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>> Growing up on a rubbish dump

Growing up on a rubbish dump

Growing up on a rubbish dump

SCAVENGERS follows Landfill, a boy who has grown up in nature but in an area that is surrounded by walls; he has no idea what lies beyond them. Author DARREN SIMPSON tell us more about his debut novel.

When Landfill starts to question what lies beyond the walls that surround him and Bagaboo, he begins to realise that life outside the walls might be very different from what he had imagined.

We asked author DARREN SIMPSON to tell us more about how SCAVENGERS developed:

Q: Have you always wanted to be an author? What is your 'day job' and how do you fit in writing time?

A: I remember toying with the idea of being an author when I was young and my mum got one of those old-fashioned word processors, but I think I just liked the clack of its keys more than anything else.

I moved into making music as I got older, but I've loved reading books since as far back as I can remember, and one day, while strolling through Waterstones in Nottingham, I thought to myself: why not write them too?

My day job is providing admin support for a publisher of academic journals. It's not the most glamorous job in the world, but it does allow me to work fairly flexibly at home, which means I can squeeze in an hour or two of writing after the school run, before logging into my work emails.

Q: What inspired you to write this book, was there one thing that sparked the idea?

A: It all started with a ham sandwich I saw discarded by a worker at a local recycling centre. Cats poured out from under skips and bins to fight over the scraps, and I was suddenly struck by the idea of a man living with wild animals in a cave of refuse.

I started researching communities who live on landfill sites in third world countries, and was deeply moved by the dignity of the children who forage on these vast landscapes of rubbish. I knew then that my novel would be about a man raising a boy in world of trash.

I also found inspiration in the way nature reclaims abandoned industrial wastelands, and a theme in the increasingly polarised world our children are growing up in. All of these ingredients snowballed into what eventually became Scavengers.

Q: How did you go about creating the world of Hinterland, where Landfill and the adult Babagoo live? Is the setting based on somewhere you know?

A: Hinterland is based on a real coal-processing plant in Wales called the Cwm Coke Works. It closed down several years ago, but I came across photos of it shared online by urban explorers. I felt that the coke works had a strange and profound beauty - something in the contrast between the oranges and greys of its rust and decay, and the greens and blues of its moss and verdigris.

I used the photos to map out Hinterland and its landmarks, and got carried away exaggerating the wildlife there, to the point of creating a jungle-like industrial wasteland packed with flowers, creepers, moss and animals.

Q: How did the rules that Landfill and Bagaboo live by develop?

A: The list of rules developed organically based on the needs of the plot. I had to keep close track of them while the story developed, and ended up with 30 rules by the time final edits were finished.

The prominence of rules in the novel is in itself very relevant, and fits in with the theme of being taught what to fear and how to think.

Q: Landfill has never stepped beyond Hinterland's borders, and doesn't know what lies beyond. How did this sheltered childhood help to shape his character, and what problems did it create when you were writing him?

A: Landfill has generally been contented with his sheltered, insulated world, as he has his animal companions and has always seen Hinterland as a necessity - as the only place in the world that's safe for him. But as he hits adolescence he - like any teen - develops an itch to make his personal world bigger; to see more of the world for himself, and to understand his own place within it, even if that comes with risks.

Scavengers is written in the third person, but the narrative voice is based on Landfill's very limited experience. This posed a lot of challenges in terms of describing things with such a restricted frame of reference. But at the same time, it also allowed me to have a lot of fun in highlighting how strange, amazing or terrible a lot of things we see as normal actually are, by presenting them through Landfill's eyes.

Q: How did the relationship between Landfill and Babagoo develop, which is very close but also governed by Babagoo's strict rules?

A: I always knew that Landfill and Babagoo would have a complex relationship full of grey areas. Landfill is so pure and good, and is as yet untainted by the world. Babagoo, in contrast, is very complicated, and swings quickly from playful to bitter, from vengeful to vulnerable. He can be worthy of pity or disgust, depending on the reader's inclination.

In some ways, Babagoo is a very extreme representation of the emotions I feel as a parent. He has a deep, sincere love for Landfill, but can also be suffocating in his protectiveness, all of which exaggerates the parental dilemmas I face in terms of protecting or exposing my own children.

Landfill loves Babagoo in return, and is used to his swings between affection and menace, as it's all he's ever known. But again, when adolescence kicks in, he starts to question his guardian's motives and views, which in turn causes tensions in their otherwise close relationship.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from your story?

A: I'd love it if young readers finished the book with a stronger sense of how complicated society and relationships are, and of how we need to question the likes of hate, blame, fear and division, rather than just accept them.

Young people are bombarded via the likes of social media, TV, newspapers and adults with opinions on who they should fear and blame, and on why the darker, less compassionate sides of society need to exist. This is what I'd like young readers to reflect on, and perhaps even challenge.

Having said that, I hope they'll also have had fun reading a grubby adventure novel! Scavengers is as much about entertainment as it is about any message.

Q: When and where are your favourite writing time and place?

A: My favourite and usual writing space is the study in our house. It's where we hang up our washing and where I also have to carry out my day job, but it also has all my books and music, and I could sit in it writing all day if I didn't also enjoy having a family! I find writing in the morning better, as my brain is fresher then. Most of my ideas come to me when I'm waking up.

Q: What would your 'dream' writer's shed look like?

A: My dream writer's shed would be just like my study, except without the damp washing. And maybe with a cat. And an unlimited supply of chocolate. Oh, and constant sunny weather in the windows. Not much to ask.

Q: What are you writing now?

I'm currently writing another middle grade adventure that, like Scavengers, uses a very distinctive, unusual setting, but which has a contrasting flavour and explores different themes including memory, grief and institutionalised power. I'm super-excited about it!

Q: If there was one place in the world that you would like to set a book - and had to visit for research purposes - where would that be?

A: That would have to be Iceland. I went there with my wife several years ago, and I'll never forget the impact its landscape had on me. It's so otherworldly and unusual - almost like being on another planet. I loved all of it, from the volcanic rocks and black sands to the glaciers and fjords. It's as stark and striking as it is beautiful and ethereal.

So yes: if it's an excuse to visit Iceland again, I may well set a book there.

Q: What are your favourite escapes from writing?

A: As much as I feel I'd write forever if I could, I know it's important to get some space from it, and I love weekends and holidays with my wife and two boys. We try to get out a lot together, visiting woods, parks and heritage spots, and also a bit of camping when it's warm enough.

Music is my other passion. I really enjoy long walks with my headphones on; nothing relaxes me more. I also get together every now and then with old bandmates to play drums, which is fun and cathartic on so many levels.

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