Category Archives: Interviews

YA in SA: Author Interview with Edyth Bulbring

april-may1. Hi Edyth thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, for the benefit of those who have not come across your books before could you please introduce yourself?

Hi Matt, thanks so much for interviewing me on your blog. I was born in Boksburg (near Johannesburg) and spent 17 years growing up in Port Elizabeth, which is a very windy city on the coast of South Africa. I never wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be an airhostess and travel the world. But in the days when I was young you had to be very tall and very pretty to be an air hostess. I was neither. So I went to university in Cape Town and studied history and politics. I also edited the university newspaper and got a part time job as a switchboard operator at a weekly newspaper. But I was useless at it so they let me write a few stories. I ended up being the political correspondent for the South African Sunday Times from 1991–1995 (where I had the privilege of covering the transition to democracy). I then went and did an MBA at the University of Witwatersrand, where I learned that I don’t have a strong profit motive. Ten years ago I chucked in the full-time job at the Sunday Times and decided to stay at home and look after my three children and try and write books (for which you certainly cannot have any profit motive). The first book I wrote was for my children. And when no one wanted to publish it, I wrote a few more books. And then they all got published which was a bit of a relief.

I live in Johannesburg which is a brilliant city with the best weather in the world. I have published six books in South Africa. The Club, which was published by Jonathan Ball Publishers in September 2008, and five young adult novels: The Summer of Toffie and Grummer (Oxford University Press, February 2008); Cornelia Button and the Globe of Gamagion (Jacana, April 2008); Pops and The Nearly Dead (Penguin, March 2010); Melly, Mrs Ho and Me (Penguin, September 2010) and Melly, Fatty and Me (Penguin, September 2011).

2. You have written books for adults (The Club), tweens (Cornelia Button) as well as Teen readers (Pops and the Nearly Dead & A Month with April-May), do you have any preferences for writing for a particular age range?

I don’t usually write with any audience in mind. I simply tell the story I want to tell. I like writing books from the perspective of young people. Teenagers are interesting people and their take on life fascinates me. I think they tend to be more honest than adults. And their observations on life and society tend to be less muted and constrained by convention.

I think A Month with April-May and its sequel 100 Days of April-May would be enjoyed by teenage readers, but one of my other books, Pops and the Nearly Dead, is one of those cross-over books that appeals equally to adults and teenagers. I like the fact that it’s the kind of book that builds a bridge between the generations and makes people realise that the only thing that separates old people from young people is a couple of years. When I set out to write The Club and The Summer of Toffie and Grummer I didn’t have any market in mind. I didn’t give it any thought. I just wanted to write a good story that would capture the imaginations of people who like to read books. And then these books got buffed and tweaked in later drafts when the publishers decided where they wanted to position them. Although The Club was pitched (by the publishers) at an adult market, a lot of teens have read it and it grew a bit of a cult status among teen readers. The only book that I specifically meant for children (aged about 9–12) was Cornelia Button and the Globe of Gamagion. I wrote it for my three children and I think it’s very much a children’s book. And unlike my others books, I have met very few adults who have actually enjoyed it. Which I think is fine, because I never wanted them to.

3. Is A Month with April-May your first novel to be picked up by an international publisher?

Yes, Hot Key Books is publishing A Month with April-May in February 2013 and the sequel, 100 Days of April-May in September 2013. There is also a third book which will be published next year that is not part of the April-May series. The two April-May books are also being published by Bayard in France next year.

4. The original title for A Month With April-May was Melly, Mrs Ho and Me. Apart from the title were any other changes made when you were published by Hot Key Books?

I was very lucky to have an amazing editor in South Africa called James Woodhouse who edited the two April-May books. I loved working with him and I think Hot Key Books were really happy with the edit he did. So very few changes were made to the text except for a couple of words that were either South African slang, or too foreign for a UK reader to understand. We either made it clear in the sentence what the word meant, or we changed the word to one with which a UK reader would be more familiar. We also have a glossary at the back just in case the reader wants to check that his/her understanding of the word is correct.

5. How were you discovered by Hot Key Books?

I have an agent called Tina Betts from Andrew Mann in the UK. And she got me discovered by Hot Key. Tina has been really amazing. She kept the faith with me and persevered, even when things looked pretty bleak and I had almost given up hope of ever being published outside of South Africa.

6. What is your opinion on the state of YA writing in South Africa?

There are lots of brilliant YA authors in South Africa, but, like the rest of fiction, the book buying market isn’t great: we are competing with the big titles from the UK and America that also have big marketing budgets behind them.

But there is an exciting project in South Africa which started a couple of years back to try and get young people reading, especially young teens from low income communities who haven’t had exposure to the culture of reading for pleasure. The project is called FunDza Literacy Trust and it publishes local material by great local writers on an accessible app on a cellphone – and nearly all teens in South Africa have access to cellphones. The stories are high interest, lots of drama, and a new chapter is loaded each day, in the proud tradition of Dickens’ penny dreadfuls. There are also full books available on the site. So far, more than 350 000 users have registered, which is amazing considering that a bestseller in South Africa is a book that sells about 3000 copies.

The publisher that founded FunDza, Cover2Cover Books, has a Harmony High series aimed at the same target market. The books follow the lives, loves and challenges of a group of teens at a fictional township high school. The books are written by a small collective. Some titles give you the idea of the content: Sugar Daddy, Too Young to Die, Two-faced Friends, Broken Promises. FunDza distributes these books to schools and literacy organisations and they are having rave reviews, with teachers reporting that they had never seen kids reading like this before. These are, hopefully, the gateway to broader reading pleasure as young people realise that reading can be meaningful, and so can go on to enjoy the more challenging local writers who are producing some really interesting books.

7. Did you have any favourite authors when you were a teen?

I read everything I could lay my hands on and never really took note of who was writing them. I read all my mother’s and sisters’ library books. I read lots of trashy books and some good books too. I was a bit of a glutton. The children’s books I really liked were written by Enid Blyton, Willard Price and I liked the Katy books by Susan Coolidge. I loved Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Montgomery) and I have tried to get my daughters to read it and they have refused. It breaks my heart.

