Hello everybody! Today, I’m really excited to be welcoming Rachel Delahaye, the author of Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge, to the blog for an interview. Onto the post!
Hi Rachel, thank you so much for being here and answering my questions! To start us off, can you please describe the book in 5 words?
Fighting for peace without fighting!
The book takes place in a world named Brutalia, which is a pretty horrible place, but the worldbuilding is amazing. If you were to live there, what are three things that are banned in Brutalia would you miss the most?
Safety. I take safety in my life for granted and I think many in this country do. But can you imagine stepping outside your front door and not knowing whether you’ll make it back home without getting into serious trouble or even having to run for your life?
Everyday safety is an unsung luxury. Food. Rotten vegetables with roasted rat is a menu I would struggle to get used to. I love flavour and variety, and when I step into a supermarket I’m always overwhelmed by the colours and products, and I’m grateful for the chance to be able to try new foods from all over the world. Freedom. You may think I’m bonkers if you hear me singing to myself in the street. But it’s not illegal, so I can and I will!
Also, where I live, it’s not illegal to dance, lie in the sunshine or say what you think. If I were on Brutalia, I’d find all the laws (especially those punishable by death) very hard to cope with. A constant feeling of apprehension, of walking on eggshells, not knowing if you’ll be charged for breaking a law you didn’t know existed – it’s a prison without bars.
As it’s such an interesting, unique world, I was wondering what sparked the idea for Mort’s story and Brutalia?
Like most of my stories, Mort came out of nowhere. It just bopped me on the head. Not the entire story (that would hurt) – just a vague idea. The thought was to have a boy who was an unusual hero – not one who went into battle or had super powers or was forced to stand up and defend someone; I wanted a hero that simply wouldn’t get worn down by the environment he was born into. His triumph is being true to himself, even when under extreme pressure. Mort quickly evolved into an illustration that you don’t have to become what’s expected of you. Mort had to be a nice character, so therefore, by contrast, the land he called home had to be horrible… I was definitely in the mood to write something funny, and I’m quite drawn to dark themes, so it’s not entirely surprising that awful, grotty, hopeless Brutalia became the backdrop. And writing about revoltingness is such good fun.
However, despite how bleak some of the actual plotline is, the book never feels too dark because of the fantastic humour threaded throughout it, and it really made me smile reading it. Can you give us some recommendations for some funny middle grade you’ve enjoyed, either recently or old favourites?
My absolute favourite funnies of all time are the Mr Gum books by Andy Stanton – they are full of that laugh-out-loud silliness we desperately need in order to break our brains free of routine thought patterns and expand our minds.
I’ve also really enjoyed juicy adventures laced with humour, such as Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick, The Dragon Detective series by Gareth P Jones, Fire Boy by Jay Joseph, The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard (which is utterly nutty), and The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates by Jenny Pearson, which has to be one of the most delightful funny books I have ever read.
Moving onto a couple of questions about writing, something I adored in the book was the narrator’s voice, which has lots of wry little comments and it feels like it’s someone actually telling you the story (I’m hoping for a reveal that it’s a character within the books as the series goes on!), and I also loved the conversations between the ravens at the beginning of each chapter. What made you choose to tell the story this way?
I’m afraid, and also a little bit nervous to reveal that nothing about Mort was planned. Not the story, nor the style. I simply wrote it as I felt it at the time. If I dig into my subconscious, I suppose the ravens might have been inspired a little by the Muppet characters, Statler and Waldorf, who are two sharp-tongued theatre critics that mock everything in the show. In fact, they’re downright rude most of the time. When the ravens started to take on a bigger part in the story (with Brutalia’s description and then Weed’s trial, and ultimately ‘the revenge’), it seemed like a fun way of giving the tale another layer, as well as offering the reader some perspective of why the ravens behaved liked they did.
The wry narrative style is also another layer – while the story of Mort the Meek is linear, with one thing happening after another, the quirky narration offers surprise elements. There’s no rhythm of predictability, so the reader can’t get too comfortable (much like the people of Brutalia!). I hope that challenging or conspiring with the reader also makes the story more interactive. I think it invites the reader to come and look and laugh at the ridiculous world as if it were in a display cabinet, or a perhaps a zoo, safely behind bars.
