Book Birthday Interview for Breaker
Kyle Henry has a new name, a new school, and a new life. A year has passed since his serial killer father’s execution, and it finally looks like he has a chance to escape the stigma and fear that haunts him. Until he recognizes the girl sitting in the back row in homeroom. Naomi Steadman is immediately intrigued by Kyle, but she doesn’t know he is the son of the man who murdered her mother. What she does know is she and Kyle have a connection—and a spark that Kyle continues to back away from.
Pretty soon, the death count on campus starts to rise. Someone is set on finishing what the Bonebreaker started, and reliving the horrors of their past may be the only thing that can stop the spree.
Amazon UK Amazon US Book Depository
“Breaker ticks my boxes – strong characterisation, propulsive storytelling and a blood-chilling serial killer mystery. Glorious.”—C.J. Skuse, author of Monster
“Spine-chilling and splendidly gory, with a genre-perfect stormy night denouement.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Packed full of suspense, red herrings, and creepy taxidermy, this is an intriguing murder mystery and a compelling look at the ties that bind.”—Booklist
“Fans of YA thrillers will be hooked from the first page. . . . A standout thriller with a splash of romance.”—School Library Journal
Rhian: So, Kat, this is your 2nd novel? How did the experience of writing it differ from Blackfin Sky?
Kat: Well… Breaker definitely turned out different to Blackfin Sky! Breaker is a contemporary serial killer story set in a boarding school in Pennsylvania, whereas Blackfin Sky is a magical realist(ish) thriller set in a town with a haunted weathervane and a well that steals money from your pocket. Breaker also features a dual narrative, which I really loved writing, and I think (hope) this gives the reader an up-close-and-personal connection with Kyle and Naomi.
Rhian: Definitely, I love writing and reading dual narrative because it gives you the chance as the reader to get both perspectives and a better understanding of the full story.
Kat: I’ve completed 6 or so manuscripts now, and I can honestly say the experience of writing them is a little different each time, but that’s because I’m still trying out different ways of writing, seeing what works best for me. But as long as something book-shaped comes out at the end, I’m happy to keep experimenting.
Rhian: Good! This reader is very happy to hear that. So, why did you set your story in America?
Kat: One of the main reasons for the US setting is that serial killers are much more common in the US than in the UK, so there was a case for plausibility. And I have a tendency to write in quite Americanised English anyway, so when the voices of the main characters – Naomi and Kyle – came to me, it just made sense to set the story in the US. That said, I haven’t actually been to Pennsylvania or North Carolina (where the story is set), so setting Breaker in those regions was a challenge, which always makes writing more interesting!
Rhian: The internet is your friend when real life travel isn’t possible. How did you come up with the central idea for Breaker?
Kat: I enjoy watching and reading crime thrillers, but I kept finding myself wondering what happened to the people caught up in the aftermath of serial killings and other violent crimes – the people the media tends not to focus on. What about the victim’s children? How would their lives be affected months, years, later? And the family of the serial killer – how would they cope with knowing someone they loved had done these terrible things? How do you separate who a person is from what they’ve done? Violence leaves marks that people don’t always see, and I wanted to explore that idea from different perspectives, and see how cycles of violence might keep replaying… and how they might be broken.
Rhian: Breaker deals with serial killers, red herrings, death row and of course murder, did you find out anything that shocked or surprised you?
Kat: I read a lot about psychopaths, past cases of serial murders, and about the court system and criminal processing in North Carolina (where the Bonebreaker is from). Before starting my research, I hadn’t realised just how long convicted murderers can spend on Death Row – it’s around 10 years on average, and can be longer. But that worked perfectly for the timeline of the story; Kyle was six when his father was arrested, and his execution leads to Kyle and his mother setting out for a fresh start in Killdeer ten years later. Kyle has spent a long time living with his father’s crimes hanging over him, and he’s beyond ready to be known as something other than the Bonebreaker’s son. So he isn’t exactly pleased when he bumps into Naomi in Killdeer – she’s a constant reminder of what his dad did all those years ago when he murdered Naomi’s mother.
Rhian: When I was reading it I could hear Naomi and Kyle’s voices and personalities so clearly. When you write dialogue – which you do so well – can you hear the characters talking? I can almost picture you sitting there in Wales doing an American accent.
Kat: First of all, thank you! I had to research a lot to try to make their voices feel authentic. I watched and listened to a lot of videos of people (especially teens) from the areas of Pennsylvania and North Carolina where the main characters are from. I really wanted the two first-person narratives to be distinct, and I had a pretty good idea of Kyle and Naomi’s characters when I started writing Breaker, so that made my job a little easier.