But the one author I admired as a teen and still go back to is Jane Austen. She never disappoints. I enjoy her irony and her sense of empathy. And her long sentences. I wish I could write long, complicated, grammatically perfect sentences. But apart from Jane Austen, there is one author who I esteem above all others for writing the best book ever written for both adults and teens: Harper Lee (who only ever published one book and got it right the first time). Whenever I see To Kill a Mocking Bird in charity shops, I buy it. I have about thirty copies and I’m going to keep on buying it. She inspires me to keep on writing until I get it right.

8. Who is your favourite young adult writer (local and international)?

I don’t read young adult fiction unless I have to. I know that sounds a bit mad, but I don’t want to be influenced by what other young adult writers are writing. And it would make me nervous. But the one author I really like who writes for both adults and teens is Philip Pullman. I loved His Dark Materials Trilogy. They are cross-over books which I think are the best sort of novels. I also like Roald Dahl. I didn’t mind reading his books to my children too much when they were young.

9. Are any of your novels based on personal experiences?

Most of the ideas of my books come from things I have heard or experienced. With A Month with April-May, a couple of years back, my daughter was going through a rough spot. She didn’t want to go to school, she was sleeping a lot, and her grades were dropping. I finally figured out that she was having a bad time with one of her teachers. And knowing my daughter, the teacher was probably having a rotten time of it too. It got me thinking about the effect that one teacher can have on the life of a child. And how teachers have the ability to make or break pupils – and vice versa. It also got me wondering about the miscommunication that happens between people and how sometimes it sets us off on a course of action we can’t stop, even when things are heading for a train smash. So I decided to write about a teacher and a student who butted heads and things got out of hand. In my daughter’s case, things didn’t end happily. Writing this book was a way of turning things around and giving the story a different ending. There are aspects of Pops & the Nearly Dead which are based on real life characters and events. About six years ago my parents moved into a retirement village in Port Elizabeth and a few months later my father died. In the years that followed his death, my mother and I would talk about the people and goings-on at her retirement village – and of course we would talk about my father. We would knit – she was teaching me how to knit a blanket for my daughter – and talk and sometimes cry, and then I would write a chapter. And so, over the years, Pops & the Nearly Dead grew into a book. A lot of the book comes from true stories about my mother’s retirement village and a number of the characters are based on real people. But I took a lot of these events and turned them on their head and asked “What if?” and “Why not?” I enjoyed being able to take real people and events and give them different histories and endings. In a sense, I loved the fact that I had the power to rewrite history and make it all better.

10. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

I think it is when I have completed the first draft. I try and write the first draft of my books really fast. Because I’m not one of those disciplined writers who plan and have an outline of a book. So I lurch from chapter to chapter, never quite sure how one will end and the next will begin. I go a bit loopy in the process, sort of in a bit of a panic as to what comes next. And so of course, I drive my family a bit mental. So I need to finish the manuscript quickly before things completely unravel. I can’t afford to indulge in writer’s block because then it would make the whole first-draft process longer and more agonizing for everybody. But when I do hit a snag I go walking. Walking always sharpens the mind and makes you alert to all sorts of possibilities – like breaking your leg by falling down the holes left by the skollies who nick the water metre covers to sell for scrap metal. I also wander around my garden a lot and read newspapers. I love newspapers. There are always a hundred possible books in every newspaper, and usually I’ll read something that removes the snag and allows me to carry on writing. I find writing is a bit like running a marathon. It’s very hard work and the first and last few chapters are the worst. So I really like it when the first draft is written and I can go back to it feeling less crazy and start to flesh it out.

11. Do you ever visit schools or libraries in South Africa and have you considered Skype visits for international virtual visits and if you answer yes to either of those questions what is the best way to get into contact with you to arrange visits?

I have visited a lot of schools in South Africa and I like doing it. I enjoy hearing what young people are thinking and I find it really rewarding. But the idea of Skype scares the skin off me. I tried to do it once and I felt really weird. I think I’m a bit digitally challenged. But also I think I like to feel connected to people and Skype made me feel isolated. But if any school in the UK wants me to come and visit in all my fleshiness, I would love to do that. I can be contacted on facebook, or at my email address edythbulbring @ gmail.com.

12. Do you have any future titles coming out from Hot Key Books?

There is a third book that Hot Key Books is publishing next year which is not part of the April-May series. It was initially published by Oxford University Press (SA) in 2008 and it is called The Summer of Toffie and Grummer. It is the first book that I got published so it is very dear to my heart. I wrote it for my mother and it’s about a girl who tries to find a boyfriend for her widowed grandmother. I think Hot Key Books is going to change the title, which is fine by me because they come up with great titles. My experience with Hot Key Books has been brilliant and I really feel like I have found a home for my books with them in the UK.

C.J. Redwine – the Defiance Interview

Hi C.J. Welcome to the Teen Librarian Interview! Thank you for agreeing to participate.

1. The first question I always ask of an author is to please introduce themselves for the audience (for those that may not know who you are)

I’m C.J. Redwine, and I write fantasy adventure books for teens. I love lemon bars, my kids, going to the movies, and llamas. You can bribe me to do just about anything simply by promising me Johnny Depp.

2. When I started reading I thought that Defiance was going to be a quest-based fantasy novel, but then it morphed into a post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure with anti-patriarchal/feminist overtones. How would you describe your novel?

It morphed on me while I was writing it! I describe it as a post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure. But yes, it has a pinch of everything you mentioned.

3. Some of the best science-fiction has had a strong feminist slant (The Handmaids Tale being one of the best known) was your work influenced by any other stories or authors?

I’m very drawn to fantasy stories where the heroine is a) strong and capable, b) respected as an equal by the hero and c) isn’t dressed in a bra and high-heeled boots because let’s be honest—I love high-heeled boots as much as the next girl, but I’d break my neck in them if I tried to fight off an army. I wanted to write a story where I pushed the idea of keeping women in their place to an extreme and then provided an example of how protecting a girl by giving her the tools to protect herself and by respecting her intelligence and inner strength could up-end the entire system. My writing was inspired in bits and pieces by MANY other works I’ve read (shout out to Collins, Pierce, Carson, and Cashore to name a few).

