New Release: Fellside M R Carey – Author Interview.


Fellside, One of my favourite  books of the year so far comes out today, and I was very happy to get to ask the annoyingly talented Mr Carey a couple of questions or so about it . Fellside comes highly recommended from me and you can see my original review HERE


I am incredibly fascinated to find out – what was the creative spark that lit the flame that then became Fellside – a novel of many layers.

I think there were a lot of things that came together. I’m fascinated by enclosed environments in which people are both forced into narrow roles and forced to interact with each other. The army base in The Girl With All the Gifts was very much that kind of space, and obviously Fellside Prison is one too.

The prison system was on my mind for other reasons too. There have been so many stories recently here in the UK about the crisis that the prison service is facing, with prisoner numbers almost doubling in the last twenty-five years and a massive cut in staffing. The tragic consequences are playing out in real time in front of us in prisoner suicides, deaths from drug overdose and a massive increase in mental illness. I mean, obviously a lot of people who go to jail are already mentally ill. But now we’re seeing people actually having mental health problems as a direct result of incarceration – of being literally shut in a single room for twenty-three hours a day, not because they’re disruptive but because there are no staff to oversee them. This is a massive failure of governance and people need to be aware of it. Decision-makers in government need to be smacked around the head with it.

And then the other strand is addiction. I’ve known a lot of people who have either been destroyed by addiction or who have fought very bravely against it and beaten it. It’s an area I’ve wanted to visit in a story for a very long time, while at the same time being kind of afraid to. It felt like it was time to go there.

Could you talk a little about Jess and the evolution of that character? Her inner turmoil is pretty intense. And the cast in general – how did you focus the group dynamic.

Jess was a real challenge to write. Addicts often live very chaotic lives (not that I’m in a position to throw stones). They also live lives that are built around the regular surrender to their craving, whatever it might be. From the outside that can be very unattractive, and you don’t always see the struggle. The tragic dimension. In Jess’s case it’s even harder to feel any sympathy because a lot of the things she does have awful consequences for other people besides herself. But I very much wanted to get past that point and make the reader see how she got to be where she is and how hard she’s fighting against it. That was the goal.

Of course to some extent the way the novel does that is through progressive reveals that are hard to talk about without giving spoilers. But partly too it’s about manipulating point of view. As in The Girl With All the Gifts the novel shifts about a lot, letting us see things from the perspective of different characters. So we’re allowed to build up a picture of Jess in jigsaw pieces, and I think – I hope – that the final picture is different in some ways from the picture on the box, as it were. There are surprises.

And as in many stories, we judge her partly by comparing her with her enemies, the characters in the story who stand against her. Grace and Devlin are flawed in different ways than Jess and they’re frightening in different ways too. If Fellside is an ecosystem, they’re the top carnivores and Jess is – to begin with – just krill.

There’s a very large cast. I wanted to give a sense of the intense relationships that form in prisons, where you’re cast adrift from all the relationships that defined you on the outside.

Fellside sits at the centre of things – descriptively it comes to life, did that come from somewhere you have visited?

Indirectly, yes. I worked as a legal clerk intermittently for several years in my early twenties, and I did a lot of prison visits as part of my job. But those were HM prisons, because private prisons weren’t even a thing back then. And all the research I was able to do for the book similarly related to HM prisons. I wasn’t able to get into a private prison, although I did talk to some former inmates. So I made Fellside up as a sort of composite based on what I’d seen, what I’d heard and what I’d read.

The thing about private prisons is that they’re run on a cost centre basis. Prisoners are units of income, but everything you do to provide for them – educational services, exercise, counselling, whatever – is a cost. And staffing is a huge, huge cost. So you get a narrowing of options and a winnowing away of staff, which means that prisons function less and less efficiently in terms of the welfare of prisoners and their rehabilitation.

Part of the problem is that the political rhetoric is all about being tough on crime, because that plays well in terms of public opinion. The previous justice secretary, Chris Grayling, tried to ban books inside prisons, which is so stupid it defies description. There’s very little recognition of the extent to which people fall into the prison system through poverty, mental illness, addiction – through having chaotic lives rather than through being evil. And once you’re in it’s very, very hard to break the cycle and get your life back to any kind of normalcy.

Looking back a moment to The Girl with all the Gifts, which managed by way of bookish gossip to become a bit of a phenomenon (rightly so given its sheer imaginative genius and emotional core) – was there a certain trepidation in what you might do next? A tough act to follow…

There was a lot of trepidation and a lot of scrutiny. Or at least the sense of a lot of scrutiny. GIRL exceeded everyone’s expectations, I think, and it changed a lot of things in my life. I had a lot of intense conversations with my editors both in the UK and in America as to what I might do next. We talked very tentatively about the possibility of a sequel to GIRL, but given how the book ends I felt – and everyone else agreed – that a sequel would have to be a very strange animal indeed. It would be in a totally different genre to the original, for one thing.

I came up with a number of pitches, but Fellside was the one that I was the most invested in and it was the one that stuck. It’s nice when it works out like that. Sometimes when I was writing comics I’d send in a pitch for something I desperately wanted to write and a couple of half-hearted makeweights I’d cobbled together on the back of an envelope – and then the response would come back that the publisher wanted to commission one of the makeweights! Fortunately that didn’t happen here.

But yeah, there’s still the question of how Fellside will be received. A lot of the people who read it will be picking it up because they read and enjoyed GIRL, and obviously it’s very different from GIRL. I’ll have to wait and see…

In the spirit of Fellside, if you could see inside the dreams of any one person, who would you pick and why?

That’s a tough one. Donald Trump, maybe. You’d be bound to have a wild ride, and it would be cheaper than drugs.

You caused this reader a lot of book trauma with both of these novels (in the very best way possible of course) – are you sorry for my sleepless nights? Or secretly doing an evil little laugh and rubbing your hands together…

I am both ashamed and kind of proud. You write to have an effect on people. A good effect, obviously, but also a powerful one. Chuck Palahniuk used to choose his short story Guts when he was asked to do a public reading because it invariably got very intense reactions, including (but not limited to) people throwing up, crying or fainting. He said he felt short-changed if he didn’t get at least a few casualties. I was a little scandalised when I read that, but I also knew where he was coming from. You want your stories to touch people, and to stay in their minds. It’s a tiny, tiny piece of immortality.

Finally are you able to give any hints as to what might be next for you?

I’m finishing work on a new novel, tentatively titled Bedlam Bridge. I’m meant to be delivering that to Orbit in April, and I’m still on course to make that deadline. Without saying too much, it’s quite similar in genre and theme to The Girl With All the Gifts but with a different spin and a different setting.

I’m also working on Highest House, a series of graphic novels with Peter Gross for French publisher Editions Glenat.

And apart from that, what I’m mainly doing is screenwriting. It feels weird and amazing to say that. The screenplay I wrote for the movie version of The Girl With All the Gifts seems to have opened a lot of doors. I’m currently working on a draft for a TV pilot and treatments for a number of movies. It’s exhausting, but crazy fun – a new world for me, which I’m exploring with great pleasure.

Thank you so much!

You’re welcome, Liz. And thanks for having me on the blog!

Follow the author on Twitter here.

You can Purchase Fellside by clickety clicking HERE

About the Book:


Fellside is a maximum security prison on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. It’s not the kind of place you’d want to end up. But it’s where Jess Moulson could be spending the rest of her life.

It’s a place where even the walls whisper.

And one voice belongs to a little boy with a message for Jess.

Happy Reading Folks!


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