Shift Blog Tour: Q&A with Em Bailey

Posted June 13, 2012 by chooseyabooks in blogtour / 0 Comments

Hello everyone, today I am excited to share with you my questions and answers with the lovely Em Bailey as part of her blog tour for debut YA novel Shift, which is published by the lovely people over at Electric Monkey. Shift is a creepy psychological thriller and a book where I was never sure what was real or imagined, I’ll be reviewing it shortly for the blog. I was so excited when I was asked to be a part of this tour and I am sadly the final stop in the tour, but do check out the other tour posts too!
1. Can you tell us a bit about your writing journey and what made you want to write YA?
I wanted to be a children’s author ever since I was a child myself. Making up stories for a living sounded (and still sounds) like the best job ever to me. It took a long time to get there however – I worked in other jobs for many years before I had my first children’s book published at 34 and I only started writing full-time a few years ago. My first books were all for younger readers I hadn’t really considered writing YA until I found myself thinking about a teenage girl character who appears to be able to steal other people’s identities. Clearly she belonged in a YA book so I decided to have a go at writing one. I initially wasn’t sure that I would enjoy writing for an older audience as much as for younger children but this wasn’t the case. While writing YA is definitely more work, the pay-off is that you can do so much with the plot and the characters.

2. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but what books or authors inspired you as a teenager?
My parents are both librarians so there were always lots of books at our house. Like many kids I devoured anything by Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl – I read their books over and over. I also loved Judy Blume because of the way she manages to mix humour with all kinds of useful information. As an older reader Catcher in the Rye was a favourite – and it’s a book I still re-read every few years. Even if the language seems a little dated now I really admire the way Salinger so perfectly captures the difficulties and confusions of adolescence.

3. Shift is a very tense read because you’re never quite sure what is real and imagined, something which makes it a more unusual YA read, how did you approach this in your writing?

I’ve always been fascinated when I see groups of people who dress or act the same. The initial trigger for Shift came a couple of years ago when I saw some teenage girls shopping in town wearing practically identical clothes and with similar hairdos. Even their mannerisms were the same. I think it’s a very human trait to imitate people you spend a lot of time with and you don’t always realise it’s happening. It’s not just teenagers who do it either. I often see middle-aged couples walking together with exactly the same rain jackets or shoes on, striding along in perfect sync. Just recently I spotted two old ladies in a park. They had matching white bobs, pink blazers and both of them were clutching black handbags. It was bizarre. For me this is a form of shape-shifting, and a more interesting one than turning into a wolf.

After I spotted the girls in town I started wondering; ‘what if there was someone who was really good at imitating people – to the point where it started to feel like something supernatural was going on?’ Shift grew from there.
The balance between the psychological and the paranormal aspects of shape-shifting changed a lot in the early drafts of Shift. Sometimes the story was bedded in the supernatural and sometimes I anchored it firmly in the real world. In the end I decided that the theme worked best if it was left a little ambiguous.

4. Who is your favourite character in Shift and why?

I do really like Olive a lot. She’s obviously very flawed and damaged when Shift begins but she’s quirky too and brave enough to get back on her feet after being knocked sideways by a very dark period of her life. I’ve always admired people who can do this. Olive has many moments of weakness and self-doubt throughout the book but she is actually a pretty tough character too and I think this is what makes Miranda want to latch on to her. I like it that she’s able to laugh at herself occasionally, despite everything. I must admit to having a secret fondness for Miranda too – how can you not admire someone who is such a master manipulator?
Ami was an interesting character for me to write – because she kind of wrote herself. She was very different in early drafts, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something special about her – something that made her very different to how I’d initially imagined. I told my editor about it and she agreed that Ami’s secret needed to be included.

5. As well as the paranormal aspect, Shift deals with some difficult issues like abandonment and mental health. Was it challenging to include these and how did you go about it?

Early drafts of Shift were quite light and chirpy, but the more that I started exploring the psychological possibilities of shape-shifting, the darker everything became – including Olive, the central character. I realised I needed to cast some doubt on Olive’s credibility to make the story work and I wanted to leave the reader unsure about whether to trust her or not. As a result Olive became increasingly mentally fragile and more unstable. There was a risk that this would make her a less likeable character, especially when the reader realises that Olive doesn’t always tell the full story, but I think the things that Olive has been through which have made her this way are things most readers can empathise with, even if they haven’t been through them themselves. Adding these elements gave Olive a depth of character she initially lacked. Shift was never intended to be an ‘issues’ book though and I didn’t want these aspects to dominate. It was definitely a balancing act to get it right.

6. What has been your favourite thing about seeing Shift become a book?

It’s always a little scary when your idea for a story takes on the physical form of a book – once it’s printed and on the shelves it’s out of your control. I was particularly nervous because Shift is my first YA title and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. Luckily there were some very lovely blog reviews early on which took the edge off my panic – and it was exciting when it was picked up by some overseas publishers too. I think one of the best things about the whole process has been that I now feel like a whole new category of books has opened up to me and I’m looking forward to writing more YA novels in the future.

7. What are you currently writing, if you can say, of course?

I’m in the process of working up a proposal for another YA book – can’t say too much yet as it’s in the very early stages! I’m also currently working on a series with some other Australian authors (for a pre-YA readership) called Girl V the World.

8. If you could say one thing to your teenage self, what would it be?

If I could travel back in time and speak to my teenage self I would say; ‘write a series about a girl who falls in love with a vampire, but do it before 2005.’
No, not really. Honestly, if I’d known as a teenager that I would eventually be a full-time author I would’ve been thrilled to bits but I also probably would’ve found it hard to believe, so I guess I would tell myself not to be disheartened by the failures and rejections (and I’d warn myself that there would be quite a few) and to hang in there. I’d also tell myself to lose the spiral perm.

9. What would you most like your readers to come away with at the end of Shift?

Mostly I’m simply hoping that my readers get an enjoyable thrill from reading Shift and that they have some fun trying to work out what exactly is going on with Miranda. But there are some serious themes in Shift too – ones to do with identity and self-acceptance and getting back on your feet after life has tripped you up. If my YA readers get something out of the exploration of themes I’d also be very happy.

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