1) Your books, THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO and THE ASK AND THE ANSWER, are so unique, especially in the way you chose to use unconventional spelling throughout the text. What influenced your decision to spell certain words phonetically while leaving others spelled traditionally?
Inspired by Russell Hoban’s brilliant Riddley Walker, I wanted to write something in vernacular, and I played with the idea for a long time. Then, when a story began to emerge, I realised it was for young adults, and that affected how difficult the vernacular could really be. Difficult vernacular is way more fun to write than it is to read, so keeping that in mind, I did a lot of experiments about what would be enough to suggest Todd’s illiteracy and accent, but not be unreadable. The answer was to keep it pretty minimal, just to keep a few things consistent and let him speak through word choice and sound. It was good fun. You work on a voice and work on it and work on it and then suddenly, one day, there it is on the page. And then you’re ready to fly off with it.
2) Your books fit into both the science fiction and dystopian categories. Are these the type of books you read for personal pleasure in your spare time? What are some of your favorite books?
I’m one of those stubborn writers who doesn’t care much for categories. I like having everything available to me when I’m writing, everything. SF worked really well for this story, so I was delighted to use everything the story required from it. But if the next story doesn’t, I won’t. I really believe I have to get out of the way of a story; if I try to force anything on top of it, it wrecks it. So the best thing I try to do is not be a snob, and if it’s science fiction, that’s fine by me.
3) As a middle school librarian who teaches writing to students, I always like to have authentic writing process examples to share with them. Can you describe your writing process? Specifically, how do you go about preparing to write, drafting, and revising?
When I’m writing a first draft, I write 1000 words a day. It’s not huge, but it’s enough to feel like something. The next day, I’ll go through that 1000 words, rewrite it and tag on another 1000 words on the end. I repeat the process until I get a chapter or something appropriate, then start over for the next one. If you’re interested, I’ve been writer in residence for www.booktrust.org.uk for the past six months, and I’ve put up quite a few writer’s tips that could easily apply to young writers, too.
4) You’ve had experience with formal writing (manuals, form letters, and speeches), young adult novels, and newspaper articles for The Guardian. Which type of writing do you prefer?
I think the best thing to do is to treat all writing as creative writing. Even in a job, you’re writing to a spec, for an audience, and in a particular voice, which are similar demands to fiction. I even rewrite my emails, so I tend to attack everything the same! Writing novels is most rewarding, probably, but I take my pleasure everywhere I can grab it.
5) As a major fan of your trilogy I can’t wait to read MONSTERS OF MEN. Have you already finished the manuscript or are you still working on it? Basically do you already know how everythings ends?
I knew how everything would end before I wrote the first sentence of book 1. I call it knowing the exit feeling. I may not know how I’m going to get there, but I know how I want to leave the reader. It gives me something to aim for in the often long process of writing a big big book. As for Monsters of Men, I’ve just finished the third draft (today!), and this is the draft where I get a few more people to read it (only two people read the second draft, my agent and my editor). So now is the time to expand out a little and get good feedback from trusted readers. We’ll see what they say!
6) Speaking of knowing how the book ends, do you use a detailed outline when writing or do you just let the story carry you along as you go?
I usually know the ending line, like I say above, plus three or four big scenes that I can’t wait to get to. I usually don’t start until I knows those. It gives me energy to write to them, but also allows a loose enough structure to allow inspiration to hit. And then in rewrites, you go back and pretend that’s what you meant all along!