A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Happy book birthday, Alex! I’m so excited to see CLOUD 9 out in the world! Could you perhaps tell readers a little bit about your story and what it’s about? Whet their appetites.
Er, I don’t suppose I can cheat and paste in the back cover blurb? It puts it oh-so better than I ever could (thank you Hot Key). Yes? Thank you muchly.
“If there was a wonder-drug to make you feel happier, would you take it?
With no side-effects, Leata is the perfectly safe pick-me-up!
What if everyone you knew had been taking it for years
– your teachers, your friends, your family?
Leata – helping the country feel more positive!
What if your dad was dead-set against the drug and the corporation behind it?
Not all questions bring the answers we need!
What if he died? What if you begin to suspect he was killed? What if you’ve lived your whole life believing in something – only to find out it’s a lie?
Life’s short. Enjoy it!”
As a teen, would you have been a Leata taker, do you think? Why/ why not?
I think there’s a possibility I might have been, which was what drew me to find answers for my teen self in a novel. At that age I was really vulnerable to swallowing a belief system that would make me feel better about myself and give me a sense of belonging. Though at the same time, my head was filled with a darkness I did take pleasure traversing (cue a bit of Morrissey and Catcher in the Rye) – and a happy pill would have seriously curtailed that – so maybe not!
Tom and Hope have very different outlooks, and their narratives provide very different sides to the story. How did their individual situations inform your storytelling?
In many ways Tom and Hope are very similar, but they’ve just been exposed to different experiences and people. I wanted to use them as characters to see how external scripts – from family and peer groups – can affect the internal script in your own head. And then look at how you might be able to break out from that script to form your own. With Tom and Hope having different kinds of upbringing it enabled me to do that.
Leata’s campaigns – from the positivity slogans to the ways that message is sustained in blogs and social media, and in the way Hope polices her thoughts – made me very, very uncomfortable, I think in part because it feels so entirely possible in today’s consumerist culture, but also just because it’s so pervasive. Tell us a little more about how you got that balance right?
I hope I got the balance right! I found the best place to start was with myself – on my relationship with social media and advertising and consumerism and taking a deeper look at what it does to me and how it makes me feel. I wanted to see how all the slogans and scripts and messages we’re filled with from childhood onwards can create layers upon layers of small lies, and how we go about uncovering some of the truths we bury deep within ourselves – the truths that can make us feel bad. After using myself as the guinea pig, I began probing others, as well as scratching away at society’s attitudes – especially this growing obsession we seem to have with ‘positivity’ and sharing motivational messages. I wanted to ask where’s a place for melancholy? Why is it often seen as bad to be sad? And why are we increasingly looking for quick-fixes to take us back to happy?
Actually, there’s a lot about this novel that feels like a too-close dystopia waiting to happen. The censorship, for example, right from school curriculum (“It’s not censorship…it’s merely taking out novels that are too bleak. Life is about hope and enjoyment. So our books should mirror that.”) To news coverage, to public ideals (“Who wears what at the Oscars is of more interest to the public than how the government are sellin’ out the ‘omeless, drug addicts, those who live on the edges of society.”) Why do you think censorship is such a terrifying thing? Do you think there’s ever an argument for censorship as necessary/ good?
It’s always a tough one. And while I do appreciate the arguments that are made for censorship where we need to protect children or take measures not to incite violence, as a rule I’m uncomfortable with any kind of censorship. I think we should be allowed to self-censor. I believe, even the nastiest of views should be aired so we can tackle and fight them head-on, rather than drive hatred and prejudice underground.
In Cloud 9 I was often contrasting and comparing broader societal censorship with individual self-censorship – as in the things we don’t allow ourselves to think or say as it might make us feel bad, or make others think differently about us. The way society operates is often a mirror to the way the individual does – so I think censoring personal thought and emotion can sometimes be as dangerous as censoring what’s put out and said in broader society.
You mention Bath’s Julian House in your acknowledgements; I wonder whether you could tell us a little about what you learned from them and how that informed your writing.
Oh, amazing place and amazing people. What with featuring a homeless shelter in the story, I really wanted to spend some time at one to understand how it operates and the problems they face, especially in times of so many funding cuts.
I think the big thing you take away when you spend time at a shelter – not that you need reminding, I know – is that homeless people are no different from any of us. We are all one bad decision or experience away from homelessness. And we all just want a place to belong.
Because I was questioning this theme of ‘positivity’ being the holy grail in Cloud 9, I wanted to take a good look at how such an approach might affect and alienate those who might have little to feel positive about.
Are there any questions about the book that you expected to get, but haven’t? Or is there a question you’ve wanted to be asked, but no one has so far?
I’m wondering if I might get taken to task over the book’s position on celebrity vloggers and blog sponsorship – to be honest I don’t have particularly strong opinions there, I just wanted to ask questions within the story, the what ifs – but maybe I’ll save any answers till I get asked (if I get asked!).
As to any further questions, ooo, go on, ask me about the book cover, because then I get to credit the incredibly talented, most patient, ground-breaking designers Jet Purdie and Levente Szabó!
I can’t wait to see what you write next! Are you working on another novel right now? What do you have in store for us?
I’m currently developing a couple of ideas for submission, themes that collectively cover grooming, Cold War, religion, mental illness, murder and miracles – a little light reading!
Cloud 9 is available today! https://www.waterstones.com/book/cloud-9/alex-campbell/9781471403545
Alex Campbell announced she was going to be an author at the age of eight. But no one took much notice. Which was generally how life developed thereafter. After a nomadic school career in back row daydreaming, and one English degree later, she moved into the world of PR and copywriting where she got other people and products noticed instead. Continue reading…
Books: LAND | CLOUD 9
“Packed with twists and dilemmas, the pace never slackens, pulling you towards to its enthralling conclusion. Highly recommended.” — Emma Haughton, author of Now You See Me for Land
Sarah is a YA author, creative writing mentor, and an advocate for diversity. She runs the Trowbridge Young Writers Squad, is the founder of The Variety Shelves – an upcoming series of events for 2015, highlighting diversity in literature – and one half of the team running DiversifYA.com. She loves jungles and deserts and the dark, still corners where the stories live, but spends most of her time at her tiny desk in Bath, with her trusty feline sidekick. Continue reading…
Books: THE LAST LEAVES FALLING
“Easy to read but hard to forget.” — Rhian Ivory, author of The Boy Who Drew the Future for The Last Leaves Falling