The Screen Thief – Inspiration behind the Story – Blog Tour feature by Helen Docherty

The first thing to say is that I wrote The Screen Thief before the Covid 19 pandemic, before lockdown changed our relationship with technology and before we all came to rely so much on screens to keep us connected with friends and family. When I wrote a story about a small creature who gobbles up all the screens in the city because nobody wants to play with her – a story which ultimately celebrates coming together off-screen and ‘finding new ways to fill up our weekends’ – little did I know how different everything would be by the time it was published.

The inspiration for the story came from an awareness of the growing role that technology plays in all our lives. Our daughters (13 and 11 this month) find it hard to believe that I didn’t own a computer or a mobile phone until I was in my late 20s. “How did you manage?” they ask, incredulous. The idea of growing up in a world without screens (apart from a black and white TV) is alien to them. I am now as guilty as the next person of checking my phone too often; the lure of the screen is almost impossible to resist.

I wanted to create a character who consumes technology out of frustration, because no one is paying her any attention. At first, I imagined this character as something from another world, or perhaps born of scraps of discarded technology on a rubbish heap. The character would grow in size as she consumed more and more technology, becoming a monster (of our own creation?). However, I soon decided to scale this down and make the character simply a new arrival in a city; a small creature in search of a playmate. Although she devours every screen she can find, instead of ballooning to monster proportions she gets belly ache, yet still feels ‘kind of… empty inside.’ The screens haven’t satisfied her hunger for interaction; this comes when she meets Max and joins in his game of ball in the park. Although she doesn’t realise, this becomes the catalyst for everyone in the city discovering the joy of connecting with others off-screen and having fun together outdoors.

It took me a little while to find the right name for this creature. An early contender was the Ludix, but in the end I settled on the Snaffle, which suggests somebody who takes things without permission, but without seeming menacing in any way. In fact, it felt like the perfect name for a small, playful, curious creature with a potential for mischief if ignored. Much like a puppy – or a young child! The Screen Thief by Helen Docherty & Thomas Docherty is out now, published by Alison Green Books.

Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour, giving you all things The Screen Thief, all week long.

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