James Roy has a strong pedigree in the world of children’s and young adult writing. His stand-out books in my opinion are Town, sophisticated interlinked short stories; Problem Child, about bullying from the bully’s point of view; and his intriguing, wrenching YA novel, Anonymity Jones.
James’s new YA novel One Thousand Hills was published by Scholastic Australia this year.
It’s a powerful, important story, shared by Rwandan, Noël Zihabamwe and has won the NSW Premier’s Young People’s History Prize this year.
Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, James.
Where are you based and how involved are you in the YA and children’s lit world?
I live in the Blue Mountains, but I travel broadly in my work as a schools presenter, as well as in my pursuit of a cracking story. I am heavily involved with WestWords, a Western Sydney youth literature initiative, and I try to be supportive of (and seek the support of) other kidlit/YA creators.
What’s your background and how else do you spend your time?
I was raised in a Seventh-day Adventist missionary family, and I think that upbringing gave me two great gifts – a love of story, and a love of music. Writing ticks the first box, and playing in various bands ticks the other.
I’m currently working on a screen adaptation of Captain Mack, which excites me (although I’m still looking for a producer – hint hint…). I think Town would make an interesting stageplay or film, and of course One Thousand Hills.
Why did you write One Thousand Hills?
As a child, my friend Noël lived the story of One Thousand Hills. In a sense this book was written to honour him and the countless other children living through the hell of civil war and tribal violence. I hope it also serves as something of a cautionary tale – this is what happens when hatred, ignorance and bigotry is left unchecked.
Is it a novel for children or young adults?
It was written for young people. It is very carefully structured to allow younger readers to appreciate it without being too confronted. But anyone – adult or young person – who comes to it with any foreknowledge of the events is left in no doubt that this was a brutal and nightmarish event.
Pascal is very much like Noël, who was nine at the time of the genocide. He’s a normal kid with siblings, parents, friends, teachers. He’s a normal kid who one day encounters the unimaginable.
How do you know and can write a character like this?
Societal and cultural detail was obtained through my conversations with Noël. Beyond that, Pascal is just a kid. If I’ve learnt one thing from twenty years of speaking with kids all over the world, it’s that the same things motivate, excite and worry them no matter where on earth they live.
Have you received any responses from readers about One Thousand Hills that particularly resonate with you?
The most interesting one I’ve read was on GoodReads, where someone said they really didn’t like it – that it made them feel physically ill – before going on and listing all the ways it had affected them, and talking about how much they had learnt and processed from reading the book. I took that as a win.
I’m finishing the latest of the Chook Doolan books, and also putting together some ideas for an adult novel that will form part of my Masters dissertation. In the meantime, a sequel to One Thousand Hills seems quite likely.
What have you recently enjoyed reading?
I’m currently re-reading Moby Dick, in preparation for my dissertation. I’m also about to get back into Old Yeller forty years after I first read it. I have a multitude of tissues at the ready.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Would it be too political to suggest that we #CloseTheCamps?
Thanks for your answers and all the best with One Thousand Hills, James.