Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome author, John Heffernan to talk about why he wrote his latest novel. Hotaka is the first book in a new series of Through My Eyes exploring natural disaster zones and paying tribute to the courage and resilience of children who are often the most vulnerable in disaster situations.
I’ve written almost sixty books now, for readers from infants through to young adults. Some I’ve written purely for fun, some because the subject fascinated me, a few because the publisher made an offer I couldn’t refuse. But there’s a select group of books I’ve written because I had no choice; their stories wouldn’t leave me alone until I teased them out of my head. My latest novel, Hotaka, is one of those.
When Lyn White asked if I’d lead off in her new Through My Eyes Series by Allen & Unwin, on natural disasters, I was super keen. I’d already written Naveed in Lyn’s previous TME series, on war zones, and loved the experience; reality-based fiction really grabs me. I thrive on the research, shooting off on tangents, searching for that special fictional tale in amongst the factual morass, and then creating characters and scenarios that, while indelibly mine, are true to the socio-economic, political, religious and cultural realities they encompass. These are demanding books to do, because you have to get all those bits right and still create the most important thing of all, a good yarn.
From the start I knew which natural disaster I’d write about, the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Even though three years had passed since the Tohoku disaster, its images were still in my head - haunting, confronting and oozing story ideas. I was hooked and keen to get going.
But what really committed me to this book was travelling to Japan to research, to the disaster zone itself, touring the length of the devastated Tohoku coast, following in the ugly footprints of this monster from the deep, and talking to victims, especially a group of high school students who’d been in primary school when the Wave stole their innocence. That trip made me realise I had to write this book.
Hotaka is one boy’s take on the Tohoku disaster. But in telling his tale I tell a whole range of other stories - those of his two best friends, his Mother, Uncle Yori, his Grandfather, his favourite teacher Miss Abe, Principal Hashimoto and all his hangups, the wonderful laughing Monk, the totally crazy Shaman Lady, the incredibly dignified old Geisha, and the amazing Puppet People. In telling the story of one boy, Hotaka tells the story of a whole town and its rise from the ashes.
John Heffernan has written more than fifty books for young readers, over a wide range of genres and age groups. A journey through Afghanistan led to an ongoing interest in that country, and inspired the writing of Naveed: Through My Eyes. John’s experience as a teacher has been invaluable in his writing and his relationship with his readers. Here is John's 12 Curly Questions interview. Visit John's website to find out more about his books, which range from picture books to YA fiction.