|Feiwel and Friends, March 2012|
After the Snow
lasts nearly all year, Willo returns from hunting to discover his family has been kidnapped. Skilled at surviving in the wild, he sets off from their remote farm, determined to locate them. But when his journey brings him to a corrupt city, full of strange and unfamiliar perils, Willo is swept up by events he doesn’t fully understand.
(Description from The Hub The YALSA 2013 Morris Award Finalist announcement)
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After the Snow is your debut novel. What inspired you to write this novel? How would you describe the experience of writing it?
It is my debut novel, but I had tried to write a book before it, and that was an achievement for me because I had never believed I could write a book, you know, actually craft a story and follow it through for seventy thousand words. Not surprisingly it wasn’t that good, but the skeleton of a boy character that didn’t leave me, and a couple of kind remarks from agents spurred me on to write another - and that became After the Snow.
I was in a strange place in my life. A kind of fear had begun to creep about me, a sense of insecurity and unease to do with where I was going in life. I had always been self-employed in some way or another and had run out of means to make a living. So there I was, running out of money and newly pregnant at the grand age of forty, and I think the fear of that kind of situation forced me to pay extremely close attention to what I was doing with my time. It felt like my last chance at creativity before I would be flipping burgers. I worked very hard on After the Snow, and whilst I acknowledge it has flaws, it comes from the heart. I realized at the time, and quite late in life, that we can control our own path - our destiny. That there was no one who gave out permissions. That no one was going to come along and allow me to become a writer, or anything else for that matter. My way was only something I could decide.
I was at the time, living in fairly basic conditions, during a very cold winter. Washing sheets in a copper on the stove, chopping logs etc. That informed the story for sure, but on an intellectual level, I also wanted to enquire in to the subject of what makes us human, and the story of Willo Blake battling against the elements came alive for me as I wrote it. There was no planning. I can see now, that many of the details came from my various travels, and the idea that here in the west we do live in an extremely comfortable bubble, but one that does have massive flaws too.
I’ve got a washing machine now!
The vernacular voice in After the Snow is one of the stand-out features of the book. Did Willo's voice come to you naturally? Or did you consciously craft a voice that was supportive of the plot and reveled the character?
Willo’s voice came to me on the first page. There was an intuitive grasping of it and also a very calculated point to using and defining it. And it has been a much misunderstood thing. I was trying to show with Willo’s basic use of verb tenses and unsentimental attitude, that this young and isolated youth had grown up in a harsh and dog-eat-dog world of pure survival, and, that like an animal he only really considered his life in the Present of a selfish Me. And how his growing consciousness: brought about by a realization that a person or humanity cannot survive alone, personified in his love of a girl, causes his natural conscience and empathy to develop - as it must for all of us.
The Morris Award is for a “first time author writing for teens.” Did you intend After the Snow to be a YA novel from the beginning? How did you imagine your audience while you wrote?
I knew I was writing for the broad category of ‘children’. At the time of writing that is all I considered.
The world of After the Snow is a world transformed by climate change. What experiences helped you evoke Willo's world? What is the coldest you have ever been?
Actually, the whole debated subject of climate change was not really my main point. It was a device to create change and conflict within the story. And of course, I was living at the time of starting the book, in a cold and snowy environment.
What happens next? (Just an aside: I really admire the way your book concludes. There is a beautiful sense of resolution and progress, but there is still room for more of Willo's story. In a world full of cliff hangers, that is such a delight.) Do you have another novel in the works?
I wrote the book without a single thought of it being anything other than a standalone title. If I even gave it that much thought. I think the ending says enough to end the story of After the Snow, but as you may know, I have written a companion novel, One Crow Alone, it tells the story of how Willo’s stepmother, Magda, comes to Britain. It is an entirely different voice, and approach.
But I could easily enjoy wondering what happens next to Willo and Mary, although absolutely nothing is planned.
|I'm adding Ivan's Childhood to my|
must see list. Thanks, Sophie.
And this image?
I reminds me of After the Snow.
Writing advice in five words or less...
Practice self editing daily.
What are you reading?
Right now, All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.
Three movies you think are worth watching, maybe more than once...
Withnail and I
Bridget Jones Diary
Last song you added to your music library...
I don’t really add things to my music library! I am a little stuck in the past, a big Dylan fan for example.
Yeats' poetry and the legend of Robin Hood are two vestiges of culture that have survived the change. What makes those stories enduring?
I love the mystic appeal of Yeat’s poetry. I remember it fondly from when I was a young woman and in love for the first time. I kind of felt that Robin Blake would have had the optimism to use his poetry as a password. And the Robin Hood legend fits in a little with Willo’s lone fight against the world, and his father’s political stand, but it could just as easily have been a random book that had been found to teach the children to read with. And in the sense of these things being survivors of a culture, then I must admit that those things were not really the thrust of my inspiration in writing the story. The disintegration of the world in After the Snow is more of a metaphor than a description of a fantastic post apocalyptic scene.
Book Trailer and a short interview with Sophie...