Diving into YA Dystopian with SLATED Author Teri Terry

Posted by November 14th, 2013


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?

slatedTT: 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!

NG: Dystopian YA is a popular genre, one that is hard to get into. What advice do you have for budding writers who want to publish a dystopian book? Do you perceive any publishing trends in the genre?

TT: Getting published is hard, no matter the genre. The most important thing to writers starting out is to write what they want to write, and write it the best they possibly can. The thing with trends is they come and go quicker than most of us can write: you could aim at filling a perceived gap, and then find either it was one no publisher wants to fill, or by the time you finish writing your novel that someone else already filled it. So don’t try to second guess publishing trends. Write the best book you can, the one that you are most passionate about. Then cross your fingers.

In SLATED, you strike a fine balance between world building and moving the story forward. How did you manage to avoid infodumps?

TT: Infodumps can be a big problem when you are creating a new world. Having said that, because my main character, Kyla, has had her memory wiped, much of what the reader needs to learn about the world is learned as the character does, through her eyes. It is more difficult trying to introduce a world that a character is familiar with – you need a reason for them to notice things. When everything is new this isn’t the same problem.

NG: The much-anticipated sequel, FRACTURED, shows Kyla in a different light. As she slowly restores her memories of the past, she has to reconcile who she used to be with who she’s become. How did you handle her characterization in the second book?

TT: Out of the entire trilogy, I found FRACTURED the most challenging to write. It went through far more rewrites than either of the other two, and most of the rewriting related to exactly that. After the fact it was obvious that the reason I was struggling was because I hadn’t worked out exactly how Kyla was going to be after some of her memories returned: was she going to be the person she was before, some hybrid between her different selves, or switch back and forth? As I wrote and rewrote and rewrote it, these issues worked themselves out. I’m really happy with the end result, and I don’t think I could have got there any other way. Sometimes there are no shortcuts: I had to go through this process to get to the answer.

NG: I’m glad you did–FRACTURED is wonderful. May I add that I would have loved to add a question about what’s going to happen to Kyla’s love interest in the series, Ben, but I guess that wouldn’t be fair, would it?

TT: You’ll have to wait and see! In the US, Fractured came out 26th September and Shattered on 1st May 2014! But I can assure you that Ben will be back.


About Teri Terry:

teriterryTeri Terry has lived in France, Canada, Australia and England at more addresses than she can count, acquiring four degrees, a selection of passports and a silly name along the way. Moving constantly as a child, teenager and also as an adult has kept Teri on the outside looking in much of her life. It has given her an obsession with characters like Kyla in SLATED, who don’t belong or find themselves in unfamiliar places. 

Teri recently left her job with Buck’s libraries in England to write full-time and complete her research MA on the depiction of terrorism in recent young adult dystopian literature. In the UK Slated won the North East Teenage Book Award, the Leeds Book Award, the Angus book award, the Portsmouth Book Award, the Rotherham book award and the Rib Valley Book Award, and is shortlisted for many others. It was the most voted for YA title in the 2012 international Edinburgh Book Festival Anobii First Book Award. In the US it is a Junior Library Guild selection. Visit her at teriterry.com and follow her on Twitter @TeriTerryWrites.

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