Monday 21 May 2012


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

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'. 
Keith Gray
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.
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'.

Philip Ardagh
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.


Malorie Blackman

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.


  1. I am a bit of a scientist, so I find it hard to imagine anything after death besides a buried pile of rotting flesh. But somehow I find it difficult to accept that this whole world and every life in it is just an insignificant byproduct of chance, so perhaps there really is some kind of in-between world, a holding place after this, where our souls wait for their next chance at life...

  2. I enjoyed Ostrich Boys, and Losing It, so this definitely seems like one to look out for. In my spare time, I sometimes wonder about afterlives and think that it would be nice if there was something like the Greek afterlife, with Elysium (reallynice afterlife) and Tartarus (horrible afterlife) and Asphodel, ie a really big waiting room of boredom. I also wonder about the heaven and hell aspect, and tend to design Hell as either a place where nothing happens, or everything happens and it's actually quite fun to be there. A recent film has made me think of Hell as a circus. In reality, I think that after death, there isn't much. Life is much more interesting.

  3. I am a Catholic, too. This world is miraculous! Why not an afterlife.There is SO MUCH Space in Outer Space there could be room for a Heaven and a Hell and a Purgatory.I sure hope so not much for me as for my 7 year old sister who died of cancer a while ago. She is one of the reasons I write children's books and the reason I try to be so Good other than the fact I do want to see Jesus when I die.HOPE SO.

  4. since most of the comments are talking about religion I will say I'm an atheist. I think death isn't necessarily something that happens to YOU after you die, whats important is how your life and death impacted the people who knew you..i think it would be interesting to focus on those left behind....

  5. I definitely believe in an afterlife - though not in any religious sense. I just think something must happen to all that energy and spirit...
    And yes, please to the draw for the copy of Next...

  6. I've never believed very strongly in any sort of afterlife. I'm open to persuasion though, but omly if it's nice :)

  7. I...don't know. I *think* it's just nothingness, but I have to hope that it's not because that's just depressing.

  8. What great comments! I too want to know where all our energy goes. I veer from a rational, scientific view that this is it to the cosmic vision in my story. But it's funny, though I'm no longer religious, it sticks - if I'm ever worried about any of my family I imagine the dead relatives 'up there' and appeal to their 'energies' for help. Comforting.

    In time-honoured fashion, I am going to put your names in a straw hat, close my eyes and pull out a winner! I'll post the winners name later.

  9. Winner's name - apostrophe crime! Sorry, am watching a tense tennis match and praying!

  10. Unfortunately I can't post a photo here of me picking out the winner's name from my straw hat with my eyes closed, but I did.

    And the winner of NEXT is Nina!

    Nina, if you get in touch with your address on our contact form I'll send a copy out to you asap, thanks.

    Thanks again for all your fascinating ideas. There's sure to be another competition soon so watch out for that.