What tips would you give to other writers who want to have a unique narrative voice such as this one?
I’ve never thought much about narration before, so I don’t feel as if I can offer sensible tried-and-tested writing tips, but my instinct is this: pick your genre and get your objective clear in your mind – for instance, do you want traditional funny, quirky funny, old-style story-telling or in-the-moment reporting? Once you have an idea of your book’s personality, do one of the following: Write as you would narrate, yourself, and then magnify it. The narration in Mort is very much me at my silliest, without boundaries or worrying what people might think of me. Think about point of view (POV). Most books are first person or third person. I’ve read a couple that are second person blended with third person, which have been fascinating. But perhaps you’ll find your unique narration will come from an inanimate object, or the weather, or the family pet. Play around with a couple of paragraphs, using different POVs. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Consider who the narration guides – does it guide the reader, the characters or the story itself? Watch films and read books that you enjoy or think are clever and work out what their narrative styles are. Does the ‘voice’ – be it camera angles or an actual narration – lead you along, or experience it alongside you, or does it explain something to you once you’ve found it? Don’t worry about imitation; it’ll automatically be unique because of the words you choose and the story you tell.
What is your writing routine usually like? Do you have any unusual habits or quirks? And has lockdown/COVID impacted on this at all?
Every day starts the same. I’m at my desk at 9.30-ish, having had a dog walk and two coffees. I spin in my swivel chair a few times. Sometimes because I’ve got my jumper stuck, but usually because I just want to be playful. I find that lifting my mood somehow opens my mind. I sit at my desk all day (apart from more dog walks) and hope the writing comes to me. It’s not guaranteed. I spend a lot more time faffing and distracting myself than actually writing anything down – I check emails, social media, more social media; I read books and articles, too. But always at my desk, because inspiration can suddenly strike without warning and that’s when I begin to type and can do so for hours.
I recently wrote a whole fifty-thousand-word middle grade draft in a week, although that is extremely rare. Apart from the first three months, where the general weirdness of being in a world paralysed by COVID completely wiped out my creativity (I did nothing but watch television), nothing much has changed for me. I have children who are old enough to school themselves, and I’m lucky enough to have an office. So I shut the door, stare at my computer and hope that today, please today, the words fly out onto the page.
And for a more general writing question, is there any book by another author you wish you’d written, and if yes, which?
There are so, so many. Here are a couple (just middle grades) off the top of my head, and I’ll immediately think of more incredible books the moment I press send. Strangely, none of them is funny! The Darkness is Rising series by Susan Cooper Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean She Wolf by Dan Smith Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen.
Finally, I saw at the back of the book that this is only the first of Mort’s adventures. Can you tell us anything about what will happen next in Brutalia?
Oh my goodness, I am so excited for you to read the next instalment. It’s called The Monstrous Quest and I don’t want to give it away…. But… It’s still set on Brutalia, which hasn’t come far since the end of The Ravens’ Revenge, and you’ll meet some new characters such as a large sea monster, a few dancing lobsters, a group of hilarious love-struck fishermen, and a girl who looks like a sea urchin.
Favourite chocolate? Very dark chocolate, preferably Godiva. Or truffles. Or Bounty Bars! (I’m hungry)
Animal you’d most like to be for a day? A bird. I would love to fly. I used to have recurring dreams as a child, where I’d soar over the landscape like a condor. The dreams stopped, and I wish I could get them back.
The actress who you’d want to play you in a film of your life? Emma Stone or Emily Hampshire, who plays Stevie in Schitts Creek. She’s short and dark and plays awkward so well. I’ve been awkward my whole life, in a kind of loud over-compensating kind of way.
Favourite album? Argh! So hard. Either Purple Rain by Prince or the soundtrack to The Mission by Ennio Morricone.
And, since it’s finally almost springtime, your favourite thing about the season? Buds. The sight of trees ready to pop out their greenery is the greatest joy. It means colour is coming back.
Thanks so much for having me! Rachel x
Thank you so much for reading! Is this book on your TBR? What book do you wish you’d written? I’d love to hear in the comments! Amy x