It’s a pleasure to introduce Phill Featherstone to the blog. Phill is the author of ‘Paradise Girl’, published in both ebook and paperbook format in January 2017.
Thanks, Karen, for this opportunity to contribute a guest post to your excellent blog. I’ll start with a little about me.
I was born and brought up in West Yorkshire but when I was 18 I left the area and went to college in the south. I became a teacher and taught English, mainly to 6th formers. Along the way I’ve also been a taxi driver, an ice cream seller (I was Mr Whippy!), worked in retail and founded and run a small publishing company. I returned to the north ten years ago, and since then have spent a lot of my time writing. ’Paradise Girl’ is my third novel although it’s the first to be published. I’ve just completed another, ‘The God Jar’, which I hope will be out at the end of this year or early next.
I’m lucky that my home is surrounded by the spectacular scenery of the Brontë country, and I look out from my writing desk onto moors which might have been traversed by Heathcliff, or by Catherine Earnshaw on her way to Thrushcross Grange. The stunning beauty of the landscape and its savage bleakness can’t fail to affect an artist or writer.
The idea for ‘Paradise Girl’ came to me one day in the summer of 2013. There was a power cut, and it turned out to be a long one. I worked on my laptop until the battery gave out, then I took a cold drink outside and sat on the terrace overlooking the valley. The day was hot and still, and I was slipping into a doze when I became aware that I could neither see nor hear any signs of life. There were no vehicles moving on the opposite hillside, no tractors in the fields, no sounds from the valley below. It was as if no-one else existed. I began to muse on this. Where might the people have gone, and why? Could they have been evacuated to escape some threat? Had they been beamed up by aliens? Wiped out by a plague? And just supposing I were to be left entirely alone, up on this hilltop farm on my own, what would I do to keep going? Could I survive? The idea for Paradise Girl was born.
The character of Kerryl Shaw was already in my head. She and her twin brother, Lander, were in a story about organ harvesting I’d been plotting. It wasn’t going well and I’d already decided to put it aside, but Kerryl seemed an ideal heroine for this new situation. I chose her rather than her brother, because I felt that a female view could be more perceptive. A bright, observant 17 year-old with her life before her, she would have plenty to say and plenty to reflect on in the dystopia she faced.
I felt that the book I was planning should have the immediacy of a first person narrator, but I also wanted readers to be intrigued by the question of Kerryl’s survival: does she manage to get through the apocalypse or not? If she were to be the storyteller that question would be answered from the start and some of the opportunity for suspense would be lost. I thought about this for a long time and then I had an idea; Kerryl would indeed be the narrator, but she would tell the story through her diary. As a bookish girl, in love with English, it’s natural she would write one. It would be a private conversation in which she would express her ideas, impressions, thoughts and innermost feelings, as well as chronicling the advance of the plague. The existence of the diary wouldn’t imply that Kerryl herself was still alive. She might be or she might not.
However, a problem remained: why would she continue with a diary once she realised that no one would be left to read it? Why go on with such a thing if she was pessimistic about her own survival? The answer was for her to imagine a reader, a good looking hunk of a boy called Adam. Adam appeared and Kerryl began to write for him, and as she did he became increasingly real to her. Much of the book deals with Kerryl’s mental state as Adam assumes flesh and her loneliness and isolation affect her.
The landscape in which these events take place is important, and I wanted the book to build towards a dramatic climax on the moors. Not far from my house is a rock formation called ‘The Bride Stones’. For many reasons, not the least being the evocative name, this seemed the ideal place for Kerryl and Adam to at last meet.
One final issue remained, and it was probably the most crucial of them all. You can see from my photo that I’m no longer in the first flush of youth! Could I, a male with my teenage years long behind me, write as if I were a teenage girl? I thought I could. At college I’d done a lot of drama and at one time considered a career on the stage, so I think I have an actor’s ability to put on a role. Also I taught teenagers for many years and I like them (on the whole!), and I’ve read a lot of YA fiction. Finally, I think that even in my mature years I’ve never properly grown up.
It’s not for me to say whether I managed to pull it off and capture the voice of a 17 year-old girl, but reviews suggest that for the most part I have. I hope readers will judge for themselves, and let me have their thoughts. I can be contacted through my website – www.phillfeatherstone.net – where for a limited period you can also order a copy of ‘Paradise Girl’ at a reduced price, carriage free.
A highly infectious and incurable virus spreads worldwide. Seventeen-year-old Kerryl Shaw and her family live on a remote farm and think they will be safe, but the plague advances. Despite deaths around them, the Shaws survive. However, this changes when a stranger arrives, and it soon becomes apparent he has brought the infection to their door. One by one the family succumbs, leaving Kerryl alone.
Kerryl is sure it’s only a matter of time before she, too, dies. She decides to record what she thinks will be her final days in a diary. She realises that it will never be read, so she imagines a reader and calls him Adam. As loneliness and isolation affect the balance of her mind, Adam ceases to be an imaginary character and becomes real to her.
Communications break down and services fail. Unexplained events build fear and menace: Kerryl hears her name called in the night; she’s attacked by stray animals; she’s molested when she visits the town; she sees a stranger outside her house, who vanishes when she tries to make contact; objects appear and disappear. The climax comes when she finds a text message on her phone. Who is texting her? How? She thinks it can only be Adam, because by now there is no one else left. Another text invites her to a rendezvous at the Bride Stones, a beauty spot popular with lovers, and she leaves for what she is sure will be a meeting with Adam…
About the author:
I was born and brought up in West Yorkshire, England, and trained as a teacher. I managed to survive teaching in London, Hampshire and Leicestershire and then spent five years as an education adviser. I live with my wife, Sally, in a farmhouse on the pennines in Brontë country. In 1997 Sally and I started a publishing company specialising in books for adults to use with young children. Sally’s the EY expert – I did the business management. We must have done something right, because in 2007 we won the IPG Education Publisher of the Year award. In 2008 we sold the business to Bloomsbury Publishing. They continue to publish books of ideas for people working with young children that Sally and I write, although I now concentrate on fiction. My first novel is ‘Paradise Girl’ (actually it’s the 3rd I’ve written, although the first to be published). Despite the title, it’s neither chick-lit nor erotica, but tells the story of a 17 year-old girl who finds herself alone when everyone else has died from an incurable virus. It came out in paperback and eBook here and in the USA in January 2017. I’m now working on another novel, called ‘The God Jar’. You can find out about this and my other writing and get free downloads of my short stories at http://www.phillfeatherstone.net.