to Teens or is it more a hit or miss process?

Mostly I write about what appeals to me – I don’t consciously gear it to a particular age group. If I get excited about it, I hope that teens will too.

What is the most satisfying part of the writing process for you?

Writing the early drafts is amazing – a story just seems to take shape out of nothing and the process is utterly magical. But I like the detailed editing too – I think you have enjoy that if you’re ever going to finish a novel, because if you get bored at any stage, your readers will too.

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

At the moment I’m reading Patrick Ness’s ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy and really enjoing it. Meg Rosoff’s ‘How I Live Now’ blew me away, as did Sally Gardner’s ‘Maggot Moon’. And I loved Louis Sachar’s ‘The Cardturner’ – it just amazed me that you can construct a whole novel around playing bridge!

Are any of your novels based on personal experiences?

Not really – I like to make things up, and none of my characters are based on real people. But of course, things that have happened to me do have a knack of edging in where I least expect them.

Are you working on anything new at the moment or do you have anything planned?

I’m in the early stages of a new novel – but it’s way too soon to talk about it!

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’m going to do some library and reading group visits in the autumn, and I’m always happy to do more – it’s great to meet committed readers! At the moment it’s best to email on tina(at)doublecluck.com at my publishers and requests will be passed on to me. And I’ll have a website up and running soon.

Entering the School for Good & Evil: An Interview with Soman Chainani

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1. Hi Soman thank you for taking the time to be interviewed for Teen Librarian. For the first question would you please introduce yourself for the readers?

My pleasure! I’m Soman Chainani, the author of THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD & EVIL series and the writer of the upcoming film adaptations for Universal as well. I’m thrilled to be here at Teen Librarian to give you a little peek behind the scenes of the SGE world. I’m also a massive, massive Anglophile and worked in the British film and TV industry for years before I started work on the series. I’d live in London in a heartbeat if I didn’t have to fly to Los Angeles so often for film work.

2. School for Good & Evil is your first novel, everyone I have spoken to that has read it has been raving about it (in a good way) myself included – how does it feel to have such a rapturous response?

Any temporary ego boost is tempered by how hard I’m working on the second book in the series, called A WORLD WITHOUT PRINCES. Sequels tend to be disappointing, but I’ve always told myself that each book in the SGE series has to be better than the last – and wildly different — or there’s no point writing them. So I’ve been holed up in various rooms and coffee shops, writing like a madman. Even when I was in London for the UK tour, I’d spend half the day at a tea shop in Soho banging my head against the wall on a new chapter.

That said, I’m fully aware of how special and lucky this whole run has been so far. I had a list of goals I wanted to achieve by the end of the series – and they all happened in the first week! I stumbled around for a while, feeling like I was in a dream. Good news can sometimes be as disorienting as bad news. But now I’m happily back to work, abusing myself daily as to why I can’t write faster.

3. I have heard that the movie rights for SfG&E have been purchased – will you be involved in the adaptation?

I’m writing the adaptation for Universal with Malia Scotch Marmo (the writer of Hook). The movie will be very different from the book. For one thing, there’s just too much story in the book to fit into a two-hour movie. For another, a literal adaptation of a book can be quite dreary and repetitive. I’m much more interested in finding a new way to tell the story of Sophie and Agatha, so that the film feels like a new experience, even to lovers of the book.

4. On the surface, the story looks like your typical fairy tale of good and evil but once you get past the cover it challenges ones preconceptions of good and evil – what influences did you have in the writing of the story?

We didn’t have cable when I was young, so all we had was our rickety TV set and VHS tapes of every single Disney animated movie. Until age 8 or so, that was all I pretty much watched. Everything I learned about storytelling, I learned from Disney. When I went to college, though, I became fascinated by the gap between the original tales and these Disney revisions.

As a relentless student of the Grimms’ stories, what I loved about them was how unsafe the characters were. You could very well end up with wedding bells and an Ever After – or you could lose your tongue or be baked into a pie. There was no ‘warmth’ built into the narrator, no expectations of a happy ending. The thrill came from vicariously trying to survive the gingerbread house, the hook-handed captain, or the apple-carrying crone at the door – and relief upon survival. Somewhere in that gap between the Disney stories and the retellings, THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL was born.

In recent years, fairy tale mash-ups, retellings, and revisions have become popular – and for good reason, given how enduring and inspiring the source material is. That said, I had my sights set on something more primal: a new fairy tale, just as unleashed and unhinged as the old, that found the anxieties of today’s children. To acknowledge the past – the alumni of the genre, so to speak – and move on to a new class. As soon as I started thinking in those terms, I knew I wanted to do a school-based novel. I was walking in Regents Park in London before a meeting when I had the first image… a girl in pink and a girl in black falling into the wrong schools… I got so caught up thinking that I missed my appointment entirely.

