Thursday, 13 October 2011

Linda Strachan Interview

Today we welcome Linda Strachan who we met at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. We have reviewed both Spider and Dead Boy Talking and really enjoyed both although they are very different in styles.
Spider... It is really a most powerful story telling of joy riding and it's side effects. The speed and feeling of invincibility, the confusion of passenger noise and then the calm of the after effects and the emergency services. It carries a great feeling of either experience or research. Can you tell us how you came to be able to portray so much so vividly?
I have no experience of joyriding but I did spend quite a few years around car enthusiasts when I was an older teenager, going to car rallies and driving around in fast cars.When I was writing Spider I wanted the crash, and the aftermath, to feel very real, so I did a lot of research - going out with an ambulance crew on a Saturday night-shift - attending a crash simulation day at the local fire training school where they had to extract trainee firemen from mangled cars.I wanted to know what happened after a crash so that I could understand what it sounded like and felt like being inside a car, when they took the roof off to get people out. I wanted to make it feel real. I also went to speak to a teenager who had been involved in stealing cars and joyriding. He helped me to get the voice for Spider.

And then there was Dead Boy Talking... again told so very vividly... Was this research or experience or just from observation?
I have no experience of being stabbed but with Dead Boy Talking I did what I always try to do and that is to put myself inside my character's head. I try to be that person, to see what they see, feel what they feel. Sometimes that can be very uncomfortable, I have a vivid imagination!I wasn't sure if I had managed to portray the real feeling of being stabbed, so I was delighted when one of the first people to read it told me that they knew what it felt like, from personal experience, and could assure me it was almost too painful to read. I had nailed it!

What was your inspiration for these stories - where did it come from?
I suppose Spider and Dead Boy Talking both came about because having sons of my own I always feel for the families when I read in the papers about teenagers who are killed driving on the roads, or by being stabbed. It seems such a waste of their lives, their potential. Joyriding happens everywhere and many teenagers (mostly, but not only, boys) love cars and speed, and think they are invincible. It will never happen to them. I wanted to explore not only what transpires when, in a moment, everything goes wrong; but also what is going on in their lives to lead them to this point and what happens afterwards. We are often driven by circumstances to make bad decisions in the rush of the moment, but more so when we are young. The choices we make at times like this are not necessarily choices we would make in calm or different circumstances, and often one thing will lead to another until it becomes a spiral of dangerous choices and bad decisions. So I find I am putting my characters in this kind of situation and following what happens to them.I was trying to decide what I was going to write after Spider when the title and the first line of Dead Boy Talking came to me. I was on a train and thinking about the news stories of young boys who have been stabbed and I wondered what it would be like to be sitting in the dark, all alone frightened and bleeding.I could hear a boy's voice in my head saying. 'In 25 minutes I will be dead.' I still have the notebook where I wrote it and the first page has almost not changed at all. Gradually I began to find out more about Josh, what was going on in his life and how he got to that point.When I am writing I usually don't know what is going to happen to the characters in the end. I prefer to find out as the characters do, to live the story with them. So I didn't know what was going to happen to Spider at the end of the book, or whether Josh would live or die.

We hear rumours of a third teen crime novel is in the offing? Can you tell us a little about it?
Yes, I am writing a third teen novel which should be out next year (2012). I don't have a title for it, which is fairly usual for me (Dead Boy Talking was the exception!) It is about Arson or Fire setting as it is known north of the border. But it is much more than that, it is - a 'who dun it? and a look at our perceptions of other people and how wrong we can be when we make snap judgements, about both friends and strangers.
And then there is.... Hamish McHaggis. On a recent holiday in Scotland we saw, almost everywhere, books about Hamish and his various adventures. These books are colourful and fun and seem to be designed to appeal to the young audience - a very important audience. We hear that a tenth book in the series is about to be launched. Can you tell us a little about Hamish and his adventures?
Hamish McHaggis is a lot of fun to write and I work very closely with the illustrator, Sally J. Colins which is fairly unusual. With other illustrated books I have written I've never even met the illustrator, but Sally and I work together as soon as I have the story outline. We are working on the 10th book in the series Hamish McHaggis and the Great Glasgow Treasure Hunt, at the moment. It will be published at Easter 2012.

We hear that he does travel abroad - to Japanese and Australian(?) bookshelves - but we don't see him come to England. Why is this? Does he dislike the English, because I cannot see the English disliking him?
The Hamish books have indeed got a far reach. They are very popular in Scotland in schools as well as in homes all over the world. Hamish has been in the USA this summer, attending several Highland Games there. I recently did a tour of schools in New Zealand and they loved Hamish and his adventures.Hamish does have fans in England but, as often happens, the response in bookshops in England is often that it is too 'Scottish' so they don't often want to stock it because they think it will not sell. I hope that will soon change. I have been invited to speak in schools all over England and Hamish has been very well received everywhere.Hamish has not had an adventure outside Scotland yet, but I am hoping we will be seeing him over the border before too long!

We also hear rumours that you may shortly be publishing for adults. Can you tell us a little about that at all yet?
The future – Yes, I have been researching a novel for adults for a number of years and I think I am almost ready to devote the time it needs. It has been a bit of a personal project that has simmered on the back burner for a long time.I can't say too much about it just yet, but it came about when I heard a family story about my Italian great-grandparents and decided it was so fascinating that I wanted to know more. I decided early on that this was going to be a work of fiction, based very loosely on that story. I know who my characters are and I have begun to write it.But at the moment I need to find time in a busy schedule of writing for young children and YA. I also have far too many ideas for stories I want to write for children slightly older than Hamish fans and younger than YA, and a fairly hectic diary of author visits, both here and abroad (I love to travel!) So I am not making any promises about the adult story. Writing for young people is so interesting and often a lot of fun!

Many thanks Linda for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to your future books. You can find out more about Linda on her website lindastrachan.co.uk

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