About a month ago, I was contacted by Kerry Drewery, UKYA author and co-organiser of UKYACX (UK Young Adult and Children’s Extravaganza) who asked me to get involved with a blog tour. Eek!
Despite being in the midst of moving house (ohmygod is there anything more stressful?!) I jumped at the chance to help promote such a brilliant event.
Check out my interview with Kerry below, where we natter about her new novel, Cell 7, as well as Harry Potter, dystopia, Goodreads reviews and most importantly; cake!
Q1: Your forthcoming book, Cell 7, is a dystopia book that mixes reality TV and crime and punishment. It sounds like an awesome episode of Black Mirror in book form and I’m already totally in love with the idea! Where did your inspiration come from?
Click to check out Cell 7 on Goodreads
KD: Thank you so much! I’ve actually never seen any Black Mirror episodes and people keep telling me I really should!
The idea for Cell 7 didn’t come in a lightning bolt of inspiration! It’s slowly evolved. I wanted to write something set on (or around) death row. It’s always fascinated me – why some countries still have it, why others don’t, how it’s evolved over time, what methods they use, but mostly what the people on it think, and how they deal with knowing they have been sentenced to die. What does that do to your head? The problem was though, that I particularly wanted to put a teenager on death row, but the youngest person ever to be sentenced was 23, and that was in the US. Also, I didn’t really want to set it in the US. I’d just written a couple of books that were heavily research-based and I was very worried about getting it wrong. And the system in the US can take years and years – I wanted this to be snappier.
So I wondered in what situation could you a) have a teenager on death row, and b) have them in the UK. I did some reading around the subject and found out when the death penalty was abolished here and what the circumstances were, and I asked the question ‘what if it hadn’t been abolished then? What would it be like now?’ And gradually, Cell 7 took shape.
Q2: Cell 7 is set in a pretty scary future society. If you had to live out the rest of your days in a dystopia book, which one would it be and why?
Wow, that’s a good question. Let me think – Emma Pass’ ACID or The Fearless? – no thank you! George Orwell’s 1984 – no. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games – absolutely not. Robert C O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah? – NO. John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids? – Yes, go on, I’ll have that one! Why – because they’re telepathic and that’s cool, and because there’s hope.
Q3: You don’t shy away from tackling difficult topics in your books, which is something I really respect. Are there any boundaries that you wouldn’t cross with regards to themes when writing for a YA audience?
Short answer – no. I’m strongly of the opinion that it isn’t what’s covered, but how it’s done. There were a lot of very shocking things I found out when researching A Dream of Lights, the temptation is to go ‘look, Reader! Look what I’ve found out, isn’t this terrible?’, but that’s no good – it should always, always serve the story – you’re writing a story after all, not non-fiction – and, in my opinion, it should never be used to purposefully shock; violence (for example) should never be gratuitous. Difficult topics, and those who’ve experienced such, should always be treated with respect.
Q4: You also write incredibly well about international settings. Your previous books, A Dream of Lights and A Brighter Fear, are set in North Korea and Baghdad respectively. Is there a level of pressure that comes with representing the identity and customs of other countries? Can you tell us a little bit about your research process?
Thank you. I’ve never really felt pressure from anyone else, but I definitely feel a responsibility myself to do justice to people living in those countries, and to portray them, their situations, and their cultures as accurately as possible. A Brighter Fear felt like a huge leap for me – I’d never written anything like that before – and I spent around six to eight months researching. With hindsight I think part of that was lack of confidence on my part, and also it’s very easy to get dragged down paths you don’t need to go down, but equally difficult to know whether you need to go down them or not! Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to be able to go to either of the countries, but there was a lot of information around about Baghdad and Iraq – I read an awful lot about the country, it’s people, it’s history, and I read a lot of blogs by people living there before, during and after the invasion.
With A Dream of Lights it was a little different. There was a lot less information, and anything I found was like gold dust. I remember at one point I used google maps and placed ‘myself’ where the prison camp was based. There weren’t any buildings (obviously ‘street view’ weren’t allowed in the country to take photos), but I could stand there (virtually) and look around at the mountains and the landscape even though it was rough and pixelated. I also managed to find some video footage of North Korean markets, a village, and a train journey, that had been smuggled out the country illegally. Always with research it’s the little things that are hard to find out. It was relatively easy to find out about the school system in North Korea but finding out what plants grow took me ages!
