Teri Terry is one of ‘my new’ authors; one of the people who were writing but had not had anything published when I first came across them. At that point you just don’t know what will happen. Is what they are writing any good? Will it actually get published?
A few years on and Teri has two books out, Slated and Fractured, with Shattered due in 2014. And yes, they are good. So when Teri comes to Manchester to talk to a group of librarians, we decide to meet up for an interview before it.
It’s commendably quiet in Waterstones café, with no music in the background. Teri and I have barely got started when fellow author Marnie Riches arrives, ‘Are you in full sway?’ I’ve asked Marnie to take charge of the camera for the morning, and she goes off to find a coffee.
By the time we start again Teri has forgotten what I asked her, which was how it feels to have gone from being a normal kind of person, and then doing events and talking in front of people, leading workshops and so on.
‘Do you mean from the public speaking point of view, or just being in the limelight?’
‘Both. And suddenly having become an expert that people come to listen to.’
‘An expert? Really?’ Teri sounds happy. ‘I’ve never been accused of that. Erm, good! That’s the kind of one word answer you hate. It’s a bit weird, especially when I’ve been at book awards, and there will be a really large group of very excited teenagers, who have all read my book and they are jumping up and down with excitement. That feels really strange, like when you come in and they go “ooohh” and they give me the rock star treatment.’
‘To be honest, that doesn’t usually happen. You do a school event and 90% of them don’t know who you are. They are sitting back and waiting to hear what you have to say. It can go both ways. I think I’m all right with it. It can get a little intrusive at times. I am a bit of a combination of an introvert and an extrovert, and there is a part of me that really doesn’t like to get out there and talk to people. If I have three in one week, it’s just too much for me. I want to sit back and be on my own. Being a writer you have to be able to do your own thing for long periods of time, and being sat in front of people does take a lot out of me, I find.’
‘I couldn’t help noticing those girls clustering around you a week ago.’ Teri laughs. ‘You looked like you’ve done nothing but that kind of thing. There you were, and them standing around whooping with delight.’
‘That was kind of funny,’ she giggles. ‘One of the girls had my book there and she held the book up in the air and went “I’m your biggest fan!” It was really sweet.’
‘I think I am quite comfortable with that age group, partly because I worked in a library for few years, and I also worked in secondary schools as a teaching assistant. So I’m used to being around groups of teenagers. They don’t scare me. To be honest I find talking to a group of adults much more frightening.’ We laugh.
‘Had you imagined that you might be published sooner than you were?’
‘I probably did, but it took me quite a while. I was sort of hopeful, but never assumed it was going to happen. I didn’t know writers and I didn’t know how long these things usually take. I remember around the time I finished the sixth novel reading an interview with a writer, saying this was her 11th novel before she got published. Reading that and thinking “oh, my god!” I would have given up by now.
A couple of years before I had a lot of near misses, and I got kind of down about it. I had two different books, one with an agent and one with a publisher, and they were both looking like they could happen. I think because there were two at the same time I convinced myself that one of them would, and then they both said no. That was really devastating, actually, and took me a while to pull back from. That was a very long answer…’
‘So how many books do you have in your drawer?’
‘Slated was the ninth, and I’m starting something new now which is the 13th. I worked out that I was writing my 13th book* on Friday the 13th.’ We laugh.
‘Now, you couldn’t have made up a name like yours if you’d tried.’
‘Teri Terry, no, I wouldn’t have thought of it. I am actually Teresa but I’ve always been called Teri all my life. I married someone whose surname is Terry, and it’s one of those things, because I always swore I wouldn’t change my name if I ever got married. But the humour of being Teri Terry was just too much for me. I couldn’t stop myself.’ She sounds amused.
‘Where are you from?’
‘I was born in France, and my dad was born in the Netherlands. His family moved to Canada when he was in his early teens, and my mother was born in Canada but her parents were both born in Finland. My parents met in Canada, my dad was in the air force, and was stationed in France with NATO, which is why I was born in France. And then France left NATO and we were back in Canada when I was about a year old.’
‘Where did Australia come in?’
