Monday, 25 June 2012

Introducing Claire Merle: Demention's newest blogger!

This week we welcome Claire Merle, who has agreed to become a permanent member of the demention team. There is a giveaway, too! Details are below. We all look forward to her opinions on all things otherworldly. Over to Claire...
Hi! I’m the author of The Glimpse, the first part in a dystopian thriller out this month with Faber & Faber. The Glimpse is my first novel, and the second and final part will be published next year. You can find out more about me here.

When Teri contacted me about becoming part of Demention I was excited. I’ve been reading the blog since Julienne, Julie and Teri set it up in April, and I feel it offers a unique slant on the growing genre of ‘dark’ young adult fiction. Demention asks and answers questions about what kind of impact these alternative troubled worlds have on the reader, and why these sorts of stories are so popular. I can’t wait to become part of the team!

My fascination with dystopian and apocalyptic fiction began in school after reading The Handmaid’s Tale, Brave New World and Z for Zachariah. I loved how these books were able to shift my perspective on my own life. It’s like time travelling or being reincarnated in a future where constant danger and the struggle for survival eclipse the smaller complexities and problems that tend to eat up our daily lives. Dark, otherworldly stories also evoke that raw sense of the urgency of living, and the potential we each have to change the world around us. As a writer and reader I’m drawn to these elements.

Following in the footsteps of Julie, Teri and Julienne, I’m introducing myself with a giveaway. I’ve got a signed copy of my debut novel The Glimpse for one winner, and a recent favourite of mine Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro for you. To enter the giveaway please leave a comment below and follow this blog if you aren't already, and as ever, tweets and facebook posts get an extra entry. This is international and winners will be picked at random, and closes on July 16. 

Many thanks to the Demention Team for inviting me on board!

Read Julienne's interview of Claire and review of The Glimpse here

Monday, 18 June 2012

Guest post: MG Harris' favourite post-apocalypes novel, Blindness by Jose Saramago

Today on Demention we have a guest post by MG HARRIS. She is the author of the internationally best-selling series of teen thrillers, THE JOSHUA FILES. She was born in Mexico City but lived most of her life in Manchester, England. As a teenager, trips to the Mayan ruins gave her the seed of the idea for what would later become the JOSHUA FILES series. MG has recently dabbled with self-publishing, with her first novel for older readers; THE DESCENDANT - a technothriller.

“Why did we become blind, I don't know, perhaps one day we'll find out, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don't think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.” Jose Saramago, Blindness

Once in a while, the book you receive as a Christmas gift and begin to read in the New Year sets an impossibly high standard for anything else that year. In 2010 that book, for me, was Blindness by the Nobel-prize-winning Portuguese author, Jose Saramago.

Before writing this post, I thought about reading the book again. But I couldn’t. Not just because it’s such an uncomfortable experience that you think twice about enduring it again, but because I’d already anticipated that particular power of this novel, and passed it on to a friend.

The story is simple. An unexplained epidemic of white blindness sweeps through the population of a city. Within months, all semblance of civilised society has been torn away. We follow the fate of a small group who are led by the sole person to remain immune. As the contagion of blindness spreads, so does viciousness and cruelty.
As Sally Nicholls’s All Fall Down shows, the Black Death left enough people alive to worry about looking after the sick. This ‘blindness’ leaves no-one untouched – apart from the ‘doctor’s wife’. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed person isn’t king; they’d better hide, or become a slave to a horde of ruthless blind people. In short order, it comes down to every man and woman for themselves.

Saramago has a particular style of long, unbroken sentences and paragraphs which takes some getting used to. However, this story quickly gets right under the skin of the first protagonist. Within a few pages the reader is led through the building horror of a man gripped by a sudden, inexplicable blindness. I remember squirming in sympathy, wanting to put the book down but somehow, unable to.
From then on, it is pretty much unrelenting grimness as we follow a small group of characters as they fall blind, and are interned in a disused mental asylum, by a state that runs out of sympathy and compassion in about five minutes.

Panic spreads. There appears to be no cure, no means of prevention. The first victims are abandoned inside the asylum. But Saramago hasn’t chosen a simple contagion like Ebola, or a zombie-plague with a swift if grisly death. For the blind of this story there is no easy death. The only escape is by starvation, neglect or murder.

The author leaves just enough hope left alive to torture all the characters – and the reader – by dangling the slim possibility that somewhere in this new hell, enough compassion and cooperation will survive.

Blindness, unlike most genre or YA post-apocalypse novels, doesn’t use the cataclysm as a backdrop for adventure or romance. Saramago’s unrelenting focus is on the breakdown of society, as a way of showcasing the precious, tenuous nature of all that has been achieved by the development of ‘civilisation’. We depend on others for everything. Human society is fundamentally cooperative – and if that cooperation has to be coerced, it will be.

