One of the books we've sent our Macaw subscribers this month is a thrilling and pacey horror story perfect for slightly older readers. We were completely gripped by Bite Risk, a fresh and original thriller. The characters are hugely relatable and the story is packed with twists and turns that will keep young readers on the edge of their seats! We asked author S.J. Wills to tell us more about what inspired the book and which thrillers for young readers she recommends you turn to next.
What inspired you to write Bite Risk?
The idea actually came from a very unremarkable thought I had, nothing to do with werewolves at first. I was musing about how we get into routines in life – individually, but also more widely as a society – and how we think of these routines as ‘normal life’. But everyone’s normal is different, and it can change.
Then I let my mind wander a bit: just how utterly weird could a situation be, while still being accepted as normal? What if, say, once a month all the adults turned into werewolves? What if the kids had to lock them up to avoid being savaged? That could never be normal, could it?
I decided it could.
Are any of the characters or elements of the story based on real people or events?
The reason people turn into werewolves (or Rippers as they’re called in the book) is that there’s been a pandemic virus. That might sound familiar, but Bite Risk is not some kind of parable about COVID. (If you’re sprouting fur and claws, there’s probably a different test you need to do.) At the start of Bite Risk, Sel tells us that the corpus pilori virus spread around the world 25 years earlier, and it’s old news. The book’s focus is on what life is like when the world has long settled into its new reality.
The characters sprang out of my imagination, which means they were formed from millions of bits of people I know, aspects of me, conversations I overheard, movies I saw, photos I glimpsed… but mixed up in such a deep part of my brain that I can’t begin to try to identify which parts came from where.
What do you hope young readers will take away from the story and how it unfolds?
Most of all, I would like Tremorglade, the town where Bite Risk is set, to be somewhere that readers can keep going back to in their imaginations. I’ve always loved immersing myself in vivid, creepy book-worlds, and I know I’m not alone in that. I’d like readers to get a thrill out of living there, thinking about what they’d do in that situation, coming up with their own theories about what’s going on. I’d love them to feel like they’ve escaped real life for a while. I’m obsessed with trying to deliver that sense of losing yourself in a book – that feeling when, if you get interrupted, it takes you a few seconds to properly come round, like waking up.
What else? Without being spoilery… it would be great if Bite Risk causes readers to think about what they do online, too. Not to make them paranoid, but just to give them pause for thought.
Do you think the children of Tremorglade have a good childhood? Why or why not?
This is a really great question! Having a night completely free of the possibility of adult supervision would be a dream for some children, a nightmare for others. In Tremorglade, on the whole, it’s a dream, because – mostly – the kids support each other. They work as a team, and they’ve got each other’s backs, with the occasional exception. They spend that night chilling out, having fun, free of nagging and disapproval. It’s only when things start to go wrong that the cracks show, and their childhoods turn out not to be what they thought they were.
Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for the residents of Tremorglade?
At this moment, I’ve written the second book and planned the third in some detail, so their future is already mapped out to a certain extent (though it could change!). Some things get turned upside down: Sel will find himself at the sharp end of some pretty wild conspiracy theories, and his friendships will be put to the test. Oh, and there’s something nasty coming for them all that makes Rippers look like teddy bears.
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
Writing for young people is incredibly exciting, because these readers are developing fast, and encountering some ideas and sensations for the very first time. At the ages I’m writing for now – becoming a teenager and beyond – the world becomes more nuanced, and that opens up an appreciation of more complex plots and characters. You wrestle with knotty dilemmas in fiction and carry those skills back into your real life.
Some of the books I read around that time have been absorbed into my DNA – I don’t recall all the plot details, but I do remember vividly how I felt when reading them. They opened up possibilities for me, and fired up my own need to write. I think that kind of transformative experience happens a lot less often with adults.
On top of that, this is an age where lots of readers crave a little more deadly peril, a little more bite, plus a few laughs. And that is just what I love writing most.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
My most productive place to write is in the car, laptop perched on my lap (while parked, waiting to pick up my sons from various activities – not driving, just to be clear!). There’s something about how uncomfortable it is that focuses my mind. However, it’s far from my favourite place to write, for exactly the same reason. I most enjoy writing at our big table, looking out to the garden, while the dog naps at my feet or demands cuddles.
Which other thrillers for this age group would you recommend our subscribers read next?
If you like being truly terrified in the best possible way you must read The Haunting of Tyrese Walker by J.P. Rose – a teen being hunted by an entity known as The Shadow Man while visiting relatives in Jamaica. My son put me onto Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series and they are phenomenal, as are his Scarlett and Browne novels – thrilling and funny, following two young outlaws in a post-apocalyptic Wild West England. Elle McNicoll’s Show Us Who You Are is a sci-fi to get your pulse racing and raises fascinating questions about what it means to be human. For the upper end of this age group, Neil Shusterman’s Scythe books are powerful, disturbing and enthralling. The series that gripped me as a teenager, and has never let go of me since, is the Tripods trilogy, by John Christopher: start with The White Mountains.
Copies of our Bite Risk pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!
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