Today I am pleased to host the final day of the Flood World and Dust Road blog tour. I thought that Flood World was a fabulous, exciting and thought provoking read so I was delighted to learn that there was to be a sequel. Dust Road is, I think, even better, full of tension, drama and thrills featuring, in Kara and Joe, engaging characters with a broad appeal.
Both books would be excellent for readers of about 10+ who love thrills and excitement and are rewarding reads that will encourage young readers to think and ask questions too
I am delighted that Tom has kindly agreed to answer some questions on the blog today.
1. The theme of climate change, central to both FloodWorld and Dust Road, is timely and a subject that children have become engaged in fully in recent years. Did that engagement influence your decision to use this for the world in which these stories take place or is it something that you have wanted to write about for some time?
Well the very first draft of FloodWorld was written more than 10 years ago, long before the school climate strikes started. In fact, the issue I was most keen to explore initially was to do with terrorism, and the way an entire group of people can be demonised by the actions of a few extremists. That’s still a pretty timely theme, obviously.
But the first draft wasn’t very good, and the book ended up going into a drawer for quite a few years. It was when I was working on a much later draft, after my publishers Nosy Crow got involved, that the climate strikes began in earnest. I found them really inspiring, and they definitely influenced the way I felt about the book. It gave everything new meaning and new urgency. I really wanted to make the book as clear and forceful as it could be, to add my voice to this ongoing conversation around climate change.
2. The settings are vividly brought to life and feel real to me as a reader but are very different in the two books. What made you choose the locations?
I live in London, so that’s why I chose it as the location for FloodWorld – albeit in a much more waterlogged form! I find a story much more convincing if the writer really knows the place they’re writing about. If I’m honest, it wasn’t a very practical choice: London is not exactly close to the sea, so it’d take an extreme rise in tidal levels to flood the city. But I felt like it was more important that the story feel real than that it actually be real, if that makes sense. I sacrificed scientific fact in favour of a more emotional connection to the story and the location.
With DustRoad I wanted a stark contrast, somewhere that felt completely unlike the bustling, flooded city of the first book. A few years back I’d taken a road trip across the southern states of America, from Houston to California through the desert. Again I wanted that sense of realism, so I took inspiration from that journey – plus a couple of earlier road trips – to map out the story, and make the locations feel as real as possible. Hopefully it paid off. 3. There is a real cinematic feel to both books and they would be wonderful on the big screen. If you could choose, who would the director be and which actors would be great as some of the main characters?
Well I’m a giant film nerd – writing about cinema was my main job for years, and I still do a fair bit of freelancing. So I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t imagined how FloodWorld might look on the big screen!
I think there are loads of directors who’d do a great job. Edgar Wright’s balance of spectacular action and smart humour would be perfect. Taika Waititi is able to get amazing performances out of kids. And I’ve rarely seen a better book adaptation than Greta Gerwig’s recent version of Little Women – though obviously, this one would involve a few more explosions.
As for actors, I never had anyone in mind for Kara or Joe. But I do have one very clear casting choice for the FloodWorld movie. Mahershala Ali would be perfect as the Mariner captain, John Cortez. I had him in mind all the way through writing, in fact watching his performances helped me to find the character. I think he’d be incredible. 4. Kara is an interesting character, is she inspired by someone from real life?
A few readers have assumed she was inspired by Greta Thunberg, which isn’t the case – in fact, Kara’s essential character is one of the very few things in FloodWorld that hasn’t really changed since that first draft a decade ago. Embarrassingly, I didn’t even notice the parallels until a reviewer pointed them out. But it’s a very happy coincidence – Greta is one of my living heroes, and if Kara has even an ounce of her bravery and brilliance then I’m very pleased.
All that said, Kara definitely does have real-life parallels – there’s a lot of my older sister in her, and a bit of my mother too, who was a lifelong activist (the character of Joe’s teacher Miss Ella was partly based on her as well). And there are little hints of friends in there, people I grew up with, women I’ve admired, it all goes into the mix! 5. As a journalist and film critic have you always wanted to write for children?
I’ve always just wanted to be a writer, in whatever form I could. The first couple of novels I wrote were for adults, but neither have been published nor, I suspect, will they ever be! It was only when I started working on my first book for younger readers, The Waking World, that I felt like I’d found my voice. It just felt right.
I finished the first draft of The Waking World at the exact same time I started writing film reviews online. It just turned out that, for me at least, it was easier to make a living writing about film than writing fiction, and I needed to eat! So I took a job on the film desk at Time Out, and wrote stories at the weekends. The Waking World came out while I was at Time Out, and by the time I left that job I was working on my Star Wars and Warhammer books and the FloodWorld deal was ready to be finalised, so I was lucky enough to be able to switch over into writing fiction almost full time. 6. What type of books did you enjoy reading as a child and has that influenced your own writing style?
I read everything I could get my hands on: joke books, books of facts, film tie-ins, the Beano. But I always loved sci-fi, fantasy and adventure stories: writers like Ursula Le Guin (still my favourite), John Christopher, Susan Cooper, Nicolas Fisk and Rosemary Sutcliffe.
Thinking about what unites those writers, one important thing seems to be clarity: they all tell really clear, precise stories, and their descriptions are always simple but evocative. They don’t spend pages describing a castle or a spaceship or a landscape, they just give you a few key pieces of information and let your imagination do the rest. It’s something I’ve struggled with – my natural instinct is to over-describe and over-explain everything. These writers taught me to trust my readers to fill in the blanks. 7. The books’ covers are stunning and I also love the maps. Did you have any input into the design of these?
They’re gorgeous, aren’t they? Manuel Sumberac designed the covers, and he did an amazing job. It took quite a few goes to get the cover of FloodWorld just right, and the process was led by the design team at Nosy Crow with only a little input from me.
I was much more closely involved in the maps, which were drawn by the absurdly talented Jensine Eckwall. I’d scribbled out an extremely rough map while I was writing FloodWorld, which was then re-drawn in more detail by my talented partner Rosie so I could send it out with the book when I was looking for a publisher. Jensine took that version and made it her own, gave it life and movement and all these lovely, eccentric little details. For DustRoad, she worked directly from my rough sketches – how she managed to translate my scrawls into such a beautiful map I’ll never understand…
Map by Jensine Eckwall
8. What next for the characters? Will there be more or is there an idea for something different on the way instead?
Well the plan is definitely for a third and final book in the FloodWorld trilogy – it’s all planned out, but obviously I can’t give anything away! And I’m working on a couple of other ideas, one for an adventure story in a similar vein to FloodWorld, and another that’s completely, totally different… In the meantime there are three more instalments in my Warhammer Adventures series on the way – the next one’s out in June. 9.And finally do you have any writing tips for young readers who would like to follow in your footsteps?
I suppose my biggest tip would be – don’t stop just because it’s rubbish! Thinking about my first draft of FloodWorld, which was this huge, messy, rambling load of nonsense, it would’ve been easy just to chuck it in the bin. But instead I put it away for a while, and when I came back to it I could see more clearly what was actually good about it (the flooded London setting, and the characters of Kara and Joe) and what wasn’t working (almost everything else). It took a lot of work, but eventually I was able to shape it into something that was fit for other people to read. So don’t expect to get it right first time – and if you get disheartened, don’t give up.
Thank you very much, Tom, for taking the time to answer my questions so fully. It has been fascinating and made me want to read the books all over again! I’m also delighted to learn that there is to be another book in the series.
If you missed any of the blog tour this week you can still catch up with previous posts.
Pingback: Reading Matters – news from the world of children’s books | Library Lady