It’s like Day of the Triffids stripped to the bone, without the fun of being chased by marauding flesh-eating plants.

Why would you read something like this? Admittedly, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Blindness is an unflinching look at a hopeless situation.

Once in a while though, I think we need to dare ourselves to face, via literature, an imagined, quotidian horror. The best writers avoid sentimentality in these tales. The bleakness of the events needs little decoration; this is not for the faint-hearted.

Maybe that’s why I can stand to read Blindness more easily than some of the others. The scenario is easy to imagine yet seems very unlikely. Plagues, war and famine – we’ve seen those played out in reality. They could easily visit again.

The appalling horror of closing your eyes one day and then opening them to a world of pure white, seems improbable. Yet, believably horrible. One minute you can see. The next minute, things go white. And in that blink of the eye, you are reduced to dependency on the kindness of strangers.

But as Saramago shows, under pressure, kindness would become rare.

A novel like Blindness can serve authors of YA fiction as a helpful guide to the limits of the reading experience we provide for young people. Post-apocalyptic fiction is popular with young readers, who like to imagine how they would survive in similar circumstances. How they might succeed against the odds; what might be the limits of their mettle.

Blindness goes further into the darkness than any YA book ever could or should. When relief comes, it’s as arbitrary as the arrival of the blindness. Humanity proves utterly bereft of solutions. Only an act of God can reprieve these characters from their man-made hell.

This is post-apocalyptic fiction served raw. Taste at your own risk. But if you read anything better for 12 months afterwards, I’ll be impressed.

I’ve known from the beginning that ultimately Josh Garcia, the teenage hero of THE JOSHUA FILES, would have to face the very cataclysm that he so dreads – the (debatably) prophesied end of civilisation at the end of 2012.
Which is why the final book of the series: APOCALYPSE MOON takes Josh forward in time – for readers to enjoy the vicarious chill of a glimpse into post-apocalyptic society…
The movie (starring Mark Ruffalo, Julianne Moore, Gael Garcia Bernal) is nothing like as powerful as the book, but well worth watching all the same.

Here’s the trailer:

Monday, 11 June 2012

Interview with Claire Merle author of The Glimpse

Claire Merle wrote her first paranormal screenplay at the age of thirteen and named it after a road sign. Even though DANGER ALIVE never made it to the big screen, she continued to write and daydream and her first novel,The Glimpse is out this month. She has been kind enough to include Demention in her blog tour. 

Claire Merle

Firstly, many thanks for including the Demention blog in your blog tour. (For a full list of the dates of Claire's blog tour scroll down to the end of the interview.)

Well, I'm very excited you guys could participate!

Your main character, Ana, is shaken from her privileged life very early in the book, and the theme of her realising how sheltered she was from the experiences of the majority is a thread that runs throughout the story.  How important was this thread to you when you were writing the book?  Was it your intention to include it from the start or did it develop along with Ana’s personality?

I was definitely conscious early on as I was drafting, that Ana's internal conflict would come from the way she's been taught to think about society, versus the things she actually sees and experiences for herself once she's out 'in the real world'.  In my late teens, I had a rocky experience along these lines and I knew I wanted to use this as an emotional anchor to explore what Ana goes through. She is raised in a very closed-minded environment, and once she leaves it she's suddenly faced with variety, difference, people who are more free to 'think for themselves' and don't all perceive things in the same way. I also think it's fascinating to see how much our environment shapes and conditions the way we think.

The Glimpse
In your dystopia, society is divided along mental health lines - those who are ‘Pure’ and the ‘Crazies’, people at risk of, or in various stages of mental illness.  I found this a very thought-provoking take on the theme of them-and-us.  What inspired you to go down that route?

Mmm, wow, there are so many things I think that feed into this, my answer will probably only scratch the surface - but I'll try. It began when I went to a talk a number of years ago on mental health, children and childhood disorders, particularly ADHD. I think there's an important difference between a child being diagnosed with a metal illness and an adult: a child is often being diagnosed because others feel there's something wrong with them; an adult usually seeks treatment because they themselves feel there's something wrong. To me, there's an inherent problem in labeling a child with something that automatically has negative connotations -  'disorder'. There are those who argue that in days-gone-by a child with ADHD would have been labelled 'bad', and now it's better because they're being labeled as having a disorder and thus getting the necessary help and understanding that goes with that. Personally, I'm concerned that when you put this sort of 'identification' on a child, you are telling them as well as their teachers, their parents and their friends that there is something inherently wrong with them - something they may grow out of, or something they may have for life. You've made them 'other'. Now the weird thing is, according to psychologists like Dabrowski, gifted childen are often 'misdiagnosed' with ADHD since a certain 'type' of gifted child may have characteristics that are similar to those listed as symptoms of ADHD. OK, so the brain of a 'ADHD' child might be responding to their environment differently to the brain of a 'normal' child, just like the brain of a 'gifted' child is responding differently. Does that make the child mentally ill? Does that mean we should teach them to think of themselves as having something wrong with them? Does that mean we should start attempting to rebalance these differences with drugs?

English creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson, gives a wonderful talk on 'Changing Education Paradigms' and goes some way to explaining western society's tendency to try and fit everyone into a mold, particularly in school. (He likens it to the industrial factory line.) The symptoms defined by ADHD actually seem to be strongly linked to creativity, ability to think-out-of-the-box and good leadership skills. I'd love to see those positive qualities embraced, nurtured and catered for in children and schools, rather than trying to fit the square peg in a round hole and saying the square peg is not correctly formed and if we just alter it a bit, it'll fit. (Please note: this is not to say I don't think there are issues that need to be addressed for maximum benefit to the 'ADHD' child, such as medical testing to check for allergies to metals & chemicals, difficult home environment, nutritional deficiencies, shock or trauma therapy, and a school environment that is more adapted to individual learning. I am also not a doctor! This is my personal opinion.)

Blog Tour Dates
I know you now live in France, but the setting you chose for the book - an extremely well-structured London of the near future - really felt like it was familiar to you.  Have you spent much time in London and did it take a lot of research to decide which parts of the future city should be segregated?

I grew up in Highgate, (a suburb in north London). It's an important part of my past and my memories so when I began working on The Glimpse I didn't even question my impulse to use the area as the central setting.  I lived in north London for twenty-two years - it didn't take a lot of research to be able to revisit these places in the story!

The Glimpse is set in the very near future and despite the deprivation in the city, the fact that everyone has access to their own personal entertainment/communication devices that also serve as trackers for the government is quite a bleak view of future technology.  Do you worry that technology is becoming all pervading?

The fact that everyone has access to their own personal entertainment/communication devices was partly inspired by a documentary I saw where the filmmakers were traveling around Africa visiting places where people were living in very basic conditions, and yet they still had mobile phones. For me, scientific developments create this strange dichotomy of 'good' and 'bad'. Take something as simple as television. What's not to love about television? And yet, on a deeper level, yes, I do find it worrying. How many hours have my kids spent in front of the television this week? How many people go home and spend every evening after work watching TV? How influenced are we as a society by what the media chooses to show us and not to show us? Deep down I guess a part of me is concerned that we're being 'conditioned' and 'entertained' at the detriment of being able to think.

The Glimpse is released this month.  Can you tell me a little about your future projects?

There will be a second and final part to The Glimpse duet out this time next year. I'm also working on a YA contemporary with a fantasy twist.

Claire, thanks for answering my questions.

Thanks for interviewing me!

For more information about Claire Merle visit her website.

Julienne's review of The Glimpse by Claire Merle

Claire Merle’s first novel The Glimpse is a twisting, slow-burning thriller full of complex themes.

Set in a dark challenging vision of near-future Britain where society is divided into ‘Pures’ - those with no genetic predisposition towards mental health issues, and ‘Crazies’ - those that do, it follows Ariana 'Ana' Barber daughter of the scientist who developed the purity tests as she struggles to cope with the knowledge that she herself isn’t Pure.

The Glimpse paints a bleak, thought-provoking picture of human nature, society and technology in a story dotted with flashes of humanity, realisation and romance.  Sometimes warm and at other times disturbingly harsh, the well-drawn settings and building intrigue will keep you reading to the tantalising climax.

I can’t wait for book two!

Monday, 4 June 2012


Interview by Julie Bertagna


It’s 2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else portals between worlds, 18-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets...
Janet Edwards
EARTH GIRL is Janet Edwards’ first novel. I really enjoyed it and I’m delighted to finally see a breakthrough in UK YA sci-fi - not least because I’m writing some myself! Here is Janet talking to me about herself and her forthcoming book. 
Julie Bertagna
Julie Bertagna: Tell us a little about yourself and your life, how you came to writing and were published?
Janet Edwards: I loved reading as a child and at various times dabbled with writing but as an adult the demands of family and work took over. In the autumn of 2007, I decided to give the writing a serious try, and started going to a weekly creative writing class. I was finally brave enough not just to write a short story, and read it in front of other people, but to enter it in a competition. I didn’t have a lot of confidence about my writing ability, and was about to give up writing entirely when I got an email saying my story had won second prize. It was also read on BBC Radio Somerset. 
So I decided I should keep writing after all. There were more short stories, a ‘trunk’ novel, and then I started writing Earth Girl at the end of 2009.  Less than a year later, amazing things started happening. I’m still finding it hard to believe. 
                                                   Ideas excite me
 Julie: The writer Ray Bradbury says that 'Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me...' What ideas sparked Earth Girl?

