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THE WOLF ROAD is a gripping, evocative novel about a teenage boy dealing with the death of his parents. Set in the wilds of Cumbria, the story follows Lucas as he starts at a new school, as the bullies and a mysterious wolf close in on him.

Author RICHARD LAMBERT tells us more.

Q: This is your debut YA novel - can you tell us a little about your road to publication?

A: It's been a long journey - improving my writing, finding an agent, and finding a publisher who would believe in my work. Each of these things took years. I have a regular 9-5 job in an office in a hospital. It's rare for writers to make enough from writing to live on, unless they're at the JK Rowling level.

Publication came by chance - I was sent details of a fairly new publisher, Everything With Words, my agent sent the novel to Mikka (publisher at Everything With Words), and Mikka wanted to publish it. So if I hadn't been sent that note and followed up on it, my novel would never have been published.

Q: Can you tell us what your debut, The Wolf Road, is about? Did you find it a difficult novel to write?

A: The Wolf Road is about a 15-year-old boy, Lucas, whose parents are killed in a car accident that Lucas believes is caused by a wolf. He has to go to live with his Nan in the Lake District and there he struggles to adjust to his new life. On the mountains there's a wild animal roaming and killing livestock - and Lucas thinks it's the wolf and that it's come for him.

The novel is about grief and growing up and facing difficult things. I found it pretty straightforward to write, once I had it worked out in my head.

Q: Why did you decide to write it in the first person? How do you find your characters' 'voice' as a writer?

A: I can't remember exactly the decision-making process, but it was fairly instinctive as a choice, and I remember feeling a little time to settle into it, then just running with it.

The voice of Lucas I think is a mix of things - remembering the general confusion and bafflement I felt at the world at Lucas's age, putting in things I've observed young people do and say, and putting Lucas in situations that would provoke extreme responses - losing parents, being bullied, having to deal with a situation in which he is powerless.

Q: The Wolf Road explores Lucas's grief and anger after surviving a car crash that killed his parents. What drew you to exploring how grief can affect us?

A: Again that was fairly instinctive - I'd written an earlier novel about a teenage boy trying to save his dying mother, and I thought I was going to write a similar sort of story - about a boy trying to save a family member. I was trying to decide who he would be trying to save, then had the idea - what if both parents are dead, what would he do then? So it came from that and I just let the story flow from that.

Q: Why did you decide to put a wolf at the heart of the story?

A: About the time I was starting to write fiction, about 20 years ago, I went to a safari park and to me the most fascinating animals were a pack of wolves. It was a sunny day and they were sitting in the shade, and they were devouring an animal that must have been given to them a few minutes earlier by the park ranger. They were ripping it to pieces and eating it.

It was such a visceral thing to see and it stayed with me. But I couldn't find a story. 15 year passed, and I'd just finished writing the novel about the boy trying to save his dying mother. That story had an animal in it - a seal. And I wanted to write about an animal again. And the wolf was perfect - mythical, dangerous, wild, yet part of our landscape - wolves lived in Britain for thousands of years. It's only over the last couple of hundred years they've been hunted out of existence.

Q: Lucas decides to research more about wolves, does this reflect the research you did into wolves in order to write this novel?

A: Yes! It seemed a good way to get my research into the novel. There's a brilliant book by the nature writer Barry Lopez - I'd urge readers to read his books! I also went to visit some people who keep wolves and spent some time with their wolves.

I was amazed by how much more powerful they are than dogs, how their skeleton is not quite dog-like, and how fast and eerily they move. And how still they stand. There's something a little uncanny about them. And dangerous. I was a little frightened of them.

Q: Top three 'wolf' facts?

A: My top three wolf facts are: wolves usually catch pretty quickly but on rare occasions have been known to hunt prey for over a thousand miles; wolves are not interested in hurting humans; and in the US during the 19th century and early 20th century, the government killed all the wolves in the country - killed millions of these animals by giving a bounty to hunters for each wolf corpse - and now there's none left.

Q: As well as the wolf, Lucas feels preyed upon by the bullies at his new school; why did you want to explore bullying in this novel?

A: That was a practical consideration - I wanted the level of threat to be high for Lucas so that he's in great jeopardy so I made him have enemies at school.

When I was a child, school always seemed a dangerous place - it still does now. So I pushed that sensation of danger as far as it could go. Gradually it became clear to me that being preyed upon is common to both parts of Lucas's life - the wolf on the mountains and the bullies in school. So it started practically and developed organically.

Q: Lucas lives with his nan and their relationship is often fraught. She's a wonderful character - how did she develop?

A: Thanks for saying that! Again, Nan originated in a practical consideration. I thought that if Lucas already knew Nan and she'd been close to him all his life, then it would make it too easy, but if she's a difficult person - or finds relationships difficult - then it would lead to more conflict between the pair, and also, it would make their separate journeys more interesting; how they both learn to respect each other and care about each other. It came from that. And I seem to have written a few things about political idealists, obstinate principled people - but I have no idea why they crop up!

Q: As a writer do you want to know your settings well, for example, the setting of this novel in Cumbria?

A: Absolutely. Place is really important to me. I was searching for a setting and I had to go for an interview for a job in the Lake District so I spent a weekend up there and did some walking and I realised that of course these mountains are a perfect place for a novel about a wolf - there seem so few wild spaces in urban England. It was ideal. So I made a few more visits and made lots of notes.

Q: What are the main things you feel you have learned as a writer, after completing this novel?

A: Go with what you believe in. Have faith in your work. Before I wrote The Wolf Road, I had ideas for two different novels, and I started the other novel and tried writing it for several months. But it didn't feel right so I moved on to The Wolf Road and it just felt right.

Then, when I finished it, I was deeply dismayed when it went out and got short shrift from editors. I was emotionally flattened. If it hadn't been for Mikka having the faith to put my novel out into the world I would have remained dismayed and felt it had failed.

It's all very well saying that, but these are lessons I find particularly difficult to learn and I have setbacks repeatedly - so they're badly learned lessons but still useful ones - to write what you believe in and to have faith in your work.

Q: When and where do you prefer to write, and what are you writing now?

A: I prefer to go to the library to write - but I don't at the moment because of the pandemic. I carry an A5 notebook and pen everywhere, and can write in cafes if it's quiet. Generally I write on a laptop but if I'm out in a cafe I've slowly developed the ability to shut out noise and write a bit of a scene in my notebook. And at the moment what I'm working on is a story for young people, a sort of fairy tale, that I want to develop.

Q: What do you do to relax or to escape your desk?

A: I love walking and nature. I live in Norfolk, which means it's very easy to get into the countryside, or to the sea. I'm always delighted to see wild animals here - I saw my first otter in Norfolk - but no wolves yet!


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