Monday, 28 May 2012

Dystopian fiction: Science Fiction for Girls?

by Teri Terry
Last week I attended an event, "Worlds of Tomorrow: the rise of SF in children’s and YA fiction". Presented by the UK Society of Authors and Foyles bookshops, in association with the Kitchies Awards, it was moderated by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre with special guests Steve Cole, Kim Lakin-Smith and Moira Young. 
Philip Reeve
Philip Reeve as moderator: Mortal Engines. Need I say more? Okay: also Fever Crumb, Larklight, and new release, Goblins.

Sarah and Steve
And co-moderator Sarah McIntyre, amazing illustrator: spaceships and aliens in picturebook You Can't Eat a Princess.

Moira Young's debut Blood Red Road won the Costa prize; Steve Cole's Astrosaurs are loved by younger readers; Kim Lakin-Smith is a prolific writer of SF for YA and adults.

Kim and Moira
Wow. If the moderators and panel weren't enough of a line up, the audience was sprinkled with authors – myself, Patrick Ness, Bali Rai, Sara Grant, Candy Gourlay, Jeff Norton to name a few. There were enthusiastic readers, bloggers, and librarians, too. 

This started at 7 but let's back up an hour: sat in the Café at Foyles with author buddies Candy Gourlay & Anita Loughrey, we were happy to be unexpectedly joined by Philip Reeve.

L to R: Candy, Anita, and me!
Once I stopped smiling and gazing off into space in a star-struck manner (pardon the pun), a conversation on all the labeling and label dodging that goes on in publishing and bookselling followed. My novel Slated has been referred to as dystopian; then as a futuristic thriller; then back to dystopian. It is set in the future and has future technology in it, yet the words science fiction are avoided. These questions came up in discussion:
Is dystopian fiction science fiction for girls? Is there a difference in what it is, or just in what it is called? 
Later when all the seats were filled and everyone listening, these were the questions in my mind.

One of the topics of discussion: publishers and booksellers seem to edge away from the label science fiction. There seems to be a perception that this label puts people off

When I'm writing, I don't focus on classifying my work. Moira Young said much the same about Blood Red Road: she thought she was writing a Western, albeit one set in the future; she didn't think of it as SF.

When I think back to when I first started Slated and was asked what I was working on, I shrank away from calling it science fiction - and this wasn't with any thought at all about what label was good for sales.

Why the hesitation? There is so much that is good about SF: you can make more comments about society by setting it in the future instead of today. As Philip Reeve pointed out, SF shows us in a strange mirror.

I read a lot of SF as a teen and into my 20s, Asimov, Heinlin, basically everything in the SF section of the library. And all that stuff that crossed between SF and fantasy I devoured: Julian May (LOVED Intervention); the Dune series; the Pern books. 

I think at least part of the discomfort I have with the label is a feeling that there is no way I can write SF. Even thinking about it scares me. In my head you have to have advanced science and engineering degrees and be some sort of mad boffin inventor to even attempt it. Yet, give it a different label....sneak up on it, sideways, and....
I've done it.

I wonder now if this is the same thinking behind why publishers and book sellers avoid the label for children's and YA novels - that the word 'science' may put readers off, think they can't cope with it. And hence the wave of current science fiction for YA has been relabeled: some steam punk, some futuristic thrillers; even more, dystopian.
"Dystopia is code for science fiction. It is the science fiction you are allowed to like." Philip Reeve
And OF COURSE dystopian YA isn't just for girls. The majority of readers of YA are girls, though, and many of the dystopian phenomenon feature girl main characters, like Katniss in Hunger Games, Kyla in Slated; many are written by women authors also, where traditional SF seems dominated still by male writers. SF for YA seems, in general, to be more about the characters and story, and less about the science. But the big issues and stories they cover should and do appeal to both sexes.

So, have I answered my questions? At the end of it, I don't care what label my books are given, so long as it gets them into the hands of readers. But I'm thinking I need to embrace my SF roots: it is part of where I came from, and part of where I want to go.

