Happy release day to The Quiet at the End of the World by Lauren James today! You may have seen my spoiler-free book review earlier in the week but today I’m so excited to share with you a Q&A session Lauren was lovely enough to do for me despite her busy schedule so thank you so much Lauren for finding the time so close to launch and the team at Walker Books for setting this up for me, it’s not every day you get to interview one of you’re favourite authors!
I loved hearing about the physics question that ultimately served as inspiration for The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, was there anything in particular that inspired you to create The Quiet at the end of the World?
I was reading a lot of science non-fiction, which I try to do as often as possible because it always inspires new ideas for my writing. I was reading Seven Brief Lessons in Physics, which was discussing extinction.
It said, “We are a short-lived genus of species. All our cousins are already extinct. We are perhaps the only species on Earth to be conscious of the inevitability of our own mortality. I fear that soon we shall also become the only species that will knowingly watch the coming of its own collective demise, or at least the demise of its civilisation.”
It was the first time it occurred to me that it is a one hundred per cent probability that the human race will one day go extinct. It might be a hundred years from now or a hundred billion years, but it’s going to happen.
Which means that there’s probably going to be the last generation of people who will know that they’re the last people to ever live. That seemed to me to be an incredibly pressured situation to find yourself in, especially if there’s no hope of a cure.
Lowrie and Shen often wonder just what mark they might leave on the world after they’ve gone and how they might leave a message for others to find in the future, what would you leave and how?
Ooh, good question! I would love to create some kind of message in hedgerows. You know how hedgerows around fields in England have been there since medieval times? I’d write a message across miles of space by planting hedges to create letters. Super long term, large scale communication!
What skill would you most like to learn from the surviving populace in the lead up to the extinction of the human race?
Lowrie and Shen learn loads of stuff, like mudlarking and kickboxing and engineering. I think if it was me, I’d want to learn something really useful like first aid and medicine. Knowing how to set a broken bone seems like it would be totally vital.
Creatively, I think I’d like to learn how to make stained glass from scratch. Just because that’s something I’m planning to take up as a hobby myself anyway!
Time travel has featured heavily in your books before and in Quiet Lowrie asks Shen, “If you got one turn in a time machine, what time period would you visit?” How would you answer this question yourself?
Such great questions! I became slightly obsessed with the Cambrian explosion when I was writing the book, which was 500 million years ago when life on Earth was evolving. I would definitely go and take a look at that in person. This is also Shen’s answer, because we are pretty similar people.
At the start of each chapter, we see an entry in Shen and Lowrie’s Discovery Log book, (the beanie baby tag was my favourite) other than the ones that were more plot-relevant how did you pick the others?
A few of them are things that I’ve personally found, either at car boot sales or at the tip or genuinely in the ground. Others are ones I’ve seen on mudlarking social media accounts (yes, that’s a real thing – tidelineart is my favourite.) And a few are my wishlist items of things I’d love to find one day!
Did you have a favourite one and were there any you were particularly fond of that didn’t make it into the finished book?
I actually split up scenes to make more chapters so I could use all the ones I wanted! I was quite selfish about it, because I liked them so much. My editor wasn’t sure the logbook entries would work, but I persuaded her to let me write them – and I’m very happy with how they turned out.
We see a lot of struggles throughout this book but also adapting and working through difficult times, was there anything in particular that you struggled with while writing Quiet and did you have to adapt to solve any problems?
Finding Lowrie’s character was quite tough. I really wanted to write about another female scientist, as I do in all my books, but I didn’t want Lowrie to feel exactly like Romy or Clove. So it took me a while to find the right style of intelligence for her – she’s an engineer, so she’s very physical and thinks in terms of the mechanics of things, but struggles with the more fact-based side. Once I had worked that out, she clicked into place, but it did take a while to get her voice right.
We learn about characters Maya and Riz through old posts on social media, what do you think future generations might think of us if they were to see a slice of the activity we experience on social media today?
I think they’d be completely perplexed by how much we were all focussed on politics and debates over land boundaries, when we should have been trying to reverse climate change and save the world. We’re on the brink of destroying the planet and I think in the future it’s going to seem crazy that we knew that and yet did nothing about it.
I couldn’t finish this Q&A without asking about Mitch, a firm favourite in my heart and I couldn’t help but wonder how you decided which coloured lights to use for different answers and reactions? Did you have a list or go with what felt right? As a reader, I felt that the colours fit with his emotional responses really well and helped to build his personality for me.
I love Mitch too! The coloured lights were a very late addition – originally he made beeping noises. When I changed it to flashing lights, everything clicked into place. I definitely didn’t make a list or think too much about it – I just chose them instinctively. I like to imagine that the lights are part of a broken LED screen that would have originally displayed actual pictures and text. But only a few of the LED lights still work, so the lights seem to appear at random.
Lauren James was born in 1992 and graduated in 2014 from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. She is the Carnegie-nominated British Young Adult author of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, The Quiet at the End of the World and The Next Together series.
She started writing during secondary school English classes, because she couldn’t stop thinking about a couple who kept falling in love throughout history. She sold the rights to the novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university.
Her books have sold over fifty thousand copies in the UK alone and been translated into five languages worldwide. She has been described as ‘Gripping romantic sci-fi’ by the Wall Street Journal and ‘A strange, witty, compulsively unpredictable read which blows most of its new YA-suspense brethren out of the water’ by Entertainment Weekly.
Her other novels include The Last Beginning, named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for young adults by the Independent, and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, which was inspired by a Physics calculation she was assigned at university. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and all of her books feature female scientists in prominent roles. The Quiet at the End of the World considers the legacy and evolution of the human race into the far future.
Lauren is published in the UK by Walker Books and in the US by HarperCollins. She lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the Guardian, Buzzfeed, Den of Geek, The Toast, and the Children’s Writers and Artist’s Yearbook 2020. She lectures in creative writing at Coventry University, and works with Writing West Midlands, providing creative writing courses to children through the Spark Young Writers programme.
You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James, Tumblr at @laurenjames or her website http://www.laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to be kept up to date with her new releases and receive bonus content.