Today I am lucky enough, again as part of the UKYACX blog tour to be in conversation with Jane Brittan. Two years ago, with her friend and fellow writer, Lisa Taylor, Jane set up Blowfish Books – a small, London-based, indie publishing company for YA and crossover books. The Edge of Me was their first title and it went on to be nominated for the 2016 Carnegie Medal and was a finalist in the Bath Children’s Novel Award. It’s now with agents under consideration for TV and foreign rights sales. Jane says "We are super proud of our achievement there, and hope to go on to do more. We started small because we wanted to make our books the best they can possibly be, but we hope to be looking at taking on new YA authors very soon. Lisa’s book, Summer at the Methane Lakes is coming out soon – it’s a dark, crunchy, crossover sci-fi with some serious twists and we’re very excited."
Any advice to anyone dreaming of becoming an author?
It’s like any other goal in life, the first thing is to just start: to try to park all those reasons for not doing it and to flex those digits. I never plan my books. I start with a persistent voice in my head saying ‘write me down’ and if that voice works, if it feels truthful, then usually a story will follow. Another crunchy piece of advice someone once gave me, is to write with your senses – because stories should be an experience for the reader, you need to be able to draw on touch, smell, sound, etc, to flesh out a scene and take them into that experience so they can fully enter your world.
Oh, and always, always, write what you want to write – honour your truth and your own voices not anyone else’s.
Where do you get your writing inspiration from?
In the previous answer, I talked about voices or a voice that wont go away – a kind of possession – and it’s those voices that sort of tell me the story they want to tell. When I wrote The Edge of Me, the voice of the main character, Sanda, was in my head before I even knew what I was going to do with her. I wanted to use war as a setting but didn’t know how at that point. It was only when I started writing her, that her story started to emerge. I recalled sitting in my flat, back in the early 90’s, with my first baby in my arms, watching reports of the Bosnian War on CNN: stark brutality, mass murder unchecked, ‘ethnic cleansing’, starving men at barbed wire barricades – those images lodged themselves in my brain and stayed there. So I wanted to take a tiny part of that – a bitter secret kept for years – and make it mean something for Sanda in the story, but also, just maybe, for the reader. My new book, Bad Blood, the first instalment of two, again, started with a troubled voice: a boy this time – Ben. I wanted to send him on a very dark journey that begins with his finding his scientist father dead at the wheel of his car in their garage at home and leads him to discover the true nature of his father’s work, and how what he did will affect not only Ben but many, many thousands of innocent people.
My father was a scientist – he worked on highly classified ‘star wars’ projects for the military. He killed himself in 1987 – like Ben’s dad – in his car in a locked garage with the engine running. Between the years 1982 and 1989, more than twenty-five other senior military scientists, all working on similar top-secret programmes, died in odd or suspicious circumstances. In most cases, verdicts of ‘open verdict’ were recorded on the deaths. Questions were asked repeatedly in Parliament, books and articles were written about the cases pointing to some sinister conspiracy and cover up.
My brother found my father dead that morning. He was sixteen years old.
Obviously Bad Blood deviates almost at once from my own family’s experience but I certainly drew on the pain and the not knowing. We still, to this day, don’t know the truth of what happened, and why my father did what he did. I wanted to see a way that Ben could grow through it, even though the answers he finds are so deeply affecting and terrifying, and, in some way, to let him heal.
What made you write for the YA market?
I’ve always loved coming-of-age stories. When everything can seem to pivot on a single moment in time. I love the breathlessness, the urgency of them, the way that everything and nothing can mean everything. All stories are journeys in one way or another, but, when they’re good, when they work, stories about growing up, about finding yourself, can be the best, the most important of all. Because finding your truth and making that mean something is what every human being on the planet has done, is doing, or is about to do.
I have two sons and a daughter, and three stepsons, between 16 and 25, so I have or have had a HUGE number of young adult voices in my life to soak up!
What are you working on next?
I’m tweaking Bad Blood #2, to get it ready for release in the new year. Bad Blood #1 does end on a cliff hanger, so I don’t want to leave readers waiting too long!
I have a standalone book that will come out after Bad Blood, which is a real departure from the last two. It’s called The Reckoning, and it’s set in Arizona in the 1860’s and the 1880’s and tells two parallel stories, both about love and both about revenge.
Right now, I am working on a dark dystopian series with the working title of the Isle of Dust. The first is written, and I’m starting on the second. It’s set in post-apocalyptic London, in a community that lives on the Isle of Dogs.
If, heaven forbid, there was a fire, what possession would you grab first to save?
Wow! Good question! Assuming everyone I love is safe: photographs, my children’s cards and drawings, and my trusty laptop!
What five people, living or dead, would you choose to invite to a dinner party?
The man who works in the launderette on my high street; Beatrix Potter; Sir Joseph Banks; Biggie Smalls; and my father.
Thank you Jane for being part of my blog and I'll be reviewing two of her books here on Miss Chapter's Reviews shortly! Don't forget if you want to find out more about the authors and events for both the YA and MG market, pop over to twitter and search for @UKYACX
Miss Chapter x