#LoveOzYA Q&A with James Bradley
James Bradley is a novelist and critic based in Sydney. He has written several award-winning novels for adults, as well as poetry, non-fiction and YA fiction. His latest novel, The Buried Ark, is the second book in his YA science fiction trilogy, The Change.
Let’s go back to the beginning...have you been telling stories since you were a kid or was writing something you fell in love with as an adult?
I always read voraciously, but it never occurred to me I could be a writer until I was in my early twenties, and I read Michael Ondaatje’s novel, In the Skin of a Lion. It had a huge effect on me, not just because of the language or the things he did with narrative, but because I’d never come across a book that captured so many of the things I thought and felt. Something about that sense of recognition made me realise perhaps I could write as well.
Tell us about your new book.
I need to be careful what I say, simply because there are lots of surprises in it! But basically The Buried Ark is the second book in the Change Trilogy, which takes place after the arrival of alien spores that absorb plants and animals and people into a hive mind called The Change.
In the first book, The Silent Invasion, 16-year-old Callie tried to save her little sister Gracie from termination by fleeing to the Zone, the walled area where the Change is everywhere. As The Buried Ark begins, Callie is deep in the Zone, surrounded by the Change. Hunted by the Changed she flees south, and finds what seems to be sanctuary in an installation called The Ark that is part of a secret project designed to save what is left of Earth’s biology.
But once she is there she discovers the Ark is not what it seems, and that she and the entire planet are in more danger than ever.
Did you have a favourite OzYA book when you were growing up?
I didn’t really read Australian YA when I was growing up, partly because I grew up before writers like John Marsden and Victor Kelleher came to prominence, partly because I mostly read science fiction and comics. But I always loved the work of writers like Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, John Christopher and a number of the other writers who were producing science fiction and fantasy aimed at teenagers in the 1970s.
One of the things I really wanted The Silent Invasion and The Buried Ark to do was to take something of the spareness and strangeness I loved in those books and recreate it in a contemporary Australian context.
Did you have anyone that encouraged your love of books, reading and writing when you were younger?
Both my parents read a lot, but when I was in primary school my mother worked teaching librarian studies, which meant she often brought home new books. I’m sure she brought home many I’ve completely forgotten, but quite a few of my most treasured reading experiences were books she gave me, and in some cases – like Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books – are still amongst my favourite books.
What do you think sets Australian YA stories apart from those set internationally?
I think there’s great YA writing going on all over the world at the moment, but there’s a freshness and directness to a lot of the Australian YA I really love, as well as a really strong sense of place.
Do you have a favourite bookshop or library?
I have so little spare time I almost never get to bookshops any more. But I drop into my local bookshop, Better Read Than Dead, whenever I can, and if I’m near any others I always make a point of going in. You really can’t replace the experience of being in a bookshop: good booksellers bring such care and knowledge to what they do there will always be something there you haven’t seen or didn’t know about.
What was the last YA book you read and enjoyed?
I recently read Kirsty Eager’s Summer Skin, which I really loved, and I’ve just finished Jay Kristoff’s Lifel1k3 (Lifelike), which is huge fun. I’m also very much looking forward to Mark Smith’s Wilder Country – The Road to Winter was one of my favourite books of 2017 and the sequel looks even better. And I’m also about to read Sarah Epstein’s Small Spaces, which my daughter thought was brilliant.
Aside from writing, what else do you like to do to explore your creativity?
Nothing! I became a writer because I was terrible at everything else!
What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve received?
The world is full of awful writing advice. The reality is writing is always a slow and difficult process. The trick is to keep going, and not give up, and to trust the book, because it knows best.
The Buried Ark by James Bradley is published by Pan Macmillan. You can read more about it here.