Whenever there is an opportunity to support an author publishing their latest book I jump at the chance, and when there is particular significance in regards to that author it makes the situation even more special. I read and loved Darren Simpson’s debut publication, Scavengers, and then had the pleasure of hearing him up on stage at an FCBG conference, as well as meeting Darren at that event in person, and have subsequently stayed in touch ever since, knowing that his next publication would undoubtedly be another must read. I was not wrong. So when I got invited to be a part of this blog tour it made sense straight away to dig deeper into The Memory Thieves by interviewing Darren. This feature is a highlight of my 2021 journey in the worlds of blogging and children’s literature, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it, and hosting it right here on the #BookBound blog. I dive straight in with my questions…
– The Memory Thieves is a complex read for confident chapter book readers, can you summarise the story for us?
The Memory Thieves is set on the Island of Elsewhere, a remote island with tides that only ever recede, leaving ships and whale skeletons stranded on dunes. The island is home to the Elsewhere Sanctuary, a high-tech facility where children and teens go to have bad memories of their old lives removed. Cyan is one of the young teens living at the sanctuary and receiving its treatment, and enjoys a carefree life racing about on quad bikes and exploring shipwrecks. But one day he comes across a warning about the sanctuary carved into a whale bone. This is followed by a new girl, Jonquil, resisting the sanctuary’s methods, and being treated harshly as a result. Prompted by all of this, Cyan – helped by his friend Ruby – goes on a secret mission to discover the truth not only about the sanctuary, but also about himself, and everything he’s been made to forget.
– Where did you get the inspiration for this book from? I recall your inspiration for your debut title Scavengers coming about from being at the dump, so I am fascinated to hear how you came up with this incredible concept for The Memory Thieves.
I have a car crash to thank for The Memory Thieves. Long story short, I crashed into a car while driving my son home from swimming. No one was hurt, thank goodness, but my self-esteem took a serious blow. I kept the true depth of my anxiety to myself, and it was a painful time that only eased off when I finally talked to my wife and friends about how I was feeling. I felt determined to get a book out of this experience, so I decided to write a story exploring the risks of hiding or bottling up unpleasant feelings, and the importance of dealing with them through openness with your loved ones. That provided the theme, and the setting took shape while on a family camping trip in Staithes. I watched the tide recede one night, and wondered what it would look like if it never came back. The endless ebbing felt symbolic of leaving memories behind, and I figured the exposed seabed would make a vivid setting to play around with. Things basically snowballed from there, thanks to research into real memory removal techniques, among other things.
– The Characters in the book are all given new names when they arrive at the facility, they have come to forget their past, and those names are all colours, what was the significance and intention there?
I wanted to use a consistent theme across the new names given to residents and – inspired somewhat by 60s TV show The Prisoner, in which characters have numbers instead of names – went with colours. There are a lot of them available, and they lend themselves well as names, I think. Cyan, Teal, Jonquil, Scarlet, Moss and so on. Some colours, such as Scarlet and Ruby, are used as names for people anyway, so it all felt quite intuitive.
– Which is your favourite character, and why?
Cyan and Dr Haven were so much fun to write, but if I had to choose a favourite character, it’d be Ruby. She’s sullen and sarcastic, and I really enjoyed the way she contrasted against Cyan, along with the fact that – when it comes to teasing – she gives him as good as she gets. She’s also very headstrong and determined, while hiding a quiet vulnerability, and I like putting that sort of contradiction into characters.
– The facility that the story centres around is designed like a Rubik’s Cube, how much fun was that to imagine and bring to life on paper for readers?
The idea of having the sanctuary regularly rearrange itself came to me while on that same family trip to the Yorkshire coast. While genuinely lost in the back corridors of Scarborough’s Grand Hotel, I realised how being disoriented might keep characters in my book detached from their memories. I ended up basing the sanctuary on the Vadasz Cube, in which blocks have to be pushed around a 3D framework until their colours match. Figuring out the actual mechanism for the sanctuary – including what happens to walls, floors, ceilings and doors when it “reconfigures” – was technically very tricky. But I’m very happy with the way things worked out.
– Time is controlled/manipulated in the story, and yet there is nothing to suggest whether this story is set in the current year or in the distant future, was that intentional?
It’s very intentional. I wanted the story to be fairly universal – in terms of era as well as place. Its theme and message have always been relevant, and always will be, so that universality felt apt. On top of that, a sense of detachment is central to the Elsewhere Sanctuary and its methods, and keeping the era and time of day vague helped to nurture this for the reader.
– Are there any particular moments that stand out for you when you look back at drafting this story, and it becoming reality on bookshelves very soon?
There was a point during early edits when – thanks to the thoughts of my brilliant editor, Stephanie King – the story went through a massive shift. Its ending changed, as did Cyan’s mission. You could say we found a much more powerful engine to drive the plot. When this new angle was found, everything seemed to click into place, and Stephanie and I sensed we were working on something that would really keep readers reading. It was a wonderful moment, as it saw a lot of doubts and plot issues disappear, which was a huge relief. The work that editors do is amazing. I really wish they got more credit.
– How does it feel to have a second book publishing by Usborne this August?
It feels incredible! And it’s such a relief to be able to talk about the book openly, as I had to sit on The Memory Thieves for a long time without revealing anything. Scavengers came out in 2019, and two years is a long time between books for this age group. I was genuinely worried that readers might have forgotten about me, so it’s wonderful to see so much interest in The Memory Thieves. Many people seem to have been actively waiting for my next book, and I’m glad they won’t have to wait so long for my next novel, Furthermoor.
– Readers will be delighted to see that an extract of Furthermoor, your next book which publishes in 2022, can be found at the end of The Memory Thieves, does that tie into this book at all?
Furthermoor is completely unrelated to The Memory Thieves – a fresh story. I’m not sure I have a series in me. Not yet, at least. I quite like the fact that by 2022 I’ll have three very distinct books out. One of my favourite moments writing is starting something new, fresh and different.
– What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Memory Thieves?
The Memory Thieves is dedicated to “anyone who’s hurting”, and I hope it encourages readers to be honest to themselves and to others if they’re ever struggling with their feelings. Doing so isn’t weak; it’s brave. Opening up and making emotional connections can do so much to make us feel better, and – when you bear the last year and a half in mind – helping each other this way is crucial.
– Where can people find you on social media/online?
Thank you for having me, Sam!
I would like to send a huge thank you to Darren Simpson for this incredible opportunity, for taking part in this interview feature, and for writing such incredible books.
Both of Darren’s books are published by Usborne, and are available to buy from all good booksellers – The Memory Thieves publishes tomorrow, 5th August 2021. For more blog content relating to The Memory Thieves be sure to check out the hosting bloggers, information of which can be found on the tour banner below.