So in at No 2 of my Top Ten Reads of 2014 came the magnificent “The Girl with All The Gifts” which reminded me why I read in the first place and still stays with me even now. Mr Carey kindly answered a few questions for me: so here you go.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Melanie and her story.
The starting point was this image of a little girl writing an essay in a deserted classroom – and writing around or just plain missing the fact of her own mortality. A dead girl, writing about her future. For once I was writing to a spec brief – a story for a themed anthology of shorts with a general focus on “school days”. So I had to come up with a story set in a school or playing off a school situation. I cast my mind back to my own school days, and this was what came up.
What’s scary is that I’ve since spoken to a friend (Al Davison, the writer/artist of Spiral Cage) who has severe physical disabilities, and he said his experience of school was incredibly close to Melanie’s. Al has spina bifida, and has been confined to a wheelchair for most of his life. He told me that as a child, in a specialised school for physically handicapped children, he was made to take naps at stipulated times and to sit unoccupied in his chair for long periods every day, and this was very tightly regimented. So I made up this nightmare institution and then I found that there are, or have been, places very like it.
Are you tempted to write more set in that world? Or indeed are you planning to?
I don’t have any immediate plans to write a sequel. It feels as though it would have to be a very different kind of book, because of how the climax of The Girl With All the Gifts plays out.
But I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a sort of meanwhile-quel. A book that would be set in Beacon at the same time that these events are playing out in London and the midlands. We never do get a definitive answer in Girl as to what’s happening in Beacon and whether it’s even still standing, and I think it might be an interesting (if unsettling) place to visit.
That would be some way in the future, though. I have at least two other books to write first.
Apart from Melanie, did you have a favourite character to write?
I enjoyed writing all of the core characters, but I confess I particularly enjoyed writing Sergeant Parks. The gradual process by which he comes to respect and then to care for Melanie is – after Melanie’s friendship with Miss Justineau – one of the emotional pivots of the story, and I very much liked opening up this initially very closed and taciturn character to the reader’s view.
Which book would you most like to give to friends and family this Christmas?
Always a tough question! Okay, as you know I have a background in comics writing. A lot of my friends this year are going to find A Dream of Flying in their Christmas stockings. It’s the first volume in the re-issued Miracleman saga. It’s so exciting to see these Alan Moore classics back in print after a quarter of a century – and I know many people who will utterly love their clever, disturbing deconstruction of the superhero genre. The central situation is a bizarre one, but Moore takes it to some amazing places. Imagine you were a middle-aged guy, living a fairly humdrum life, and you suddenly remembered that as a young man you had a magic word that turned you into a superhuman being with godlike powers. And then you remembered the word, and you said it aloud for the first time in twenty years…
Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her ‘our little genius’. Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh. Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favourite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
So. Mr Carey. I have been waiting for another book in another series, some folks will know what I mean, but I thought hey, this one will do to be going on with. Especially when good blogger friend Kate waxed lyrical about it and told me I must read it. Frankly it wasnt a hard sell..
This is an INCREDIBLY difficult book to review without spoilers – I had no idea why Melanie was so special going in, and I’m not going to tell you either, but special she is. And not just because this is a clever, fascinating, addictive story about – ha see you nearly had me – its about THINGS OCCURRING – but because she is ridiculously easy to love, so well written is she. In fact all of the characters pop right off the page for one reason or another.You will either want to protect them with your life or shoot them in the head. Often with no inbetween.
Its a horror story. But not really. Its a fantasy. But then, no not really. There is certainly love there. And loss. And some stand out scene setting. And a heck of a lot of jaw dropping moments. And don’t start reading it just before bed time. You won’t sleep. For various reasons…not all of which will have to do with how eager you are to find out what happens.
When I read a book like this it reminds me why I love to read. Utterly compelling, taking you away from the madness of the real world and into the madness of another…offering a new twist on a popular theme and getting you right at the heart. RIGHT at the heart. Its only the end of January but I would be MOST surprised if this one doesnt end up in my top 5 of the year. And trust me, choosing last years top 5 was hard enough..
PLEASE be careful which reviews you read of this one before you dive in my reading friends. It really is best arrived at with a beautiful blissful ignorance.
Highly Recommended. HIGHLY.
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Happy Reading Folks!