4. Another novel that I was reminded of although only tangentially was Lord of the Rings when the party entered Moria and it was mentioned that the Dwarves had delved too deeply and woken an ancient Terror – the Balrog, but your Cursed One is more dragon than demon. Is the Cursed One a thing of science or something other?

The Cursed One is a Leviathon-like lizard, so he’s science instead of magic, but I am a LOTR girl from way back and I couldn’t resist the “they delved too deep” reference.

5. Another of the themes I noticed in the book was that decisions led to consequences that were often quite unpleasant for the protagonists and their friends and loved ones. Often in stories I have read, authors shy away from explicitly showing the things that can result from the best of intentions, but not you -was this intentional?

Very intentional. All actions have consequences, and sometimes the hardest part of doing the right thing is living with those consequences afterward. I believe in a truly epic story, the victory should cost almost as much as failure would. And I wanted to be realistic. Sometimes we make stupid choices for excellent reasons, and we can’t let that break us down forever. One of the journeys in this trilogy is understanding how to heal from the things that shatter us.

6. I am hoping that Defiance will be followed by more tales in the world that you have created, with explorations of other city-states, the wasteland and enlarging on the history of the discovery of the Cursed One. Do you have an epic planned?

This is a trilogy, so there will be two more books. We’ll get to explore a few of the other city-states, more of the secondary characters, and more of
the history of the world.

7. Were you a reader as a teen, and if you were what authors caught and fed your imagination?

I’ve been a voracious reader since the second grade. As a teen, I read C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Terry Brooks, and every classic I could get my hands on.

8. Do you ever visit schools and libraries either in person or via Skype? If yes what is the best way to get in touch with you about organising a visit?

I do school visits locally, and am happy to work to set up a Skype visit. You can contact my publicist Caroline Sun at Caroline.Sun@HarperCollins.com

9. Apart from works based in the Defiance world do you have any other stories that you are working on?

I do! I have a few things on the back burner of my brain right now. More speculative fiction (fantasy/post-apoc), a paranormal, and a fairy-tale retelling.

Thank you for your time in answering these questions!

YA in SA: Author Interview with Nic Bennett

1. Hi Nic, welcome to the YA in SA interviews would you like to introduce yourself for the audience?
Hi Matt. Yeah. Sure. I’m an Englishman abroad, living in South Africa. I spent most of my chlldhood in Africa, in Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and seven years ago I moved to Cape Town with my family. It was supposed to be for three years, but we’ve stayed. You meet a lot of people who came to South Africa twenty or thirty years ago for three years. It does that to you.

2. Dead Cat Bounce is your first novel, what inspired you to write for the YA market?
The idea came from the financial and economic crisis that kicked off in 2008 and is reverberating around the world at present. When I started the book, banks were failing, investors were bailing and financial markets were on a roller coaster ride to oblivion. Sad to say, I was enthralled and took a year off work to see if I could translate my grim excitement into the words of a novel. I knew that many others would be doing the same, so I decided to choose a different route and write my story for the generation who will pay the costs of this ‘Great Recession.’ Unemployment amongst 18-25 year olds is at record levels around the world, and the last time things were as bad as this, the Great Depression of the 1930s, it only ended with the Second World War. It’s a big one.

3. Why did you decide on setting a YA thriller in the world of international high finance?
Partly because nobody has tried to do it before. It’s a new world in which to set a YA thriller. On the face of it finance is arcane and dull. But once you get into the people and the emotions that drive it, you find a high-octane mix of the seven deadly sins, and more. A bank’s trading floor is a lot like school. There are the bullies and the nerds; the heroes and the hipsters; the jokers and idiots. It’s full of nicknames and pranks; arguments and fights; success and failure. The difference is that on a trading floor, only one thing matters: MONEY. Who can make the most MONEY. And where there’s money there is fear and greed; deceit and vanity; lust and envy; power and corruption. Wrap that up in a good conspiracy, throw in a bit of Africa, and I’m hoping that it will be something that people will enjoy.

4. How high can a dead cat bounce, and what does the phrase mean?
First, I must be clear that no cats were hurt in the writing of this book! Dead Cat Bounce is a financial market term. It refers to a situation where markets are falling. One day they might go up, but then quickly start falling further again. That upturn is called a Dead Cat Bounce, because ‘even a dead cat bounces when you drop it on the ground.’

5. How would you describe Dead Cat Bounce in one sentence?
It’s a ripsnorter.

6. DCB is being published by Penguin Razorbill, most SA authors I have spoken to recently were published locally before reaching an international audience. How did you break through to an international publishing imprint?
Luck, luck and more luck. I sent it out to a number of literary agents in the UK, because of the subject matter, one of whom took me on. Penguin in London liked the look of it, passed it on to their colleagues in New York who said ‘Mine!’ They see it as an extension for people who enjoyed the Alex Rider books.

7. What authors grabbed your attention when you were a teen reader, and were you a reader in your teen years?
I was a huge reader as a teen, but there wasn’t a clearly defined teen genre as such. I remember my Mum giving me a copy of Force 10 to Navarone by Alastair Maclean when I was about 13. I remember being surprised that I could enjoy an adult book and from thereon I was into thrillers – Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne and Wilbur Smith’s Sean Courtney being my heroes. At the same time I had an English teacher at school who forsook the Victorian English classics and pushed us into Steinbeck, Hemingway, Orwell, Graham Greene et al. And finally there was PG Wodehouse, the greatest comic writer of them all (IMO).

8. How would you describe the South African YA market?
Vibrant. I’m new to it, but the very nature of South Africa means that there are a different set of perceptions that influence the storytelling and subject matter.

9. You are currently working on a sequel called Black Swan Down, is that another phrase from the trading floor?It is. A Black Swan event is something that’s not supposed to happen. For a thousand years or more, people had only ever seen white swans. There was no such thing as a black swan. There couldn’t be. And then Australia was discovered. When a black swan event occurs in the financial markets, things go crazy. An example would be 9/11.

10. How far will Jonah Lightbody’s journey take him? Is his tale going to be told over an on-going series or do you have other protagonists in mind for future books?
I guess we’ll have to see how people take to the first two books. It they like those, then I have the material to take it further.

