Interview with Myke Bartlett, author of Fire in the Sea

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Myke Bartlett, winner of the 2011 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, and author of the fantastic Fire in the Sea (you can read my review here).  I asked Myke a few questions about Fire in the Sea, his characters and his writing experience.  Thanks Myke!

1.  What inspired you to write Fire in the Sea?

Being a teacher, really. There’s nothing better than seeing kids excited about books and I started feeling a bit envious about the attention other authors were getting. I was determined to write something exciting and challenging that students would enjoy. I think I also really liked the idea of YA fiction being gateway fiction. These were the stories that would, hopefully, get kids hooked on good quality books. If they were reading something good when they were young, then they might demand better when they were older.

2.  Had the story been bubbling in your head long before you submitted it for the Text Prize?

I think I had the basic idea about Jake in 2009. But I didn’t start writing it until 2010, as I was working on something else. The actual writing was incredibly quick and painless, probably about six months in total on the first draft. It was a near run thing to get it in on time to Text. I think I posted it off on the last possible day.

3.  How did it feel to win the Text Prize?

Unreal. In every sense of the word. I’d written the story specifically to win the Text Prize, so I suppose I felt as if I had achieved exactly what I’d set out to do. That was a great week. And then the editing process began… Which was also great, to be honest.

4.  Mythology plays an important part in Fire in the Sea.  Do you have a special interest in mythology and ancient cultures?

I’m probably much more interested in the real world, actually. But I was obsessed with that stuff as a kid. When I got older, I was more interested in ghosts and folk legends and things like that. Things that seemed like they might almost be real. That’s my favourite area of fiction — you know, through a glass darkly stuff. The sense that there might be a monster under the bed, or vampire bats in the fig tree. I think I drew on my memories of mythologies because they’re really where storytelling started. They were the first big blockbusters. Who wouldn’t want to borrow a bit of that genius?

5.  Who was your inspiration for the character of Sadie?

I don’t know if I should say. There’s a lot of me in there, really. All that standing at the edge of the world, gazing at the horizon stuff. That’s me. That was me growing up in Perth and dreaming of the world outside. There’s quite a lot of my youngest sister in there too. All the difficult, dogmatic bits! No, my sister is pretty awesome (not that I’d tell her), so I probably borrowed of Sadie’s better qualities.

6.  Why did you decide to set the story in Perth?

Because it felt like the sort of place where you’d never expect a story like that to be set! I wanted to tell a big, Hollywood-style story in a small place at the end of the world. Growing up in Perth, I would have loved to think that life could be exciting where I was, instead of thinking adventures only happened elsewhere.

7.  Which of the ancient ones are you most like? 

Ooh, tricky! Well, I’m quite fond of Agatha. When we make the TV/film version, I’d love my aunt Nicola Bartlett, who’s an extraordinary actress, to play her. I think I gave Jake some of the seriousness and the old-mannishness that I had at that age. I was in such a hurry to be old. I dressed like an old man. It’s only now that I am (relatively) old that I’ve started dressing like a teenager.

8.  Do you plan to return to Sadie, Jake and the ancient ones in the future?

I do. They will return! As of today, I’ve written about six chapters of the sequel. Writing is either sheer pleasure or sheer pain (it changes on a day-by-day basis) but it feels pretty exciting to me. There are new (old) monsters, old (new) friends and possibly a car chase. If you can do a car chase in print. Can you? I’m about to find out.

Fire in the Sea by Myke Bartlett

The wonderful people at Text Publishing (based in Melbourne) launched a fantastic new award for authors across Australia and New Zealand a few years ago, called The Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing.  This prize has introduced me to some of my favourite authors, including Richard Newsome and Leanne Hall.  Last year they chose another very deserving winner of the prize, Myke Bartlett with his book Fire in the Sea, which has just been released.

Sadie is sixteen and bored with life in Perth. It’s summer, and lazing on the beach in the stifling heat with her cousins and Tom is a drag. Then something comes out of the sea.

Dark menacing forms attack an old man, leaving him for dead and Sadie wracking her brains to understand what she saw. Then there’s a mysterious inheritance, a strange young man called Jake and a horned beast trampling the back yard.

Sadie finds herself caught in the middle of an ancient conflict that is nearing its final battle, a showdown that threatens to engulf Perth and all those she loves in a furious tsunami.

Fire in the Sea is a story of gods, monsters, curses, immortality, war and the normal teenagers who get caught in the middle.  Myke Bartlett grabs you within the first few pages and you get swept away in the story, not wanting to surface until you get to the very end.  It’s one of those stories you want to devour all in one go because the writing is just so good and the action never lets up.  There’s something for everyone in the story, from mythical creatures and body-swapping gods, to a genie-like demon who grants wishes and a lost civilization.  There is plenty of violence and blood and guts to keep the guys interested, especially when the Minotaur is involved.

I love how Myke has weaved mythology into the story.  I can see Fire in the Sea appealing those teens that have enjoyed the Percy Jackson series because of the way that Myke brings gods and monsters into the present day.  Even though you don’t see the gods, you get the impression that they’re watching everything happen and will intervene if or when the time comes.  The feel of the story also reminded me a little of Maurice Gee’s Under the Mountain.

Sadie is a strong, feisty heroine.  She doesn’t seem to care what other people think of her and is prepared to do what she thinks is right to save the people she loves.  She get caught in the middle of a war that they didn’t want to be involved in, but she handles the situation incredibly well.

The ending of Fire in the Sky left me wanting to read more about Sadie, Jake and the ancient ones, so here’s hoping Myke continues their story.  If you’re looking for a fast-paced story, filled with action, adventure, fantasy and mythology, Fire in the Sky is the perfect book.

4 out of 5 stars