I have been eager to read NOMANSLAND since I first saw the cover a few months ago. I was delighted when Lesley was able to make the virtual journey to the Manga Maniac Cafe offices for a discussion about her book, which will be released next week. Read on to learn more about Lesley and her book.
Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
Can you tell us a little about your novel, NOMANSLAND?
In a post-apocalyptic world, a remote, icy island is inhabited solely by women who live under a strict, joyless code of conduct and seek to guard their borders from men. Keller, a trainee Tracker, along with other members of her Patrol find a buried house full of objects from the Time Before, in particular the objects in a 21st century teenage girl’s bedroom: makeup, high-heeled shoes, magazines, and these things introduce to them a glimpse of the failed world before their time. This cache of objects is their secret until Keller starts to discover the secrets of her own precarious society.
How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
I grew up in Africa and I went to a very strict all-female (teachers and students), all-white school in what was then called Rhodesia and is now called Zimbabwe. There were all these unbending rules, not so very dissimilar to the rules in NOMANSLAND, and we wore a strict school uniform at all times. But then just to make us that bit more miserable, they held a beauty competition once a year — run by the students as a fundraiser– that was exquisitely cruel in its selection process. It was tiny closed society within another tiny closed society of white colonialists ruling the majority of black people. There was civil war throughout my childhood and adolescence. Because I was young, I believed much of what was told to me about black people, about the "lesser" role of women and about the "superiority" of white people — leaving me later in life with a sense that a whole group of adults I trusted had deceived me in some profound way, although they were not themselves bad people. I still grapple with the difficult truth that it does not necessarily take a bad person to be part of a bad system.
I think I have learned that I’m wary of collective ways of thinking, much as I know that we, as human beings, need communities and need to work together.
Is there a message you want readers to come away with after reading the book?
I would love it if readers found themselves unsettled in some way, turning ideas about feminism and oppressive ways of ruling over in their minds, as well as asking themselves: What kinds of things might doom a society to failure? The girls in NOMANSLAND look back at the objects of a failed society and wonder about it. They also look at their own society, and begin to question it.
What do you enjoy most about dystopian fiction?
I like the sense of things distorted — but only just. You can create a warped reality.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book? Was there a scene that you just couldn’t get right?
I find that for me the process of writing a book is sort of the opposite of the way I read a book: I start quickly and then it gets harder and harder as the themes becomes more developed and the characters grow in complexity. When I read a book, typically I start relatively slowly in the first few pages, waiting to be drawn in and then go faster and faster as the story pulls me in deeper and deeper.
I wrote many, many drafts of NOMANSLAND and cut many, many pages, so yes, there were things that I didn’t get right. I do believe that the more you write the more skilled you get — yet somehow writing itself doesn’t seem to get any easier.
Can you tell us about your experience finding a publisher? What was the process like?
I work as a journalist but I wrote fiction for years and years with no luck, although I did get some of those "nice" rejection letters which served as tremendous encouragement. I wanted so badly to be a novelist. I wanted it with all my heart. With NOMANSLAND, I sent out twelve queries to agents and two were interested. This is unusual. My agent, Ann Tobias, then worked me with on the manuscript for nearly a year, cutting and polishing. This is unusual. She is an amazingly astute editor. When it was ready, she sold it straight away. This is unusual. I never take any of this for granted and worry all the time.
What’s the most gratifying aspect of having your book published?
I’m too worried to be gratified — and this is appalling of me. But I have to say, the process of working with my editor and all the staff at Henry Holt BYR and seeing how a manuscript morphs into a book was one of the best experiences of my life.
Who was your biggest supporter while you were working on the book?
My husband, without a shadow of a doubt.
Can you share a little about your next project?
Another book set in the NOMANSLAND universe, possibly a prequel.
If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, what would it be?
Ohh … that’s a Sophie’s Choice question! I had a book of fairy tales called Dean’s Gift Book of Fairy Tales full of creepy, Edwardian illustrations and the stories were uncompromisingly told — no sugar. I loved it and I still have it.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
Lesley’s book hits store shelves next week! If you are interested in learning more about her, check out her website. Here’s the info you need to pick up her book next week in stores, or order online at Amazon here.
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Sometime in the future, after devastating wars and fires, a lonely, windswept island in the north is populated solely by women. Among these women is a group of teenaged Trackers—expert equestrians and archers—whose job is to protect their shores from the enemy. The enemy, they’ve been told, is men.
When these girls come upon a partially buried home from the distant past, they are fascinated by the strange objects—high-heeled shoes, teen magazines, make-up—found there. What are they to make of these mysterious things, which introduce a world they have never known? And what does it mean for their strict society where friendship is forbidden and rules must be obeyed—at all costs?
Reminiscent of The Giver but with a feminist twist, Nomansland is a powerful, shocking story that will challenge young readers’ perspectives and provoke much discussion over the timely and controversial issues presented.