I'm delighted be part of the UKYA Extravaganza Blog Tour today and it's my pleasure to interview R J Morgan, author of the gritty YA thriller Fifteen Bones.
Jake is not a bad person - he used to be the class joker, the comedian. He used to have 'potential'. But now he's been expelled from five schools and only Cattle Rise, a tough inner-city
school, will take him. All he has to do is survive these first few weeks because otherwise he's heading to the Detention Centre. But survival means keeping his head down, and that's not something
Jake's very good at. What nobody knows is that Jake is drowning in grief - a grief that makes him angry and violent and unafraid. Then one night he hears screams in the night from the girl next
door. Could it be that Robin's trapped in a fate worse than his? Perhaps, in helping her, he can help himself. But, as
he's drawn into Robin's world, Jake realizes that he's about to discover what real danger is.
Welcome to the blog, RJ, and congratulations on being part of such an amazing UKYA event. To start off the interview can you tell us how long have you been writing and how you came to be published?
The good news is that I went the traditional route – writing in your bedroom day in, day out as a kid, and then throughout my teens and then awful stuff in the early twenties, then when I was about 22 I felt ready to buy the Writers’ Yearbook and sent out query letters. From that I got an agent who then worked incredibly hard to get a total unknown like me a contract. The bad news is that it took ages, but it can be done.
Your debut Fifteen Bones has been described as gripping, gritty and unputdownable. For those who haven’t read it yet could you give them some idea of what it is about, and
what inspired the story?
It’s about a boy who is severely depressed – dangerously so – who befriends a girl who is caught up with a dangerous gang in South London.
The story was inspired by a boy I knew who was clearly very ill while we were at school, and none of us really understood what was wrong with him or why his parents wouldn’t intervene. I think teenagers today would be better equipped to realize what was wrong with him and even get him some help. May be I felt guilty and wanted to write about it, I don’t know. I also wanted to express what life is like for young people around here – it really is no joke out there.
How did you decide upon the intriguing book title?
Philip Pullman once told me that titles come either straight away or they take years, and this one did not come straight away! A lot of lists, and a lot of post-it notes made that title!
Who’s your favourite character in the book? Why?
Gah! That’s like choosing my favourite relative! It can’t be done. I admire Sean, who was originally a one-liner joke of a character but fought himself onto many, many pages. Good for him!
Which scene was the most challenging to write?
The school scene. On a mission to find a missing girl, they break into their own school and manage to set fire to a door and almost get themselves arrested. In the scene, they run about to five different locations and I find ‘locationing’ very difficult. I find it difficult in real life. I have such an appalling sense of direction my friends have a BMT (Becky Morgan Time) which assumes I’ll be an hour late to a place I’ve never been before. So anyway, having them run about was difficult. Other than that, it turned out the most difficult scenes to write were inevitably cut, and this reminded me of Keats saying it should come easily or not at all. Or something like that.
If you were the casting director for the film adaptation of Fifteen Bones which actors would you cast as the main players?
Actually I have done that, we made a trailer for the book at my school and a short film. You can find them on YouTube. The casting process was pretty brutal but the actors we found were amazing!
How has your work as a secondary school teacher influenced your writing?
I think it’s brought a lot of authenticity to the characters and the dialogue. It has made me hyperaware of the pressures teenagers face and sensitive to the things that I don’t think society really understands about teenage life in the twenty-first century. I really wanted to talk about that.
And what is a typical day’s writing for RJ Morgan?
Five hours of despair and half an hour of dialogue, which will inevitably be deleted at some point, then a few brilliant minutes at about one in the morning, then to bed, and my recurring nightmares.
Do you listen to music as you write? If so, what’s the soundtrack for Fifteen Bones?
I got into the habit of listening to film scores when I was studying at university in Texas, and now I use them for writing – I can’t remember who gave me that bit of advice but it’s a great one! Great scores should arouse feeling and inspire you without distracting you – so they’re great for concentrating. My favourite score is Bright Star by Mark Bradshaw.
What are you working on at the moment?
A ghost story. If you ever do research into ghosts, all the library research, folktales and ghost tours are fine….but don’t go on Reddit. You won’t sleep for a week.
Which books inspired you when you were a teenager?
Ah, way too many to mention. I remember reading Lord of the Rings and thinking this is what I wanted to do with my life – not write – literally go to Middle-earth. I loved a lot of great American writers when I was a teenager, Hemingway, Salinger, Bukowski. I was an aspiring alcoholic.
What UKYA books would you recommend to those who have and read and enjoyed Fifteen Bones?
I recently loved Panther, it has a lot of the same mental health issues discussed in Fifteen Bones. I loved 7 Days, and I’ve been handing out The Art of Being Normal to everyone at school. For the eating disorders discussed I think it’s brilliantly tackled in Wintergirls. I love Laurie Halse Anderson. I’d recommend anything by her!
Now let’s have a bit of fun to finish the interview:
Tidy house or write that next scene?
Write. My flat is a disgrace.
Zumba or circuit training?
I don’t understand this question.
Saturday shopping or weekend walk in the park?
Park, park, park, Eleanor & Park. I hate shopping.
Take the tube or catch the bus?
Bike is best!
Ice cream or fresh fruit?
Bookshop or library?
Bookshop. Tough one.
X Factor or The Voice?
Neither. Distinct lack of baking.
Late night party or all-day spa?
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions, RJ. I hope you have a brilliant time at the UKYAX. I wish you continuing success with Fifteen Bones and the very best of luck with your future books.
If you would like to read about the other authors taking part in the UKYAX, here's the schedule for the entire blog tour: