Joanna Nadin on No Man's Land and writing about politics in children's books
The book we've sent our Cockatoo subscribers this month is a powerful and thought-provoking dystopian thriller. There is much about the world Alan lives in that is unsettling to read about, but also much that is recognisable - and for both those reasons it's an incredibly important read. It's a book about war and power, but ultimately it's about how resilient our young people are and the difference they can make to the world. We're thrilled to be able to share it with our subscribers this month and delighted that author Joanna Nadin was able to answer a few questions for us about what inspired the book and her top recommendation for what to read next.
What inspired you to write No Man’s Land?
I used to work in politics, and watching the world under Trump and our own government become more right-wing, racist and sexist was incredibly difficult when I could no longer play a part in changing it. Then I remembered I did still have some power - because books, especially children’s books, can play a part in changing ideas.
Are any of the characters or their experiences inspired by real people or events?
Both Alan and Sam are based on my friends’ sons, even down to the conversation on farting, which is almost word for word one of their conversations. The world they’re experiencing, while it might seem dystopian, is just an exaggerated version of the one we live in right now.
What research did you do for the book and did you learn anything that surprised you?
I researched the landscape along the Tamar on the Cornish side, the old English names for places, and a lot of forest school skills, one of which was that building a fire upside down, with the kindling on top, could be just as efficient as the more traditional method.
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
Those years just before secondary school are when you first begin to question what adults do, and whether the world is as it should be. There’s so much to discover (and be disappointed about) and I love writing about that first taste of being able to change things.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
Yes - I like writing in cafes. The background noise is really helpful (I can’t write in silence).
What was your favourite book as a child?
I had two: The Thirteen Clocks and the Wonderful O by James Thurber, and Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken. Both were very very funny, but full of adventure as well.
What other dystopian books for kids would you recommend our subscribers read next?
I actually don’t tend to read dystopian books, because our current world is too full of gloom. I do however wholly recommend When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle, which is about the bond between a boy and a gorilla in WW2.
Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Alan?
I don’t think about what happens for my characters unless I write a sequel so perhaps your readers have a better idea than I do what he should do next!
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