I have a small confession – I’ve always been an avid reader, but not of YA Fiction. In fact, I’d have to scratch my head to remember the last time I read a YA book before I wrote The Denounced. The genre just wasn’t on my radar until one night everything changed with three simple questions. They were:
1. Who are your mentors?
2. Who do you turn to when you’re in trouble?
3. Who can you trust?
I had originally planned to write an adult thriller. The book was to be called the Devil’s Kiss. I had completed the research. I had a main character. I had a story outline. A workable ending and I was ready to start the first draft when I bumped into some unexpected emotions. It was an odd moment that ultimately changed the course of my writing career and maybe even my life.
I had set the three questions for my lead character, but was struggling to answer them in a way that felt believable. As answers began to emerge, it became clear that I was really thinking about them more in relation to my own life than that of my protagonist. It was a strange internal upheaval, which not only kept me awake that night, but one I couldn’t shift for the next couple of days. In truth, I had not had the easiest of childhoods and looking at these questions in the light of my own experience it became apparent that I didn’t like the answers.
I started to think about my lead character in a different way. I viewed him as if the three questions had created a significant negative impact in his life. This, in turn, changed the course of my story and the rhythm of how my lead character interacted with the others around him. Making him an orphan then seemed a natural fit – for me, the image of the lost and forgotten always springs to mind. Then before I knew it, my lead character had slipped from a thirty-five-year-old man to a teenage boy looking for meaning in his life with no-one to turn to but himself. The idea that this teenager either worked it out and survived or the circumstances sank him filled my every thought. I suddenly had to write his story. I had to have him express his feelings and discover if he could survive or not.
I then needed to pitch him against a powerful system that was beyond anything he could imagine. This was the point the genre found me and The Denounced was born. There’s nothing more overpowering than isolating your characters in a Dystopian World where the odds are insurmountable. I took Ned and the other key characters and forced them to live together in a Pod of Six. They had to learn to trust each other, build bonds and work together if they were to survive. The easier choice was always to give up or fight amongst themselves – which they do, of course.
But it didn’t stop there. We are all hardwired to be part of a group, a tribe, a family structure of some sorts. Ned is no different, but he’s a contradiction. He’s a loner by nature, but he craves friends. He’s tough and self-reliant, but he wants to communicate his ideas and be part of a clan. More importantly, he wants to do something with his life and escape the unjust circumstances he finds himself in. To do this successfully, he has to answer the three questions, as well as find his own moral compass and set of values. It’s his challenge.
In exploring these questions, I had that strange moment as a writer when the character started to tell me what he wanted, and he often surprised me with his answers. I love his personal challenge and Ned still catches me off guard as I come close to finishing book 2 (Shifting Horizons), and start to see him in the final book (Creaking Dawn).
Sometimes when I’m with Ned, I get this feeling that I’m not sure who is teaching who, but if just one person reads The Denounced and sees that you can pick your mentors, even imaginary ones, as you can your tribe and friends. And that ultimately your destiny is your choice and not chance then, as a storyteller, I’ve hit my goal and Ned and I will both sleep contented.
Thank you, YA Fiction, for finding me – I will be forever grateful.
Shifting Horizons, book 2 in The Denounced Trilogy is due for release in early September 2018. You can find out more at www.sjsherwood.com.
Hello…I’m SJ Sherwood. I grew up in a small town in rural England and spent most of my youth dreaming of escaping to the bright lights of a big city. It came in the form of winning a scholarship to Drama School. I was an actor for a short time before deciding to go back to school. The one constant in my life has been my passion for storytelling.
When I’m not writing and spending time with those I cherish, you’ll find me in a wetsuit, splashing in the sea, while I’m dreaming up my next story. I love podcasts, choc-chip muffins and the smell of sizzling bacon. I live in London.
Author Website: www.sjsherwood.com.