Philip Webb’s Six Days was one of my favourite books of 2011. Six Days is an original, exciting mix of action, adventure, mystery and science fiction, filled with memorable characters. I always like to find out the story-behind-the-story so I asked Philip a few questions about his characters, inspirations for the story and the best and worst things about being a writer.
- Six Days is a fantastic mix of mystery, action, adventure, science fiction and dystopian fiction. Did you know that the story would branch off into different genres before you started writing or did the story take on a life of it’s own once you started?
I set out from the beginning to write a story that was a blend of genres – something that was set in the future but that had strong links with the world today and also back through the ages. It has elements of science fiction and mystery (genres that I love) but it was fun for me to write it from the perspective of a down-to-earth character. Cass is perhaps the last person who would believe or understand the fantastical situation she’s thrust into, but she just gets on with it and brings a refreshing take on spaceships and aliens and terminator-type machines.
- Unlike a lot of other dystopian/science fiction novels for children and young adults, Six Days is set in Britain. Why did you decide to set it in London?
I love London and having lived here a long time I know it well. It has an extraordinary atmosphere and a great buzz. I wanted to try and communicate that sense of a great city abandoned and ruined but still recognizable. It was really fun to set important scenes in places like Big Ben and the British Museum – places that the reader can identify with and picture clearly in their heads. Also, setting it in a real city helped to ground the story a bit – it somehow acts as a contrast to all the mad stuff with organic spaceships and whatnot.
- Six Days is one of those stories that you don’t want to put down because there is so much happening and a sense of impending doom as the clock ticks down. How difficult is it as a writer to keep this pace up?
The pace is something I had to keep in mind all the time. There are moments in the plot where you have to slow down, take breath, reveal back story – but they have to be to the point. The key is to be ruthless – if a slower passage isn’t completely necessary then it has to go. Giving the characters countdown cuffs really helped remind me that the clock was ticking down – it gave me a sense of urgency to move the story along quickly.
- Your main character and narrator, Cass, is a confident girl who gets into some pretty tough situations. Did you base Cass on anyone in particular?
Cass is a mix of people I’ve known really. Traditionally in my family there have been very strong, fiercely loyal women, and certainly the no-nonsense way Cass speaks has been influenced by my nan, mum and sister. I enjoyed writing the book in Cass’s voice because she’s feisty and stubborn and not always right – there’s a vulnerability about her too.
- Which authors/books/movies inspired you to write Six Days?
There are loads! Too many to mention! I picked out a few in the acknowledgments of the book especially great science fiction writers like Iain Banks and William Gibson. The epic film 2001: A Space Odyssey had a profound effect on me when I saw it as a kid – the way it blended prehistory and space travel. The original Star Wars trilogy blew me away – I think I was the perfect age of 11 when I first saw Star Wars and I went to see it about six times at the cinema! It’s such a great mix of adventure and sci-fi and humour and terrific characters that I resolved there and then to become a writer. Movies and TV in general are a big influence: Terminator, 28 Days Later, Existenz, Battlestar Galactica, Sunshine, Dr Who. Also so many authors, Dylan Thomas, Margaret Atwood, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, Ursula le Guin, John Steinbeck, David Almond, Cormac McCarthy, David Mitchell, Alex Garland, Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve, Mervyn Peake, JRR Tolkien, Paul Watkins, Philip K Dick, Sarah Waters… If I think of any one of these and many more, I can see influences of their work in Six Days.
- What are the best and worst things about being a writer?
There aren’t really any worst things! I suppose the only thing is the worry, the fear at the back of your mind that what you’re writing isn’t any good – all writers have this and it can be torture to overcome.
The best thing is completing something – a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a novel. There’s a great sense of relief and satisfaction about achieving that. And, for me, just seeing Six Days in print is a kind of miracle having tried for so long to become a published writer. It’s very exciting to know that people I haven’t even met are reading Six Days and getting something out of it.
- What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I think the most important thing is to develop a sense of wonder about the world – to observe and take notice of everything! And to go out there and have as many experiences and adventures as you can. And you must read everything you can get your hands on – film scripts, history, science, adventure, comics, plays, poetry, biographies – everything!
- Can we look forward to another book from you in 2012?
I hope so. I’m writing something different to Six Days – an adventure for teens that’s set in America. 20 years ago I travelled through the USA and Canada and kept a journal. For years, I had no idea what to do with the material but it’s turned out to be very useful!
Thanks so much Philip for answering my questions. I highly recommend Six Days, especially if you like a gripping Young Adult read. Get a copy from your library or bookshop now!