Janet: I had the idea of a future where there’s a new handicap. One you can’t tell someone has by just looking at them. A handicap that means you can only live on Earth. A handicap that any one of us could have right now without knowing about it, because this is only a problem when people live on other planets as well as this one.

I played with the idea, originally for a short story. I created a future society and a character to be the centre of the story. Jarra’s handicap limits her life by keeping her on Earth, but a far bigger problem is the prejudice society has against the handicapped, and the limitations society imposes on them. Jarra has her own prejudiced, caricatured idea of people from the other worlds as well, so that’s a lot to explore. A year later I discovered it wasn’t a short story, or even a novel, but a trilogy.   
                                  Jarra is considered 'an ape' in her world 
Julie: The main character, a teenage girl called Jarra, is considered 'an ape' in her world, a handicapped sub-human, because her immune system can't cope with the portal technology that allows most humans to travel the universe with ease. It's a unique and provocative take on disability. This is one of the reasons I love SF - you can hold up a cracked mirror to the present and explore ideas in new ways. What are your thoughts on this?

Janet: This is one of the great things about SF. You can take an issue from today, and put it in a future world so you can examine it with fresh eyes in a different context­­. It appears in a lot of SF novels to a large or very minor extent, but of course you need more than the ‘cracked mirror’ to make a book. There have to be characters and a story that hold the attention of the reader.
                                   YA is still exploring its boundaries
Julie: Until recently, publishing wisdom on SF was that teens, especially girls, wouldn’t go for it. Neither would reviewers and booksellers. So in my Exodus trilogy, the futuristic sci-fi elements were played down in blurbs and covers. Yet my friends and I had devoured SF as teenagers. At last, it seems the time is ripe for YA SF - hooray! Why do you think the tide has turned? Or is it purely publishing perceptions that have changed?

Janet: I too devoured SF as a teenager. Perhaps YA as a category is still exploring its boundaries. There’s been a lot of fantasy for years in YA. Recent hugely popular books have shown there’s a place for YA SF as well.  

             Jarra sees a portal in the same way as we see a car 

Julie: The story takes place in a complex far-future world and contains quite complicated ideas and sophisticated technology. It's fascinating and balanced with plenty of action and love interest. Was it difficult to get the right balance re the science and technology aspects, especially for a young audience?

Janet: The science and technology are integral to the story, because if people couldn’t portal to other worlds then no-one would know Jarra was different, but I’ve tried to show how things work without blinding readers with science. Jarra sees a portal in the same way as we see a car. You use it to get from one place to another, without worrying about how all the technology inside it works. I’ve not been too worried about the age of the audience, since young people interact with a host of technology on a daily basis.

Julie: The ruined New York setting of the future is stark and haunting. As a British writer, why did you choose a US setting?

Janet: In this future, most humans can portal to any one of a thousand worlds. The handicapped can’t do that, but they are citizens of a global Earth and portal freely around its continents. Jarra was raised in institutions in Europe. My setting for the action of the first book had to be a city with a lot of very tall buildings so New York was an obvious choice. There will be some other dramatic locations in later books.

Julie: I loved the dramatic aurora storm near the end. I'm quite partial to them - my last book (Aurora) had similar storms but none as extreme as Earth Girl's. Tell me we're not due a world-busting Carrington Event in real life?!

Janet: The last solar super storm was in 1859 and named after one of the astronomers who observed it. We can expect a Carrington Event on average about every 500 years. It’s not impossible that one will happen in the next few years, but hopefully it won’t. What we can expect are the sort of major solar storms that happen several times a century and are big enough to cause problems for things like radio, GPS, satellites and power grids. One in 1989 demonstrated what could happen when it hit the power grid in Quebec.
The current solar cycle peaks in 2013. It’s been relatively mild so far, so keep your fingers crossed it stays that way.

Julie: If you had the chance to portal off-world with just a single book in a reading device, where would you go and what book would it be?

Janet: In the future world of Earth Girl, I’d portal to Adonis, the first colony world of humanity, and the historic capital of the 200 worlds of Alpha sector. I’d have to take along the book of Ventrak Rostha’s History of Humanity vid series, so I could read all the history of the next seven hundred years!

In our time, I’d portal to one of the moons of Saturn and admire the view. I’d never get through the portal though, because I could never decide what book to take. One book? Seriously? I could get down to a short list of maybe 25.

Julie: Earth Girl is the first part of a trilogy - can you give us any hints as to where the story will go?

Janet: This is where I’m going to be cruel and tell you the hints are there in book 1. Most of the things mentioned in book 1 are there for a reason and will feature in books 2 and 3. Jarra’s got a lot of excitement ahead of her, she’s going to learn a lot more about the Military and the worlds of the different sectors, and about herself as well.
Thanks for a great interview, Janet! 
Earth Girl by Janet Edwards is published by Harper Voyager on 16th Aug 2012