I could bleat on about this for pages and pages, but I’ll stop there!
Q4: UKYACX (UKYA and Children’s Extravaganza) is an incredible initiative, which brings together authors, readers, bloggers, illustrators, libraries and every book lover in between! How did it come about?
It came about very simply after myself and Emma Pass (we co-organise the events) did an event at Lincoln Waterstones with YA author Zoe Marriott. We were talking about how nice it was to meet up, and how with not being based in London or the south, we often felt out of the loop. Then we said, ‘well, what if we could get more authors together? Outside of London?’ And it grew from there.
Q5: Are there any up and coming authors attending UKYACX that we should keep an eye out for in 2017?
We have a number of debut authors. On the YA side there’s Patrice Lawrence, Olivia Levez, Sue Wallman, and two writing pairs which is interesting (I think I’d be way to bossy to write with someone, or lazy, or switch between the two rapidly) – Perdita and Honor Cargill and Katherine and Elizabeth Corr. Debut MGs are James Nicol, Simon P Clark and Chris Callaghan.
Q6: Give us some tips for UKYAX 2016! What and who should we look out for at Newcastle City Library on Saturday 17th September?
I don’t think I could pick any of the authors out individually – the whole line up is brilliant, and I’m really, really thrilled we’ve got such a range of authors, with such diverse books. I’m excited about meeting them all and hearing what they have to say. I’m already prepping some questions!
Q7: Lots of authors avoid looking at Goodreads reviews. How do you feel about this? Do you ever take a sneaky stealth peek at your GR ratings or reviews?
I completely understand why some authors avoid looking at any reviews. The book you’ve created is something you’ve spent such a lot of time with, and feel strongly about. It can be very hard to accept that some people don’t like it, or don’t like certain parts of it. That’s not to say that reviewers shouldn’t be honest – of course they should – and when you get a good review it can absolutely make your day. I do read them – but I also try to remember that not every book is for every person – there have been plenty of books I’ve read that I’ve not enjoyed but that other readers have raved about, and vice versa.
Q8: Children’s literature makes up around 30% of the market in the UK and lots of authors believe that this is a golden era for children’s and YA literature. How do you feel about the amount of press coverage the genre receives? What would you like to see change, if anything?
I think it’s a real shame that there isn’t more press coverage of YA and children’s books. There is such a wealth of talent out there and a lot of this slips under the radar. I think people tend to forget that reviews for YA and children’s aren’t necessarily for those who’d be reading it, but for the parents, grandparents, teachers…any one who might buy a book as a gift. So, yes, I would change that – I’d like to see more. A lot more. I know SF Said is leading a campaign for this – on twitter it’s the hashtag #coverkidsbooks, or there’s info here.
Q9: What are your YA and MG reads of 2016 (so far)?
I don’t tend to read much while I’m in the middle of writing a book, but I did manage to get some read over my summer holidays, and between edits. So far, The Boy Who Drew The Future – Rhian Ivory, Last Leaves Falling – Fox Benwell, The Big Lie – Julie Mayhew, Boy in the Tower – Polly Ho-Yen, Scream Street – Tommy Donbavand, Birdy – Jess Valance, and I don’t know if it counts as YA or not because strictly speaking YA didn’t exist when it was written, but Z for Zachariah by Robert C O’Brien, and I’ve just started Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield.
Harry Potter and The Cursed Child: Fan-fiction or canon?
Oh canon. Absolutely.
You’re only allowed to eat one type of cake for the rest of your life. What would it be?
Easy question, has to be cheesecake – my favourite.
Facebook or Twitter?
Errrr…..can’t choose. Facebook for some things, Twitter for others.
Describe your writing style in three words!
That’s hard! Errrr…. Pacy And Exciting.
What’s your guiltiest food pleasure?
I have a really sweet tooth, and I’m a sucker for biscuits, my favourite being a good old-fashioned custard cream.
About the Author
Kerry is the author of two highly acclaimed, more literary novels – A Brighter Fear and A Dream of Lights. Her latest – Cell 7 – is a fast-past thriller exploring ideas such as innocence, guilt, corruption and the power of the media. She lives in Lincolnshire, loves dogs, cats, open-water swimming and cheesecake. She’s the co-organiser of UKYACX.
Cell 7, published by Hot Key Books, will be available to buy from 22nd September 2016.