Friday, 25 May 2012

Is There a ‘Dystopian Bandwagon’? by Guest Author Caroline Green

This week we welcome back guest author Caroline Green. In January, Caroline wrote about her edgy YA novel Dark Ride. She returns just as her new dystopian thriller, Cracks hits the shelves.

I’ve come across the expression a fair bit lately. The suggestion is that Young Adult authors are knocking out books set in a grim future because they think Hunger Games-style fame and fortune will surely follow.

I’m noticing more than I might otherwise because my own YA dystopian thriller, Cracks, is launched this week. Cracks is set in a near future where a fear of terrorist attack has led to surveillance at every turn. Holograms that encourage citizens to distrust their neighbours appear on street corners and tiny insect-like drones capture CCTV footage of a cowed, frightened populace. Climate change has brought widespread floods and antibiotic resistance means that everyday bacteria can quickly become deadly.

Yup, it’s grim, alright... 

But am I trying to jump on a bandwagon?

Fame and fortune might be nice, but there’s really only one reason why I chose to write a book like this. And that’s because I love dystopian fiction as a reader.

Like many people I’d read Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World at school but when I came across The Hunger Games about three years back, I was instantly hooked. I couldn’t wait for the next one. I then devoured a range of other dystopian novels (see below for my favourites) in quick succession.

There are many reasons why they appeal to me, purely on a story-telling level. Although my own main character is a boy, many in this genre have strong female protagonists (sorry Bella Swann, but Katniss Everdeen would kick your ass). They have proper baddies. And they have evocative and atmospheric settings. I might not want to go on holiday to a polluted wasteland that has been ravaged by war, but that’s the kind of setting that fires my imagination and make me turn the pages as fast as I can. Who wants to read a book about somewhere pretty where the sun always shines and everything’s lovely? Not me. Or at least, not that often.

I don’t think it is at all surprising that young people have embraced this genre with such passion. The teenage years are a period of intense change, where it can feel as though the sole aim of adults is to prevent you doing the things you really want to do. Authority in general has a far more oppressive feel now than when you are that accepting and malleable creature of younger years.

What’s more, young people probably have very real worries about what the future holds for the planet. They’re bombarded with messages about the environmental consequences created by previous generations, including my own. Those messages sounds an awful lot like, ‘Here’s a big mess. You deal with it now.’

Any of these reasons may be responsible for the popularity of books like The Hunger Games. Or it may just be that teens, like the rest of us, just want to be told a good story.

My favourite YA dystopian novels 
(with a bit of cheating so I can include trilogies)

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
The Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfield
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness 
Unwind by Neil Schusterman
Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

My favourite adult dystopian novels

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Unit by Ninni Nolmqvist
Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Friday, 18 May 2012

Phobias and Fears... by Savita Kalhan

I have lots of them. Heights, sheer vertical drops; wasps, bees, hornets, well almost anything that buzzes and gets anywhere near me; enclosed spaces like tunnels and caves; dark places – even a deserted street at night, which is more frightening because it is deserted, and then, bizarrely, becomes even more frightening when you see a lone figure walking towards you; cemeteries, at night; the woods, at night, but also in the daytime if they’re deserted. Yes, there is a general night/dark theme going on here, and a fear of bumping into someone when no one else is around. People do go for walks on their own all the time. But not me.
I have lots fears and phobias where those came from, and I haven’t even started on the nightmares. No, I don’t eat cheese just before going to bed, and I’m not completely insane.
We’ve all got irrational phobias and fears, and some rational ones too. I think I have a lot of them. Am I unusual? I don’t honestly know. I’ve asked family members about theirs, and I do seem to have far more than they do. They tell me it’s down to my overactive imagination. They tell me I’m far too superstitious, and suspicious, and that I always see the worst possible scenarios and imagine the worst possible outcomes.
Life would be so much easier, and far less scary, if my imagination wasn’t so overactive.
But I guess I need it to be that way. I’ve found a way of using it in my writing. Writing about them has not made the fears and phobias lessen in any way. They’re still very much present. I just wonder what would happen if I underwent hypnosis to sort out some of them. How would it affect me? How would it affect my writing? Would it become less dark? Would I find myself drawn to writing humorous light-hearted, heart- warming fiction? I did try my hand at writing that way, but it didn’t last long. It didn’t feel right.

