Today I’ve got an interview with Michael Adams, author of the Australian YA thriller The Last Girl, to share with my awesome readers. Here’s a little about the book (doesn’t it sound awesome?), make sure to add it to all your to-read lists! The Last Girl is published in Australia by the wonderful folk at Allen and Unwin, and is available right now at all great bookstores and online.The Last Girl (The Last Trilogy #1) by Michael Adams
Published: 1st October 2013 by Allen & Unwin
Format: Paperback, 400 pages
Genres: Post Apocalyptic
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The end of the world happened quickly. The sun still shone, there was no explosion - just a tsunami-sized wave of human thought drowning the world in telepathic noise as everyone's inner-most secrets became audible. Everyone's thoughts, that is, except sixteen-year-old Danby.
The end of the world happens in the blink of an eye.
When The Snap sweeps the globe, everyone can instantly hear everything that everyone else is thinking. As secrets and lies are laid bare, suburbs and cities explode into insanity and violence. What might have been an evolutionary leap instead initiates the apocalypse.
Sixteen-year-old Danby Armstrong's telepathy works very differently. She can tune into other people but they can't tune into her. With only this slender defence, Danby must protect her little brother and reach the safety of her mother's mountain retreat. But it's 100 kilometres away and the highways are blocked by thousands of cars and surrounded by millions of people coming apart at the psychic seams.
Danby's escape is made even more dangerous by another cataclysm that threatens humanity's extinction. And her ability to survive this new world will be tested by a charismatic young man whose power to save lives may be worse than death itself.
1. Could you please tell us a little about The Last Girl?
The Last Girl is a new kind of apocalypse.
The novel imagines what might happen if we could all suddenly hear what everyone else was thinking – and everyone else could hear us. In a perfect world it’d be a golden opportunity for perfect understanding. But we don’t live in a perfect world. I think it’s more likely that if global telepathy happened instantaneously we’d all freak out and the world would end as people tried to escape themselves and others.
Danby is a sixteen-year-old girl who’s living in Sydney and sharing Christmas morning with her dysfunctional family when The Snap happens. She’s immediately plunged into a desperate fight for survival in an increasingly chaotic landscape. Her one defence is that – for reasons she doesn’t yet understand – no-one can read her mind. But that’s not enough to her and her little brother alive when there are crazed people everywhere, planes falling from the sky, roads jammed with cars and a city starting to go up in flames.
Danby’s hope is she can get to the Blue Mountains, where her mother lives and where it may be safer because there aren’t as many people. But during her journey, the situation evolves again and Danby confronts new questions.
Who do you save? Who can you trust?
2. There aren’t many apocalyptic novels set in Australia. How do you think the concentration of the population along the coastlines and relatively isolated inland lend itself to an apocalyptic situation?
Thanks to its physical isolation, small population, land mass and natural resources, Australia is one of the few places you might live longer during a global disaster.
We’re relatively safe from super-volcanoes and tsunamis. We might for a time be spared fallout weather patterns that’d engulf the Northern Hemisphere after a nuclear war or toxic airborne event. Evil aliens crossing the cosmos to reach our small blue planet probably wouldn’t make The Lodge in Canberra their first stop. Someone infected with a super-flu virus would display symptoms on the long journey here and that’d give us time to intercept them and take ‘em off to detention… which is a response we’ve proved we’re all too ready to implement simply on healthy people just looking for a better life.
But all of that forgets Australia’s more than just a far-off place – we’re as inextricably linked to the world as New York City or Beijing. As soon as Google went gaga and the stock market sank, we’d succumb to panic and freak the frack out like everyone else. What do you do when petrol’s $200 a litre and you can’t even use those discount receipts because the supermarkets are empty? How long is it before you’re fondly remembering the days of cat pictures on the Internet and thinking… “Yum”.
In reality, very few of us know how to grow food, raise animals, build stuff, repair machines, treat injuries and illness, survive without nice houses and easy transport – let alone reload a shotgun one-handed as zombies sprint across the car park. But none of us fantasise about that. Each of us is Mad Max. Not the poor dead slob in the truck. Apocalyptic literature and film allows us to enjoy that hero fantasy through its survivor characters.
