I met published author Kerry Drewery at a Head In A Book event last month. (If you haven’t had the chance to check out Head In A Book, I urge you to do so. They are fantastic literary events held at the City of Culture for 2017 – Hull!) I found her to be so engaging, charming, and approachable, and of course it’s lead me to go back to reading Young Adult Fiction, namely hers! She was very kind to undertake this interview with me, and I am so pleased to share it with you guys. Here she discusses her books, her writing technique, and the categorisation of literature…
|Please tell me a little bit about yourself and your career.
Although I’ve always made up stories in my head (even as a child) it was never something I thought I’d be able to do as a career – at school the idea of being a writer certainly was never an option. (I did learn to touch type at school though and I actually enjoy the physical act of typing, which I suppose is a good job!). I’ve had a multitude of different jobs including legal secretary, bank clerk, shop assistant, faculty clerk in a university and learnt a lot about what I don’t like doing! When my youngest son started school, I was looking at returning to work. I’d written a novel in the evenings while he was young, had sent it out to agents and got nowhere, but it had got me thinking that if I didn’t really strive for it then, then I never would. I returned to uni, got a first class honours degree in Professional Writing and wrote another novel on the course. That wasn’t taken either, but I did rewrite it into script and submitted it to a BBC writing competition which I was shortlisted for. Following the degree, and working part-time as a BookStart co-ordinator (which was a great job!) I wrote another novel (my third now), which turned into A Brighter Fear – my first to be published. The funding in my area for BookStart was taken as I was offered my publishing deal.
Your writing is categorised as YA fiction. Why did you choose to write for young adults? Was it a conscious choice or did your writing develop that way as you went along?
It wasn’t a conscious decision to write for young adults, it was more that the story I wanted to write was better with a teen protagonist which then led me to think of what an important and exciting time in your life your teens years are. It’s a time when you’re making all sorts of decisions, when you’re actually under a lot of pressure from all angles, and when everyone else seems to think that they know best for you. I’ve stayed writing for them because of this. I’m not sure I entirely agree with categorising books – it’s handy for publishers, yes, and booksellers, but I strongly believe you should read whatever you want to read, and not be put off something because it’s ‘too old’ or ‘too young’ for you. Reading is for enjoyment, it should be encouraged whether it’s comics, picture books, horror, literary, teen, or whatever.
Your books, A Brighter Fear and A Dream of Lights, deal with difficult, upsetting, and often tough subject matters. Why do you feel it is important for young adults to read and learn about adversity and harsh political circumstances? Do you feel that literature should educate young people from these kinds of subjects rather than shield them from it?
I didn’t chose to write A Brighter Fear or A Dream of Lights because of difficult or upsetting subject matters, I chose them because I was interested in the situations around them, and thought if I was then other people would be too. With A Brighter Fear I was trying to manage my own feelings about us being taken to war, which led me to think about the people actually living it, which led me to read about it, which eventually led to the novel. A Dream of Lights was about being nosy, I suppose. I knew a little about North Korea and wanted to understand why and how people live in those conditions, why some people chose to try to escape and others don’t. I don’t believe an author’s job is to answer questions, but rather to raise them. To put to the reader – hey, what about this? – and leave them to ponder their own thoughts. I do think it’s important to be honest with readers, whatever age, but that doesn’t mean you have to shove the ‘upsetting’ stuff in their faces. I don’t think it should ever be gratuitous, especially in these cases where they are based on reality, but there are ways you can write about something without it being.
How easy was it for you to find the right voice for your young female protagonists? Would you consider writing from the point of view of a boy in the future?
Lina very gradually appeared from out of the research. From planning what would happen to her and her family, her personality came through, her strengths and weaknesses etc, then it was just a case of being consistent in the way she spoke and faithful to what she would do and think. Yoora lived in my head the entire time and it felt like she took me through her story rather than the other way round! The only place I struggled with her was at the very beginning when she’s still of the mindset she’s been brought up with. As she learns more, she becomes that strong person who was hiding just below the surface. Yes, absolutely I’d consider writing from the pov of a boy. I have a teenage son, I’m sure he’d correct me if I got it wrong!
What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed in your life between now as a published author, gaining more and more popularity, than before?
There aren’t really that many differences to be honest. I suppose the biggest is people’s reactions if you tell them what you do because they tend to make assumptions such as – you have a lot of money, you are very successful, you book will be on the shelf in Tesco!! The best difference is that I can legitimately say ‘I am an author’, which after so many rejections is a lovely thing to be able to say.
What do you find the most difficult about being a novelist? What is the most rewarding?
The most difficult thing is self-doubt. Sending your work out, people reading it, wondering what they’ll think is still as nerve-wracking as it ever was. The most rewarding is positive reviews – knowing that someone has enjoyed your work. I’ve had a few reviews of A Dream of Lights where people have said it’s made them think of what they have and how lucky they are, or how it’s changed their outlook on life – I don’t think I could ask for more than that.
A big topic of discussion in the Publishing world right now is how the author can best promote their own work. What do you find has helped you the most and been the most effective in promoting your novels? What hasn’t worked quite so well?
This is tricky. I’m not sure what one thing has helped the most, but if I was advising someone else I’d probably say how important it is to reach out to other authors. Not only can this provide you with a lot of support if things are tough or you’re having worries (I’m sure all authors are nervous wrecks!), but you can both gain a lot from cross-promotion and joint events. There is a great on-line community for YA, especially UKYA, and the vast, vast majority of people in the business are just lovely.
Are you a reader of Young Adult fiction yourself? What else do you like to read in your spare time?
Yes and everything!! When I’m writing I tend not to read as I find it can influence what I’m working on. This means that when stuff goes off to my agent, for example, I devour books! I’m not a very faithful reader in terms of sticking with one author, I tend to jot around to whatever piques my interest. Over of my author facebook page I’ve just done ‘Five Favourite Books in Five Days’, with a brief note on all of them. Apart from those, I’ve recently read and enjoyed The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull (a Victorian, deaf-blind, ghost story), The Lodger by Louisa Treger (about the writer Dorothy Richardson and her relationship with HG Wells) – they’re both ‘adult’ books (but there we go with categories again!). For YA I’ve just finished ACID by Emma Pass (a dystopian story, a girl accused of killing her parents while an all-powerful police force run the country), and now onto 7 Days by Eve Ainsworth (about bullying but from the pov of both girls involved).
How do you feel we should be encouraging more young adults to read?
As I touched on before, there needs to be less of ‘you should/shouldn’t read that’ and the snobbery that comes with it. Instead we should encourage people to read whatever they enjoy.
And finally, what’s next for you?
I’m very pleased to now be represented by the lovely Jane Willis at United Agents, and have a new manuscript off on submission. I’m also working with fellow author Emma Pass on the next UKYA Extravaganza (a celebration of UKYA talent with authors, readers, books and cakes!), which is being held in Nottingham this time, in October (check out ukyax.com). After a very busy time, I’m now planning on getting into my Patron of Reading school in Lincolnshire a bit more to work with the students there. Fingers crossed, exciting times!! (pulls a hopeful face). You can follow Kerry Drewery on Twitter @KerryDrewery Find her on Facebook here. You can also follow Head In A Book @hiabhull