5. There are some superficial comparisons to Hogwarts Harry Potter, but the School for Good and Evil is a much darker place – has your book faced any challenges yet or is it still too new to have popped up on outraged parents radars yet?

It is a much darker place – Hogwarts you choose to go to. You’re kidnapped to The School for Good and Evil and there’s no return. But encouragingly, I haven’t heard a single complaint about the book’s content. There’s certainly been commentary about its amoral universe and the intensity of what the kids have to face – but the course of the story seems to solve any concerns.

That said, there will be rumbles about Book 2. You’ll see.

6. Have the majority of your fans identified themselves as Evers or Nevers? and how would you describe yourself?
Hmm, good question. It’s been so evenly split! It’s quite amazing, really. Even when I go to schools, by the end, it’s a very clear 50-50.

I can be comically high maintenance (my friends joke Sophie is the real me), so I’d surely be an overachieving Ever and the most regular user of the Groom Room (the medieval spa, which only the top ranked students are allowed to use). That said, Evil’s classes have no boundaries – for sheer entertainment value alone, I can see the allure.
That’s if I had a choice. In the process of writing the book, I realized I wasn’t quite sure which school I would actually end up in– so I created an online assessment to answer that question. At www.schoolforgoodandevil.com, every reader can take a 10-question SGE Entrance Exam to determine whether they’re an Ever or a Never. I wrote all the questions myself and there’s a bank of over 100, so the questions change every time.
I’ve taken it a number of times, trying to be as honest as I can, and I always end up 75% Evil and 25% Good. Those who read the novel will agree that this isn’t a surprising result in the least.

7. Fairy tales were originally dark and bloody tales before they were tamed by the Grimm brothers and Charles Perrault (and later Walt Disney) and had most of the blood and death removed, your story returns to the roots of the tales were bad things happen to the deserving (those deserving of having bad things happen to them) – was this intentional returning to the roots of the stories and removing most of the sugar?

Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, I just don’t quite understand why children of two hundred years ago could handle these frank and brutal stories of survival and cleverness – while children today must endure the sanitized versions. Frankly, I find the latter far more offensive and damaging. So in the School for Good and Evil, I point out this disparity. Once upon a time, Good and Evil were in pure balance. But now Good wins all the time, is obsessed with beauty, clothes, and superficial romance. The School itself has become Disneyfied and is trying to find its way back.

8. Finally do you have any plans for a sequel either involving Sophie and Agatha or staying with students at the School?

It’s a three-book series, so you’ll see what’s next. As for who’s in it… well that’s the question isn’t it!
Thanks for having me on your wonderful blog. SGE fans can join the jam-packed Facebook page, message me on Twitter at @somanchainani, and keep up with all things Good and Evil on www.schoolforgoodandevil.com.

COMPETITION TIME:

Win One of Five Copies of The School For Good & Evil!

Follow this link:
http://schoolforgoodandevil.com/exam/
Take the exam and then comment on this post with your name and if you were determined to be Good or Evil. Winners will be chosen at random at the end of the month!

Talking about Half Lives: an Interview with Sara Grant

sara_grant_author_photoHI Sara, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed! For my first question would you be able to summarise Half Lives in 10 words? (if you can- more words can be used if necessary)

That’s a difficult challenge, but here goes…

Two stories of survival; separated by time but bound by a deadly secret.

Half Lives is two stories – one set at the end of our world as we know it and the second on the cusp of a new civilisation arising – how long did it take you to write the story?

The spark for the story came in November 2009 when my editor at Little, Brown sent me a link to an article on Slate.com’s Culture Gabfest. The article was titled “Atomic Priesthoods, Thorn Landscapes, and Munchian Pictograms: How to communicate the dangers of nuclear waste to future civilizations.” It discussed how a US Department of Energy panel planned to label the site of an underground nuclear waste repository.

The topic may sound dull, but the more I thought about it, the more it fascinated me. Some types of nuclear waste are deadly for more than 10,000 years – that’s longer than the world’s oldest civilization. Who knows what the world will be like even a thousand years from now? What language will we speak? What symbols will have meaning? The article sparked something in my brain and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I developed the novel on and off from the moment I read that article in 2009. The more I wrote and researched, the more I found that I wanted to explore.

(If you want to read more about the article that started it all and the issues behind the story, you can visit my web site at: http://www.sara-grant.com/half-lives/half-live-discussions/)
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Was it difficult keeping the protagonists voices separate?

