Damaris Young is the first middle grade writer in our Author Interview series.
Her brilliant and bewitching debut novel, The Switching Hour, is published today by Scholastic. The idea for The Switching Hour was sparked by a folktale Damaris was told by a security guard in Southern Africa where she grew up. She has since moved to Bristol where she works on building worlds and adventures for middle grade readers with strong friendships at the heart of them. She lives with her dogs and partner.
What inspired you to write?
A love of reading turned me into a writer! Books have a magical ability to transport you into a seemingly infinite number of worlds, from Narnia to Wonderland. It’s the endless possibility of stories that made me want to write and discover worlds of my own.
What’s your favourite book/piece of literature?
My favourite book that I have read over and over again is Beyond the Deepwoods by Paul Stewart, which is beautifully illustrated by Chris Riddell. This whirlwind adventure has fantastical creatures around every twist and turn of the forest path, while the worldbuilding is perfection and entirely believable – the secret to all good fantasy stories. The main character’s search for his family leads him on a quest for his own identity making this story a wonderful coming of age tale. Not only did Beyond the Deepwoods have a huge impact on me as a young reader, but has influenced my own writing; I strive to create worlds that are as immersive as The Deepwoods.
Where do most of your good ideas come to you?
It does sounds like a cliché, but I often dream snippets of an idea that turn into a story. Amongst the nonsense that dreams are mostly about, sometimes I wake up with a spark of an idea that turns into a story. Dreams are also where I have untangled particularly knotty plotlines, as my brain refuses to switch off and will go over and over the story while I sleep.
Where do you write?
I write on the sofa, legs crossed and the laptop balanced on a pillow in my lap, with my two dogs snoring next to me. The dream is to one day have a writing shed (isn’t that what every writer hopes for?) but until them I will make do with living room sofa!
What is your writing process?
I write as fast as I can through the first draft, churning out words without looking back. This is my planning stage, as I force the world into being and the characters into existence. It is mentally exhausting, the outpouring of noise and chaos, but it’s how I get to know a new story. After I’ve written it through, I start again. This time, I take my time to structure it properly and develop the characters. After that, I edit the story over and over and over again until I feel less like an actual human and more like a word document.
Where did the idea come from for The Switching Hour?
I wrote the bones of The Switching Hour on the Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa, as part of my final project. The inspiration behind a dream eating creature was something that I thought I had just plucked from thin air, but as the story progressed and as I started to write about memory loss and forgetting those you know and love, I began to understand it was a lot to do with my unconscious fear of forgetting my childhood. My family moved a lot while I was growing up and the fear of forgetting the faces of friends left behind and the names of beloved pets was something that stayed with me into adulthood.
Due to my interest in climate change and the impact it has on the environment, it was also important that I set The Switching Hour during a terrible drought, which is the catalyst for the dream eating creature waking up. Creating a monster that already exists in our own world, albeit not in the form of a dream eating creature, was a way that I could explore the subject in more depth.
Ultimately, The Switching Hour is a story of hope and about facing up to those things which scare you, whether those fears are internal or external.
How do you relax after a day of writing?
I walk my two dogs, who enjoy stopping and sniffing every stone, twig and leaf. In the evenings, I read, watch films with my partner or spend time with friends who conveniently live only a few doors away. I’m also a big believer in the restorative powers of a nap and I take one as often as I’m allowed. I would probably say sleep is my greatest love. Come between me and a good night’s sleep at your peril!