Hey Julie Anne here! I'm joined today by the awesome M.A Griffin, an author who has written one of my favorite books this year. Lifers follows Preston as he finds his friends and himself. This book is a great read for everyone. You might have heard of Martin from his exciting first novel, The Poison Boy. Let's get started with this great interview!
Julie Anne: Hello! I am quite fortunate to be able to have read your book, Lifers. It was quite different from anything I have ever read. Could you tell us what your book was about?
Martin: Well, first of all, thanks Julie Anne. I appreciate that!
Yeah, Lifers was my attempt to explore the idea of cities at night. One day I found myself wondering how cool it would be if, while we slept, the towns and cities around us transformed into something else; different places where weird things happened. So I came up with the idea of an insomniac kid – that’s Preston, the protagonist – who walks the streets of Manchester, UK, at night and discovers a horrible secret.
Julie Anne: In this book, Preston does everything he can to find his friend or possibly first love, Alice. How did you find the inspiration for this plot?
Martin: Well, I wanted to write a ‘magic door’ story.
As a kid I loved anything to do with strange portals that took you somewhere new. Obviously I started with things like ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, C.S. Lewis’s classic magic door story. But as I was writing Lifers I was also enjoying Stephen King’s 11.22.63, more of a sci-fi take on the magic door tale. The characters in King’s book refer to the portal as a ‘rabbit hole’, a reference of course to Alice discovering Wonderland down a rabbit-hole. That’s why Alice is called Alice, and Ryan is referred to as ‘Rabbit’. I’m a big fan of the Eminem movie 8 Mile as well. Eminem’s character is B-Rabbit in that movie, but the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland was also important to me!
Julie Anne: Alice is quite a mysterious character. She is on Preston’s mind for a good chunk of the book. Could you give us some background on her?
Martin: When I first wrote the book, large sections of it followed Alice in a kind of dual narrative, the Preston chapters cut with the Alice chapters. Then, as we came to editing the book for publication, the idea that we might remove the Alice chapters came up in discussion. So out they went.
I think that leaves Alice more of a shadowy figure; a mystery. Which makes sense, because despite Preston loving her, Alice is a complete mystery to him. She’s more mature, more worldly, she has an older boyfriend and she’s left the carefree silliness of Preston and Mace behind her. They just don’t get that! Something I remember well from my teenage years was the feeling that I just couldn’t figure out how girls worked…
Julie Anne: My favorite character is probably Mace. He’s quirky and his lines in the book make me laugh. I relate to him in many ways. Where does his sense of humor and sarcasm come from?
Martin: Mace is my favourite too. He’s another hip-hop reference, by the way – Mace is the DJ from one of my fave groups, De La Soul. Anyway. I guess Preston and Mace draw on different parts of my character. I’d love to be more like Mace – he’s funny, witty, inappropriate and stupid, but also endearing. But try as I might, I often end up being more serious and earnest and worried. That’s the Preston part of me. So when I was writing Mace I got to channel all my inner idiocy. It was a blast!
Julie Anne: The teens in the story decided to come together, because they believed in something similar. Do you think all teens should stand up for what they believe in, no matter how harsh the consequences will be?
Martin: Absolutely. There’s just been a general election in the UK. One political party – the Conservatives (think Republicans) thought they had it in the bag. The opinion polls gave them a massive lead and they were almost complacent about it. The opposition party are called Labour (like the Democrats) and there was this massive surge in the youth vote in the closing weeks of the campaign. Vast numbers of young people came out in favour of Labour and the gap between the parties closed and closed until on election day, no party had a clear majority. It was a magnificent turn-around, mostly because of the powerful voices of the young.
There’s this phrase the media use to dismiss the voices of young people in the UK – I don’t know if you have an equivalent in the US – our media call it “schoolyard politics” or “the politics of the playground.” They try and give the impression that politics is super-complicated, tricky, difficult. But it isn’t. At the heart of good decision-making are simple principles. Is this fair to all? Does this policy treat all people with equal dignity? Does this policy promote tolerance and peace? That’s not schoolyard politics in my view. That’s just basic principles. Young voters tend not to have forgotten basic principles. Older voters often have.
Julie Anne: The villain in the story is definitely Armstrong. As a reader, I love to learn about how villains become who they are. Do you think you could give us some background on Armstrong and how he became so cold-hearted?
Martin: Armstrong is a career politician. He’s been in power so long he’s forgotten what it is to be an ordinary person. His life has been a sequence of good fortune; he’s attended prestigious schools, gone to prestigious universities, and now he lives his prestigious and protected life dictating policy. Armstrong has never really understood real or ordinary life– he has no conception of it, so comes across as very cold. He refers to Preston as a street-rat because that’s the cliché that comes to mind when he tries to imagine the urban working classes. He’s a nasty piece of work, an exaggeration of some of the politicians we have here in the UK.
Julie Anne: I love your writing style. It seems to put me inside the story and let me see what the characters feel and think. Do you have any advice for teens who want to be writers in the future?
Martin: Aw, thanks. That’s really nice to hear. Advice, huh? OK, here’s two things that blew me away when I finally realised them…
First, if you’re gonna write a book, you need to know the size and shape of the job in front of you. I used to just set off and hope for the best. Bad idea. Try this instead. A YA novel is, on average, about 68,000 words. A chapter tends to come in at 1,500-2000 words. So that’s roughly 40 chapters in a book. OK. Your last 10-12 chapters need to be the dramatic chaos of act 3. The first 10 chapters need to set everything up. The rest is your middle – at the heart of which needs to be a central, dramatic event, a turning point. Once I got this, I could start roughly plotting novels before I started writing them. Wow, it was a revelation! I didn’t have to just cross my fingers and hope for the best; I could use this general rule to design the shape of my story. And once you know the rule, you can break it, of course!
Secondly, read as much as is possible. Aim for something do-able; I’m a super-busy guy with two jobs and a family but I always aim for forty books a year, plus graphic novels on top. It might be different for you – choose a target. And keep a note of what you’ve read. Go for title, author, and some notes about how the book worked, what happened, why it was good or bad and whether you liked it. You’ll learn so much!
Oh, and if you don’t know which book to choose to get you started, I can recommend Lifers by this guy called M. A. Griffin…
That’s it for today’s interview with Martin, but you can continue the conversation by following him on Twitter. Hey, and don’t forget that you can find PickMyYA on Twitter and Instagram as well. Be sure to come back again next week when Daijah will be talking with New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice about her new book, The Beautiful Lost. See you then!