I’m a big fan of Keith Gray. I love his daring, gripping stories about young characters on the edge and how he can somehow grab a reader, heart and soul, while tickling their funny bone - often in the darkest moments. He recently edited the brilliant YA anthology, LOSING IT.
So I was (nervously) delighted to write a story for NEXT, Keith’s brand new YA anthology for Andersen Press because, as you can see from the names on the cover, he has once again enticed some of the UK’s finest writers to set their imaginations to work on perhaps the trickiest subject of all...
DEATH and what might happen NEXT
My Catholic childhood was haunted by nightmare visions of hellfire (for murderers, etc) and gigantic grills in the heavens that barbecued ordinary sinners until you’d suffered enough to gain entry to the pearly gates - where you’d be greeted by the dead relatives who’d been watching all your misdeeds on Earth. So death scared the living daylights out of me when I was young.
STARBURSTING, my story in NEXT, was a chance to go thrillingly cosmic with the memory of the night I nearly caused a car crash when I was seventeen.
NEXT is a kaleidoscope of stories on a difficult and fascinating theme - I was spooked, freaked, gripped, I laughed out loud, welled up, had a good old cry, had my mind bent, my stomach turned and... I was strangely comforted too. Most of all, I was deeply moved and left wondering. So I got hold of Keith for a quick chat.
SEX AND DEATH
SEX AND DEATH
Julie Bertagna: Ostrich Boys, your last YA novel, was a brilliant take on teenage suicide - a crazy road trip that explored a very tricky subject with a lot of power and humour. LOSING IT was a coming of age anthology on the theme of losing your virginity. NEXT is about quite a different kind of threshold - losing your life and what might happen afterwards. So was NEXT a kind of progression from your previous ideas?
Keith Gray: Someone much more eloquent than me said that all stories are essentially about sex and death. I guess they are the human race's most pressing concerns. But the original idea for Next did come from a small section in my novel Ostrich Boys. The main characters have an argument about life after death while camping overnight in a 'haunted house'.
I wondered at the time if I could write a whole novel set in some sort of afterlife. But it was while compiling Losing It I thought that a mixture of imaginations would work really well with a subject like the afterlife. I got very excited with the idea of asking some of my favourite authors what they would love/hate/be terrified of/hope for as an afterlife and seeing what came back. I certainly haven't been disappointed.
GLOWING ICEBERGS... COMPELLING VISIONS
Julie: Although death is no stranger to YA fiction, stories that allow teenagers to explore the idea of death are rare. Jackie Kay has a really intriguing idea of what makes a good short story - she says if you put it in a cornfield you should see the glow of intensity from afar. Ernest Hemingway compared a short story to an iceberg - a powerful glimpse of something that has much more to it than the pages you read, where you're left with a sense of all the stuff that lies beyond the story - the mystery of what happened before and afterwards.
Keith: Novels can sometimes be big and blustery and so full of their own self-importance that they reckon they know all the answers to all the questions. But I enjoy short stories because they often leave the readers to work out many of the answers for themselves. So I can definitely see what Hemingway was getting at. Maybe the stories in Next are like windows through which the reader can peek at a new notion, a fresh imagining, a compelling or intriguing vision. I genuinely think a lot of these stories will linger in the reader's mind long after being read. Which I suppose is part of what Jackie Kay calls 'glow'.
UNIQUE, FUN, DISTURBING,
WEIRD...FULL OF LIFE
Julie: The theme is death, yet what struck me so strongly was that all these stories are brimming with LIFE! What do you think readers will get out of NEXT and why should they grab a copy?
Keith: The first reason is because of the writers. Look at the talent! I was so lucky you all said yes to writing a story for me. The stories themselves are unique, fun, disturbing, even downright weird. But ultimately they are all sensitive, insightful, brimming over with hope. And I absolutely agree, full of life too.
PRIZE GIVEAWAY! WIN A COPY OF NEXT!
We’d love to hear your thoughts.
What kind of afterlife do you think there might be?
If you’d like to be one of the first to read NEXT and win a FREE copy, just post your comment below.
A winner will be selected at random after 7 days.