Rhian: I really enjoyed the balance between the darkness and the humour you created in Breaker. Is a sense of humour something you like to write in characters? And something you like to see as a reader?
Kat: Humour is definitely something I’m drawn to, in real life as well as in the books I read. It’s so hard to define what makes something funny – it’s more of an instinct, something uncontrollable, so if you meet someone or read about a character with the same sense of humour as you, it makes them instantly more relatable. (I think so, anyway!) With all the darkness surrounding Kyle and Naomi in the story, I felt it was important to show they hadn’t been consumed by that, and how they might find a connection in spite of all the obstacles facing them. They still goof around and act like ordinary teenagers because they are ordinary teenagers – even if their world is about to blow up around them.
Rhian: I thought the way you got around swearing was very clever as well as funny. Did you have fun practicing words like ‘whole leaf hug?’ *Note to readers – don’t try mouthing ‘whole leaf hug’ in a public place. Got me some funny looks when I was trying to work it out on the train.
Kat: Picturing you mouthing that on a train had me in stitches, Rhian!
Rhian: Yeah, thanks for that!
Kat: I don’t exactly avoid swearing when I’m writing (I’m a pretty robust swearer myself), so how it features in my books depends entirely on what suits the characters. The swearing in Breaker was one of the differences between Naomi and Kyle’s voices, I think – she doesn’t swear, except in moments of high stress. Kyle’s language is a bit more colourful, but it’s usually because he has no other way to vent his frustration.
Rhian: What do you think of the striking cover? Was it something you had a part in?
Kat: I am absolutely over the moon with the cover! It was designed by the incredibly talented T.L. Bonaddio at Running Press, and I fell in love with it right away. It captures the feel of Breaker perfectly. The only thing that changed, really, between the drafts and the final version was the title font – and I love how the final version stands out against the dark sky. So my part in it was mostly just flailing happily.
Rhian: Talking of cracking covers you have another novel out this year called Purge, can you tell us a little bit about that? How does it compare/contrast to Blackfin Sky and Breaker?
Kat: Purge is a futuristic thriller about Mason – a boy who has a habit of getting into trouble – moving to a super-religious community where they believe in purging ‘bad’ behaviour by using a terrifying virtual reality programme. When the community is attacked, and the girl Mason is falling for gets blamed for something she didn’t do, he faces a situation where he can risk having his mind permanently altered to try and rescue her, or watching the same thing happen to someone he cares about.
Rhian: Wow! Do you think there’s a link between your books? Something you keep returning to as a writer?
Kat: I’d say the common thread between my 3 books is the thriller aspect – I like gripping, high-tension stories, especially with a bit of romance mixed in. I actually wrote Purge before Blackfin Sky and Breaker (though it’s been thoroughly rewritten since!) so in a lot of ways, I feel like it’s my first book rather than my third. I’ve lived with the characters of Mason and Eden the longest, and I’ve waited the longest to see their story make it out into the world. I can’t lie – it’s really exciting.
Rhian: And what’s next for you?
Kat: I’m working on a new YA story, which is another dual POV about a boy who believes he is of magical origin, and a girl who believes he is delusional. It’s in the very early stages, though, so I’ll have to wait and see if it grows strong running legs.Thank you for the fabulous questions, Rhian!
Rhian: Pleasure! As you might have guessed I thought Breaker was exceptional and I’m really looking forward to reading PURGE too. I need to nudge Firefly Press for a copy of that!
Kat Ellis is a young adult writer from North Wales. You’ll usually find Kat up to no good on Twitter, taking photographs in cemeteries, or watching scary films with her husband. Her debut novel, BLACKFIN SKY, came out in 2014 and was a Junior Library Guild Fall Pick and a YALSA Popular Paperbacks Pick for Murder, Mystery and Mayhem. BREAKER (Running Press Kids) will be released in May 2016, followed by PURGE (Firefly Press) in September 2016.
Connect with Kat:
Blog | Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Facebook | Instagram
Rhian Ivory is a young adult writer born in Wales.
The Boy who drew the Future is her fifth novel and is published by Firefly Press. Rhian’s recently finished writing her sixth and is currently editing her seventh novel. She is a National Trust writer in residence, a Patron of Reading and a WoMentoring mentor. She lives in Northamptonshire but that could change at any moment.
You can follow Rhian on twitter on @Rhian_Ivory and on Facebook.