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A man thrust a baby into Jade’s hands. It trembled in her arms. The man had a message: escape from the tunnels and never return, her parents were already dead. Jade had a sister; she was irradiated.
Thirteen years later, her sister, Pearl, is coming of age. Rows of sucker-caps line her arms and hands. Her skin is coral pink. Each night, her dreams fill with visions of violence, depression, and fear.
On the surface, people have grown wild and dangerous. They scavenge, fight, and steal. Below, in the tunnels, they're controlled by a ruthless leader and an army of beings known only as Shadows. When both groups come searching for Pearl, sensing the power her dreams may hold, only Jade can stand in the way.
Review to come later…
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
Irradiated is a post-apocalyptic novel set in my hometown of Brisbane, Australia. The city is a wasteland, and the radiation of the sun has the power to mutate our genes. People have taken shelter underground, living in a series of road tunnels.
Jade’s newborn sister, Pearl, is thrust into her hands with one instruction: escape from the tunnels, and never return. Her father had strayed from the tunnels, exposing himself to the sun’s radiation, and it killed as punishment. Pearl is born irradiated, and exile is their only option.
The sisters are trapped between two worlds. The surface world is unforgiving, filled with dangerous scavengers, while those in the tunnels want them dead, viewing Pearl’s mutations as a sin.
The novel follows their struggle to survive.
What makes your book unique?
It’s a post-apocalyptic novel, but it’s not about the apocalypse. It’s about how people live years from now, and their fight to survive. Often, post-apocalyptic books are more about us, now, than the people in them. For example, they’re about how we went wrong or what we did to cause the disaster. This is well and truly about them—the people in the novel, their lives, and their stories.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
It’s actually a blend of many ideas, but the biggest inspiration for the novel is my hometown of Brisbane, Australia. The tunnels, bridges, weather, and environment all strongly influence the world of the novel. They combined with an earlier story that I had started to write, but never completed, about a young girl living in an a laboratory, a genetic experiment. As ideas tend to do, they collided, and nature became the experimenter. The sun’s radiation warps the genes of our offspring, making them irradiated. The idea and the world combined, and that’s the spark that got the story started.
Is there any message you want readers to get from reading the book?
I prefer to let readers find their own meaning in my work. One of the great things about fiction is that everybody takes away a different message, and each of them is just as valid.
How long did it take to write the book?
I started Irradiated in November, and it was published in May.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
The most fun to write is the primary antagonists, a woman known only as The Queen. She’s just so deliciously bad, that it’s quite fun to write. She will make your skin crawl.
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
I’m not an overly hands-on plotter, but I like to know the framework of the story before I get started. A lot of this is just knowing when the major plot points happen, and the general structure of the story. Then I can join the gaps.
A lot of the time the nitty gritty of the story depends on the characters and their world. It seems a bit strange, but the characters come alive and, to a degree, dictate what happens in the story. So I like to have a bit of freedom to let the story develop as it needs to.
If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?
If I really wanted to change something, I still could. There’s nothing to stop me, in the digital age.
But the thing is, as clichéd as it sounds, I don’t want to change anything. Now that it’s available, and is finding a home on people’s kindles, the novel has a life of its own. The best things to do with creative works is to put your soul into them, work as hard as you can, and then let them go. Endless tinkering rarely improves a work, which is the product of the time it was written.
How did you come up with the cover?
I worked with a great cover designer called Jason Gurley, who is also talented and successful author. We discussed the novel—it’s themes, icons, and major plot points—and he generated a range of different concepts. The cover we selected stood out so strongly, we knew we had no choice but to use it.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’m not sure. It was a series of small steps. When I first started reading a lot of great fiction, I knew that I wished I could be a writer. It didn’t occur to me that I could be. Not for a while.
I started writing because that longing to do it became so great, that I just had to. The more I wrote, the more positive feedback I got, and then I realised—this is it.
What was the first story that you ever wrote?
I suppose it was back in primary school? I’m not sure. I did write a great short story in school, about a possum that was stuck in our roof. That one sticks with me. I think it was the first time I really started to enjoy story narratives, subtexts, and the character creation.
What is your favorite genre, and why?
Science fiction and literary fiction. I like science fiction for the amazing creativity and the moral exploration—it delves into very important ideas about humanity, science, and human experience. I like literary fiction because I admire the beauty of the English language, and the rhythm of well written prose.
Are there any books you are absolutely inspired by?
Some books I find incredibly moving, and to me that’s inspirational. When I read a story that makes me genuinely emotional, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I feel the story has transcended the medium. To think that words on a page can feel us with such pain, or happiness… that’s something special.
What are you working on next?
I’m excited to say that the sequel to Irradiated, titled Degenerated, has just been released and is doing rather well. I am about to start work on the third and final book, Aberrated.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Write what you enjoy writing. It may be tempting to write in a genre that is ‘hot’ or popular at a given time, but passion always shines through. The same goes for writing style. Don’t try to mimic others, but try to find your own flow. Listen to the rhythm of the prose and do what ‘sounds’ right.
How do you juggle writing with family time?
I do most of my writing in the morning, when I’m the only one awake. I wake up at 5am, make a coffee, and get to work. It’s a nice, quiet time to write and it allows me to get work done without taking away time from anything else.
The man thrust a baby into Jade’s hands. It was warm and wet and its cries were muffled. Thick fabric covered its face and body. It trembled in her arms.
“You have to go,” said the man. His voice was urgent and his movements were rapid. Each breath was hot and laboured.
“I don’t understand. Where’s Mum, where’s Dad?” Jade asked.
The tunnel was dark but she could place him by the sound, by the heat, by the air. His panic rushed into her, as though it was her own. He grabbed her with heavy hands and turned her around.
“There’s no time,” he said. “No time, child. They’re coming. The Shadows are coming. You need to get out of here.”
“B-But, what about my parents?” she stammered.
The man squeezed her shoulders tightly, his fingers digging into her muscles and between her bones.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “They’re dead. You have to trust us. This is your only chance. This is your sister’s only chance. You have to keep going and never turn back.”
He pushed her onward, and other hands grabbed her. They grasped her then passed her on to the next set. They all knew what was happening, all knew where she was headed—everybody but her. She clutched the squealing baby in her long, thin arms and yielded herself to their guidance.
Jade had a sister; she was irradiated.