Home Interviews Allan Stratton for Lost in Young Adults

Allan Stratton for Lost in Young Adults

by Louisa Klein

1) Why young adult? Did you choose this genre or were you ‘chosen’
by it?
I think “young adult” is a marketing term more than anything else.
It’s the same kind of labeling as “women’s literature” or “gay
literature” or any other kind of niche marketing. To me, books are
books. What distinguishes books called “young adult” is the age of the
lead characters, and what is attractive about that age is its
vulnerability. Young adults are caught between being treated as
children and expected to act as adults; this creates terrific stresses
and stakes. What is universal about the dynamic, apart from the fact
that everyone but the very very young has gone through it, is that
it’s a form of the classic “middle-management” bind: responsibility
without authority.
 
2) Is there an author, living or dead, who inspired you particularly?
James Reaney. He was one of Canada’s premier poets and playwrights. He
ran a literary press and, when I was still a teenager, published my
first play which was picked up by our national radio. He also had a
private arts centre, Alpha Centre, where he let me produce my early
work. A wonderful, supportive human being — and an astonishing author.

 
3) Please, tell us about your last book and, if you can, about your
future projects.
Well, there are two. One is CHANDA’S SECRETS, retitled LIFE, ABOVE ALL
in the UK from The Chicken House. It’s about sixteen-year-old Chanda
Kabela whose mother is dying of AIDS. It’s a story about the love of
family, the fear of stigma and the courage to live with truth. It’s
been made into an award-winning film that premiered at Cannes and was
South Africa’s entry for the Oscar’s Best Foreign Film award. Here’s a
link to the trailer, now out on dvd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GtWfPQ98Qk
And here’s the link to the novel: Michael Murpurgo called it “An extraordinary literary achievement.”
Given that he’s a hero of mine, his generosity makes me blush.
THE GRAVE ROBBER’S APPRENTICE comes out with Faber in August. It’s a
total change of pace: An adventure/fantasy based on Shakespearian
motifs about about identity, secrets, and loss. Hans is a young boy
who, as a baby, was washed ashore in a wooden chest. He’s adopted by
the grave robber Knobbe the Bent. Fate throws him together with a
young countess, Angela, who is running for her life from the
Waldland’s mad archduke and his dreaded necromancer and from there on
its thrills and spills and sledding down a mountain in a coffin, till
Hans discovers his true identity. It’s advertised in North America for
ages 10 +, but I’ve found it’s hugely popular with teens. Joseph
Delaney’s written a very kind blurb that captures the feel of it:
“Bursting with breakneck action, daring quests, and heart stopping
near-misses, THE GRAVE ROBBER’S APPRENTICE is an exhilarating
adventure full of humour and heart.” Here’s the book trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JT5WjYpXJKA
Up next is a dystopian fairy tale called CURSE OF THE DREAM WITCH.
Faber’s doing it next year. I’ve had lots of fun exploring my
nightmares and the whole question of what we dream about, literally
and figuratively, and why.
 
4) How was your writing journey? Was it difficult to find an agent
and get published?
I started as an actor, which gave me a lot of contacts with directors
and producers. Getting one’s stuff read can be a challenge, but if
you’re in a company the director feels obligated to give your stuff a
look, if only to be polite. 🙂 Anyway, I established a strong
reputation as a playwright in Canada, with lots of productions in the
States. Royalties from a farce comedy, NURSE JANE GOES TO HAWAII, let
me work full-time as a writer. One of my plays kept growing in my head
from a five-character, one-set narrative to a sweeping social satire
of almost a hundred characters. Realizing there’s no way a company
could feed so many actors, I wrote it as a novel, THE PHOENIX LOTTERY.
It included a few pages from a teen diary. A YA publisher liked my way
with the teen voice and commissioned me to write a “YA” novel —
LESLIE’S JOURNAL. It was on the American Library Association’s Best
Books list, among many others, and I was asked to write another,
CHANDA’S SECRETS, which ended up being translated in over a dozen
territories. And then, etcetera, etcetera.

 
5) What’s your opinion about this E-book revolution? Would you
 consider the indie route?
I personally like the feel of an actual book, and also the idea of a
book as artifact. But what happens, happens: It’s like having an
opinion on death or taxes — I may not like them, but they’re a fact
of life, so no point dwelling. I’d never directly publish online; the
promotional aspects would be overwhelming, at least for me — I’m an
absolute Luddite.
 
6) Nowadays many publishers expect their authors to use social media
 a lot to promote their books. Many authors, on the other hand, would
 prefer to write only, without being distracted by digital trivialities: what are
 your thoughts?
Of course publishers urge authors to use social media. It’s a grand
way for them to unload their responsibilities. I think personal
websites are hugely useful. (My own is www.allanstratton.com ) Blog
interviews like this one are also useful because they go beyond one’s
own set of friends and family. But the truth is Facebook, Twitter and
the rest are a waste of time. The only people who care about what
you’re doing on the weekend are your personal friends, and they’re
either going to buy your book or get a free copy. Also, who actually
follows an author? Rabid fans — and they’re going to be on the
lookout for one’s work anyway.
Speaking of blogging, I love to travel and had a blog for about a year
which included shots from the set of LIFE ABOVE ALL in South Africa,
and from Cannes, Vietnam, Argentina, etcetera. Also stuff on my cats.
I stopped because it was eating up my life. But a lot of the posts are
fun. If you’d like to check in it’s at http://
allanstratton.blogspot.ca/ The movie stuff is from December 2010 and
Cannes appears in April 2011.
 
Info about the author:
 
His professional arts career began while he was still in high school, when James Reaney published his play The Rusting Heart in the respected literary magazine Alphabet. It was broadcast on C.B.C. radio in 1970.
The focus of his early work, however, was acting. While working on an Honours degree in English at Victoria College, University of Toronto (`73), he performed with the Stratford Festival and the Huron Country Playhouse. After completing his M.A. at The Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama, U. of T. (’74), he appeared with regional theatres across the country, originating a range of roles in new work by playwrights such as James Reaney, Rex Deverell and Sharon Pollock.
Aside from his novels and plays, Allan has written for international events, including the evenings for Stephen Sondheim, Robert Rauschenberg and Guy Laliberté at The Harbourfront Centre World Leaders’ Festival, Toronto. He also maintains an active public speaking and theatre adjudication schedule. In private life, he enjoys reading, weightlifting, and travel; his interests have taken him to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean and throughout Europe and North America. For several years, he volunteered at a Manhattan soup kitchen, and has undergone Santerian purification rituals, witnessed an exorcism in Botswana, and slept between rail cars behind the former Iron Curtain.
While pursuing his acting career, he never stopped writing and his work got published internationally by HarperCollins, Penguin Books, Samuel French, The Riverbank Press, Annick Press, Deutscher Taschenburg Verlag, Allen and Unwin, The Chicken House, Bayard Jeunesse, Asunaro Shobo, Hsiao Lu Publishing, Random House: Joong Ang, Zalozba Mis, Van Goor, Thuong Huyen Books, Hangilsa Publishing Company, Coach House Press, and Playwrights Canada, and has been anthologized by a number of others. He lives in Toronto with his partner, two cats and any number of fish.
 
To know more, please visit his website: http://www.allanstratton.com
To buy his latest book, simply click on the cover below:
 

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