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  • Celia Jenkins

BaBs - Interview with Author Jess Butterworth

I have so much YA (young adult) fiction on my reading list this year - lots that I have put on hold because I've been living abroad and reading mostly on my kindle, but I prefer YA books in paper and so have been waiting for my return to the UK. One book that I have recently added to my hit list is Jess Butterworth's Running on the Roof of the World, which comes out June 1st. Having studied alongside Jess back in my BA days, I'm really excited about this book. India is a place that I have never been to or really considered in my top ten destinations, but so many people are setting their books there these days that I think I'll have to reconsider. I got the chance to ask Jess a few questions about her debut book.

Your first novel, Running on the Roof of the World, comes out on June 1st. What can you tell us about your debut book?

Running on the Roof of the World is an adventure story set in Tibet and India. It follows 12-year-old Tash on a journey of survival and hope as she tries to save her parents, armed with her best friend Sam and two trusty yaks. But to do so they must escape Tibet, cross the mountains, and seek help from the Dalai Lama in India.

You are currently working on your second book. Is this a sequel to your debut work, and how is it similar to / different from Running on the Roof of the World?

Book 2 is a stand-alone novel with new characters, although it is connected to Running on the Roof by its adventure genre and setting. It also features a strong female protagonist. The story takes place mainly in the foothill forests of the Indian Himalayas and is inspired by time spent at my Grandma’s house there. Revisiting my childhood memories and love for the place has been magical.

Your first book was written while you were studying the Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa University. How is writing within the support of an MA (as with your first book) different to going alone (as you have done with your second)?

I’ve lost count of the number of drafts Running on the Roof of the World has been through, its word count has grown and shrunk and grown again. Many of these drafts occurred on the MA, where I received regular constructive feedback along with support. This process equipped me with the tools and courage to do it alone for book 2. What I really enjoyed about writing the second book was completing a whole draft before having to go back and edit, as opposed to working chapter by chapter. I was able to really immerse myself in the story. I have a workshop group to bounce ideas off too.

Creative Writing courses (be they BA, MA or other) often take a lot of criticism. What can you say in defence of these courses, which are often branded as over-expensive and unnecessary?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer and also complete an MA. In a way, doing the MA was me giving myself the time to do that; the space to finish a complete book and build knowledge and skills while doing it. I learnt so much about publishing and am now part of a wonderful and supportive community of tutors, alumni and students. The MA enabled us to showcase our work to agents at the end of the course, which is how I met Sallyanne Sweeney. It was a vital part of my journey to publication, I would actually do it again now if I could!

Tell us about your writing habits. When you are at home, do you have any special places that you go to when you want to write, or any writing rituals?

For the first time in a while I have a desk and an actual computer, instead of laptop which I drag around different countries with me, writing on beds, trains and under shady trees. I have photographs of the places I’m writing about pinned to the wall and messy storyboards stuck next to me. I’ve just adopted 2 kittens who keep me company (and provide many distractions). I often use music to help me write; it’s so evocative it helps me get into the mood of my characters, or the theme of the book, and focus’s my concentration.

As you spend a lot of time travelling, how does this affect your working life? Do you have any special tips for other travelling writers?

Notebooks! Write everything down. If you write on a laptop back your work up every time. Prepare for things to sometimes go wrong, my laptop once got struck by lightning, which was not something I had anticipated. Take advantage of long journeys to read!

The wonderful thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere and everywhere. I find keeping in touch with writing communities through email and Twitter helpful in allowing me to feel connected wherever I am. I like to know what’s going on in the publishing world.

This applies to general life but I find I’m much more productive when I designate my time if I’m busy. That way I get to explore or do a day job and have time to write, rather than feeling like I should be writing all the time. (Although this is something I still need to work on!)

Which authors did you read a lot of in your youth? Do you have any favourite YA authors who you read nowadays?

Growing up, amongst many others, I adored Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman, David Almond and Louis Sachar’s Holes.

I most recently loved Claire Fayers’ Accidental Pirates, Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell and The Wilderness War by Julia Green.

There is so much good YA and middle grade out there. My to-be-read pile is rapidly growing. Some books currently on it are Orange Boy by Patrice Lawrence, A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson and The Huntress: Sea by Sarah Driver.

Running on the Roof of the World is set in Tibet and India. Do you have any favourite travel destinations that you'd love to return to, or any places that you've yet to visit which you are dying to see?

Yes, so many! I still have lots of family India so I’ll return there regularly. I’ve never been anywhere in South America and I’d love to visit there one day but for now I’ll be bouncing back and forth between the UK and the USA.

You can find out more about Jess and her upcoming publications on her Facebook page.

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