Thanks for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Em. And without further ado:
The characters in Shift really stand out for me. They all have layers and none of them turn out to be as stereotypical as they might seem on the surface. Which characters came to you first when you were writing and can you tell us a little bit about what inspired them?
Miranda Vaile came first — and in fact the whole book grew up around her character. She was ‘born’ after I passed a group of teenage school girls shopping in town one Saturday. I was struck by how similar they were to each other . They even seemed to have the same laughs and gestures and it was like they were almost trying to become the one person.
This got me thinking about how when you spend a lot of time with someone (or with a group of people) you sometimes start to ‘merge’ a little. You might use the same slang words, for example, or start dressing in similar styles. It’s perfectly understandable of course — it’s one of the ways we can make ourselves fit in with other people and I think it especially happens while you’re at high school and being accepted can be so important.
Then I started wondering: what if there was someone — a school girl — who was extremely good at this kind of merging? Someone who was quickly able to adopt the style and attitudes of other people — to the point where she almost seemed to be leeching them of their personalities. This was the start of Miranda.
Olive was the next character. She came about after I overheard a couple chatting about what they were like at school. (I figure eavesdropping is a legitimate research tool when you’re an author!) The woman said that she used to be an ‘alternative princess’. Olive Corbett is my interpretation of this phrase — she’s deliberately positioned herself outside of the mainstream but even though she’d probably deny it she definitely has some princessy, self-absorbed aspects to her personality.
In some ways the most interesting character for me to create was Olive’s best friend, Ami because it actually felt like she developed herself! Ami was very different in early drafts, but as I wrote I couldn’t shake the feeling that Ami had a big secret. I tried to ignore it for a while as I knew including this secret would involve completely re-writing the book, but eventually I told my editor and she said we had to put it in. I did have to re-write the book as a result but it was the right decision.
Without spoiling anything, some aspects of the story are left a bit ambiguous. Was this always the sort of book you planned to write for the start?
I did many, many drafts of Shift and the story changed considerably from version to version. In some drafts I made it very clear what is going on with Miranda but ultimately I decided that it was more interesting and intriguing to leave an element of ambiguity. Originally we had planned for Shift to be the first of three books but again in the end my publisher and I realised that Shift worked best as a stand-alone title.
I notice from your bio that you’re an Australian currently living in Germany. Has living overseas affected your writing?
The biggest effect has been that I now call myself a full-time writer. When I was still in Australia writing was more like a hobby that I did in the evenings after my ‘real’ job finished. When my family and I got the chance to move to Germany I realised it was an opportunity for me to start taking my writing more seriously. It was a little bit terrifying because once something changes from a hobby into a career it puts a whole lot of pressures on it that weren’t there before, but ultimately I am happy with how it’s worked out. I don’t think I would’ve been able to write Shift if we hadn’t moved here.
The actual experience of living in Germany hasn’t come though in my writing yet, but I am sure it will eventually — but maybe not in a really obvious way.
What are you working on now/next? I read elsewhere that you’re going to continue writing YA. Will it be fantasy/speculative fiction or more mainstream?
After finishing Shift I declared that I’d never write a YA novel again — it was too exhausting and demanding. But it’s amazing how quickly you forget the pain! I’m actually in the process of planning out my next YA title at the moment but it’s at such an early stage that I don’t think I can even describe it yet.
One of the things I’m happy about with Shift is the way it crosses genres. I like that people can read it as either a straight ahead thriller or as a sci-fi title. It’s an approach I’m definitely interested in exploring more in future books.
Thanks for those thoughtful answers, Em. I think if I hadn’t already read the book I’d want to pick it up to learn more about the characters, if nothing else. Also? You should ALL read Shift, it’s really good.
Finally, there is a brand-spanking new (and suitably eerie) book trailer to go with the UK release:
If your interest has been piqued and you haven’t yet picked up Shift, you can find it on iTunes/iBooks, Kobo, Amazon (with the slightly inferior UK cover), and wherever you buy paper books, like Readings (they even have a web-based preview through Bookish), QBD and Dymocks. And you can add it to your to-read list on Goodreads.