My So-Called Afterlife
“Fifteen year old Lucy has been stuck in the men’s loos since she was murdered there six months ago and Jeremy is the first person who’s been able to see or hear her. Just her luck that he’s a seriously uncool geography-teacher type – but at least he’s determined to help. Once he’s found a way for her to leave the loos, she’s soon meeting other ghosts, including the gorgeous Ryan. However, when Jeremy insists that she helps him track down her killer, she has to confront her greatest fear…”
My So-Called Haunting
“Skye, a fourteen-year-old who can see ghosts, is feeling very stressed. Not only is the ghost of a sixteenth-century witch giving her fashion tips, but she’s struggling to settle into life with her aunt, and is developing a crush on the most unattainable boy in the school, Nico. When her aunt asks for help with a troubled teen ghost called Dontay, she’s glad of the distraction, and she’s soon facing a battle to keep her love life and her psychic life separate. As things get ever more complicated, it looks as though Dontay’s past might cost Skye her future.”
I’m delighted that Tamsyn Murray has agreed to be interviewed on Absolute Vanilla.
My So-Called Afterlife , My So-Called Haunting, and your recently released My So-Called Phantom Love Life, all deal with ghostly subjects. What’s the appeal of the supernatural for you? Do you believe in ghosts, and have you had any ghostly encounters?
I think everyone is a little bit fascinated by the unknown and the supernatural definitely qualifies as the unknown! I enjoy writing the Afterlife books because the usual rules don’t apply and your characters can end up in all kinds of scary or funny situations.
I’ve never met a ghost, although I keep an open mind about their existence. When I was twenty-one, I met a psychic who told me I would be a writer – that was quite spooky as no one knew I liked to write!
What was your inspiration for My So-Called Afterlife and which came first, the plot or the character?
One day, I was idly wondering what happened to a ghost if the building they haunted got knocked down – did they haunt the building site? And what if something icky was built on top, like a toilet? Then the character of Lucy Shaw stepped forwards, stamping her Uggs and demanding I told her story. She even gave me the first line of the book and I never looked back.
You’ve created a vivid and delightfully lippy voice in Lucy Shaw, and in Skye Thackery (the main character in My So-Called Haunting). What is your secret to creating such a wonderfully modern teen voice, and, how important is that voice for you in writing the kind of stories you write?
My secret? I’m not sure I really have one! I was a bit of a lippy teenager myself once and now I live with my teenage daughter so I draw on experience to create my characters. Nothing beats having a member of your target audience on hand to check whether your dialogue is right or wrong.
It’s really important to me to make sure the voice behind the novels is authentic – teens seem to be able to smell when an author doesn’t believe in their characters and I wouldn’t want to disappoint them. Besides, that lippy teenager isn’t so far away – she’s still part of me.
Lucy, despite her wicked humour, has to deal with some pretty big issues as the My So-Called Afterlife evolves. Aside from the obvious - her murder - you also make her think about suicide and the afterlife, while Skye in My So-Called Haunting has to deal with gang related murders and sinister cults. Did you feel it was important to raise issues like this for teen readers and did you have a specific motivation in doing so?
I can’t say I had specific motives – when I was writing My So-Called Afterlife, there was a lot of knife crime among teenagers being reported in the news, particularly in London. So obviously that influenced some of the themes of the book. Similarly, teen suicide was making the headlines, with a particular town in Wales having seen an unusually high number of deaths over a short period of time. Coupled with my own school experience, I could easily imagine a teenager being driven to desperation by bullying. If Hep had spoken to her parents earlier, she might have found a way out of her nightmare without dying.
Skye’s involvement with Dontay comes about after he dies in a gang shoot-out and I read a lot of heart-breaking stories where teens had died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t have a solution but it felt right to highlight the issue.
Did you do much research into the supernatural in writing your books or did you just make up stuff as you went?
The best thing about writing a supernatural story like My So-Called Afterlife was that I didn’t need to do much research - everyone knows what ghosts do. I did do some light reading about spiritualist churches, and I researched Romanian folklore for My So-Called Haunting, which is explored more in the third book in the series, My So-Called Phantom Lovelife.
What is your view of people who are or who claim to be psychic – like Skye, or those who attend the Church of the Dearly Departed in the My So-Called After Life?
As with the existence of ghosts, I try to keep an open mind. I have no logical explanation for the psychic who predicted I’d be a writer – he really couldn’t have known. So who’s to say there aren’t people who can contact the dead? Although there are plenty unscrupulous people making the same claim and I think that’s pretty low.
In the My So-Called Afterlife you make being stuck in limbo quite cool – your ghosts have parties, hang out, have a ghostly mobile network – it’s pretty much like real life but pretty much without responsibilities. Yet that “coolness” is also coupled with how they died and the need to find what is keeping them in limbo – this is particularly obvious in the case of Dontay in My So-Called Haunting. It raises some interesting points about unfinished business and letting go. To what extent did you want to write something that was just plain fun, and to what extent did you feel you actually had something important you wanted to say – and do you believe you achieved that? Was it a difficult balance to achieve?
Well, making the right or wrong choices was something I wanted to write about but the last thing I wanted to do was preach to readers so I incorporated as much fun as I could to counteract the darker themes. I get a lot of positive comments about the Afterlife world and I think it worked out really well. It made the books a lot of fun to write.
All three of your teen novels have “My So-Called…” in the title. What is the reason for this?
It was kind of an accident – the first title fitted the novel really well and after we experimented with a few titles for the second book, we settled on My So-Called Haunting. The third one was a no-brainer!
Your new book, My So-Called Phantom Love Life has just been released and is a sequel to My So-Called Haunting – can you tell us a bit about it?
It continues the story of Skye and Nico but there’s an added complication in the shape of Owen Wicks, a ghost who catches Skye’s eye. Eventually she has to choose between the two, as the shadows of Nico’s past threaten to envelope them all.
Certain YA paranormal series have been getting some bad press lately, what are your thoughts on the importance of strong plots and characterization in YA novels? And what is your view on YA series appearing to be more popular with publishers than stand alone books, even if the writing and structure in those series are less than brilliant?
I try to steer clear of judging other peoples’ work unless I’ve read it for myself and the sad truth is that I don’t have much time for reading at the moment. But I think it’s perfectly possible to have a series which maintains characterization, structure and quality, as long as the author knows where to stop. Sometimes, publishers seem so keen for one more hit book that they don’t consider whether the story has reached a natural end. That’s when the author needs to take a stand.
What was your journey to becoming published like? And how have you found the experience of being published and marketing yourself?
It was actually quite smooth – I found an agent almost immediately and a publisher a few months later. Being published is fab – I’ve met so many amazing people. The marketing is harder than actually writing the books but you do get to see the rewards after a while!
You have also written picture books - the Stunt Bunny series – which do you prefer to write, pictures books or teen fiction, and why?
I like writing for different age groups because the challenges for each are different but one of the best things about my younger reader series is working with an illustrator who really gets my sense of humour. His name is Lee Wildish and I feel very lucky to have him bring my stories to life.
What next for Tamsyn Murray?
I’m thinking about the fourth and final Afterlife book, and working on a couple of ideas for 9-12 year olds, but mostly, I’d like to finish the chick-lit book I’ve been working on for a while now. Whatever the future holds, I hope it’s wordy!
Many thanks to Tamsyn for the interview!
To find out more about Tamsyn Murray
Visit her website
Read her blog
Join her fanpage on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter - @TamsynTweetie
You can find Tamsyn’s book on Amazon (US and UK) and in all good bookstores.
You can read a recent review of my So-Called Afterlife on MC Rogerson's blog