11. Will you be visiting schools and libraries in SA and abroad (via Skype) to publicise Dead Cat Bounce and if yes what is the best way to contact you to organise a visit?
Definitely. Find me on the Dead Cat Bounce Facebook page or Twitter as nictheauthor.

YA in SA: the Author Interviews: Jayne Bauling


1. Hi Jayne, as has been customary in my YAinSA author interviews to date, I ask all the authors I have spoken to to introduce themselves to the audience and I am hoping that you will do the same!

Thanks, Matt, and thanks to Louis Greenberg for suggesting me for your YA in SA series. I’m a full-time writer and have been living in White River in the Mpumalanga lowveld for the last few years, following a move from my home city of Johannesburg.
 
 

2. You had close to 20 adult novels published before you started writing YA fiction, why did you choose to write for a younger age range?

The type of adult novels I was writing – romance – can become repetitive. Romance was never meant to be the whole story anyway, but it became a bit of a comfort zone, difficult to get out of. The move from Johannesburg turned out to be conducive to all sorts of other changes, and I started exploring new writing directions. The YA began almost as an impulse – I wondered if it was something I could do, and decided to give it a try. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed writing about teen characters and their issues.


3. Looking at the awards you have won it looks like it was a good decision – E Eights won the 2009 Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, Stepping Solo was awarded the 2011 Maskew Miller Longman literature award for novels in English and you have had novels short-listed for the golden Baobab and the Sanlam Prizes. Does being an award-winning YA author put you under pressure to produce or can you ignore the pressure and just write?
The awards have their upside in boosting my confidence as a writer. The downside is a degree of anxiety about whether I can continue to get it right, but I try to ignore that and just get on with the next book, because once I get into the writing I forget the anxiety – at least until it’s time to submit!

4. Your short story Dineo 658 MP won the Maskew Miller Longman Silver Medal in 2009, do you think that short stories for YA readers are well-received or should they be given more exposure?

I think that with greater exposure, they’d be highly popular. Young adults’ lives are hectic, so dipping into a collection of short stories, whether in print or online, when time permits might be preferable to reading a full-length novel for some. It’s difficult to get YA short fiction placed. Another South African YA author and I have tentatively discussed an anthology featuring short stories from southern or possibly all African countries.

5. Do you still write for the adult readers or do you focus exclusively on the YA market?

At present, the only fiction I’m writing for adults is short stories, but that could change.

6. I see that you are also a poet, have you had any poetic works published as yet?

So far I’ve only had poetry published in print and online literary journals, and in three of the annual Breaking the Silence anthologies brought out by People Opposing Women Abuse.

 
 

7. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

I love it when I reach the stage of being truly immersed in the first draft of a novel – when my characters start surprising me, and things happen that I haven’t planned.

8. What do you think about the state of YA publishing in South Africa?

I think it’s increasingly exciting. There are more and more successful YA authors out there, and it’s a wonderfully supportive community.

9. Have you had much feedback from teen readers? What have their thoughts been about your writing?

Feedback has been good. The readers seem to appreciate that I keep my characters’ personal stories absolutely central even if I’m writing about the contemporary social issues affecting young people.

10. Do you ever visit schools or libraries in South Africa and have you considered Skype for international virtual visits and if you answer yes to either of those questions what is the best way to get into contact with you to arrange visits?

I enjoy the interaction I have with teens at a local school and would love to do school visits further afield. I have in fact just recently learned that I will be asked to do some, possibly early next year. People can contact me via Facebook or Twitter @JayneBauling, through my various publishers or by email to jayne_mb(at)absamail.co.za

11. Are you currently working on anything new or do you have anything planned for the near future?

The next YA novel is at the research stage, but because I believe in writing every day, I’m also busy with a few adult short stories.

YA in SA: the Author Interviews: Lily Herne

Daughter & mother writing team Savannah and Sarah Lotz make up the authorial entity known as Lily Herne – author of Mall Rats a zombie apocalypse YA series set in Cape Town.

1. Would you like to introduce yourselves and the Mall Rats series for those that have not been fortunate enough to discover the excellent Deadlands or Death of a Saint. (I have not yet read DoaS yet but will hunt it down this week)

We’re going to be lazy and steal ace book reviewer and blogger Lauren Smith’s (aka Violin in a Void) summation of the series, as we love it!: Mall Rats is a post-apocalyptic YA zombie series set a decade after the infection hit South Africa during the 2010 World Cup. It follows a group of kick-ass teen rebels who fight against both the zombies and the corrupt government that worships the undead in a twisted theology of resurrection. Deadlands is set in Cape Town, while Death of a Saint explores the rest of SA.

Sarah: I live in Cape Town with a motley crew of rescue animals and as I write full-time from home, I spend the majority of my days dressed in pyjamas and drinking way too much coffee. Even though I’m forty-one, I love anything zombie-related (I haven’t grown up).

Savannah:
I’m about to start my third year of my screenwriting course at the University of East Anglia. In my spare time I’m a closet gamer.

2. Lily Herne is an excellent name, what inspired you to use a pen name for the series?

The general consensus is that unless you’re super-famous, readers can be put off by dual-author names on novels. Plus, we both write other, vastly different work under our own names.

3. Did the two of you have any problems when it came to writing together?

Sarah: Not really. We’re too laidback to bicker, although there was a little spat when Savannah insisted on including a baby hyena in Death of a Saint. Animals can be tricky to write. She got her own way in the end (she usually does). Sav tends to come back to SA during her university holidays in order to write with me, but if we need to write or plan anything when she’s in the UK then we work via Skype or email, which is easier than it sounds.

Savannah: The hardest part for me is not so much the writing but having to share a desk with my mum. She likes to mime out actions while writing so I’ve had my fair share of kicked shins and cold coffee spilt over me.

4. According to rumour, Deadlands is the first zombie novel set in South Africa, is this true?

As far as we know it is. (It’s up to readers to decide if this is a good thing or not though!)

5. I read in the Bookseller that the first two books in the series will be published in the UK in 2013, has the series been picked up anywhere else as yet?

Deadlands will also be coming out as an audio book in the UK and we have had other interest, but nothing signed and sealed yet. When we received the news that Corsair had made an offer for the books we almost exploded with excitement. It’s a huge honour to be picked up by such a respected publisher.

6. Sarah you have written as yourself (Pompidou Posse, Exhibit A & Tooth and Nailed), as half of the horror writing team S.L. Grey (The Mall & The Ward) and now you are also part of Lily Herne, have you ever been confused as to who you are writing as when you set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) or are you able to keep the writing personalities separate?

Haha – no, I’ve never been confused (at least not in that way!) as the solo novels, the S.L Grey books and the Lily Herne collaboration are all so different. I’m fortunate enough to be able to write full-time and I prefer to work on two projects at once. I’m not sure why, I think I must be slightly schizophrenic.

7. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

Sarah: I love the planning and plotting stage of a new book. Starting a new work is simultaneously scary and exhilarating as I really get a kick out of discussing character motivations, plot ideas, settings etc. I can blather on for hours about the tiniest detail, which drives Savannah and my co-writer on the S.L. Grey novels, Louis Greenberg, crazy. After that, I enjoy the actual writing. My stories and novels never turn out as I initially think they will, so the process is always surprising and never dull.

Savannah: I really enjoy the first few weeks after the plotting process. Just before the panic of meeting our deadlines sets in, our plots always take surprising turns and we can end up staying up most of the night trying to work out new twists. There is a certain amount of adrenaline involved during the week before a deadline, which I get a weird kick out of.


8. The SA YA writing pool seems to be incredibly small, can you recommend other SA authors that you enjoy reading? (I currently have you, S.A. Partridge, Cat Hellisen and Michael Williams as well as Liz Davis from Namibia)

The excellent Sally (Partridge) nailed this one in her interview with you – and we second all her recommendations: Lauri Kubitsile is incredibly talented, versatile and prolific; Cat Hellisen’s When the Sea is Rising Red is a phenomenal novel, we adore Edyth Bulbring’s hilarious Melly novels and we couldn’t put Adeline Radloff’s Sidekick or Alex Smith’s Agency Blue down. One to look out for next year is Charlie Human’s soon-to-be internationally published Apocalypse Now Now, a stunning, scathingly witty debut (it’s not strictly YA although it does have a teen protagonist).

9. What can we expect from Lily Herne after The Mall Rats series comes to an end?

We are currently discussing which of our ideas we want to write next – it will probably be a creepy spec novel called The Way Station, but we can’t say too much about it in case we change our minds!

You can find Lily Herne on Twitter: https://twitter.com/herne13

and on facebook: www.facebook.com/lily.herne

Bad Tuesdays: The Benjamin J. Myers Interview

1. When I started reading Twisted Symmetry my first thought in the opening pages was that it was similar to The Borribles by Michael de Larrabeiti, then I carried on reading and discovered that it actually wasn’t (apart from a tribe of feral street children that is) – what influenced you in the writing of The Bad Tuesdays epic?

I love reading and I love reading imaginative fiction, but without doubt, the greatest influence upon the writing of The Bad Tuesdays has been film. I wanted to capture the thrill, the mystery and the menace of some of my favourite films; films which made me see the imaginative genre differently after I’d watched them: films like Alien, Blade Runner and The Matrix. Other influences include comic book art – rendering the impact of that into words is a challenge but it’s a challenge I’ve enjoyed trying to meet. And then there’s music. I don’t just hear the music, I see pictures. These pictures, whole scenes in fact, from Bach to Motörhead, the Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers have found their way into the books.

2. Science fiction scenes aside, is there any part of the story that is based on your personal experiences?

I work as a barrister, specializing in serious crime. Before that I was an army officer. I suppose it’s no surprise that there is some military activity in the books, and a fair number of criminals. Personal experiences must leak through into the writing, although I didn’t set out to base any particular part of the story on specific experience. ‘Write from experience’ is what budding writers are always told and that must be true, although the experience doesn’t have to be dramatic for the writing to be good. It’s the sense of reality behind the fiction, even the most imaginatively outlandish fiction, which makes the writing shine. That is particularly important when it comes to characters. Chess and her brothers, Box and Splinter owe a lot to my experience of young people who have lived through horrendous personal experiences of their own.

3. In my minds eye I pictured London as the city in the story, then I realised that it was not explicitly named – did you have a specific city in mind when you wrote the story or is it left to the reader to decide?

The city isn’t meant to be London, although in places it feels like London. But it also includes elements of Manchester, Rome, Bolton, Stoke-on-Trent and Delhi – and a huge dose of imagination. Ultimately, the reader can decide where they want it to be, if they want it to be anywhere in particular at all.

4. One of the passages that stuck in my mind was that “children are not liked and only sometimes by their parents” that is not an exact phrasing as I do not have the book to hand but did you make the main characters street children to make readers more aware of their plight as feral kids do not get a lot of positive press or empathy and are often figures of hate and fear.

This is a great question. Thank you for asking it! I made Chess, Box and Splinter street children for various reasons. First, I wanted the chief characters to start from a position that was disadvantaged in every way – which makes the threats and challenges they face the more overwhelming (these are young people who start with nothing and have to take on everything). Next, I wanted to show that people who some might dismiss as human rubbish are capable of terrific feats. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Finally, as you suggest, I wanted to give the leading roles to the sort of children who don’t usually get them. One of the surprising consequences for me has been the mixed reactions to these characters. Some readers and reviewers have had a real issue with the type of young people that Chess, Box and Splinter are. I suppose that in some quarters there is a set idea of what fictional young people’s characters should be. If that is so, Chess, Box and Splinter do not make cosy reading.

5. Why do you think that young people are generally viewed in a negative light?

I don’t think young people are viewed inevitably in a negative light. Right now, look at how we admire our Olympic athletes, many of whom are fairly young and were even younger when they committed to their goals. And work that young people do for charity has a particular attraction to the media. The energy and openness of young people is highly attractive. But young people can be frightening to older people, because they don’t always follow the rules that adult society depends upon. Also, because their social groupings tend to be broader and less discriminating than adult groupings, en masse they may appear threatening. However, it’s difficult to identify bad things that young people do that adults don’t – the offence seems to be in being young and doing it. I think there’s a belief that young people should be as malleable and well behaved as small children because we haven’t yet made them adults. When they fail to conform to this, the reaction is highly critical. But that’s our fault for inventing an ever-broadening middle ground between childhood and adulthood. How can someone be expected to be child and an adult at the same time?

