Monday, 30 April 2012

Terror and the Teen: Slated Author, Teri Terry, on Dystopian YA

*  Hi Teri and welcome to tall tales & short stories. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

My official biography says–
Teri has lived in France, Canada, Australia and England at more addresses than she can count, acquiring three degrees, a selection of passports and a silly name along the way. The footpaths and canal ways of the Buckinghamshire Chilterns where she now lives inspired much of the setting of Slated. She hates broccoli, likes cats, and has finally worked out what she wants to do when she grows up.

This is what it says on Twitter, so it must be true:
@TeriTerryWrites: mad writer (is there any other kind?). YA thriller debut SLATED, Orchard Books May 12. In SCBWI.

I do think you have to be a bit mad to write. Both in that you see the world and people in different ways, get inside them, turn them inside out almost like you’re wearing their skin. And also mad to throw your dice in the lottery of trying to get published, and coping with way more rejection than is ego-healthy along the way. I’m feeling very lucky that Slated is being published in the UK by Orchard Books on THURSDAY, 3rd May!
And in the US and Canada by Penguin Imprint Nancy Paulsen Books in 2013! #madwriter #madhappydancing #spendswaytoomuchtimeonTwitter!!

Sorry, I’ll try to behave now.

One thing I get asked all the time is: why do I write dystopian YA? This question comes up in debates about perceived darkness in YA: why are there so many stories set in bleak future worlds?

I have a few theories – more on that later. But for now I’ll answer this from a highly personal point of view: why did I write Slated?

Writers find their stories in different ways, but to me it is always about character, and story. And they find me, not the other way around. What genre or theme or shelf it may fit on doesn’t enter into things when I start to write something new.

This was true of Slated. I’ve mentioned here and there about how the story started: it was a dream, one of those ones that really grabs you in the guts. A girl, running on a beach, terrified, unable to look back at what chases. And is often the case with dreams, I sort of knew what was behind it without being able to explain why, and the story grew from there.

But that wasn’t the end of it in this case. I could see very early on with this story that it was going to be difficult for me: not only a whole new future to create, a damaged consciousness to deal with, but also the subject matter it delves into: terrorism. It took me a while to come to terms with whether I wanted to write it, and why.

Not long after I started Slated I decided to take the plunge and do a research MA in creative writing at the University of Bedfordshire, with Slated the creative piece for the degree. My research title is this: ‘Terror and the Teen: Representations in Dystopian Fiction Since 9/11’. A bit of a mouthful! The thesis part of the degree is still underway.

The rise of dystopian fiction in YA has been in the spotlight, starting with the success of the amazing Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and the movie out last month. There has been endless conjecture what is behind it.  The appeal of dystopian fiction to me is twofold: the what ifs behind the creation of worlds might get me to pick up a book in the first place, but the strong characters are what keep me there.

But what about teen readers: are they following along with the hype of a publishing industry looking for the next big thing after boy wizards and lovesick vampires? I don’t agree. Hype may get you to pick up a book, but it doesn’t make you claim it as yours.

Is it fears of the world as it is today? Today’s teens have always had 9/11, the war on terror, the tube and bus bombings in London, the Bali bombings as part of their world. Not to mention fears for the future when Uni places are hard to get and more expensive, jobs scarce, and the economy in recession. Global warming, scenes of war and natural disasters top the news regularly. Yet hasn’t this always been the case? When I was a teen it was nuclear fears and the cold war; the Iran hostage crisis; DDT. Generations earlier had WW2, the Great Depression, WW1.

Is it some basic recognition inside that says dystopian worlds are mine? Scott Westerfeld has been quoted as saying that high-school is a dystopia – as discussed at a recent Dystopian YA panel at Demention, here: a strange world where you don’t understand the rules and it feels like any wrong move could be your last.

There is a great debate on the darkness in YA in the NY Times opinion pages from late 2010, here.

Many critics lament the darkness of dystopian tales. While the worlds may be dark, there is such strength in characters like Katniss in Hunger Games: she survives impossible odds, and changes her world: how can that not be full of hope? Also I LOVE all the strong female characters coming out of this genre.

Getting back to Slated - what made me go beyond my hesitation and write it is complicated. I struggled with the subject matter; I needed a reason. I found it in an unlikely place.

In 2010 at a SCBWI retreat there was a talk by picture book writer Pippa Goodhart. One thing she said really stuck with me: that in PBs they have animals as characters to deal with scary subjects without it being too close – eg being lost. And to me it was like a little light-bulb went on inside my head.

There is some obsession inside me with these topics. But using a fictional world with made up groups and politics is a way to deal with terrorists and terrorism without it being emotive in a real world way. It allows showing both sides of a conflict without saying what you should think about it, without feeling you already know what you think about it.

I’m not sure if this makes sense to anybody but me, but it was part of the process of coming to peace with myself about what I was driven to write. I don’t set out to write about issues – never have – I get into my characters’ skin, and see where it takes me. But it was kind of like I felt to myself - well, okay then. Get on with it.


Kyla’s memory has been erased,
her personality wiped blank,
her memories lost for ever.

She’s been Slated.

The government claims she was a terrorist, and that they are giving her a second chance - as long as she plays by their rules. But echoes of the past whisper in Kyla’s mind. Someone is lying to her, and nothing is as it seems. Who can she trust in her search for the truth?


Slated is published by Orchard Books in the UK on 3rd May 2012,
and in the US and Canada in early 2013 by Penguin imprint Nancy Paulsen Books. 
The story continues in Fractured – May 2013 in the UK and late 2013 in the US and Canada.

Teri blogs on Demention
with Julie Bertagna and Julienne Durber on all things dark and dystopian in YA fiction




Candy Gourlay said...

great stuff. congrats, teri!

Sue Hyams said...

Great interview. So looking forward to reading Slated!

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Popular Posts

The Bookseller