We'd love to hear from you:
Do you think dystopian fiction is SF for girls - or for YA in general? Is it really science fiction in disguise?
p.s. I can see if I'm going to get in touch with my inner SF goddess, I need to get me some space boots

Kim & Moira
Special thanks to Candy Gourlay for the photos in this blog, and to Foyles and Neil Jackson for hosting the event. I love Foyles at Charing Cross: if you love books and are in, around or visiting London, go there. It is massive, and the cafe at Foyles is perfect for a few hours writing. And just now I especially love that they have Slated as a staff pick, and let me sign some copies.

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.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Interview with Sara Grant author of Dark Parties

by Julienne Durber

Sara Grant, author of Dark Parties, a compelling thriller about identity, trust and freedom in which sixteen-year-old Neva plots to escape a world where everyone looks the same and no one is allowed to leave, senior commissioning editor at Working Partners and SCBWI member has been kind enough to agree to an interview.  

Sara Grant
Thanks for inviting me on Demention!

Firstly, congratulation on winning the UK/Europe Crystal Kite Award for Dark Parties. You must be very pleased.
I was thrilled and honoured to receive the Crystal Kite Award. I’ve been a member of SCBWI for nearly twenty years. I wouldn’t be published if not for the connections, friendships and knowledge I’ve gained from SCBWI. 

Click here for the SCBWI International site 
Click here for the SCBWI British site

Dark Parties UK Cover
Dark Parties features some classic dystopian elements - a controlling faceless government, increasingly prohibitive rules purporting to be for the good of the populous. Where did you draw your inspiration from?
The idea for Dark Parties came shortly after I moved from Indianapolis, Indiana, to London, England. Debates on immigration were raging on both sides of the Atlantic – and still are. How ‘open’ should a country’s borders be? What does it mean to be American or British? I wanted to explore issues of diversity and national and personal identity so I created a country that had literally closed itself off from the rest of the world.

You use these classic elements to address extremely contemporary issues - fear of cultural differences and individuality, loss of national identity, a perceived threat of terror activity. Was it a conscious decision to focus on such current issues, and do you think that it is valuable for dystopian literature to reflect society's fears?
The books that I love, books that stay with me long after I’ve finished the final page are books that not only have a compelling story but also change the way that I look at the world. They show the reader the beautiful shades of grey of an issue. All kinds of books – including dystopian – have the chance to ask important questions and serve as conversation starters for readers. I enjoy writing and reading books that entertain and explore interesting and timely issues.

Without giving too much away to anyone who hasn't yet read Dark Parties, the parallels between the government's secrets and the growing number of things that Neva, the central character, has to keep hidden is a central theme in the story. Did you find it a challenge to maintain a balance between the ‘big picture’ secrets and Neva’s personal challenges?
Writing a novel for teens is challenging – full stop. Dark Parties was one of those projects that seemed to have a life of its own. Neva’s personal journey and the ‘big picture’ really developed together so the balance came quite naturally. 

The German imprint of
Dark Parties retitled Neva
I love the German trailer that’s available to view on your website. It has a much darker feel than the UK ‘snowflake’ trailer. Which do you think captures your view of Dark Parties best?
I think both capture different aspects of my novel. Dark Parties is dark and sinister as represented by the German trailer and hopeful as reflected in the tone of the UK trailer. It was one of the unexpected joys of the publication process to have my publishers translate Dark Parties into video. 

Can you tell me anything about your next project?
I’m in the middle of revising my second book, which is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2013. It’s another stand-alone futuristic novel. Its working title is Half Lives.

Half Lives chronicles the journey of two unlikely heroes – Icie and Beckett. Both struggle to keep themselves alive and protect future generations from the terrible fate that awaits any who dare to climb the mountain. Even though they live hundreds of years apart, Icie and Beckett’s lives are mysteriously linked.

Half Lives is a race against time and the battle to save future generations. It’s about the nature of faith and power of miscommunication – and above all the strength of the human spirit to adapt and survive.

How can people keep up to date with future releases and appearances and get in touch?
There’s a Facebook fan page for Dark Parties. I also keep readers updated at my web site – – and on Twitter or @authorsaragrant. I blog regularly as part of the EDGE.

Julienne's review of Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Sara Grant’s debut novel Dark Parties is a dark, coming-of-age thriller that tells the story of Neva and her life inside the Protectosphere, an all-enclosing dome that separates a dwindling population of virtual clones from the threat posed by the rest of the world.

