Author Q&A - YA Author Philip Webb

I'm delighted that Philip Webb, author of the hugely entertaining YA novel Six Days, agreed to do a Q&A for Strictly Writing. Over to you, Philip...

Philip Webb's debut novel, Six Days

Did you consciously set out to write for the YA market, or was that just the way the story developed?
It was a conscious decision to write for a YA readership. Some of my favourite books are for teenagers, like The Owl Service by Alan Garner, but also I think it's fun and challenging to write for this audience. I wanted to write a fast-paced adventure - something in the tradition of ripping yarns like Treasure Island.

Your characters speak in a very distinctive style: was that tough to come up with, and to keep up?
The voice of Cass came first, before the setting, before the plot. Her voice is something that I developed from the way different generations of women in my family speak, so it was familiar and for that reason it was relatively easy to create. Once I started writing in Cass's voice it started to get a life of its own and that really helped me to explore the plot. I would throw Cass in a certain situation and know how she would react and how she would describe it. For me, the most important thing to get right is the voice - without it, the story feels forced and hard to visualise.

One of the things I loved about Six Days is it was set in avery recognisable London, when so much dystopian fiction is either American or set in an unidentified future country. How important was the setting to you while writing?
It was really important to set it somewhere I knew well. The story is fantastical in places with alien spacecraft and Terminator-type warriors and so-on, so setting the story in a London that readers can recognise helped to ground it a bit. Also, I think it helps make it more believable when the setting is real. Creating a fantasy world from scratch is very demanding and hard to pull off, and it requires patience from the reader to learn about places and customs etc, so using an existing city is a kind of short-cut. It was great fun to set some of the key action in places I know and love like the British Museum - to visualise how these places have changed in the future...

Your novel has a very strong, engaging female protagonist.Why do you think there is a plethora of strong female characters in YA fiction when, it could be argued, there is a dearth of them in other genres?
Yes, there's a trend of strong female roles in YA, but also in sci-fi as a genre - Katniss in The Hunger Games is perhaps the latest in a long line of ass-kicking girls like Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, Ripley in Alien and Molly, the assassin for hire in Necromancer. I agree that there aren't so many in other genres and I don't know why - I think these characters often work because their struggles in male-dominated situations are what makes them interesting.

Do you tend to plot things out in advance, or do you prefer to see where the story goes?
I tend not to plot in advance. I think it would make my life easier in the long run but I find it impossible to do! I start with a character and a setting and a problem and develop from there. I have a really vague idea of things I want to happen along the way, and maybe an ending, but the ending ends up changing anyway! Plotting in advance would kill it off for me, although I'm sure it would save a lot of dead-ends and wrong turns. I think it's more fun as a writer if you explore the world as you go along (as the reader will). Also, I think the actual writing is what generates ideas going forward, and if you have a rigorous map of the plot you'll be less open to that. But I guess there are no set methods - it's just whatever works for the writer.

Who are your favourite YA writers?
Loads! Alan Garner, Philip Reeve, Philip Pullman, David Almond, Suzanne Collins. Recently, I really enjoyed My Sister Lives On The Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher. Also, I'm reading White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean which is fantastic.

What’s your advice for writers wanting to target the YA market?
Pacing is pretty key - YA readers aren't forgiving of slow passages where not much happens! Young readers are hungry for worlds and stories that take them out of their lives a bit. In Six Days, the children have the run of an empty ruined London - that freedom is something you yearn for as a teenager. When I think back to what I read as a teenager, I can remember the sheer excitement of discovering reading and the doors it unlocked - it's a magical time that's hard to recreate as an adult, no matter how much I enjoy reading now, but that's what I'm aiming for.

What’s next for Philip Webb?
I'm writing another YA novel - not a sequel to Six Days, something new. It should be out next year. I can't say any more than that!


Joe said...

Some very interesting points raised here, not least about pacing and female protagnists in YA fiction. Great interview, thanks for sharing.

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks, Philip, for stopping by at Strictly. I made a new year's resolution to read more YA - you've reminded me to do just that!

DT said...

Thanks for giving us an insight into your work and approach, Philip. The YA market is really 'in' at the moment, so it's great to hear from someone who's in the thick of it. I wonder if there are any other 'rules' that operate in the YA genre?

Brenda Taylor said...

Some very interesting points raised here, not least about pacing and female protagnists in YA fiction. Great interview, thanks for sharing.