6. Do you ever read the works of other YA authors? If yes, who can you recommend?

When I was a YA I read loads of YA authors. I read less YA fiction now, although my (teenage) children read lots, so I keep up to date. In particular, I like Cliff McNish and Philip Reeve and I’d recommend them both.

7. With The Spiral Horizon being the last book in the Bad Tuesdays series do you have any further tales in mind for the Tuesday siblings?

Chess, Box and Splinter have been on an enormous journey and with The Spiral Horizon, they reach its end in their own ways. But possibilities for further tales exist for some of the other characters. One day I’d like to write the back story, which exists already in detail. Elements of it surface during The Bad Tuesdays sequence. However, in my mind, this might not be suited to a YA format.

8. Do you have any new stories coming out in the near future?

I’m planning a new story now (when I’m not lawyering). I’d like to think it would come out in the near future.

9. What more do you think can be done to help children that live rough in the UK (and even abroad)?

This is a massive question and not one I could answer swiftly, if I could answer it at all. It touches on issues of social justice, exclusion, parenting and economics. The problems of children living rough in the UK are not always the same as those for street children in other countries. So far as the UK is concerned, I think that as a starting point, it is important to understand that children living rough would not chose to live that way if they believed they had a secure and safe alternative, and they knew how to reach it. Since most of them are not in a position to get to help themselves, help has to get to them, and does so via many of the outreach organizations and projects that already exist. Understanding that street children would prefer not to be living on the streets, and being ready to support those organizations that try to help them is something that most of us can do. If more people did that, the benefit to children living rough in the UK would be enormous.

YOU CAN WIN:

all six books in the Bad Tuesdays series! To enter the draw just name all six books in order from 1 to 6 in the comments field. The competition will run until the 15th August!

YA in SA: Interview with Cat Hellisen

Credit Nerine and Thomas Dorman

1. Hi Cat, until Joe at Something Wicked suggested you I must admit that you had not popped up on my radar, would you care to introduce yourself to readers that may know your book but not you and for those that are meeting you (virtually) for the first time?

Hi Matt, thanks for getting hold of me (and thanks Joe for the props). I live in Muizenberg, which is a village-by-the-sea inside a bigger village by the sea, basically. I grew up in Cape Town and Johannesburg, so while I write secondary world fantasy, being South African definitely influences my writing. I’m a huge music fan, and occasionally I like to torture my family and animals by playing the ukulele at them.

2. When the Sea is Rising Red your first novel is a fantasy laced with magic, vampires, young love, rebellion and a steep divide between the rich and poor. Have you always been a fan of fantasy literature?

Very much so. My earliest reading memories are of being engrossed in my Story Tellers, which were a series of tapes and magazines with stories that ranged from traditional fairy tales to poetry and various other weird and wonderful things. I think a lot of children’s literature is perfectly okay with the fantastical, and it’s only when we venture into the adult section that the battle lines are more clearly drawn. These days I’m very easily bored by a lot of fantasy. I like stuff that plays with tropes, or language, or brings new ideas to the genre.

3. Do you think that inserting social issues into novels (addressing social issues and the divides between rich and poor) helps readers identify more closely with the characters?

I have no idea. I think that in paranormal and fantasy YA there’s been a trend to make the main characters as one-dimensional and non-threatening as possible, perhaps to make it easier for readers to slip themselves into the story – the character is nothing more than a place holder. I find that insulting to most readers and I don’t enjoy books like that. I prefer stories that give me characters with meat and bones and flaws and failures – something that contemporary YA currently seems to do better. Social issues are perhaps a part of filling out the dimensions of character, but not if they feel tacked on or extraneous to the story.

Some of my favourite recent YA has done interesting things with character and society: Chime – Franny Billingsley; Slice of Cherry – Dia Reeves; Shadows Cast By Stars – Catherine Knutsson, and Above – Leah Bobet.

I can’t speak for how anyone else writes, but for myself I like to write characters who feel real, and that sometimes means not entirely likeable.

4. Who were your favourite writers when you were a YA reader (and were you a reader as a teen)?

I read voraciously as a teen, but mostly from the adult section. It’s only now as an adult I find myself reading more YA. Probably because a lot of what used to get shelved as fantasy or urban fantasy is being marketed towards teens now, and possibly because there’s simply more variety in teen-lit these days. My favourite authors as a teen were David Gemmel, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Diana Wynne Jones and Gene Wolfe.

5. When the Sea is Rising Red was published in New York by Farrar Straus Giroux (a Macmillan imprint) – how did you bypass local publishers and end up with an international deal?

When I first began querying my (unpublished) novels, there were no publishers in South Africa (and I think it’s still the case) who dealt with fantasy. It wasn’t so much that I bypassed them as I had to look overseas to find an agent and a publisher. I spent a lot of time hanging around on the Absolute Write forums, where I learned a great deal from publishing people who are way smarter and more experienced than me, and then I began querying. And carried on. And carried on. And kept writing. (A good thing because those early books are too awful to contemplate.)

6. Do you ever visit schools or libraries in South Africa and have you considered Skype visits for international virtual visits and if you answer yes to either of those questions what is the best way to get into contact with you to arrange visits?

I haven’t visited any schools. I’m weirded out by the idea because I don’t really know what I could possibly say that isn’t some variation of – “the info is out there, learn, and prepare to grit your teeth and keep going in the face of failure.” I believe I’m supposed to be doing some virtual book tour thing in the near future along with some fantastic YA writers, but details are a little hazy at this point.

7. What influenced your decision to write for teen readers?

I don’t really think I write for teen readers specifically, more that I wrote a book that could be marketed towards the YA audience. I write what I like to read, and then it gets labelled to sell. Hah, that sounds horribly cynical, but really, I just write stories, I don’t usually have a particular audience in mind.

8. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

When I read something months later, and am pleasantly surprised by the bits I enjoy.

9. The SA YA writing pool seems to be incredibly small, can you recommend other SA authors that you enjoy reading? (I currently have you, S.A. Partridge, Lily Herne and Michael Williams as well as Liz Davis from Namibia)

S.A. Partridge is much better at this than I am. Heh. Most of the YA writers here concentrate on contemporary, and I’m mainly a fantasy reader. I’m sure that there are fantasy YA writers out there in SA, I just don’t think I know of any off-hand. Sadly.

