Monday, March 31, 2014

“Standing out in a sea of Dystopia” ~ Guest Post by Rebecca Finlayson

When I go into a bookshop or a library in the UK it’s always satisfying to see so many books on offer for the YA market. In our fast-paced world we can access everything we want, when we want, at the touch of a button – and even get frustrated when it doesn’t pop up instantly. (First world problems or what?) Anyway, to see so many YA books around and to know that teenagers are reading them and devoting hours to them, is great and exciting for any lover of books, particularly authors.

The challenge that I had with “X&Y” was making my book stand out. There are so many great YA Dystopian books out there, after all. It was a mountain to climb.

The first thing that encouraged me, though, was that I had a story to tell that – as far as I could tell – had not been told before. Genetic engineering had been touched on in various stories but it wasn’t the main story. I thought it would be fascinating to look at it through the eyes of a teenager.

The second thing was the position of my female lead. Olivia Adonane is from a very wealthy, very powerful family, and so to have a protagonist in a position where she literally has everything to risk made for very interesting writing from my perspective!

Another important thing was setting. Most of the YA Dystopian books I’ve read and enjoyed (The Hunger Games, Divergent, and the Gone series) take place in the USA. I thought it would be really interesting to have the focus on Britain, and how it would have adapted to the ‘System’ which is in place.

Apart from the authors of the above books, one particular author who has inspired me is Joanne Harris. She does plot so well, and the stories and twists of her novels like “Gentlemen and Players”, “Holy Fools” and “Five Quarters of the Orange” are just fantastic. I’ve learned a lot from her work about timing in particular – for example, what to reveal and when to reveal it.

I really enjoyed writing “X&Y”. The subject matter made for really fascinating exploration, and putting the characters in a quietly brutal setting was equally thrilling and difficult to work through. It’s been great having people read my work and give me feedback from it, not to mention seeing the number of downloads increase, particularly on my “free promotion” days!

