The precedent of the HUNGER GAMES opened up the door for other talented authors to tell their YA dystopian tales. Today we’re talking to British author Teri Terry, who pushes the envelope with her SLATED books, one of the most thought-provoking and chilling sci-fi series I’ve read in the past year. In SLATED, we meet young Kyla, who’s had her memory and personality erased as punishment for a crime she can’t remember committing. Who is really Kyla without her memories and what makes her *her*? Teri takes on these big questions head on, and she approaches Kyla’s characterization with the kind of subtlety that is a joy to read.
NG: What inspired you to write a dystopian series for young adults?
I never set out to write a dystopian series. SLATED actually started from a dream I had, about a girl running, terrified, on a beach, afraid to look back to see what chased her. That same morning I wrote the dream down before I was really awake, and the story kind of grew from there. So it is really difficult to say what inspired writing it! The story chose me: it came from an unconscious need to explore issues that were troubling me, obsessions that I had. These include the whole nature-nurture debate: does someone who commits a horrible violent crime have something inherently wrong with how they are wired up inside, or does everyone have this capacity, given the right (wrong) circumstances? Next the identity issue: what makes us who we are? If you take someone’s memories away, are they still the same person? And finally, terrorism. More specifically: are a violent group defined by their objectives, or their methods? What is the difference between terrorists and freedom fighters? Do we define groups based on whether we agree with what they are trying to achieve?
NG: Your Master’s degree coursework was on the depiction of terrorism in young adult literature, which has clearly impacted the oppressive world you’ve crafted in the SLATED series. How did you thread your findings into the books?
TT: Things happened kind of the other way around. I was thinking for some time about doing a creative writing MA, and in the end focused on a research degree. The way that worked is that I had to come up with a research proposal that included both a novel I planned to write, and a contextual thesis surrounding it. In my case the novel was SLATED, and the thesis was a consideration of the depiction of terrorism in YA dystopian fiction. However, I actually wrote SLATED before I really made much of a start on the thesis. Having said that, the impact the research had was more on examining how I wanted the trilogy to end, and why.
Traditional dystopian novels tend to end very badly for the hero: the whole point is that of a warning, a call to action – to change the world to avoid this coming to pass.
Conversely, YA dystopian novels tend to have more hopeful endings, even happy ones at times. Literary critics argue this negates the message of a dystopian novel; at the same time, debate rages about the impact of dark dystopian novels on younger readers. But I can’t tell you much more about decisions I made about the end of the trilogy without major spoilers!