Jonathon Stroud is the author of The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne. The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne is an enthralling, action-packed, post-apocalyptic adventure. The book follows two unlikely allies—the outlaws Scarlett and Browne—who are about to become the most notorious renegades in all that’s left of Britain. YEM was able to speak with Jonathon about his writing process, where the inspirations for his characters came from, and which author he would most like to collaborate with.
Young Entertainment Mag: When did you first start writing The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne and where did you get the inspiration from?
Jonathon Stroud: There’s been a lot of talk about Britishness over the last few years, and perhaps some changes in the way we view ourselves. I was keen to write something that touched on this notion of change – whether for good or bad – and explored its implications. Being a fantasy writer, I decided to write about a future Britain where a major occurrence (‘the Cataclysm’) has radically altered not just the landscape and the fauna of the UK, but also the societies that survive in it. And I rather liked the idea of a ‘British Western’, where a few surviving towns cling to old ways, while ravening beasts stalk the home counties beyond. My two heroes, Scarlett and Albert, are both outcasts from these inward-looking towns, but they have the bravery to look ever outwards, and are prepared to face up to the challenges of the dangerous new world.
YEM: What is the most difficult part of the writing process? What is the most rewarding?
Jonathon: In many ways, the most difficult part is writing the first new sentence each day. There’s something quite frightening about an empty page – it seems to be challenging you, daring you to try to create something. When I was a young writer, I used to spend ages trying to create a perfect sentence to get my day off to a good start – but now I just throw myself in and get scribbling. Once you’ve got that first sentence done, the next one is always slightly easier. And you can always go back later and change anything you’re not happy with.
The most rewarding thing comes at the end of each day. Then, when you get up from your desk, you have (hopefully) a couple of fresh, new pages that weren’t there that morning. You’ve just made something that didn’t exist before. That’s a very special feeling.
YEM: What do you hope your readers’ biggest takeaways will be from reading The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne?
Jonathon: First and foremost, I hope that my readers will have had a good time, and feel that they’ve been immersed in an exciting, scary, funny, strange and thrilling new world. I try to make it as visual as a trip to the movies, and I want my characters to seem as real as if they were standing next to you. Beyond that, there are lots of themes hidden in the story, things I think are interesting to explore, such as tolerance (and its opposite), friendship, hope, and the different ways that societies treat outsiders. These are all things that readers might be interested in too, but the most important thing is that they love the characters and enjoy the adventure.
YEM: Without spoiling the book, what was your favorite scene or moment in the story to write?
Jonathon: Probably the episode where Scarlett and Albert visit a remote trading post in a creepy old fort at Bladon Point, and their visit does not go as planned. I had a lot of fun here making their exploration as suspenseful and scary as I could!
YEM: Where did you get your inspiration for Scarlett and Albert’s characteristics and do you have a favorite that you wish you can possess?
Jonathon: I knew from the outset that I would have two central characters who would be opposites, and that they would therefore have the capacity for conflict – and also the capacity to save each other. Scarlett’s character fell into place in the first two chapters: from the moment she wakes up surrounded by the bodies of four dead men (bandits who had attacked her in the night), we know she is formidable, fierce and not to be messed with. She then robs a bank, showing infinite cheek and chutzpah. She is solitary and self-possessed, and is contemptuous of everyone else. Needless to say, I therefore instantly gave her a companion who would really irritate her: the gentle, hapless and rather needy Albert Browne. Despite her loud impatience with him, she straightaway saves his life – and this tells you an important fact about her true nature. As I followed their adventure together, it was by watching the collision of their two characters that I came to understand the secrets of their personalities. It’s a process I’m still continuing now, as I work on the sequel.
Which of their characteristics would I like to have? That’s hard! I’d love to have Scarlett’s grit and fearlessness, but I’d also want Albert’s generosity and innocence. We all of us need a mix of their qualities.
YEM: If you were to collaborate with an author (alive or dead), which would it be and why?
Jonathon: That’s a tricky one! I’ve never co-written a book (though I have worked closely with illustrators on picture books and puzzle books for younger readers, and I really liked that collaboration). I’d love to do something with Rick Riordan or Eoin Colfer, who are both super-talented and supremely nice people – it would be a delight to throw ideas about and challenge each other to come up with cool plot twists. Maybe one day!
YEM: What’s one thing you can tell someone who wants to become a YA writer?
Jonathon: You have to remain true to your own instincts and vision. Always create something that gives you joy: if you manage that, the chances are that others will share the reaction. Other than that, it’s really about the long haul. Getting recognition is often a slow process, so you have to be happy to keep plugging away, enjoying the act of creativity for its own sake, and being aware that you’re honing your skills every day. Finally, if you can, find someone you trust to read or comment on your work – someone who will be critical as well as encouraging. It’s a solitary business, and having someone in your team to share the successes and knock-backs with you is a good idea. In short: persevere and have fun.
YEM: What’s your favorite quote from the book that a character says?
Jonathon: My favorite jokes are always when Albert and Scarlett are talking together. Usually Albert is annoying Scarlett by being super-innocent and curious. Early on, he notices her precious prayer mat, where she sits to meditate. Scarlett thinks it’s holy, and doesn’t like anyone else touching it. She tells him that when she sits on it, she is in a state of grace.
Albert: ‘So if I sat on it, would I be in a state of grace too?’
Scarlett: ‘No. You would be in a state of some discomfort, for I would beat you with a stick.’