When last we spoke with author Alex Scarrow he was just about to self-publish the first in a new series featuring a young female protagonist by the name of Ellie Quin. A year and change later and the fourth episode in the series, Ellie Quinn in Wonderland, has just been released with the ninth book in Scarrow’s TimeRiders series on the way.
By way of reminder, Alex Scarrow is a British author whose road to publication took him through music, graphic art and computer game design. He then began writing screenplays, one of which became the novel A Thousand Suns , which ties a contemporary storyline with WWII Germany. Alex Scarrow is perhaps best known for his work in Young Adult science fiction and it is there where we concentrate today’s discussion.
Without further ado, let us welcome back author Alex Scarrow.
Carl V. Anderson: Your TimeRiders and Ellie Quin series both feature teen/early adult characters. What motivated you to write stories with younger protagonists and how do you go about capturing those voices so well?
Alex Scarrow: When I first started writing TimeRiders a fellow writer suggested I should read a bunch of teen fiction to get the voices right. I ended up starting a few teen books then giving up and not bothering, being the lazy sod I am. Instead, I just wrote the characters as I would for an adult book. With hindsight, I realise that was the right way to go. And I was right not because I was smart, but because I was lazy, and, I just found most teen/YA fiction at that time, childish and vaguely patronising. So I kept my writing style as it was. I think that’s why TimeRiders works for adults too….because although the protagonists are young, it feels like a grown up series.
CARL: TimeRiders deals in one of Science Fiction’s more well-worn tropes, Time Travel. I know there are some in the science fiction community who would like to see that trope retired and others, like myself, who cannot seem to get enough. With eight books in the TimeRiders series published and a ninth on the way, why do you think time travel continues to be such a popular subject and what interested you in exploring the subject through this series? Also, when is TimeRiders: The Infinity Cage due for publication?
ALEX: Time travel is simply the broadest story telling canvas you can play with. That’s why its such an enduring idea. You have a device that can take you to any time and any place. That’s never going to get old. Where it gets a little ‘seen-that, done-that’ is when the time travel machine/technique is the same ol’ thing. I tried to come up with some new thoughts on that; the water displacement thing, the pinhole viewing, the Faraday cage…which of course has something to do with the title of the last book! And to answer that last question…its due to come out in the UK near Christmas…I think.
CARL: In December of 2012 you self-published the first of a new series featuring a somewhat naive nineteen-soon-to-be-twenty-year-old protagonist, Ellie Quin. The fourth episode of this series, Ellie Quin in Wonderland, was published in the early part of February of this year. For those unfamiliar with Ellie and her adventures, how would you introduce her?
ALEX: Ellie Quin is a series I’ve wanted to write since I was a teenager when I fell head over heels in love with a character from a comic called 2000AD. She was called Halo Jones. What I loved about her was that unlike every other fantasy/scifi comic book hero, she was quite normal. A bit of a plain-Jane. Not special in anyway at all. And yet, she was thrust into an extraordinary universe. So…it’s that core idea that lies at the heart of Ellie Quin, an ordinary girl thrust into the center of a galaxy wide conspiracy story.
CARL: There is an innocence to Ellie Quin that recalls science fiction stories of an earlier time (some of Robert A. Heinlein’s stories come to mind), but as the series moves forward there are some decidedly contemporary, dark things lurking in the background that eventually come to the surface. What kind of feedback have you gotten regarding some of the more surprising turns in the last few episodes and is there a conscious process you go through to balance the lighter and darker tones of the story?
ALEX: Ellie Quin is an almost 50/50 balance of light-hearted fun and dark dystopian themes. That means one moment, Ellie could be shopping in a mall for groovy futuristic fashion accessories, in the very next chapter, innocent people are being butchered by the bad guys. I love that the reader has no idea what the next chapter could hold. The feedback I’ve got so far is that this format is working really well, and just when readers think they know what they’re getting…they’re wrong-footed. (I love doing that 🙂 )
CARL: The future that Ellie inhabits is populated with numerous whimsical and wild gadgets and technological innovations that remind me of the imaginative work I’ve seen in various anime series and the works of French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Where do you get your inspiration for the things that flesh out Ellie’s world?
CARL: Ellie Quin reads as a very authentic character. Is it difficult to write realistic characters of the opposite sex? What kind of reception have the Ellie Quin novels received from female readers?
ALEX: The readership, just like TimeRiders is evenly split between male/female readers. My generalised theory is that female readers seek strong characters and male readers seek big ideas. So…if you can populate a book with both, then it’s likely you’ll pull in both genders. What’s kind of cool though is that male readers who want the big ideas are being sucked in by all the character-driven stuff, and the female readers are geeking out over the scifi ideas. That’s the beauty of going cross-genre, you can hook readers with the stuff they know they like, and then subtly feed them something they wouldn’t normally pick up and read.
CARL: When you set out to write and release the Ellie Quin series, did you have an overall outline and/or idea of how many episodes you plan to release or are you experiencing Ellie Quin’s adventures similarly to those of us reading it, with the caveat that you are one step ahead of us all?
ALEX: Ellie Quin differs from TimeRiders in that the story arc is less precise. I have a clear ending in mind for her story, but, unlike TimeRiders, there’s plenty more room for the series of books to surprise me. Quite often I’m finding myself going into a chapter with a rough idea of what ought to happen only for Ellie and her best mate, Jez, to completely go off piste and take the story in a new direction.
CARL: Given that I have gotten several people both in my immediate circle of friends, as well as friends online, to give Ellie Quin a try–and found them to be as captivated by her journey as I am–I would be remiss if I didn’t inquire as to the release date of her next adventure. When might we see volume 5 of the Ellie Quin series?
ALEX: At the moment I’m cracking on with writing the last of the TimeRiders books, which hopefully I should have done by April. Then, the very next thing is book 5 of Ellie Quin. I really can’t wait to get back into that universe!
Thank you so much for your time, and fun, captivating stories, Mr. Scarrow.
We will be seeing Alex Scarrow again soon in a Guest Post here on SF Signal examining the traditional publishing experience (the route taken by the TimeRiders series) and self-publishing (the route the Ellie Quin series is taking). Looking forward to it. In the meantime, check out some of his work. I can say from personal experience that the four volumes of the Ellie Quin series are a steal and are well worth your time.