Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.
Today’s guest for the WHAT is Emma Pass, who grew up at an environmental studies centre near London, went to art school in Cornwall and now lives in the north-east Midlands, UK. Her YA dystopian thrillers ACID and THE FEARLESS, are available now.
Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?
With THE FEARLESS, definitely. I attended a workshop run by UK YA author Julie Bertagna, and she was talking about how she got her ideas. She handed out some newspaper articles as examples, and the one I got was about a pill being developed to stop soldiers suffering from PTSD. I started wondering what would happen if there was a pill that didn’t just stop you being affected psychologically by traumatic events, but stopped you feeling fear altogether – along with any capacity for empathy or love. What would it do to people? How would they behave?
Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?
I started to think about how people might be forced to take this drug against their will, until vast numbers of them – now called ‘The Fearless’ – were invading every country in the world, forcing the drug on everyone else. It would be a bit like a zombie invasion, only far scarier as these people were still alive, with the capacity to think and plan. I imagined a small group of survivors, and what their lives might be like post-invasion. Living among them was a teenage girl, Cass. What would happen if her little brother, the only family she had left, was taken by the Fearless, and everyone else was too afraid to help her get him back? What choices would she have to make? What journey would she go on? Would she be able to survive? I’ve always loved post-apocalyptic, disaster stories that ask ‘what would you do?’, so this was my perfect opportunity to write my own.
Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?
Always! I’m not much of a planner so I don’t generally have the plot firmly in place before I start a first draft. Too much planning bores me, so I like to write and discover the story as I go along – and it always surprises me! I do have to do a lot of editing with subsequent drafts, though, but I love editing (yeah, I’m weird!), so that’s OK.
Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?
I don’t have millions of story ideas at any one time, but there are always a few brewing. I find the one way not to get ideas is to try and consciously think them up. Instead, I try to be receptive to unusual things I might see or hear or read (OK, so that’s a fancy way of saying I’m nosy, but you have to be if you’re a writer, right?). Eventually, they might turn into an idea, which might turn into a story…
How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?
I generally have one idea which is more ‘ready’ than the others – I might have a vague idea of the ending, or the characters might start speaking to me and insist that I write their story now. Sometimes, though, I just have to start writing and see – and if the story isn’t ready, I soon find out! I don’t consider it wasted, though, as I know I can come back to it another time.
I write best when it’s raining outside. Do you have a favorite weather to write with?
I like sunny days the best, because I can sit outside and look at the garden and daydream – an essential part of my writing process!