Name: Sarah Jayne Tanner
unlike many recent YA dystopias, has a (rather attractive) male protagonist.
How important are role models in young adult fiction for both males and
It’s always important to have good role models, whether real or
fictional. There are a lot of good female role models in dystopian fiction at
the moment, which is fantastic, and it’s great that there are characters both
male and female readers can look up to. It’s essential to have role models who
embody virtues such as intelligence, courage, resourcefulness and kindness, but
it’s also important for those role models to make mistakes, get things wrong,
make bad choices, sometimes behave unpleasantly, and sometimes fail. A good
role model isn’t someone who is perfect, but someone who is real, and who a
reader can relate to. Young people especially need to know that it’s okay not
to get everything right all the time, that everyone gets it wrong sometimes and
that they don’t have to be perfect.
Dystopian books are full of
overcoming personal struggles, whether that be mental health issues or basic
survival, which creates the foundation of a character. How important is it to
use personal experience in writing? Do you think it has an impact on the voice
of the book?
I think it is important, as personal experience gives depth and
authenticity a piece of writing. That said, it’s not necessarily essential.
Writers are always told “write what you know” but that’s only useful up to a
certain point. We can’t all have personal experience of everything we write
about, which is why research is so vital. Personal experiences combined with
good research enables readers to connect with the characters and their
struggles. That means an awful lot of reading and/or discussions with people
who do have personal experience of what I’m writing about, but it’s always
worth it. Even when I’m writing about something I don’t have experience of, I
want to write authentically and realistically, because to do otherwise is
disrespectful to my readers and anyone struggling with the issues I tackle in
You explore a new take on human
slavery and trafficking with the issue of “Dream Scenarios” taking
people against their will to become a “Donor”. Do you feel that Human
Rights are an important issue to discuss in dystopian fiction aimed at young
Absolutely! Human rights are a
key issue in dystopian fiction, and are particularly well-represented in the
genre.Fiction is an excellent way of making discussions on social justice and
human rights accessible to readers and can introduce young people to these
issues early. It also allows younger (and older!) readers to explore some of
life’s deepest and darkest issues safely and in a way which isn’t overwhelming.
“The Carvers” are an
organisation that harvest body parts for science and desirable bodies in The
Spires for the wealthy. How is this idea developed from where we currently are
I think this aspect of the story
grew out of my interest in the fight against human trafficking and modern
slavery. The more I find out about this particular social justice issue, the
more I get the sense that people are increasingly being considered commodities,
things to be bought and used for personal gratification or profit. Whilst
working on Defiance, I started thinking about how far that could actually go. I
began researching the issue and was horrified to find that what the carvers do
in Defiance is in fact a very real issue. Organ harvesting and selling on the
black market sounds like an urban myth, or the plot of a horror movie, but it
is a growing trade. I started thinking about how wonderful advancements in
science, technology and medicine (such as voluntary organ donation) can be
corrupted by financial considerations, and how money often overtakes ethical
and moral concerns, and the idea developed from that.
Refreshingly so, love isn’t a
main part of the storyline and instead there is a focus on friendship and
loyalty. Was this a conscious decision when writing the book?
Yes, it was. In the very first
draft there was more of a romantic aspect, but I decided very quickly that it
wasn’t essential to the story. Whilst I have no objection to a good love story,
I have been a little frustrated by the emphasis on romantic relationships in
young adult fiction. I don’t think it’s good for young people to be presented
with so many stories featuring characters who pair up with the love of their
life in their teens, where romance comes before friendship and love triangles
are the norm. I didn’t want a romantic relationship to be a driving force of
the plot, as I felt the main character had more than enough to be dealing with.
I specifically wanted to focus on friendship and loyalty because felt that the
main characters needed those things more than they needed romance.
Dystopian books generally deal
with subjects that are bleak, which means that these books need to have some
light to balance the darkness. As someone who is Christian, did you use your
faith to help to write Defiance, especially when creating the characters and
developing the plot?
Yes, I’m aware that I did,
although not consciously. I know that my faith informs my views on virtually
every subject, and inevitably colours my writing. I don’t consider Defiance to
be a Christian novel and I’m not a Christian writer, I’m a writer who is a
Christian. For me, that’s an important distinction. My publisher is also a
Christian, which was really helpful during the writing and editing process.