‘Have you ever come across a book called Around the World in Eighty Dates?’
We laugh. ‘Never heard of it…’
‘I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think it was very well written, but as soon as I saw the title I had to read it. I had an Australian boyfriend so moved to Australia. English boyfriend and moved to the UK.’
‘OK. So that is a Canadian accent, is it?’
‘Mostly Canadian I’d say. There are probably a few touches of Australian thrown in. I lived there for 12 years, and I suppose I’ve spent most of my adult life in Australia, though the UK will catch up eventually. When I’m really tired I start to feel Australian wants to kick in a bit more.’
‘Why all the careers and all the degrees?’
‘It’s funny. When things happen at the time, everything that you do seems quite logical and sensible, but when you look back it does seem a little bit helter skelter. Part of the reason for that is probably I’m not very good at settling, and partly from having moved around a lot, trying lots of different things. If I’d stayed in Canada, would I have stayed a lawyer? At the time I was working in intellectual property law and I was quite interested in becoming a patent agent, which in Canada would mean going to Ottawa, working for the government. To be honest I probably would have liked that, so if I hadn’t suddenly decided to leave the country at that point I might have pursued that.
In Australia I was an optometrist. That’s the thing I’ve done the longest. It was a four year degree, and I did that for over eight years, and was quite settled in that profession. But when I moved to the UK that qualification isn’t recognised, so it was do a bunch of very expensive exams, or try something different.
At that point I thought I always wanted to write, and I’d always written a bit, but never seriously. I did quite a few jobs in the UK as well. You need to pay a few bills along the way, but I wasn’t always working full time, and I was trying to write the whole time.’
‘Now, do you write full time?’
‘I do now, yeah, if you can call it that.’
‘You don’t go out and do other paid work?’
‘No, no other paid employment.’
‘Have you finished writing book number three?’
‘Yeah, it’s completely finished. I’m just waiting for the copy edits.’
‘How long have you known how it’s going to end? Somewhere along the way you said that you didn’t.’
‘Slated originally was a standalone. When I was writing it, it just became apparent it wasn’t going to fit in one book, so it sort of demanded to be longer. The actual ending of the story has changed a little from how I originally planned it. I think it was somewhere in the middle of writing the second book, when I realised I wanted it to change a bit. But I can’t tell you how.’
‘No, I don’t even want a hint of it. You strike me as a happy ending kind of girl. Does that work with dystopias?’
‘If you look at dystopian novels from a literary point of view, the happy endings aren’t meant to take place, but in the YA novels that they tend to call dystopian whether or not you think they actually are, they don’t tend to have miserable endings. The most you’ll get is maybe an ambiguous ending.’
‘I like reading happy endings, I like reading uplifting stories. But I’m not sure it’s what I want to write. I might like to write that, but it doesn’t seem to be what I’m meant to write. Even when I’ve set out to write something… and it totally changed into something else; death, disease, despair. I like to read happy things. Maybe that’s because I like to be happy, but it doesn’t seem to be where my writing goes.’
‘I feel that in a dystopia you could have a personal happy ending for a few people, while still within a really bad society. Whereas I suppose you could bring down the government, but the chances are that the characters die trying.’
‘That stuff has really consumed me. About six months ago I finished an MA. It was creative writing through the University of Bedfordshire. Basically I had to do a thesis around a novel, and Slated was my novel. The thesis was looking at dystopian YA fiction and so I was analysing the way a lot of them ended, and how that differed from classical dystopian novels, and how I felt about how they ended things. Something that is really apparent is I don’t like endings that feel forced, or if you try to take a horrible situation and make everyone live happily ever after. Readers are just not going to buy that.’
‘Before you were talking about a ghost story. I presume that means you are not just going to be a dystopian author?’
‘I don’t think so. I never set out to write a dystopian novel. The story started from a dream, and it just kind of grew from there, so it was never something I set out to do. I was writing Slated when The Hunger Games was out in the US, but hadn’t become a big thing in the UK, and I hadn’t even heard of it. A lot of people just assume that I jumped on something, but I wasn’t aware of it. I like to write thrillers, things that have a lot of tension and pace. Slated is more a psychological thriller than anything else, but that’s the kind of style that I like.’
