Friday, 7 March 2014

Teri Terry's trilogy by Mary Hoffman

Slated has been one of the most successful UK debuts I can remember. It won nine regional book awards and was on numerous long- and shortlists. These are the awards given by the actual readers and all the more valuable for that. Librarians are great and they put books into eager readers' hands but the praise from readers is special.

The concept was, like all the best ones, simple. In a future Britain, still recogniseable fifty years on, teenagers who have been convicted of crimes are "slated," that is their memories are wiped and they start again in a new family with no recollection of their past.

But Kyla does remember things, even though she ought not to. She remembers a terrorist attack on a coach full of students who went to the school she now attends. She remembers how to draw, even with her left hand, when she is supposed to be right-handed.

We find out why that is in the first sequel, Fractured.

(The books' look has done them a lot of favours with teenage girl readers)

I asked Teri Terry if she had always known it would be a trilogy and she said, "It was originally a standalone, but it became apparent quite early on in writing it that the story wasn’t going to fit in one book. The ending is much as envisioned, though it did evolve - as they do!"

By the ending, Teri is talking about the third book and I mustn't jump the gun. The society she describes is itself fractured, riven by the Lorders (Law + Order) who monitor people's behaviour and spoken views in a terrifyingly Stalinist way, and the AGT (Anti-Government Terrorists) who we presume to be the good guys.

Kyla remembers more and more about her life before she was Slated but was it just one life?

At the beginning of Shattered, she has yet another identity and I realise how very hard it is to review or describe these books without plot spoilers!

I did ask Teri about her world-building, because although the books are set fifty years in the future, there are still schools, buses, cars and trains. She said, "Because of events in the back history of the novels – the civil unrest and riots, the isolation - the UK hasn’t evolved as much as you might expect in forty years. Though there certainly is technology beyond what is available to us now, particularly noticeable in Shattered. That is the explanation, but yes: it was a conscious choice to have it this way. I wanted it to be a recognizable world, that readers could relate to – to give them that this could really happen sort of feeling."

Good answer.

I can tell you that the resolution, when it comes, after very tense and heart-thumping reversals, is thoroughly satisfying, even though things don't work out for every character as you might expect. Kyla's original identity is surprising.

"Identity is certainly a big part of it: how can you know who you are or who you want to be, if you don’t know who you were? Another big thing to me is the nature-nurture debate, and the influence views on this can have on punishment and rehabilitation of violent criminals. I was a lawyer years ago, in Canada, and this has always been an obsession of mine. Also the balance of rights and freedoms in society: are any actions justified in pursuit of freedom? Is a group fighting for freedom defined by their objectives, or by their methods?"

I asked Teri about Kyla's twin skills: she is a brilliant artist and an athletic runner. This is her reply: "The best I can manage with art is stick figures! Though I’ve always been fascinated with people who can do artistic things, probably because I completely can’t, and this often creeps into things I write. And years ago I used to run and be kind of a gym junkie, so I totally get the exercising to the point of exhaustion to get a buzz from endorphins. Though not recently."

Teri Terry
The whole trilogy had for me a very fresh and compelling premise, well executed. I'm not surprised it has been so popular and I'll certainly keep an eye out for anything else by this writer.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The SAS were at it again

Orton Hall in the sunshine

This is Orton Hall, near Peterborough, now a hotel with a swimming pool and spa. I spent last weekend there with 39 other children's writers. The February conference of the Scattered Authors Society was held there for the third time in a row - the only difference being that this year I was one of the organisers. Anne Rooney and I had been putting it together for months and called it Who Dares Writes.

It's hard to write about what went on because of the first rule of the conference: "What happens in Peterborough stays in Peterborough." But a little boasting might be in order and some veiled allusions.

We had been lucky enough to secure Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman as our outside speaker and her warmth intelligence and humour kept everyone spellbound.

Picture credit: Jo Cotterill
 We were also lucky with the weather. As always the sun shone for us and the snowdrops bloomed:

Two of our delegates have already blogged about the conference, much more speedily than me:
Liz Kessler and Abie Longstaff

They made lists of what they had learned and there are no embargoes on knowing that most children's writers have black swimming costumes or the inadvisability of looking up "beaver" on the Internet.

Our fellow practitioners advised on mind-mapping, comedic tropes, writing a synopsis, avoiding "saggy middle," napping, writing "gritty fiction," the variety of ways in which in which people got started in publishing.

And we heard, as usual, some horror stories (ssh!). And some remarkable pieces of good fortune. We saw pictures of several people's writing "rooms." There was and Earnings and Yearnings survey miraculously analysed in a  few hours by Anne Rooney. I don't think I am revealing any trade secrets by saying that the lowest advance ever offered to a Scattered Author was exactly zero.

Apart from that, all I can tell you is that the snowdrops were nice!