To celebrate the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Teen Read Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with YA lit authors and enthusiasts. Started in 1998, Teen Read Week is YALSA’s annual event encouraging teens to read just for the fun of it. We hope you enjoy this series as much as we enjoyed putting it together!
Our guest today is Emma Clayton, author of the dystopian thriller The Roar, which has been nominated for YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten this year. In addition to writing young adult fiction, Emma is a freelance illustrator and has studied film and screen writing.
Why did you decide to become an author?
I don’t remember deciding to become an author. The first thing I wrote was a screenplay while I was studying film and I enjoyed that so much, I felt compelled to write something longer. I feel like a storyteller, set builder and prop maker. Through studying film I learned about classic narrative structure and the importance of ‘mise en scene’; how my story’s environment helps to generate mood, meaning and depth. People often say The Roar has a filmic quality and I think this is the reason why. I became an author because I enjoy telling stories, set building and prop making!
What made you choose to write for young adults?
I love the optimism and energy in youth literature. The first novel I wrote was for adults and I didn’t finish it because I felt the pressure to say something that hadn’t been said before. I found myself naval gazing while I was writing, rather than enjoying myself. But the moment I decided to write for children and young adults, I felt my imagination expand and all that energy rush in. It’s still a challenge, but I enjoy it much more.
I also aspired to write a novel my son would read. When he was twelve, he became a reluctant reader and preferred watching films and playing computer games. So I tried to bring him back to literature by writing a book that was interesting enough to keep him engaged. I used everything I’d learned about film and games to create an interface between the mediums. I also realized I was writing for a generation, not just my son. I liked that idea.
Why do you think dystopian literature has become so popular among young readers recently? What appeals to you about the genre?
While I was writing The Roar, I didn’t realize I was part of a new movement in dystopian literature. In 2004 everyone was obsessed with wizards. But I felt I was reflecting the real life concerns of my readers. In The Roar I observed the influence of reality television, the threat of war, the deterioration of our environment and the potential for global, economic melt down. There are cycles for all genres. The dystopian genre seems to pop up in times of crisis, when people are worrying about the state of their world. So I guess it makes sense it’s popular now. This is a difficult time to be born.
The dystopian genre appealed to me because it’s possible to take a current issue, place it in a future context and look at it with greater objectivity. I also like the fact that dystopian ideas can be free and wild. I like inventing new things that may or may not exist one day, such as Tank Meat. This is fun.
The Roar is compelling to both book lovers and reluctant readers alike. How are you able to make your writing connect with all types of readers?
My objective was to write a book that didn’t patronize my readers in terms of content or vocabulary, but still negotiated the stumbling blocks that made reluctant readers put books down. I tried to maintain the pace of the action, avoid heavy passages of description and make my story as exciting as possible. While I was writing, I was thinking, ‘what is the best thing that could happen next?’… and not just for my readers, for my own enjoyment too. I felt I entered into a pact with them; that we all wanted to have fun. I also made assumptions: that my readers are smart, even if they don’t read much, and that they have a huge store of images already in their minds, either through watching films, playing games or by observing their own world. And that all they needed from me was triggers to make my ideas come alive in their imaginations. They don’t need everything explained to them.
What were some of your favorite books when you were a young adult?
I read a lot of classic fiction as a young adult. The genre, ‘Young Adult,’ didn’t exist then, so like many people of my age, I jumped from children’s books to adult books. I also read a lot of pulp romance, because my mother enjoyed it, and horror, because my brothers enjoyed it. I’d read any book that was left around the house. But these were my favorites:
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Vanity Fair, William Thackeray
Ham on Rye, Charles Bukowski
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
White Fang, Jack London
What books are currently on your nightstand?
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, by Alan Sillitoe
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami
The Maze Runner, James Dashner
Thank you Emma! You can keep in touch with Emma via her website. If you’d like to see the rest of our Teen Read Week interviews, click here. And join us tomorrow to hear from author Cassandra Clare!