‘Having said that, I quite like writing funny things too, but it doesn’t come out in Slated, does it? So you never know,‘ Teri laughs. ‘But probably thrillers, whether they’re futuristic or ghostly or supernatural.’
‘You have made two of your characters runners, which seems to me absolutely horrible. Do you do any running?’
Teri laughs. ‘I used to run a lot when I was in law school. I was never a marathon runner or a fast runner, but I was an endurance runner. I gave it up when I slipped on ice and landed on my knee one winter in Calgary. Years later I became quite a gym junkie as well, and I go through obsessive phases with exercise every now and then.’ She laughs. ‘Not lately, unfortunately. But I understand pushing yourself till you get the endorphins going.’
‘Well I don’t, which is why I’m asking.’
‘No one’s ever asked me about that.’
‘I said I wasn’t going to ask about the ending of Shattered, but I do wonder if you’re saving a big surprise about somebody or something, that turns out totally different from from what we’ve all been thinking?’
‘There’s a few surprises like that,’ she says breezily, ‘in the third book, so yeah…’
‘An interesting thing with trilogies, I’m going off on a tangent, but I think the reason Slated works as a trilogy, is because the character is different in each book. She’s a slated person in the first book, and in the second book she’s got these memories and in the third book she’s moving to something else. Trilogies that are like one big story divided into three annoy me. I like there to be a reason for there to be three separate instalments. But yes, there’ll be some surprises.’
‘It feels as if the rather dreadful society could be based on what we are seeing now. Is that the case or did you start long enough ago that Britain wasn’t like this?’
‘From the point of view of my personal knowledge of the world I didn’t know that there were problems with the economy in Europe when I was writing it. I don’t think it was in the news yet then. The coalition government wasn’t in power yet, when I put my coalition in. But there has been a coalition government in Canada; quite ineffectual and I think that’s what stuck in my head. You can’t really have two parties brought together, because they blame each other. It doesn’t really work. They don’t accomplish anything. People always assume that I’m making a political statement about the UK, but it didn’t happen in that order.’ Teri laughs.
‘And the other thing, the riots in the summer of 2011. I’d basically finished Slated then. The thing that I found very interesting about that was you can see how things get out of control and spread really quickly, but you could also see how people are scared. They don’t really care what the authorities do to make them stop being scared, and you can see how things go to extremes in that situation.’
‘I think I worked out that Kyla’s mum was probably born round about now, which seems to fit with the timing.’
‘Let me think, it would actually. Yes, that’s right. She’s about forty, and that was 2054 so pretty close, yeah.’
‘So we’re talking about people who haven’t been born yet. I was just trying to anchor the plot in something.’
‘From my point of view I really like dystopian novels where you can recognise the world, because a lot of them are so far into the future that it makes it quite detached. I think if you make it a world that people can relate to it feels more real to them.’
‘Finally, somewhere you talk about knowing what you want to do when you grow up. Do you? Have you grown up?’
‘I doubt it,’ she giggles. ‘I don’t know. I can’t see me doing anything besides write, now that I’ve got into it so much. Even if I wasn’t being published, I think I would continue to write. What I was saying before about the introvert extrovert thing and being a little bit mixed that way; if I spend too much time at home on my own I go a bit crazy, and there’s a part of me that would like to have something else that I was doing at the same time. But it’s really quite tricky because the demands on time and the days that you have to suddenly be away, would be really hard to fit around any part time job. There’s a part of me that would like to do a little bit of something else. I haven’t quite dealt with it yet. But growing up I think is optional.’ She laughs.
As soon as the interview is over, Teri and Marnie have a lot of chatting to catch up on, and before long we are joined by Jon Mayhew as well. That’s one of the nice things about Teri’s visit; she has tempted several local authors to come out of the woodwork. For lunch, really, and this kind of thing ought to happen more often.
(*Teri has since been able to share her news about the next next book.)