Familiar themes of a faceless, controlling government in times of austerity, and extreme restrictions on personal freedom and individuality are given a fresh perspective when seen through the eyes of the teenage heroine, where they chime with everyday issues of friendship, romance and approaching adulthood.

The main female characters are excellently realised, rounded and believable and Sara’s prose style is accessible, leading the reader through a grippingly twisting plot while deftly maintaining the balance between thrills and emotional content.

A very enjoyable read, ideal for teenage girls and with appeal for both boys and adult readers.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Launch of Slated by Teri Terry

At the launch of Slated, the debut novel by Demention’s own Teri Terry, I was challenged to blog about the launch in the style of a dystopian narrative.  Given the extremely high quality of the author who challenged me (who asked to remain nameless), and that fact that I can’t refuse an interesting task, I accepted.  I hope you enjoy it.

The Aspiring and the Elevated
The Aspiring and the Elevated
The rendezvous was set. The disguised picture of my co-conspirators – the Aspiring and the Elevated – had been circulated. We each had an idea whom the others were, but hopefully the Organisation didn't!
(To read about the brilliant Facebook stealth mob for the Slated launch campaign, and other great articles on all things writing-related visit the notes from the slushpile blog).

I had managed to infiltrate the sprawling metropolis with the minimum of disturbance. My black market pass had only been checked once, by a low-brow border guard too involved in his own nefarious schemes to question its validity, and now I was standing outside the meeting point – a hidden treasury of books.  The door hung open. Tantalising, beckoning, too much like a trap. From my vantage point I could make out two shadows inside the building. Undesirables? Underclass? Enforcers?!? 

Then, floating across the cracked paving of the long-forgotten square came a giggle. Only when authors gathered to celebrate the success of one of their own was such a sound heard these days. I sprinted across the square and dived through the doors.

The shadowy figures nodded their acknowledgement, recognising me from my picture and I loped up the rickety stars three at a time. Before I'd reached the top, a hidden panel opened, leaking more giggling that lifted my heart. Corinne Gotch - wisewoman, gatekeeper and dispenser of refreshment - welcomed me into the enveloping warmth of the Gathered.

The Gathered

As I looked around the room, I could spot fragments of faces from the distorted images we'd all seen. Some I knew from previous meetings, others were new to me – the latest Aspiring recruits to the cause. All were hastily exchanging information, stories, secrets. We all knew that our time here was limited.

My own time was also short. Without a record of such meetings, future Aspiring members could not be recruited. I pulled out my much repaired picture-capture machine and began collecting images. The dichotomy – any one of these pictures was more than enough to bring the full force of the Organisation down on everyone in them.

Caroline Sheldon
Soon, Corrine called the Gathered to order. The reason for our gathering, the progression of one of our own, Teri Terry, from Aspiring to Elevated was to be celebrated. Caroline Sheldon - co-ordinator, Mistress of Strings and instrumental in assisting the Elevation of so many - began the celebration, by praising the fine work and dedication of Teri in reaching such heights of narrative vision and lauding the thrilling and emotive effects that she experienced.

Megan Larkin - gatherer of words, slicer of exposition, Queen of the Orchard - continued, regaling us with tales of the members of her clan and their desire to glimpse Slated in its raw form as news of its majesty spread.

Finally, Teri took the floor to the applause of the Gathered. Those who had already succeeded, those on the very cusp, new members and even ones racked with doubt that they would ever be Elevated – the young and the old – all hung on Teri's words as she recounted the trials and triumphs that she had experienced on her journey. Of those who had helped her, Mr X received the greatest and most deserved praise.

The Fudge
The line to receive words of wisdom from the newly Elevated Teri was long, but she worked tirelessly, inscribing personal messages to all who sought them, whilst Corinne and her assistants circulated refreshments and life-giving fudge treats to all in need.

But all too soon, the lights dimmed and a hush fell over the gathering at this sign that Enforcers were near and it was time to disperse.  In twos and threes we melted into the night, safe in the knowledge that another of our number had achieved the success we all craved. Every tiny victory against the Organisation is one step closer for us all.  None of us know when the next gathering might happen.  But when it does, we will be there.

For the chance to win a sign copy of Slated and for more information about Teri Terry see last weeks post 'Slated Book Birthday: Q&A, and a giveaway!' below.