Below is the opening chapter of “X&Y”. You can head over to Amazon Kindle for a free seven-chapter sample:
Thunder rumbles in the early hours of this morning and when I wake I think of Lily and what we’re going to do today. We’re meeting before school so we can post off our university applications together. To anyone who does not know who we are it seems such a little thing, but in this day and age it is not. My Ambition means I’m guaranteed a place at a prestigious institution, but Lily’s venture is a little more uncertain. Her portfolio, given to her parents when she was still in her mother’s womb, states that her Ambition is to be a waitress, which I’ve always thought was some kind of mix-up, as I’ve never thought she was right for the Service Industry. Very clumsy, and perpetually distracted by “higher things”, as she calls them, her different Preparation Experiences in cafes and restaurants have always ended spectacularly badly, though I will give her current boss come credit; she is unremittingly patient with her.
Lily is also extraordinarily clever, which is why I persuaded her to fill in a university application in the first place. Strange, I think, considering her family’s Ambitions, that her Tag gave her the chance to advance as much as she has. I know that Lily thinks this is too risky, bordering on dangerous – especially when the admissions boards find out about her humble family background. What harm is there in trying, though? Despite her reluctance, I know when she gets offered an opportunity to study Philosophy and Poetry she’ll be ecstatic and all the fear will have been worth it.
My own Ambition is very different. I will be following my father down the Designer route. First, six years of medical school followed by three more years of theoretical and practical study at the School of Human Design. I will learn how to create Tags with which to start unborn babies off on their uniquely selected paths, learn to further the research that reduces – and, hopefully, eventually eradicates – glitches in the System, and such like. My father is the most renowned Designer in the country, the head of the Triad – the Triad comprises of the country’s top three Designers – and one day I will take his place. It is a huge responsibility, but it is one for which I have specifically been Designed. I have no need to doubt myself.
“Good morning, father,” I chime, kissing him on the cheek as I bounce down to the dining room for breakfast, schoolbag and big brown envelope at the ready. I fling them down untidily on a chair and fix myself some cereal. “Where’s mother?”
“Still in bed; she’s a little under the weather this morning. Not to worry though, she’ll be up and about in no time,” he says while sipping his coffee and reading the newspaper.
“What is the news like this morning?”
“Calm, as usual,” he smiles, and my curious doubts are quieted. Why do I harbour them? Our Society is near perfect. While other nations are constantly embroiled in bitter civil struggles, slowly destroying themselves from within, our country enjoys peace and prosperity. The “Utopia”, that the old writers dreamt of, is being achieved at last. I just wonder what the other countries are doing so wrong. Father soon breaks me out of my reverie.
“Is that what I think it is?” he asks, indicating the brown envelope.
“Yes,” I say proudly. “I wonder which school will want me.”
“All of them, I expect. Look how strong your application is, after all.”
“It doesn’t hurt that I have your name on it, though,” I say slyly.
“True,” he says, winking at me. “But if your Ambition was not to follow in my footsteps, they would turn you down as any other school would turn down an applicant whose Ambition did not meet with their requirements.”
“There’s something I wanted to ask you related to that,” I say. “You know Lily, my best friend?”
“Yes?” His tone is careful. He has never met Lily and there’s something about his wariness whenever I mention her that makes me uneasy, like he doesn’t think we should be friends.
“Do you know if her Tag and her Ambition portfolio got mixed up somehow before she was born?” I ask.
“I don’t know; I wasn’t assigned to her case. You would have to find that out from her hospital. Why?”
“Well, her Ambition is for her to be a waitress, but she’s not suited to that at all.”
“Waitressing is a perfectly good and sturdy profession,” my father says, his tone reprimanding.
“I know; I’m not being high and mighty. It’s just that, Lily doesn’t seem to enjoy it at all. She seems much more interested in pursuing Academia after Mandatory Education is over. I just wondered whether her original Portfolio was along the lines of some kind of Higher Educator, and the folder got mixed up in the hospital.”
“That’s impossible,” he says, though his dark eyebrows narrow a little over his thick-rimmed black glasses. “Are you sure this isn’t just some Secondary Interest that she is feeling quite strongly about at the moment?”
“I don’t think so,” I say, although my instincts tell me to shut up. “Even in between her work breaks she’s always reading a book of some poet or another. She excels at school – really, she would do much better at my school – and it crushes me to think she can’t do what she really wants.”
“She wants to be a waitress,” my father says quietly. “If her portfolio says so, then that is what her Tag has prepared her for, and that is what she will do. I think you might be seeing more in this situation than there is.”
“But-” I start to argue, about to reveal that I’ve helped her fill in university application, but something in his voice tells me that would be dangerous. His mobile phone rings and he frowns when he sees who is calling him.
“What is it?” he snaps into the phone. His eyes widen as the speaker on the other end rapidly relays information, though I can’t hear what he is saying. “I’ll come immediately.” He clicks off, his expression a mixture of annoyance and something else. Dismay?
“We’ll talk about this later,” he says quickly as he dons his suit jacket and picks up his briefcase and I assume he means our earlier conversation. “I have to go. I’ll see you for dinner. We’re going out to The Glade tonight.” He kisses my head and leaves. Soon I hear the car rev up and speed away, gravel flying everywhere.
“Sure,” I murmur, wondering what on earth that was about.

About the Author: Rebecca Finlayson was born in the north of England - specifically Blackburn, Lancashire – but actually spent most of her childhood in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire (fans of Harry Potter will recognise that name!). Inspired by reading a children’s version of “The Odyssey” 20+ times while growing up, she decided to study Classical Civilisation at Warwick University and took a job as a Teaching Assistant upon graduating. After two years she decided to take a year out in order to do some charity work but, more significantly, pursue some writing projects that had been nagging at her for some time. The first of these projects to be completed, a Young Adult Dystopian novel entitled “X&Y” is now on sale on Amazon Kindle. The second – a fantasy novel entitled “The Secrets of Nethiaria: The Magician’s Book” will be out in Spring 2014.

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