10. Are you currently working on anything new or do you have anything planned for the near future?

I’ve a couple of books on sub to editors at the moment; a scary enough thing in itself. To distract me from that I’m working on a very dark little children’s book and another story.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions

It was my pleasure 😀 Thanks for inviting me to be a part of your YA in SA series.

You can find Cat online at her website www.cathellisen.com/

or on Twitter at twitter.com/hellioncat

YA in SA: Interview with S.A. Partridge

S.A. Partridge is the author of award-winning YA novels Fuse, The Goblet Club and Dark Poppy’s Demise.

1. I am ashamed to say that I have not read any of your books but I did pick up a copy of Dark Poppy’s Demise at Kalk Bay Books on Sunday, would you be able to introduce yourself for those that have not encountered you in print or online before.

I am a YA writer from Cape Town, South Africa. I have three novels out in the wild.

2. Your novels focus on problems that many teenagers face – bullying, living rough and so on as a South African writer do you feel that SA youth have a unique set of problems or do you think what they face is universal?

South Africa is unique in that it’s a first world country with a third world reputation. It’s home to a melting pot of cultures and one of the most interesting places you can live. But rather than focus on what makes us different, race is kind of the elephant in the room that is missing from all my novels. Instead I focus on the real world, modern problems that face teenagers in South Africa and across the globe, such as Internet predators, drug dealers, peer pressure, abuse, and yes, friends with murderous intentions.

3. You have won a number of awards for your books The Goblet Club winning the SABC/You Magazine I am a writer Competition and the MER Prize for Best Youth Novel, Fuse short-listed for the Percy Fitzpatrick Prize for youth literature in 2010 and will be showcased at the IBBY World Conference in August and Dark Poppy’s Demise won the MER Prize. Not only that but you have been named as one of South Africa’s best authors. Do you feel under pressure from all these accolades or are you able to ignore the expectations and just write?

I just write. As soon as I’m done with one novel, another story starts nudging for my attention and I move on to that. I don’t write with things like awards and being prescribed at school in mind. I tend to focus on the story and the characters and doing my best to translate them down onto to paper. I’m weird in the way that I believe stories exist out there in the universe and that the writer is just the medium.


 
4. Have any of your novels been picked up by overseas publishers?

I’m working on it. Watch this space. You can pick them up through some online vendors.
>http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dark-poppys-demise-s-a-partridge
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Goblet-Club-The-S-A-Partridge
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fuse-S-Partridge

5. Are any of your novels based on personal experiences

Not really. Sometimes I overhear bits of conversation or see something that makes an impression and then add it in, but for the most part the story is complete when it finds me. For Dark Poppy’s Demise, which is about a girl that meets a psychopath online, I drew on my own experience of online dating, but only for research. It didn’t play a part of the story.
 

 
 
6. I read in a review that you “deliver a dystopian view of South African youth culture” why do you think that young people have such a rough time (not just in SA but globally)?

There is an urgency to being a teenager that we tend to forget about the older we get. High school is where we learn to interact with people socially, so if you think about it, it’s a little bit like the island in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. It’s about being the alpha dog, fitting in, finding your social status, impressing the girl, impressing the rest. It’s such an insular environment that isn’t really affected by the outside world and every problem seems more end of the world than it really is.

7. What is your favourite part of the writing process?

I enjoy flat out bouts of writing where I produce a massive amount of content in a matter of hours. I’m addicted to seeing a story start to take shape. It gives me a greater sense of achievement than actually publishing the book.

 
8. How do you think that YA writing perceived in South Africa?

YA is incredibly popular in South Africa. Walk into any bookstore and you’ll see the floating displays of latest releases. There are also a lot of dedicated YA book blogs that build excitement for upcoming releases. For example, when Veronica Roth’s Insurgent came out, there was a huge buzz among local book bloggers on Twitter. They are also hugely supportive of local writers, which is awesome. There’s an incredible atmosphere of support and encouragement here.

9. Have you had much feedback from teen readers? What have their thoughts been about your writing?

I’ve been very lucky. My first novel was adapted into a school play and on opening night I was bowled over by the kids wanting to talk to me about the book. I also get quite a few messages on Facebook from readers, and most recently Twitter as well.

10. The SA YA writing pool seems to be incredibly small, can you recommend other SA authors that you enjoy reading? (I currently have you, Lily Herne, Cat Hellisen and Michael Williams as well as Liz Davis from Namibia)

Edyth Bulbring is very prolific. Adeline Radloff wrote an excellent YA about a super hero and his teenage apprentice set in Cape Town that won the Sanlam Youth Prize. Lauri Kubuitsile is a YA writer from Botswana whose novel Signed, Hopelessly in Love, was also up for the MER prize. There’s also Alex Smith, Jenny Robson, Gillian D’achada, Jayne Bauling, Francois Bloemhof, Robin Malan, Fanie Viljoen. It’s a small community, but the content coming out is fantastic.

11. What is coming next after Dark Poppy’s Demise?

My next novel is called Sharp Edges, which tackles the mystery surrounding the death of a seventeen year old girl at a trance party, seen through the perspective of the five other people there. It will hit shelves in April 2013.

You can follow S.A. Partridge via her blog: http://sapartridge.bookslive.co.za/

on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Sapartridgewriter

or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sapartridge

Start the Story Interview with Barry Hutchison (co-creator with Tommy Donbavand of Start the Story)

What prompted you to start an independent magazine to aid literacy?

We both do a lot of work in schools running writing workshops and we have a lot of fun doing it. Sometimes the kids get stuck right into it from the start, and sometimes you have to work a bit harder and think creatively to get them engaged, so we’ve both developed lots of tricks over the past few years to get even the most reluctant pupils writing creatively.
Often teachers approach us at the end of our workshops asking if they can “borrow” some of the ideas we used, and we’re always happy for them to do so. It got us thinking, though – is there a way to share the exercises we’ve developed and techniques we’ve learned with a wider audience? Can we make it easier for teachers, librarians – even parents – on a much wider scale to get kids excited about literacy? Start the Story is what we came up with.