The book I’m working on at the moment is getting very dark. You’re probably not surprised to hear that if you’ve read The Long Weekend. It’s not an intentional thing. It’s just the way the book is flowing. The story is set mainly in the woods and I found a local wood called Hell Wood, yes, that's its real name, and it's very apt. I haven't summoned up the courage to go there at dusk, and I'm not sure I'll be able to venture there at night. It'll give me nightmares! I was going to add a piece about my worst nightmare – one that has been recurring for years. But I won’t as it might give you nightmares.

Hell Wood

Friday, 11 May 2012

Caring For Awkward Characters – by Guest Author Nik Perring

This week we are delighted to welcome Nik Perring as our guest author at the Edge. Nik is the co-author of Freaks! and the author of Not So Perfect.

For me, Story is all about characters. A story is, in my opinion, what happens to the people in it. They shape it, by their actions and their circumstances and how they react to them. You can’t have a story without characters. 

So, as an extension of that, I think it’s fair to say that you can’t have a good story (however you qualify that) without having a good main character, or ensemble. And how do decide who your characters are going to be? Well, that’s the difficult bit, isn’t it, especially when we don’t find out who they really are until we’ve seen how they’ve reacted to the troubles that are put in front of them in our stories. 

For me, the best characters are the ones we can see a bit of ourselves in. Empathising is important – we have to care, one way or another, about what happens to the people we’re reading about - but what can be equally important is recognising the traits we might wish we didn’t have, or the ones we dislike to see in others. And I’m not really talking about the broad character types – the bullies, the tyrants, the liars – though they can all make for being exceptionally interesting – I’m talking about subtler things. I’m talking about things like insecurity and selfishness, about vulnerability and not quite understanding the world as, it would appear, the rest of the world does. I’m talking about the characters who struggle, who worry, who might be anxious or uncomfortable, or awkward or just plain weird. 

I’m talking about the things that make the characters real, that make them human in the same ways we are, and that’s what makes us care what happens to them. Because, really, that awkwardness, that sense of not quite fitting in – it’s something I think we’ve all felt to some degree at some point in our lives – and that’s what makes us, us. 

But it’s not just about empathy, nor is it only about honesty. It’s so much more than that – it’s about opportunity. As I said earlier, if our characters are interesting and good, then there’s a good chance our stories will be too.

Nik Perring is the co-author of Freaks! published by The Friday Project (HarperCollins) and the author of Not So Perfect (Roast Books). 

He blogs at and tweets as @nikperring, and his characters tend to be very awkward and very weird indeed.

Thursday, 3 May 2012


Paula Rawsthorne wonders what childhood character was for you?

I wonder what attracts us to certain fictional characters when we are kids?  Is it something about them that we identify with?  Is it because their lives seem so much more exciting than our own?    Did we want to be them or, at least, be friends with them?

As a child, the character that left me wide eyed with admiration and joy was the magnificently anarchic Pippi Longstocking.  How I loved (and still love) this super strong girl who lived with a horse, monkey and suitcase full of gold in Villekulla Cottage.  In my eyes, Pippi had it all.  She was a nine year old free spirit, outside the control of adults and society (she did try school once but was asked not to come back).  She could eat what she wanted, go where she wanted and, very importantly, go to bed when she wanted.  She never seemed damaged or upset that her father was absent and may now be a Cannibal King.  She wasn’t lonely as she had Tommy, Annika and Mr Nilsson. She wasn’t self-conscious about her unique appearance or the way she dressed and she revelled in telling the most outrageous stories with utter conviction. 

Pippi Longstocking was radical, confident, fearless, quick-witted, generous and loyal.  She loved life and made each day an adventure.  As a kid (and still now, as an adult) Pippi felt like the girl for me and I hope that Astrid Lindgren’s magnificent creation continues to entertain and inspire readers for generations to come.

So, which fictional character made the biggest impression on you during your childhood and why?