A World Not Unlike Our Own - Interview with M.A. Griffin (Lifers)


We are here today with M.A. Griffin, author of LIFERS - Out today! If this book doesn't intrigue you with the cover, be sure to check out the synopsis below, which teases you just enough to want more. We invited him to answer some questions we had about his latest book!

Hi folks. Many thanks for inviting me along. It’s a pleasure to be here!

Considering Lifers is described as "a super-dark prison-break adventure", what's in your Google history that has you on the FBI watch list?

Ha Ha! Good question. The short answer: plenty. For example, during the writing of the book I ended up with a top ten favourite notorious prisons. Alcatraz is up there, as is the Chateau D’If and a place called Devil’s Island. I’ve done a lot of research into Clarence and John Anglin, the two brothers who allegedly escaped Alcatraz, and whether they ended up farming in Mexico under assumed names. Also, there’s a character in the book called Mace – a wildly enthusiastic conspiracy theorist – so I’ve had to do searches on black flag operations, Area 51, the new world order, hollow earth theories, the phantom time hypothesis… all sorts of other crazy stuff. I reckon the security forces are closing in even as I type! 

Manchester is the backdrop for the story but it's not the Manchester we may be familiar with. Talk about the worldbuilding process.

I wanted to create a parallel Manchester – I called it Dark Manchester – that mirrors the real place closely, but is adjusted in unusual ways. I got the idea from a brilliant video installation by an Irish artist called Willie Dougherty. The piece was called The Visitor, a sinister but beautiful film that contrasted shots of Belfast with the surrounding countryside. It was a thrilling experience; towerblocks, streetlights and shops versus tangled undergrowth, fallen trees, twisted roots. The film ended with a voiceover saying, “at night the city streets became a forest.” And that really got to me. I wanted to build a city that turned into a forest (at least metaphorically!) at night.

So I spent a lot of time walking Manchester, hanging about in squares, streets and alleyways, and then going home and transforming them as I wrote. By the way, there really is a Half Moon Street in Manchester city centre. Sadly in the real world it’s got a Frankie and Benny’s at the end of it. (Unremarkable American-style diner chain here in the UK. *sigh*) 

What are the motivations for the main characters in Lifers?

Well I wanted flawed characters; real people making a mess of their lives. I’m a teacher here over in the UK so I spend a lot of time trying to untangle the messes young people get themselves into. And as I kid, I was terrible for this myself. Well-intentioned lies piling upon each other, miscommunication at crucial moments, skipped lessons, missed dates and collapsing relationships, embarrassing admissions, badly-judged birthday presents… just the normal stuff. (I mean, I’m assuming that’s normal. That is normal, right?)

A lot of young people understandably assume they’re the only ones getting themselves into these difficulties. So I wanted to tell a story in which the central characters are trying to atone for errors they’ve made. Early in the book, I make Preston – my protagonist – do something seriously foolish. He has to try and fix it, and he soon comes to realise it may not be fixable at all. 

What surprised you as you wrote the story?

Ah – good question. I suspect the right answer should be, ‘Nothing! I had the whole thing planned out scene-by-scene and beat-by-beat’. But in reality there were surprises every day. I wrote long sections that followed Alice, a character whose disappearance triggers the events of the book, exploring her backstory, her personality and motivations. But for reasons I can’t discuss without spoilers this gets increasingly difficult to sustain so during the editing process those sections were taken out. I wrote the central section of the book – we visit a brutal alternate-reality prison called Axle Six – three times as I tried to get it right. Some versions of Axle Six were more akin to horror than thriller. The prisoners were too feral or violent, or not sufficiently sympathetic. Like any book I guess, it feels like building a castle in sand as the tide comes in…

How does it feel to have your YA debut novel out in the world?

Oh, wonderful. Really special! I was in a Waterstones in the UK recently (that’s our big bookstore chain) and Lifers was face-out with a lovely review written by a member of the store’s staff displayed beneath it. Never mind Dark Manchester, it was like being in a virtual reality right there! I’ve had some other really uplifting encounters too; in airport book stores, train stations.
Best of all is when I get to discuss the book with a teenage reader. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time discussing Lifers with a bunch of young people. I feel very lucky indeed.


LIFERS
by: M.A. Griffin
Published: January 31, 2017
Publisher: Chicken House (Scholastic)
Find it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Audible

Fear haunts the streets of Preston's city: a girl has disappeared. Preston is drawn to investigate, exploring the city in the hunt for his missing friend. And deep in the bowels of a secret scientific institute, he discovers a sinister machine used to banish teenage criminals for their offenses.

Captured and condemned to a cavernous dimension, Preston is determined to escape. But this is no ordinary jail. Friendships will be forged and lives will be lost in a reckless battle for freedom, revenge--and revolution.

Set in a world all too similar to our own, Lifers is thrilling, pulse-pounding storytelling of the highest degree.

About M.A

I'm a writer of children's fiction, represented by Ben Illis at the B.I.A., available for workshops and school visits when I'm not chained to a laptop cursing my lack of progress and/or poverty of imagination.

My debut novel, The Poison Boy, was written as Fletcher Moss. My second novel, Lifers, is my first for teen readers. It arrives April 2016.


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