3. The Last Girl focusses on an apocalypse as it happens, rather than catching up with the aftermath a few years or decades on as most books do. What is your motivation in telling a story this way?
The Last Girl is about how quickly our society would break down if we lost control of ourselves and were no longer supported by the infrastructures we take for granted to the point of them being invisible, be that family and friends or our food and fresh water supply.
I’m always really excited by the blow-by-blow of what happens in apocalypse and disaster books and movies. Look at the first few hundred pages of The Stand, in which Stephen King sinks the world with a superflu. Or Night Of The Living Dead and the 2005 remake of Dawn Of The Dead, in which disorientated characters are all like WTF? as zombies just appear and start munching people.
What I like about it that you’re in the same situation as the character. The danger is immediate and perhaps inexplicable. You have to think on your feet alongside the protagonist. What supplies could I grab? Where the hell would I go? Who’d be the best people to hole up with?
In The Last Girl, there’s no media to explain the situation because newsrooms and bloggers have gone as mental as everyone else. Same goes for the government, scientists, military, religion. All of those institutions are made up of people and if all the people are out of their minds, well, it’s game over, man. So we experience it through Danby’s eyes, only knowing what she can know. What she learns is that The Snap is – as end-of-the-world scenarios must be – brutal, total and global. There’s no going back.
The Last Girl is about seeing how Danby can go forwards – and not just to survive but to remain true to herself. Hopefully that’s an exciting and thought-provoking ride over three books. Faced with all of this death and destruction, the question is, “Who will I become?” But as far as apocalyptic literature and film, it’s actually asked less frequently than, “Hey, how long can I survive drinking my own wee?”
4. Did you find Danby more of a challenge to write than any other protagonist you have written? If so, in what ways?
Danby was a challenging main character because she’s a teenage girl and I’m an adult man. But I wanted her to be tough to write. I didn’t want to be able to lapse into my own language and voice. That way I’d have to find her own personality and opinions and talents and they’d help to shape the story and spin it in new directions. But I could use some basics from my own teen experience. Some of what we feel as adolescents – in terms of basic confidence or insecurity, hopes for love and romance, future dreams and fears – is not necessarily gender specific and it’s also pretty timeless. The stuff that was specific to a teenage girl – and specific to this specific teenage girl – I had to imagine.
5. What is your writing process like? Do you meticulously plan everything out, or write as it comes to you?
My writing process is a lot of both. When I stated The Last Girl in March 2011, I only had the very basic premise. So how I’d present the thoughts, where Danby lived, who her friends were, what would happen to her suburb, how she might escape, who she could meet, how the telepathy would evolve – was all stuff I made up as I went along. It was a sloooooow process. I wrote Danby into some corners and it took months to figure out some of her getaways. I’d get inspiration by trying to think like her as I visited the locations, walked around for hours, saw how she might be possible to use the landscape. There were two big “aha” moments in particular. These escape routes had been in front of my eyes every single day but I hadn’t seen them. I thought if I hadn’t, it made sense Danby might take a while to recognise them. I love that “Why didn’t I think of that?” experience as a reader — so hopefully I’ve given that to people in The Last Girl.
Rapid Fire Round
1. Vegemite or Nutella?
Vegemite all the way.
2. Your thoughts on Disney making the third Star Wars trilogy?
If anyone can do it, JJ Abrams can but I’d rather see someone invent an entirely new movie mythology. Feel totally free to hold that against me when I’m promoting The Last Girl #28: The LunaCity Rebellion Chronicles.
3. Can you give us a hint of what’s coming up in book 2?
The Last Shot turns everything Danby thought she knew after The Last Girl upside down – and then blows it apart.
A huge thank you to Michael for taking the time to answer my questions. I was especially nervous about the second one, because it’s not really related to his book, but I’ve always thought an Australian apocalypse would have a different flavour to a US, or even UK one, and he seemed like a reasonable person to bounce ideas off! And to Allen and Unwin for giving me the opportunity to interview Michael in the first place 🙂