Friday, 23 March 2018

A Feminist Fiction Q&A with Sophie Cameron - author of 'Out of the Blue'!

My latest YA read was Sophie Cameron's astonishing debut, 'Out of the Blue'
I was lucky enough to be sent a proof before publication (but of course that in no way affects my review!) and when I was given the opportunity to interview Sophie via email about her wonderfully unusual, gripping and feminist novel, I couldn't say no!


Ten days after Jaya Mackenzie’s mum dies, angels start falling from the sky. Smashing down to earth at extraordinary speeds, wings bent, faces contorted, not a single one has survived.

Hysteria mounting with every Being that drops, Jaya’s father uproots the family to Edinburgh intent on catching one alive. But Jaya can’t stand this obsession and, struggling to make sense of her mother’s sudden death and her own role on that fateful day, she’s determined to stay out of it.

When her best friend disappears and her father’s mania spirals, things hit rock bottom and it’s at that moment something extraordinary happens: An angel lands right at Jaya’s feet, and it’s alive. Finally she is forced to acknowledge just how significant these celestial beings are.

Set against the backdrop of the frenzied Edinburgh festival, OUT OF THE BLUE tackles questions of grief and guilt and fear over who we really are. But it’s also about love and acceptance and finding your place in this world as angels drop out of another.
(synopsis via Goodreads)





This magical yet totally real story had me hooked from the first chapter; I greedily gobbled up 100 pages during my flight to Berlin last week, and if I hadn't then had a fabulous mini break in that excellent city, and then been hosting my very best friend in the UK for 5 days after, I'd definitely have finished it in less than 24 hours. It was addictive, fascinating and just different.

I say 'different' partly because the story features Beings (angels, some may argue) falling from the sky and crash landing on Earth, within weeks of each other, most of them dying on impact and massively alarming we human types, as you can imagine - but I also say 'different' because the characters are totally 3D and diverse af. Jaya, our protagonist, had a Sri Lankan mother and a Scottish father (another different thing - this contemporary YA book is set in Scotland! Not London or Brighton or Reading or Brum!? Madness), and she is gay. Also, spoiler alert, she gets a major crush on a bisexual young woman with a chronic illness (not the latter's cute but cranky twin brother, the route many other YA stories may have gone with). AND the MC and her sister Rani are very much supporting themselves in their unusual family of three, following their mother's untimely death just 10 days before the first Being fell. Yeah, so the differences and diversities in this book are quite brilliant. 

Also, as a lot of my bookish readers will know, I tend to struggle with the fantasy genre. I am forever losing track of characters and plot lines while reading stories set in other worlds and other times - it frustrates me beyond belief. Having said that, this story held me tight and I breezed right through. The magical realism was believable and didn't push its limits; the contemporary side was excellent, current pop culture references aplenty and every character used a mobile phone more than once! I was also taken in completely by the very convincing behaviour of the planet's population when this strange magic began to happen; apocalypse panic reigned, looters ran wild, families clung together...obsessive theorists (known as 'Wingdings') came out to gawp, and powerful cults formed. Yep, 100% believable. 



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How on earth (haha!) did you come up with the idea and then a plot for this novel!?

The idea actually came from a Lynx deodorant advert that was on about eight years ago. It shows beautiful female models falling to earth because some guy smells good... so it’s ridiculous, and a bit sexist, but it got me thinking about how people would react if something like that were actually to happen. I actually wrote it as a short story first, about a single mum in Barcelona who finds the only living angel, then a few years later I transported it to Edinburgh and rewrote it as a YA novel.


I have decided I'm very Shona. (I force powerful stones etc. on friends of mine, a LOT) Is she inspired by anyone - and do you believe in crystal magic?

I love that question! I really like Shona, she was a fun character to write. She’s a bit of an amalgamation of a few different people I know, but not one person in particular. I’ve never actually tried crystal magic myself, but I’d give it a go!


Define 'Feminist Fiction'. And what's it like to write?
I think feminist fiction can range from stories that discuss feminism and gender inequality overtly to those where female characters are complex and have agency and aspects of their lives that aren’t all about men. Quite often female characters written by men only really exist as wives, mothers, daughters, etc – their only storylines are about how they relate to the men in their lives. (That’s of course not to say that, for example, an m/f romance can’t be feminist – I really enjoyed Keris Stainton’s If You Could See Me Now, and that’s definitely a feminist book.) As Out of the Blue is f/f and has mostly female main characters, I think it fits into the latter category, but I still need to watch out for my own unconscious biases – it’s so easy to always have the mum doing all the cooking, say, or the dad always driving.


Jaya is not just an awesome female protagonist, she is also of Sri Lankan background, and is gay. This is great! I find still annoyingly rare to have such minorities present in modern day UKYA. How do you feel about diversity and representation in this genre?

In some ways, it’s gotten better – there are certainly far more gay and bisexual characters than there were when I was a teenager (though trans and non-binary representation is still lacking, amongst other identities) and the types of stories they feature in is wider. There’s less “Bury Your Gays” going on than there used to be! But most of those characters (and their authors, myself included) are white, middle-class and able-bodied, so there’s still a long, long way to go. UKYA is also really lacking stories by BAME authors across the board, as are most areas of publishing. There have been some brilliant releases recently – such as I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan, Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence and Stripes Publishing’s A Change is Gonna Come anthology – but there are still only a handful ever year, and that’s shocking. I think things are slowly moving in the right direction, but we really need more marginalised people working in publishing and better support for authors of colour and their books.


Can you recommend any other feminist fiction books - or any that also have ethnic minority/LGBTQ protagonists? 

It’s a very obvious choice but I’d recommend The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood to anyone who hasn’t read it. Some favourites by authors of colour are Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, The Vegetarian by Han Kang and Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu (which features a Sri Lankan-American lesbian MC). I also loved The Power by Naomi Alderman and My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, and in YA I’d recommend Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu and anything by Holly Bourne or Louise O’Neill.

What's your writing process like?

It’s a bit all over the place! I usually write the first chapter in full, then I’ll skip ahead and write little bits or paragraphs of all the others as they come to me, then go about fleshing them out in totally non-chronological order. I find the blank page very intimidating, so if I know I have even one line of a chapter down it helps. I have no idea how people ever wrote books by hand or on typewriters, I’d never manage it.

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Thank you so much to the wonderful Sophie Cameron and of course to the brilliant Nina Douglas for setting this lovely interview up. The blog tour will be continuing for a while yet - see all the stops below!



I really do recommend you all read 'Out of the Blue' ASAP; it came out officially yesterday, so I expect any bookshop worth its salt will have it in stock - or have given it its own table, maybe...

Find it at Waterstones, or on Amazon, or The Book Depository.
And as always, for the best book prices and FREE UK delivery on anything you add to your basket, check out A Great Read!

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