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.

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