Rachael Craw has been voted for by hundreds of teenagers all over New Zealand as a finalist in the Children’s Choice Young Adult Fiction category, for her first YA book Spark. This is the first in a trilogy, of which Stray will be published later this year by Walker Books. Vote for her here!
I understand that you got the idea for Spark from a dream (that’s very Mary Shelley!) Can you tell us about that?
I had reached a peak in longing for a good idea and the unction to write was making my chest tight. I knew that I wanted to write YA, that my central character would be a seventeen year old girl. I knew I wanted to include some kind of ‘fantastical’ element that would take it beyond the bounds of ‘reality’ while still keeping the story grounded in the here and now. What I didn’t have was a BIG idea. I had read about author’s whose inspiration had come to them in a dream or downloaded fully formed into their brains while riding the tube and thought, why not me? So I sat on my bed one night and prayed for an idea, not a demur little Sunday School prayer but a ‘Please God, for the love of sanity, put me out of my misery, take hold of my brain and breathe on my aching neurons’ kind of prayer.
I went to sleep that night and dreamed the scene which is now the prologue of Spark (I was racing through a forest at night to find someone who was lost and in danger, knowing I had to save this person from a killer). I woke in the morning and took it on faith that I had been given my starting point and my imagination ran wild: why was I so fast? How did I know someone was in danger? Why was it my responsibility to protect them? Why wasn’t I afraid for myself? Who was the threat? Why would they want to kill this person in the forest?
Spark has a lot of terms to get around, and tampered DNA sounds very scientific! Did you do any research into genetics before writing, or did you dive right in?
I googled. I dived. I liked the idea of this covert organisation (The Affinity Project) operating with their own jargon-heavy lexicon. It’s a bit over the top. I think just loving language made it fun to invent terminology. Did you ever play old-school Balderdash, where someone flips through a dictionary and calls out an obscure word and everyone has a minute to write a definition? I was awfully good at convincing people by the sheer convolutedness of my answers.
Spark touches on the moral debate between murder and killing when you don’t have a choice. What are your personal thoughts on this?
Philosophically it could be argued that none of us are truly free, that the circumstances into which we are born, our genetic inheritance and developmental environment dictate the people we become. Personally, I believe that while there is much in our lives we have no control over ultimately we have the wildcard of free-will. So, I don’t advocate the ‘I had no choice’ argument for violence but cannot deny that there may be terrible cases (child soldiers/slavery) where freedom of choice may not be apparent.
It wasn’t until I met my birth mother that I was really struck by the power of DNA and just how much it shapes who we are. It seemed astonishing to me that I could be so like someone in terms of personality, temperament, talents, interests, mannerisms that I had never spent any time with before. It got me thinking about how much of who we are and who we become is programmed into us at a foundational/cellular level.
In Spark I wanted to push this idea of cellular-predestination to an extreme and force my protagonist to wrestle with her identity and fate when the freedom of choice is taken from her. Even within these limitations Evie must choose who she is and who she will become.
A few characters in Spark have DNA that gives them superhuman powers. If you could have a superpower, what would you choose?
Telekinesis, hands down!
Can you tell us a bit about your road to publication? How did it all come about?
To be honest probably a lot more desperate prayer! I googled ‘How to get published in NZ’ and followed a trail of sound advice on the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) website. I paid for several professional manuscript assessments over a period of three years, then spent another full year working through the manuscript with a brilliant and sharp eyed mentor, Chris Else. At the end of this process, Chris and Barbara Else of TFS Literary Agency offered to represent me as agents. They felt my story had potential to appeal to a larger audience and submitted the manuscript to two Australian publishers and then Walker Books Australia made my dreams come true. I spent several months working on the manuscript with my inspired editor, Nicola Robinson, and low it came to pass that Spark was born.
You hail from Christchurch (and now live in Nelson) – did being a New Zealander make it more difficult to get published, or did it not really make a difference?
You know, I really struggle to judge if it was more difficult or not. To be honest, I was pretty clueless about the whole process. I didn’t know the harrowing statistics on getting published and I’m glad I didn’t. I was probably very idealistic and naïve, not about the hard-work required, but the likelihood of an outcome. I think passion, faith and obsession is what keeps every writer going.
Even though they are a force behind the novel, Evie never comes face to face with Affinity (the people behind the DNA experiment). Will they discover she is a Shield in the next books?
In Stray (Book 2), Evie must give an account for her actions to The Affinity Project and survive the orientation process at their compound. You get to see the inner workings of the organisation and taste the politics of its power brokers.
As a reader, we only really get to see Kitty and Evie’s relationship as a Shield/Spark relationship. Now that the danger is gone, will we get to see more of their friendship in the next books, or will Evie’s DNA lead her away from her best friend?
Kitty is a significant player in the action of Stray (Book 2). A situation arises where it is Evie who must depend on Kitty for help. They have some of the most ‘fun’ scenes together that I have written so far in the series.
Can you tell us anything else about the next two books in the trilogy, Stray and Shield?
Stray is a little darker and more confrontational than Spark. The reality of The Affinity Project raises the stakes and Evie’s journey navigating orientation is painful physically and emotionally. Her relationship with Jamie is also put under tremendous strain. The main focus of Stray is a moral dilemma that puts Evie at odds with everyone she loves. Book 3, Shield, is under construction but it will confront the injustices of The Affinity Project.
Interview: Natalie King, finalist for the Children’s Choice Young Adult Fiction Award