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Teri Terry

This summer, the concluding volume of the
Slated-trilogy by Teri Terry was published by the Coppenrath Verlag and exited readers once again from the first page to last. It goes without saying that she was therefore a busy guest at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2014 and the fans were waiting long before the book signing even started. All the more, I am happy that she has taken the time to answer a few questions about her trilogy, the writing itself and future projects. 

Thank you very much for your time and welcome to Germany. Is it your first time in Germany?

I was here once before, a few years ago. I did one of those bus trips all the way across Europe. I think I was only here for one night. As it was long ago I only remember we did a river cruise and we went up the cologne cathedral, where we climbed up and up and up to the top [laughs]

Do you like Germany?

I’m loving it. Especially this time as everybody has been lovely. It’s amazing.

You are here at the Frankfurt Book fair for readings and meeting fans. As it’s all in a foreign language, are you nervous?

Almost everyone that I’ve spoken to since I’ve been here has at least enough English that I could communicate with them. So language hasn’t really been a problem yet. And for the fan meeting later on Kiki [an employee from the Coppenrath Publishing House] is coming with me, so if there are any language problems she could help out.

Let’s talk about your Slated-Series. Could you start with a few words about Kyla and the world she lives in?

Kyla is a 16 year old girl who had her memory whipped for punishment for a crime. So she doesn’t know what it is that she may have done and she is assigned to a new family when it starts. Of cause there is something different about her. She’s getting bits of her past coming back to her in dreams. In this time being different is dangerous, so she’s trying to work out what happened to her and what’s going on before it’s too late.

You paint a very dark future in your books. Do you really think it could come that way or is it just for the effect?

I wouldn’t say I would do anything for the effect; it’s really for the story. I think over all it’s quite a hopeful story compared to a lot of dystopian kind of novels. One thing I was interested in exploring – what I didn’t know when I started – is, that a lot of dystopian novels seem to give the assumption that the only answer is violence. And I wanted to challenge that. As that was a part of what I wanted to do, I think it’s a kind of a hopeful thing. But I know there are a lot of bad things happening to. But the reality is that if you wrote about a world where everyone is lovely and no one ever does anything bad to each other that would be a boring story.

One thing I love about your books is that you never show just the dark side and the white side but a lot in between. For example the slating. In Kyla we see that it’s a hard punishment, but we also see with her sister that it’s maybe helpful for some people. So what is your personal opinion if something like slating would be possible? Would it be a good choice or a bad choice?

I think probably in general it would be a bad choice because your experience is what shaped you even the bad things, so most people wouldn’t want to lose all those things that made them who they are. But I hadn’t anything that devastating happened to me, so maybe for some people it would help.  I think the best thing about dystopian novels is the thought about what could happen and showing both sides of something. If you can see a reason why something is a good thing even if it’s used in a bad way, it makes a book a lot more interesting.

Reading between the lines there is a lot if critic for modern society hidden in your books, Was that intended or is it just something you can’t avoid while writing dystopian novels?

That’s a tough question to answer actually because I don’t think that a lot of those things are conscious decisions while writing. But I do believe that things that worry me come out when I write  - sort of unconscious worries and passions. I didn’t sit down and think that I would like to write a novel about terrorism. To be honest that would probably have been the last think I would pick as a topic if I’ve been looking at it at that point. But it is something that worries me. So things that worry me tend to come up when I’m writing. So it’s not really that I deliver social commentary, it’s more just trying ti deal with things that bother me.

Where did you get the inspiration for Kylas story?

I had a dream that was about a girl running on a beach. She is terrified. Something is chasing her. And just as she trips over, whatever it is catches up and then I woke up. Slated is my first published novel but I’ve been writing for quite a while before. So I often use dreams for ideas. It’s a great way to come up with a really intense feeling. So when I had that dream, as soon as I woke up I wrote it down. Of course you forget dreams fast, even if you think you’ll never do. The story evolved from that dream so it’s really hard to say for me where exactly the rest of it came from. Do you know when you dream and even if something isn’t in the dream you just know stuff? It was a lot like that, like I just sort of knew what sort of world it was. That first morning when I started writing I came up with the title and the idea of slating. So I don’t really know, where it came from, my own unconscious mind, I guess [laughs]

Especially in the last book Kyla loses a lot and there are some really emotional scenes, where your readers probably cried. Did you cry while writing it as well?

Yeah, I cried. [laughs] To avoid spoiler I can’t say where, but there where scenes I couldn’t write without crying. I know it sounds really lame, but you know, writing a story you’re really in it, it feels really real and than those scenes are so sad.

Do you miss Kyla? I mean, you spend so much time with her and now she is sort of gone from your life.

I don’t know. She’s still in my head I think. It is a bit contradictorily because it’s hard to leave that world behind as I lived so long in it. At the same time I spent so long in it that I was ready to do something else. It’s a bit of both. It was really fun to start writing about somebody else. A trilogy is hard to write. Because you have to connect the books, especially in the second one where you’re trying to work out what leads to the third – it is really hard. So when I wrote the third book it was just really satisfying to be able to finish it. There was a real sense of satisfaction that it was done.

So I guess you would never return to Kylas story?

