Barclay banks on dark tales for young adults
Alex Barclay: 'This book was written for myself, aged 14'
Crime writer Alex Barclay has turned her hand to young adult fiction but insists compromise is not on the cards
It’s fair to say that Alex Barclay’s reputation precedes her. Formerly a fashion journalist, the Irish crime writer burst on to the crime writing scene in 2006 with the bestseller Dark House, a novel celebrated for its exploration of the brutal aspects of human nature.
The 39-year-old has published four more adult crime novels, but her new offering, Curse of Kings, is an epic quest written for young adults.
“I was a little concerned about someone not buying a book for their child because it’s written by a crime writer,” says Barclay. “And everyone said, ‘No, crime writers who write even darker stuff than you write for children, too.’ So that is kind of reassuring.”
Subtitled The Trials of Oland Born, Curse of Kings tells the tale of 14-year-old Oland, factotum to the evil Villius Ren, usurper of the good King Micah of Decressian. Humiliated and abused on a daily basis, Oland finally snaps and sets out on the journey that will, a mysterious letter informs him, lead him to his destiny.
Barclay cites her childhood reading of Enid Blyton as the strongest influence on Curse of Kings. “My favourite books of hers would have been The Enchanted Wood and The Faraway Tree series. In terms of what stayed with me, it’s very definitely mysteries and secrets and exotic locations. I recently found some of my ‘early writings’, from between the ages of four and nine, they were all in our attic at home – what a laugh. But sure enough, they were all stories about caves, and secret things far away, and mysterious people acting strange.
“This book was probably written for myself, aged 14. The escapism and the strangeness of it all would have been amazing to me then, but the magical elements would have been great, too. I just love, as a reader, not questioning that kind of fantasy. And as a writer, that’s great – it’s not rooted in the ‘gritty realism’ of crime fiction, you just have to let go and not question it all too much.
“The one thing I would have been conscious of was that the story couldn’t be too dark,” she says, “because it does get a bit dark in places. And there are no graphically described scenes of violence in there. But in terms of the actual writing, there was never a question of adapting the vocabulary or reining myself in.”
In writing for young adults, Barclay is following in the footsteps of Irish crime writing peers John Connolly, Colin Bateman, Cora Harrison and Eoin McNamee. But she insists the story itself is what has led to this book. “I had to write the story. That was the compulsion, and it really was a compulsion. I first came up with the idea five years ago, when I was writing The Caller, but I knew it wasn’t the right time to finish it. So I went ahead and wrote the crime novels, and then came back to Curse of Kings about three years ago.”