The voices, settings and time periods were so different that keeping the stories separate in my head wasn’t difficult. Also I initially wrote the two stories in Half Lives as separate novels. Once I was sure the stories were satisfying on their own then I knitted them together, endeavouring to show the reader the complete story by withholding and revealing information in each narrative.

The idea of a culture and religion based around modern day youth slang and culture is brilliant – what inspired you to come up with that concept?

It’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for a long time, maybe even since the 1995 Joan Osborne song One of Us with the chorus, “What if God was one of us. Just a slob like one of us. Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.”

Until Half Lives, I hadn’t found the story that would allow me to explore these ideas. What’s more fascinating than religion? Not only organized religion but also the systems of belief, faith and superstition that everyone creates to make it through the day.

Half Lives as a title works on a number of levels – the stories of Icie and Beckett, their lives being trapped by fate and circumstance and the time it takes radioactive materials to decay. Did the title come first or did you have the story planned and written before you named it?

Half Lives was the title from the very first proposal and outline. That happens sometimes; the title comes as part of the initial spark.
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The covers of the British & American editions are very different – which one do you prefer?

I like both covers for different reasons. They both represent similar aspects of the novel. Both covers show the connected dark and light sides of the story. The US cover was designed to match the re-designed cover of my first teen novel Dark Parties. I must admit that my favourite detail appears on the UK cover; it’s a black cat sauntering across the ISBN bar code. (A black cat plays a significant role in the novel.) Details like this make me appreciate how much my publishers invest in and understand my work.

Did you have any involvement in the design?

I have two amazing publishers with fantastic art departments. They showed me initial designs, and I gave feedback, but they are responsible for the cover concept and design. I leave the visual art to the professionals.

The breakdown between Icie, Chaske, Tate and Marissa was as heart-breaking as it was inevitable – is it difficult to write scenes like this in your novels? I am aware that some authors have very public near breakdowns when talking about bad things happening to their characters.

Many scenes in Half Lives were difficult to write. If I’m heart broken when writing or upset or scared then that emotion often translates onto the page. Many scenes had to be written in layers. It’s easier to deepen difficult scenes over time rather than in one initial rush. I’m a planner so I know most of what will happen from the initial outline. But surprises happen along the way, and it can be devastating when you realize that something horrible must happen to one of your characters. Chaske surprised me the most in Half Lives. He was a mysterious character that revealed himself to me over the course of several drafts.

Was Half Lives written as a warning against the dangers of nuclear waste and weapons of mass destruction or was that just an added extra?

The novel sprang from an article about these issues so they were fundamental to the story from the very beginning. The more I researched about these topics the more unbelievable it became. Creating a substance that will be deadly for tens of thousands of years definitely seems like science fiction, something right out of a superhero comic book.

While reading the book I had no idea how you were going to bring the two strands of the story together separated as they were by time and culture. Did you start with the idea of how they would converge or did they converge together as you wrote?

I created a grid that outlined the plot points in the two novels and noted how and where they would intersect. The difficult aspect of this novel was that if I changed something in one story, I had to consider the ripple effect it would have in the other.

The Just Sayings that prefaced each chapter of Beckett’s story are brilliant – are there any plans to put them together and make them all available to the reading public?

That’s an interesting idea. I do have a bigger list of Just Sayings. I’m a bit obsessive about details like that so I have a grid that notes the origin of the Just Saying and where it appeared in the book. But my reference documents are sometimes only understandable to me. Maybe I’ll get that organized and post it on my web site. Thanks for the suggestion, Matt!

Finally – what are atomic priesthoods?

The phrase ‘atomic priesthoods’ comes from the article I mentioned that served as the spark for Half Lives. The article discussed how the US planned to mark the site of a nuclear waste repository and the conundrum of how you communicate with future generations that most likely won’t speak the same language we do nor understand the same symbols. Here’s the extract from the Slate.com article:

“In the early 1980s, the semiotician and linguist Thomas Sebeok wrote a paper for the U.S. Office of Nuclear Waste Management titled “Communication Measures To Bridge Ten Millennia,” which proposes a folkloric relay system to pass along information: “The legend-and-ritual, as now envisaged, would be tantamount to laying a ‘false trail,’ meaning that the uninitiated will be steered away from the hazardous site for reasons other than the scientific knowledge of the possibility of radiation and its implications; essentially, the reason would be accumulated superstition to shun a certain area permanently.” Sebeok further suggested a Dan Brown-like “atomic priesthood” of physicists, anthropologists, semioticians and the like who would preserve the “truth.”
” (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/green_room/2009/11/atomic_priesthoods_thorn_landscapes_and_munchian_pictograms.html)

This was one idea for how to warn away future generations from these deadly burial grounds with only a select few – so called atomic priests – who know the truth. Thankfully this wasn’t the final recommendation. Atomic Priesthoods sounds like a great name for a rock band though.

Thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed!

You are very welcome, Matt! Thanks for reading Half Lives and being my first official interview on the book.

Cover2Cover Publisher Interview

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Today, Teen Librarian is proud to host an interview with Dorothy Dyer, one of the founders of YA Publisher Cover2Cover

1. Globally publishing seems to be in a crisis and companies are merging for survival – why did you decide to start an independent publishing company?
Cover2Cover didn’t start to compete with existing companies. Cover2Cover started in order to get young South Africans reading, teens who have never really read for pleasure before. So we were wanting to create a whole new market!

2. How have young adult readers responded to these books?
fundzaWe have been absolutely overwhelmed by the responses of readers. We founded a literacy trust, FunDza, and as part of its work it distributes these books to schools and literacy organisations all over the country. Again and again we get rave reviews and accolades, with teachers saying they have never seen their students wanting to read like this before. I just have to quote some of our favourites, if you don’t mind..!

From a rural organisation in Kwa-Zulu Natal: The principal of Siyanda says the kids are so enthusiastic about the books that they are not even waiting to return them to the library before passing them on…She says she goes into the library now and finds kids sitting there in silence, engrossed in their reading – your books have started what we hope will be a revolution.
From a girls’ high school: I thought you would be interested to know that the books have been a huge ‘hit’ in our grade 9 bookclub . The girls are just so enjoying them. We just can’t keep up with the demand.

I think it’s incredibly powerful on all sorts of levels to recognise your life and world in a book, and for many of these students this is the first time it happens.When I do a reading aloud I can feel the ripples of excitement and recognition when there is local slang. It validates your world, to see it in a story, I think.

c2cA-shining-star-cover3. You currently publish Best Reads so far aimed at years 7,8 & 9 and The Harmony High series aimed at secondary school readers do you have plans for more series?
We are also publishing anthologies of short stories that were first published on FunDza Literacy Trust’s mobi-site – we’ve just brought out number 1. We are interested in creating new series – we have been discussing the idea of a series for 9 to 12, as we hear from literacy workers that there is a real gap here as well for contemporary local stories. Here though we would have to look at translation into local languages too to make the stories widely accessible.
Another project is trying to get our books much cheaper, and distributed in a different way. Currently books are expensive items available at bookstores. We dream to change that. We have seen that there are readers who enjoy the books. Now we need to get the books out there, possibly in a different format… watch this space!

c2cSugar-Daddy-Cover4. The books published by Cover2Cover focus on South African youth issues – do you think they would find readership outside of SA?
We have heard that readers in Malawi and Zimbabwe have enjoyed them. They are easy and exciting reads, and although are local, the stories deal with challenges that many teens face, so yes, I think the books could find readership elsewhere. They might be interesting to people out of the country because they also do give a picture of SA that is not always reflected in the news – ordinary people making meaning out of their lives in difficult circumstances.

5. I have seen conversations recently about a lack of people of colour (POC) on the covers of YA books Cover2Cover seems to be bucking this trend are you aware of other publishers putting out YA novels featuring POC on the cover?
Our mission is overt in getting our readers to recognise themselves in books, so we think it is very important that our cover models reflect the characters in the book. I have seen various incidences in this country and overseas where the white models on the outside are no reflection of the darker skinned characters inside the covers, and I think it is distressing that some publishers are prepared to sacrifice the integrity of the novel to get more sales, and seem to think that for this white faces – or rather beautiful white faces – are necessary.
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6. Harmony High is described as a soap opera read for teens – do the stories have to be read in order or are the stories self-contained?
The books are all follow characters who attend one fictional township high school, Harmony High, and there is a vague chronological order. Broken Promises and Jealous in Jozi, for example, follow one particular character, Ntombi, whereas the other books focus on other characters, such as Sugar Daddy, which follows the story of one of Ntombi’s friends. But each book is carefully written so it can be a satisfying read on its own.

7. How many authors are working on the series and how can writers get involved in writing for Cover2Cover?
c2cFrom-boys-to-men-CoverThere is a little team of us – five in total. Ros and I are the puppet masters, or rather the conductors, who make sure the stories fit together etc. We also always test the stories in manuscript form on young readers, to make sure we’re getting things right.
Because it is a bit like a soapie, and does have to be carefully managed, we aren’t looking for anyone to join the team at this stage.

8. Are the books available internationally and if yes how can one get hold of them?
Hard copies can be ordered from us at info@cover2cover.co.za. We are also available on Amazon now, digitally.