 

Start the Story is an excellent idea – how long have you been developing it (and what took you so long)?

We’ve been developing the content for years without actually realising it. We’ve been running school events since about 2007, and everything we’ve come up with during those visits has been filed away in our heads to be pulled out when needed.
The idea for the magazine itself only really came about in the past few months, and as soon as we hit on the idea we swung into action. I think from initial idea to the first issue coming out was about three weeks. We were so excited about the potential it had to help gets kids reading and writing that we put aside all our other work (sorry, publishers) and focused 100% on getting issue one done.

 

Why do you think that literacy in the UK is suffering?

There’s no one single reason, and that’s what makes it so hard to combat. From the point of view of reading for pleasure, there are so many other demands on kids’ time these days, from video games to 24 hour cartoon channels, plus Facebook, YouTube and a million and one other things.
Parents are more pushed for time, so they’re reading less with their children, and that has a massive knock-on effect in terms of the literacy skills of those kids. We’re looking at ways to combat that with “Parent Sheets” schools can send home with kids encouraging them to read and talk about reading at home.
If the input isn’t coming from home, it’s very difficult for teachers and librarians to turn the tide. Librarians are great at keeping up to date with new books, but a lot of teachers find it more difficult, which is why we recommend a wide range of books for all interests and abilities in every issue of the magazine.
I also think teachers themselves have so much more put on them now than they ever used to. What’s expected of them seems to change every few weeks, and from speaking to hundreds of them over the past few years the general consensus is they have less and less time to actually teach.
That’s where we thought we could make the biggest difference, by supplying ready-made lesson plans, plus lots of exercises which can be easily adapted to any age group. We also provide five pupil worksheets with every issue, ready to print off and use in lessons.

 

Did you consider working in conjunction with existing literacy groups (for example The National Literacy Trust or the UK Literacy Association)?

At the moment, the whole thing is very much a work in progress, and we haven’t ruled anything out. Our big rush was to get issue one out before schools broke up for the summer, and now our focus is on making issue two even bigger and better than the first one. Once that’s out of the way we’re going to step back and catch our breath a bit, and see what connections can be made with other groups and organisations.
Part of the appeal for me, though, is being able to come at the problem from a unique angle – we’re not teachers, we’re not part of a government body or a literacy charity or whatever. We’re just two authors who love reading and writing, and who want to help other people learn to love it, too.

 

At the moment it is a two author publication – are you considering taking on partners (including authors, teachers or librarians)?

We had a couple of teachers helping advise us on the first issue, and lots of others have pledged their support. We’ve also had authors and illustrators offering to help us out, and the response overall has been great (particularly from librarians, who seem to “get it” best of all).
By and large, though, it’s just the two of us, but we’re definitely looking to grow and we’re probably going to need all the help we can get! So if you’re interested in helping out in any way, we’d love to hear from you.

 

Will you accept article submissions or ideas from outside professionals?

This is definitely something we’re planning to do down the line, but we want to be in a position to be able to pay people what they deserve. At the moment we’re both doing this off our own backs and taking care of costs ourselves, so by necessity we’re writing all the articles. If we start getting a reasonable number of subscribers, though, then we can start accepting – and paying for – submissions from other people.

 

Why should librarians, teachers and parents subscribe to Start the Story?

We’re not very good at the hard sell, so all I’ll say is this: We can make it easier for you to get the children in your care excited about reading and writing. The magazine can save you huge amounts of time and effort, and can make literacy lessons fun for teachers and pupils alike.
Schools are also free to distribute it to all staff and classes, and we even supply a print-friendly version of every issue ready to print off on desktop printers.
Oh, and if you’re one of the first 100 subscribers you’ll be entered into a competition to win £100 of free books plus a virtual author visit from one of us!

 

How can we go about subscribing?

It couldn’t be simpler – head along to www.startthestory.co.uk and click the big yellow “SUBSCRIBE NOW!” button at the top.

 

Thank you for an amazing resource!

Aimée Carter Interview

Hi Aimée! For those of us who have not met you would you be willing to give us a short introduction?

Hi! I’m Aimée, and I wrote the Goddess Test series.

The Goddess Test is not quite a retelling of Greek myth but rather extending the cycle in a new story that has echoes of the original (which I particularly enjoyed) was it tough to update the gods & goddesses

Thank you! One of my favourite things to do while writing The Goddess Test was updating the gods and goddesses. While in some ways it was difficult to fit them into our current culture, at the same time I believe they’re universal, which made it easier. I kept their original personalities from the myths as much as I could, and then I thought about how they would need to adapt to modern times.

Is the world you are building home to other classical pantheons or are your deities the same but reflected differently in other cultures?

I love this question. In my head, it’s the latter – they have different names throughout history and different cultures, but they’re more or less the same beings. Some of the minor gods in Greek mythology are considered almighty in others, and they’re reflected differently between, say, Roman and Norse mythology. But they’re more or less the same. This is just in the Goddess Test world, of course, but it’s interesting to study the different kinds of mythology in the world and see where they intersect.

I had a thought that the river that Kate & Ava crossed to get onto Henry’s property was the Styx – am I right and if yes are there any other mythological easter eggs scattered in your story that I may have missed?

You’re totally right! I believe Chapter 16 is called The River Styx, and while it’s not explicitly stated in the text, that was definitely my intention. There are several mythology Easter eggs scattered throughout the trilogy, little throwaway things that might not mean much to the casual reader, but someone more familiar with mythology might get a grin or a little piece of insight into the story.

Henry is described as dark, tortured and mesmerising (considering that he is Hades he has good reason to be) – do you think that emo boys are the new objects of attraction in YA lit?

To be honest, I never really intended for him to be considered emo. He’s really the opposite of emo – very unemotional, at least outwardly. Stoic, quiet, keeps his thoughts and feelings to himself. A lot of times, Kate is the one to hurl emotions at him to try to get something to stick, but Henry has a lot of trouble acknowledging how he feels. And with good reason, for sure.

I don’t think emo is anything too new on the scene, really, but there is definitely a variety of YA love interests who exhibit classic emo traits. And that’s what I love about YA – there’s something for everyone!