Sunday 4 September 2016

UKYACX blog tour: Q&A with Olivia Levez, author of The Island

TITLE: The Island
AUTHOR: Olivia Levez
PUBLISHER: Oneworld Publications

PUBLICATION DATE: February 22, 2016

Amazon - Goodreads

‘There were friends once, but they melted away. Things are different now I am a MONSTER’

Frances is alone. Cast away on a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, she has to find water, food and shelter. But survival is hard. Especially when she is haunted by memories of the things that she did before, the things that made her a monster. Pushed to the limit in extreme conditions, she battles to come to terms with her past, and find a future worth fighting for.

Your debut novel The Island was published earlier this year. Can you tell us a bit about the book?

THE ISLAND is a YA survival story – Fran is on her way to a young offenders boot camp when her plane comes down in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Alone on a desert island, she has to battle to survive, as well as battle with the memories of what she has done to get there. Later, Fran realises that she is not as alone as she thinks…

In The Island, Fran is fighting for survival but at the same time, her character is developing and she is learning about herself. Did anything about Fran’s character surprise you when you were writing it?

I started with a sixteen year old castaway. All I knew was that she was angry. Very angry. I needed to find out why. Would she be an ‘anti-survivor’? Her own worst enemy? Then slowly, I realised how vulnerable she was. As I started to explore what Fran was so mad about, her nurturing side emerged, especially in the scenes with the pilot’s dog. That was when I realised that she’d once had a little brother.

Did you do some research before or during writing your YA debut?

I write in my caravan by the sea, so there were lots of walks along the coast. I also drew on my experience of once having been caught in a rip current! Real-life adventurer, Lucy Irvine’s wonderful account of her year as a castaway ( was a huge inspiration. I massively recommend this book if you love beautiful, lyrical writing alongside brutal realism. (It inspired a film in the eighties, featuring a mostly nude Oliver Reed!) I used photographs from a holiday on Tobacco Caye in Belize, and teacher friends who are outdoor learning experts. Finally, I became very absorbed in watching Youtube survival clips of hairy men in woods, lighting fires with tampons. Apparently, that’s a thing…

Do you have any writing rituals, or a place or time you prefer to write?

1. Very early start. Wake up at 5am. Take coffee back to bed.
2. 2 hours writing.
3. Walk dog.
4. 2 hours writing. Maybe think about lunch.
5. Walk dog.
6. 2 hours writing.
7. Walk dog.
8. You get the idea.

I try to write at least 1000 words on a writing day because this is what Stephen King recommends in his book ON WRITING, and as we all know, Stephen King is King when it comes to writing motivation. I usually write much more than this, though, and my ultimate wordcount on one day was six thousand words. However, this did make me go a little bit blind. As mentioned previously, I write most productively in my caravan because I am totally alone, apart from my dogs, and best of all, there’s little or no mobile or internet reception. Twitter is the ENEMY of wordcountage.

Can you tell us anything about your next book?

My next book is mostly set in a circus, and it’s about a runaway, rather than a castaway. Like THE ISLAND, there’s a lot of survival and foraging before my main character gets there.

How excited are you to be involved in UKYACX?


I was involved in the first UKYAX as a blogger, and hugely in awe of the authors. I couldn’t believe that they spoke to me and signed my books and everything! I’d just finished my first draft of Island Girl, as it was named then, and never imagined that I’d be one of the UKYAX authors myself one day.

What does writing YA fiction mean to you?

YA in my mind stands for well-crafted immediacy. The only difference, if any, to adult literature, is that the protagonist is a teenager. And I think there’s often heightened emotion, a vivid voice. I think that it’s a well-known fact that as many, if more, adults read YA as young people, so possibly YA fiction is seen as a high quality quicker read in a busy world. But then again, there are lengthier, slower paced YA books which are just incredible, like Frances Hardinge’s THE LIE TREE. I think the lines are very blurred. I naturally veered towards YA because I’m a teacher in a secondary school, and also have two teenage sons. But I have drafts and ideas for picture books, first chapterbooks, middle age and adult horror, so maybe one day…

Are there any stand-out authors or books that inspired you to write your own?

Anything by Stephen King, Daphne du Maurier, Sarah Waters, Tim Winton, Willy Vlautin, Sarah Hall, Donna Tartt, Michel Faber, Kate Atkinson, Susin Hill, Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Atwood.

Favourite YA authors include Tanya Byrne, Sally Nicholl, Annabel Pitcher, Jennifer Donnelly, Louise O’ Neill.

Could you name your favourite book (or books!) you’ve read so far this year?

I recently went on a book spa at the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium in Bath, and am halfway through THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion. Laughing out loud on the train! It’s a Bridget Jones style rom-com, but with a socially awkward science geek narrator, who is on the autism spectrum. Funny and poignant.

Loved GATHERING LIGHT, a beautifully narrated American historical coming-of-age story by Jennifer Donnelly. Amazing voice in this one - sort of Alias Grace meets To Kill a Mocking Bird.

I need to plug my wonderful fellow debut authors: Kathryn Evans (MORE OF ME), Eugene Lambert (THE SIGN OF ONE) and fellow UKYAX-ers, Sue Wallman (LYING ABOUT LAST SUMMER) and Patrice Lawrence (ORANGEBOY). Check out our UK #LostandFound tour on Twitter!

If you woke up one day, Freaky Friday style, and found yourself living the life of one other author – who would you want that author to be and why?

Hmmmm, a tricky one. I’m going to plump for Will Self, just because he has the coolest, writery-est writing den at the top of his South London house. It’s just him and a thousand Post-it notes, plus a crammed ashtray, multiple coffee rings and old-fashioned typewriter. Writing, hardcore, and not a Cath Kidston mug in sight. Will Self also keeps a dream diary, which is at times weird, hilarious and highly disturbing. Check it out on his website. I’ve started writing down my dreams, too, and found it to be an excellent warm-up before the real writing begins.

Thank you to Olivia for answering my questions! You can buy a copy of her debut, The Island, here.

Make sure to check out the rest of the bloggers and authors on the brilliant UKYACX blog tour - and celebrate all things YA Fiction.

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