The Dead I Know, and we had a chance to chat with the author Scot Gardner.
Scot Gardner has written several critically acclaimed novels for young adults. His debut novel, One Dead Seagull, was followed by White Ute Dreaming, a powerful story of first love, mates, and a yellow dog. His third novel, Burning Eddy, was shortlisted for the CBC Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adults. Gravity was also shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in 2007. The Dead I Know was published by Allen & Unwin in Australia in 2011; it is the first Scot Gardner novel to be published in Canada.
(Updated, August 23) The Dead I Know has just won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year 2012, in the Older Readers category. Congratulations, Scot!
Was there an inspiration for the story of alienation in The Dead I Know?
I had a job as a youth worker for a number of years before becoming a writer. The story—Aaron’s story—was based on the life of a young man I knew during that period. He’d lost everything—parents, siblings, uncles and aunts: the lot. His courage to face the abject alienation life had handed him was the inspiration for The Dead I Know.
How did you come up with the title?
The working title was The Swing. It played on the idea that Aaron was stuck oscillating between a past that threatened to eat him alive and a future with promise. My Australian publishers thought the title was a bit abstract for the nature of the work, and I agreed. The Dead I Know was one of a dozen or so alternatives I wrote.
Aaron has had a pretty unfortunate life, current circumstances notwithstanding. Do you get attached to your characters to the point where you feel guilty about what you've done to them?
Part of the job is being prepared, nay, compelled to take our characters to hell (and hopefully, back again). It’s not always a pleasant journey for the writer and I did suffer for my craft alongside Aaron—there were times I had to come up for air, soak up the summer and remember that the darkness was all make-believe.
Do you have any experience with the dead?
My godparents, Kevin and Annette, are funeral directors and they let me behind the velvet curtains at their establishment, allowed me to work with other people’s dead and get a feel for the industry. I realised how much grace there was with a good death and how much of a body blow it is when a life is cut short. I couldn’t have written the book without their stories and honesty.
Who was your favourite character to write in this book?
John Barton’s pre-teen daughter Skye was my favourite character to write. She had attitude as soon as she hit the page and her feistiness propels Aaron’s self-discovery. Much of her spunk is bravado, covering her own wounds and confusion. I like that in real people, too.
If you sleepwalked, where do you think you'll end up?
I live in the mountains and I know if I sleepwalked I’d end up wedged in a wombat’s burrow or knee-deep in the creek.
It seems like every book and movie has a sequel these days. What would you do if you'd to write one to The Dead I Know?
I think a sequel to The Dead I Know would take Aaron deeper into the human experience. He’s so fragile, even at the end of the book, and I think his story would explore friendships with people his own age, bungled romances and death close to home.
Do you have a target audience in mind when you write, or do you just go with whatever story you feel like?
I write what I’m drawn to write and at this stage of my career it’s realist fiction featuring young adults as the main protagonists—the publishers call it ‘Young Adult Literature’. Many of my adult friends are drawn to read YA for the same reasons I am; the writing is clean and ambitious and the stories often compact and dark. I’m still fifteen in so many ways (does anyone ever grow out of fireworks??) and I love the sense of wonder at the world that comes with it.
What did you read when you were a teenager?
Not much. I read Asterix and Obelix and Tintin. I liked the Gerald Durrell books about collecting animals for zoos (it was the 80’s and that stuff was still acceptable). I didn’t read a novel of my own volition until I was 17. I got bored and read one the school librarian had recommended for me: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It was a story about a boy who ran away from home and subsisted in a hollow tree with his pet falcon. I’d found a glorified northern-hemispherical version of my summers. I fell in love and haven’t stopped reading since.
Our blog tries to gather teen and adult fiction and non-fiction that may appeal particularly to boys. Any recommendations?
Some of my favourites for boys include Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Doug Macleod’s hilarious Confessions of a Teenage Body Snatcher, Gary Paulson’s Hatchet books, John Marsden’s über-gritty Dear Miffy and Phillip Gwynne’s Deadly, Unna and Nukkin Ya. I loved Markus Zusak’s The Messenger (or I am the Messenger in the USA) and his earlier books about Cameron Wolfe are classics (The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe and When Dogs Cry).
Thanks again to Scot and Penguin Canada for arranging the interview!
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