The Next Big Thing — Mars Evacuees!

It’s been a long time! I’ve been very busy on this book here (this one. The one I’m trying to tell you about. Wait a minute, and it will become clear) And though I have some 2/3 finished blogs on my computer called cheerful things like “On Suffering” and “Rape in Genre Fiction”, I really wanted my next post to be this one.

The “Next Big Thing” meme was doing the rounds among writers MONTHS ago; I got tagged (very kindly!) by practically EVERYONE, but I couldn’t bring myself to take part  until I knew if this little book I’ve been struggling with was ever going to find a home.

Well, at last it has. I’m very happy to say I’ve agreed a deal with Egmont for my fourth novel, and the one after that.

Thanks so much to my new editor, Sarah Hughes at Egmont, and my wonderful and formidable agent, Catherine Clarke at Felicity Bryan.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

Mars Evacuees. It’s about evacuees, to Mars!

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Well, it’s hard to remember exactly, because I was nine. I was fascinated by Michelle Magorian’s novels of children evacuated to the English countryside or to America in WWII, and I wondered, in a future war, where else could you send people? Obviously Mars. And what would happen to them next …? Well, that was the difficult part, of course. I began composing an audio-book, which seemed to me to be an exciting technological medium for a story about the future, but as I was nine and had no idea what was going to happen, I soon gave up. I had another go at the idea when I was fourteen, envisioning  a massively depressing Young Adult story in which not only most of the main characters but most of humanity died, (SPOILER: Mars Evacuees is not actually like this). Defeated by this in turn, I then shelved the idea until such time as I should get round to it, which turned out to be about seventeen years later.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Children’s sci-fi. Of which there’s oddly little in prose fiction, isn’t there? Plenty of films, computer games, TV. But not many books.
4) What actors would you choose to play the parts of your characters in a movie adaptation?

I’m going to take this as an excuse to introduce the characters to you.

Mars Evacuees! is about four children, a robot (and someone else I’m not going to tell you about yet). The children’s names are Alice Dare, Josephine Jerome, and Carl and Noel Dalisay.

Alice and Josephine are intended as a partial answer to the question, “What if Sherlock Holmes and Watson were twelve-year-old girls in space?” a question which, I hope you will agree, has not yet received the serious consideration in our society that it deserves. Alice is the narrator – a stoical, deadpan down-to-earth sort of lass from a military background who’s thoroughly resigned to the fact that her future is going to be mostly about shooting aliens. Josephine is a brilliant unpredictable eccentric Alice meets on the ship to Mars who most certainly is not resigned to anything and especially does not want to go into the army, even though (after fifteen years at war with the mysterious Morrors) there don’t seem to be any other options. Josephine comes up with the genius ideas and goes haring off after things; Alice loyally follows and reminds her to, you know, bring food and a supply of oxygen.

If Josephine’s a mini-Holmes, Carl Dalisay is a mini-Captain Kirk. He’s bold and impulsive, he jumps into situations (and sometimes large bodies of water) headlong and worries about the outcome afterwards. He’s  also got a strong sense of justice which prompts him to come up with inventive (and indefatigable) forms of rebellion when the adults do things he doesn’t approve of. He’s  something of a trial to the adults who have to get him to Mars with both the ship and their sanity intact. He is also a very good pilot, which comes in handy.

Noel is Carl’s little brother, a more sensitive soul who isn’t, in Alice’s view “suited to a life of protest politics in space.” He loves animals. Of course, the only animals on Mars are genetically modified creatures introduced by humans. Except one day Noel thinks maybe that’s not true. Because one day he wanders off on his own and sees something that doesn’t seem to fit…

Then there’s the Goldfish. The Goldfish is one of the civilian robots at Beagle Base – a military training camp/research institute/school in Cydonia. Whereas certain of the human educator are there to train the kids to be THE FINEST FIGHTING FORCE OF EIGHT TO FIFTEEN YEAR-OLDS THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN, the Goldfish is there to teach them Math(s) and Spanish and Science and how to Share and Have Fun! It is  relentlessly perky yet utterly dogged in pursuit of this goal. Come what may, it WILL teach you quadratic equations. When circumstances stop it doing this, the Goldfish tends to get… upset.

(As for actors, I think Alice looks a little like the girl who played the younger Amy Pond in Doctor Who, but with browner hair. And if Quvenzhane Wallis happens to feel like spending the next three or four years learning an English accent on the offchance there’s ever a film of Mars Evacuees, I would so have a part for her in Josephine. I’m afraid I haven’t seen a lot of films featuring Filipino-Australian boys so sadly I don’t know who to fantasy-cast as Carl and Noel, suggestions are welcome. The Goldfish could be voiced by whoever voices Big Bird, or maybe by Harry Shearer).

5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

“When the polar ice advanced as far as Nottingham, my school was closed and I was evacuated to Mars.”

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’ll be published by Egmont in the UK, Puffin Canada in, shockingly, Canada. Maybe by some other people in other places!

As mentioned above, my agent for children’s fiction is Catherine Clarke.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I don’t know. I did write the first few chapters after finishing Savage City all the way back in late 2009, but then I was editing ALL THREE BOOKS of the Romanitas trilogy simultaneously and there were short stories and I’ve been working as a freelance editor and… I had to keep stopping, is what I’m saying. I finished in September 2012.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Well, like I say, there isn’t much children’s sci-fi, but maybe Doctor Who on a silly-but-serious (and hopefully not-full-of-plotholes-and-other-vexations) day? Archer’s Goon or Charmed Life by Diana Wynne-Jones  — not in content, really, but in mood?

And okay, yes, perhaps… Harry Potter.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to write something a bit lighter and funnier after Romanitas, whilst still working on a very large canvas (I like to have at least one planet to play with, it turns out) and still writing characters grappling with very high stakes.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

There are KIDS on MARS with ROBOTS what on Earth is not to like?

And what is a Paralashath? Why is tomato ketchup important? Surely you want to find out.

Den Patrick , Laura Lam, and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, I tag ye!

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  1. Sophia
    Posted February 8, 2013 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    One thing that’s stayed constant since I was nine years old — it’s always been in the first person, with a female narrator.

  2. Sarah Lotz
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    You had me at robots. And Mars. And evacuees. And even kids. Sounds fantastic. Many congrats on the deal, have been a fangirl of yours for a long time, so can’t wait for this to come out.

  3. Robyn Slinger
    Posted August 18, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    It sounds thrilling!
    Is it naive to ask whether translations are being considered?

    • Sophia
      Posted August 18, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink


      Not naive at all! But that depends on foreign publishers wanting to buy it. So far, we’ve only sold it in Britain, Canada and the US. The text has been edited now and the Frankfurt book fair is coming up so something may happen then, or when it’s published, or it may not — there’s no way to know.

      • Robyn Slinger
        Posted August 18, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

        I’ll keep my eyes open then :)

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