A cursory glance through the pages of For Winter Nights would reveal my poorly kept non-secret that I am a huge fan of Alex Scarrow. HUGE! (Obviously, I mean this metaphorically.) TimeRiders continues to be my favourite series of books. I cannot read them fast enough, soon enough or often enough. They might be found on the YA shelves of the bookshops but it would be very unfair for YA readers to keep these fantastic books to themselves. But, on top of this series, Alex has also produced a number of thrillers for adults which are packed with the shocks and psychological realism that makes TimeRiders so edible. It was an unexpected treat to discover that this Christmas Alex was unleashing on his readers a new heroine, Ellie Quin, in an original series of adventures set in a brand new universe. YA SF – perfect.
I’m delighted to include here a Q&A with Alex about TimeRiders and Ellie Quin, but first a review!
The Legend of Ellie Quin (Ellie Quin Book 1)
Published by Grr Books on 23 December, Ellie Quin is available in digital format from Amazon. For a very limited period it is available free. The World According to Ellie Quin (Book 2) and Beneath the Neon Sky (Ellie Quin 3) are also available.
Ellie Quin lives in colonial plot 452 ‘in the middle of this flat, dry, baked-mud world, Harpers Reach’, located in ‘a generally uninteresting region of space; a little piece of nowhere’. Her father farms tubweeds, appallingly bad-tempered plants used to terraform planets through their production of oxygen. When Ellie turns 20, becoming the proud owner of an adult ID card, she sets off for the largest city of the planet, New Haven, a metropolis encased in a dome that also contains every kind of lowlife that one would expect from a dismal frontier planet. And so begins Ellie’s adventure which we, due to clever tricks in the narrative, know to be what the book’s title proclaims – ‘The Legend of Ellie Quin’. It will, we are teased, include an Event.
As with TimeRiders, there is a great supporting cast here and one can hope that we get to know them more as the series continues. This first book is a taster and does just what it sets out to do – pulls the reader in while defining Ellie as a fun, feisty yet vulnerable young heroine who exists in a universe full of quirks and curiosities that are refreshing and can be very funny. They’re also smart. Real life has become even more mixed up with pop culture, with audiences enraptured by Toob Channels and cereal collectibles.
Alex Scarrow knows exactly how to grab our attention and he can do it through characters, gobsmacking twists and the truly weird. This is a great combination for science fiction, where there is no limit to what can happen. In TimeRiders, it is time itself that can be changed and distorted, making the familiar very unfamiliar. With Ellie Quin we find ourselves hundreds of years in the future, in a universe in which everything is possible. I just wish this first novel were longer. At about only 40,000 words, it ends just as you’re hooked and when Ellie is most in need of us. I would recommend, then, that you get hold of all three opening books so that you can happily immerse yourself. Reviews of these other two novels to come.
While I am sad that TimeRiders is approaching its end, it’s good to know that Alex has another strong character for us to get to know, however young we are.
As a huge fan of the TimeRiders series, which is now nearer the end than the beginning, I was so pleased to see the appearance of a new series from you. I’ve read the first Ellie Quin and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Where did the inspiration for Ellie Quin come from?
ALEX: Ellie Quin was in part inspired by a story in the classic British comic 2000AD. The story was called Halo Jones and followed the exploits of a very ordinary young protagonist exploring a madcap universe. It was a story that was never finished and pulled mid-way because the comic’s publishers weren’t sure the all-male audience would buy into a less than heroic female central character. Another influence was Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which I loved as a teenager. I remember wishing there really was that insane, wonderful, colourful universe out there to explore.
Why did you choose to base the adventures around a young woman rather than a young man?
ALEX: Female hmmm – I DO seem to gravitate towards female characters, don’t I? Maybe it’s because it feels less obvious to have a female in an adventure story? Perhaps because female characters feel more vulnerable than the chisel-jawed male alternative? I dunno. I think female characters tend to deliver more interesting emotional content than male characters. For example, in TimeRiders, the female support unit Becks has been more interesting to explore than her male counterpart, Bob. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a guy thing?
You’ve published the first three adventures simultaneously. All three are quite short so I wondered why they weren’t released as one book instead?
ALEX: I’m kinda experimenting with format at the moment. Each instalment is about 40k words, about 1/2 the length of your standard YA novel (which is about 80k words) For ebook format that seemed about right. Future instalments will probably tend towards being a bit longer as, hopefully, readers adopt the series and make it worth my while committing more time to the series. At the moment its all a bit of a gamble of my rather limited time. I’d like Ellie Quin to be successful enough to warrant becoming my next MAIN project. I could easily write a dozen or more books set in this universe.
One of the aspects of Ellie Quin that I really enjoyed are the hints from the future about Ellie’s life and role. This suggests that you have the whole story mapped out as you have TimeRiders?
ALEX: Indeed, there is a definite series arc at work. Although, a little less strictly plotted as TimeRiders as this will allow me a bit more room to explore the universe and stay on planets that interest me more! That’s what lies at the heart of Ellie Quin, the sense of wonder, the freedom in the story for Ellie to explore, wander, discover this rich universe around her. There’ll be so much cool stuff to see!
We only have a little over a month to wait before the seventh TimeRiders novel, The Pirate Kings, is published on 7 February. Can you tell us a little about it?
ALEX: Well obviously there’s pirates in it I’d characterise it as a light hearted romp – something fun before things get really serious and heavy in the last two books.
TimeRiders will finish with the ninth book. I’ll miss Liam, Maddy, Sal and Bob so much! Will it be difficult to let them go or are you happy that it’s time to move on?
ALEX: Oh no – it’s gonna hurt me big time when I wrap up this series. I love these characters. They’ve become so real to me that I swear, it’ll feel like a genuine bereavement when I say goodbye to them. But who knows? I might leave the door open ajar for a follow on series. I can’t really say much more on that at the moment.
You write books for young adults but there’s plenty in them for grown ups too. And then there are your adult thrillers. Are there any more novels for adults on the horizon?
ALEX: Not at the moment. My adult books have been spectacularly unsuccessful. I’m not sure what went wrong there – whether the subject matter simply wasn’t commercial enough. Perhaps it was because I hopped around from one genre to another. It’s really difficult to work out why one book is roaring success and another a damp squib. I might return to writing adult fiction at some point in the future if I come across a killer idea that is begging to be written.
You make science fiction appealing to readers of all ages. Who are your science fiction influences?
ALEX: Stephen King – not really scifi, but a great creator of believable characters. I’m also quite a fanboy of China Mieville. And Arthur C Clarke.
The Candle Man
TimeRiders 2: Day of the Predator
TimeRiders 3: The Doomsday Code
TimeRiders 4: The Eternal War
TimeRiders 5: Gates of Rome
TimeRiders 6: City of Shadows
Review of A Thousand Suns and TimeRiders 1 to follow.