'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Guest Post - Spies, Ghosts and Flooded Cities: A Day in the Life of a Children's Author

by author Deborah Abela.

I love writing for kids but it’s a complete accident that I’m here. Years ago I worked for the script department of Network TEN. It was a great job and was leading me nicely to my goal of writing for adult TV. What I didn’t count on was making friends with the producer of a kids’ show called Cheez TV.

As the show became bigger and more successful, she needed an Assistant Producer and asked me if I was interested. It all seemed so obvious. I loved the show and Jan always seemed to be having fun, so it took very little thought. I signed up and wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before. I worked on Cheez TV first as AP then writer/producer before leaving almost ten years ago to write novels for kids.

I love writing for kids. Their sense of humour, their willingness to go with you on a story, to engage so intensely with the characters but also, their refusal to be spoken down or condescended to.

Each of the novels I have written so far, have a few things in common. All have kids who lead the action and have a life I would LOVE to have. Whether it’s Superspy Max Remy, Aurelie and her ghosts who live on a seaside pier amusement park or the kids of Grimsdon living in a flooded city, flying Aerotropes and sailing in Velocrafts.

Most of my books have begun because of a character who came to my head, (and wouldn’t leave) or because of my love of spies or fondness for the stories my nanna told me as a kid about seeing ghosts all over her house.

Grimsdon, however, came about because of my frustration with governments all over the world, including ours, not doing very much about climate change. I thought, what if we woke up one day and everything we knew had changed? If what we cared about most had been taken away from us? What then?

Grimsdon is a London-esque city that lies in ruins. Three years ago a massive wave broke its barriers and the city was left flooded. Most were saved, some were lost and others were left behind.

Isabella Charm and her best friend Griffin live with three other kids in the top of an abandoned mansion. They’ve survived with the help of Griffin’s brilliant inventions, Isabella’s survival skills and their vow to look after each other.

The kids find new ways to create power, find food, defend themselves against thieving and kidnapping adults as well as sneaker waves and sea monsters.

When I pitched Grimsdon to Random House, I was sure they would take another novel I’d pitched. They politely nodded at that one and asked what else I had. I told them about Grimsdon and they loved it. The images it created in their heads sold them on it. What they didn’t know was that it was a very vaguely formed idea that had a long way to go before I was even ready to begin writing chapter one. I was worried I’d created this project that was bigger than me, that if I didn’t do it right, it was all going to disappear beneath murky ideas and half baked notions.

But like all projects I begin, instead of worrying whether I could deliver, I got to work and concentrated on each day, each dilemma, each scene and character. Soon enough whole chapters form, flying machines are built, characters make me laugh, buildings collapse and cities flood. Brilliant.

Grimsdon, in a way, is a departure from what I’ve written before, although in other ways, it’s a more swashbuckling, action-packed adventure than Max Remy with the heroine Isabella being much more in control and very good with swords…especially if boys or adults annoy her.

Even though this is a book about what may happen if we don’t take more care of the planet, I was really keen for it not to be a grim, disaster novel – there have been a few post-apocalyptic films and stories in the last few years and even though my characters face a world that has changed, there is still a lot to be hopeful about, including the fact that these courageous kids will be our future.

There are moments when the kids face kidnappers, where their lives are threatened by collapsing buildings and even where they come face-to-face with sea monsters, but they always come through, if not at times a little soggy and bruised, but the main reasons they survive is because they have each other, they act courageously, even when they are scared, and they stick to what they truly believe is important.

I’ve been writing for kids for over 17 years because of a happy accidental meeting in the corridors of Network TEN. I sit here with my spies, soccer players, ghosts and lost children of the flooded city of Grimsdon and it is a very nice place to be.

Visit Deborah Abela's website

For more on Deborah see BEHIND THE BOOKS MENU