I have the honor of hosting a guest post for John Barlow who’s new YA novel, Islanders is out today!
So let’s not waste time and just jump right in.
My first YA novel, ISLANDERS, is out today. It’s taken me five years to finish. That’s
a long time, but it’s sometimes better to let a fictive world develop naturally in your mind until it’s done. This is particularly true, I have found, when you’re creating a whole dystopian world, one full of mutant creatures and a chaotic, post-war society.
ISLANDERS, then, developed slowly. I wrote various books in the meantime, both under my own name and as a ghostwriter. It was not until this summer that I finally managed to find enough time to sit down, read the book again, and start a final rewrite. When that was done I showed the novel to all the YA-aged people I knew, and the response was good. My dad also loved it, although he added that he found it a bit embarrassing to be so excited about ‘a kids’ book’! On the strength of this feedback, I decided to go ahead and publish it.
The story is about a boy, Ben Brewer. He’s 13 and has lived all his life on an island. He
was born during a devastating war back on the Mainland, a war which tore the country
apart and saw the release of deadly biological weapons. Ben’s parents were leaders
of the Underground, fighting for freedom. As the war got worse, they moved all their
friends and comrades to the safety of the Island. But then his dad went back to fight for
freedom (a cause which was lost) never to return, presumed dead. Ben was born a few
months later. He has never met his dad.
However, when a young messenger arrives from the mainland saying that Ben’s father
is not dead, Ben decides to go and find him. If he is alive, though, why did he never
come back home to see his own son?
What I wanted to create in this story was a traditional quest for Ben, but one which
involved not only his search for his father, but also a search for the truth about the war. The dystopian society that confronts him on the Mainland is chaotic and cruel, with power held by one man, Jack Sullivan. But how has it arisen?
Sullivan was his dad’s greatest enemy, and part of Ben’s journey is not only to look for his dad, but to ask what freedom means, to try and understand why this world of mindless slavery evolved in the aftermath of war, and whether it can be destroyed. Just how is tyrannical power maintained? Ben also needs to know why his father, a freedom fighter, was unsuccessful in destroying it.
ISLANDERS includes mutants: both plants and animals. But the aim is not to create
a horrible world; just a different one. Is life possible if the natural order has shifted?
The dangerous mutant animals that roam the Mainland are one of the justifications that
Sullivan has for his cruel industrial regime, using fear of the unknown to control people. In this sense, I wanted Ben to be a hero who wasn’t content to accept what he was told, someone who had the curiosity and courage to push on and find the ultimate truth, however difficult it turned out to be.
I also wanted the story to be full of action and humor. That’s not easy in a dystopia, so I had Ben journey through the Mainland with a group of friends. They are also from the island, so the very act of escaping their own miserable existence is cause for celebration, and the promise of finding something better motivates them, even if the new world is strange and frightening.
I think this kind of story is only really possible with young protagonists. Adults might
be stronger and more experienced, but would a 13 year-old would willingly take a ride
on a turbo-charged emu, or use a mutant bone-headed pig as a launch missile? Also,
perhaps only a 13 year-old would have the courage to confront the man reputed to have
killed his father.
Anyway, that’s ISLANDERS. A world that will form the basis of two more novels in
the trilogy. I just hope those next two books don’t take me five years to write. Each...
- John Barlow
John can be found at:
Mailing list: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook page: facebook.com/john.barlow.319
Goodreads author page: http://www.goodreads.com/JohnBarlow