I don’t plan to. I don’t think I would wanna go on from where it ends. If I ever did, the only thing I think would be quite interesting to do would be actually to write a prequel about her mother and her life. I think it would be an interesting story but really difficult to pull it off because everybody knows what happens. But I could do it. I don’t know if I ever want to do it, it was just a thought that I had. But you never know.

Let’s come to some questions about your writing. Do you have any rituals, special places or times you write?

No, not really. I used to write first thing in the morning in bed, but I don’t do that so much anymore, because I had a lot of problems with my back, as writing in bed isn’t that great for your back. So I’ve been writing in the afternoon lately. I like writing at home, I don’t really like do it in cafes or anything, also I know a lot of people do that. But for me it’s just too distracting. I might do it sometimes while I’m just writing down some ideas. I do write on trains or planes sometimes, going from London to Scotland for eight hours for example. It’s a long time you just sit there [laughs] I’m really funny about notebooks and pens. I have to have the right notebook to the right story and I only use certain kinds of pens, which is kind of crazy. And if I haven’t got the right things, it doesn’t feel right. I mean I do most of my writing on a laptop, but if I start things I only start with a notebook for scratching out ideas. And when I’m writing and I get stuck I always go back to writing by hands. For some reasons it just seems to make the novel quite easier.

How long does it take from the first scratching of ideas to the published book?

It does vary a bit. For slated I mean from when I started to when I finished the first draft it was actually about a year and a half. But I was doing other things in between. As I said I wasn’t really sure whether I would like to write about terrorism and I started the story but I wasn’t really sure how to write it. So I put it aside for quite a long time, but it kept bothering me and wanted to be written, so I went back to it. It was different with the second and the third book because I had deadlines [laughs] So they were written quicker and probably if I know the world, the story and the character, I can do a first draft in probably four months. But if I’m not sure about a lot of that stuff, it takes longer.

How much do you prepare before writing? Is it all plotted or is a lot inspiration while writing?

It depends a bit on the story again. In the past I didn’t plot a lot, I do plot more now. When I started slated and I had about 17.000 words or so I realized that what was originally intended as one book wouldn’t fit in one book and had to become a trilogy. I really had to think about plot in a way that I hadn’t so much before. At different points I usually do a chapter outline in a table because it’s really useful when editing. Not so much for the planning, but when you’re editing you can look at summaries and think this should happen here and I have to remove this. It is really helpful. So I plan more than I used to. Usually when I start I don’t have a plan, I just jump in but I have to make a plan at some point.

Something every author seems to fear is writers block. Do you have any tips against it?

I don’t know. I’m not sure I really believe in writers block. I think it’s just a form of writers procrastinating, because if you are a writer then you write [laughs] I wouldn’t say that I never had times where things were difficult to write, but I wouldn’t call it block necessarily. I think it’s just sort of pushing through when you have a problem. I think when you get your first publishing deal and suddenly you know that what you’re writing is gonna be a book that puts a lot of pressure on what you are doing and that can make it harder to go with the story. It’s just a matter of putting that aside and knowing that when you write a first draft it can be really messy and it doesn’t matter as you can fix it. I have to remind myself of that a lot. I’m writing another book now and I have to keep reminding me that it’s ok if it’s a mess because I can sort things out; I know how to do that. So if I’m stuck with a transition as I know this is gonna happen and that is gonna happen, but I don’t know how to get from the first to the second point, sometimes I just don’t worry about it. I just write the two and it becomes obvious how to do the transition later. But if you sit there and worry about how to get from here to there you just stop.

To be honest, writing seems to be a lot more about time management and discipline than it is about writing.

Yes, there is a lot of that. Working for yourself is hard for a lot of people, but usually I’m quite driven so I can make myself work most of the time. Sometimes I can’t but then I just need to get out of the house and talk to people again. You can’t write alone in the house all the time. If I spend some time going out with friends now and then or be kind to myself, writing actually goes better. I used to think that I have to sit there and write for 8 hours a day but it actually goes better if I don’t do that for me.

Did you plan to become a writer?

For the first time I remember thinking that I wanted to be a writer I was 17. So, that’s a while ago [laughs] But I didn’t know any writers and when I was in high school in Canada we never had any courses for that and in my family no one writes. So it just didn’t seem like something normal people do, more like a thing you would win in a lottery. I don’t think it was something that I really thought I could do, it was just something that I wanted to do. So I’ve always written a bit, but I never really tried to write a novel probably to about 10 years ago. I moved to England and I kind of had to start over. So I thought about what to do next. I’d always wanted to write but I never really taken it seriously. So 10 years ago I thought I just gonna do it now.

As Kylas story is finished, can you already tell us something about your next book?

I have a proof copy of it right now in my bag and since yesterday it is sure that it will be published in Germany next summer, but I don’t know the title yet.

Do you have any book recommendations for the time we wait?

I liked “The Adoration of Jenna Fox” by Mary E. Pearson [auf dt. “Zweiunddieselbe”] or “Heart shaped bruise” by Tanya Byrne a lot.

Are you still a reader while you are a writer?

Sometimes. I can’t really read while writing the first draft. It’s hard to settle for a book, as I can’t stop to analyze them as a writer. Also I don’t have as much time as before for reading.





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