It isn’t easy to change the world. But you’ve got to keep trying.
Saturday 27th April was the Hot Keys Books Robert Muchamore blogger brunch for the upcoming Arctic Zoo. Hosted by Stevie Finegan at Shoreditch Platform.
My first Muchamore book was last years Killer T, which I was lucky enough to win an ARC of at YALC. Killer T is a story told over 10 years, the story of two teenagers Harry and Charlie and a society where gene editing technology is beginning to boom. People are using it to combat disease, to enhance their brains, or for that effortless gym body and all year tan. But it can also be deadly. Killer T is a synthetic virus with a 90 per cent mortality rate, making it the deadliest weapon in history. And its creators want a billion dollars to release the antidote.
Arctic Zoo also follows two teenagers, but unlike Charlie and Harry there is no romance. Georgia the British school girl with a well off family and plans to become a doctor whose life is changed by tragedy. Julius the nephew of a state governor of Ondo, Nigeria where half the population live on less than a dollar a day, finds refuge alongside his friend Duke, in a derelict zoo following hostility rising. Arctic Zoo follows Georgia and Julius through their very different lives, protest, sexuality, mental health and flawed leadership.
During the interview Robert spoke about his research methods, the themes in Arctic Zoo, projects past and present, and his experience with mental health – a topic covered in Arctic Zoo.
As always we want to know your process, how do you write? Every writer has their own process and preferred methods. Robert says that he feels like most of his focuses on the research and planning, chapter break down, plotting points. That is where he feels like he does most of the work. After that the writing is easy, short chapters written linearly.
The events of Arctic Zoo inspire Georgia and Julius to take action, to protest, and social media plays a huge role in that. Questions hit on feelings towards social media “Neither good or bad. It’s a tool and it’s what you make of it” and protests “They work best when they are coherent, have a clear goal, and put pressure on the people who can implement change” with the example of 1970’s protests against the Vietnam War outside the White House. Since writing began on Arctic Zoo, we as a society have seen young people like Georgia and Julius become more politically active, so the book connects incredibly well to current climate.
When asked about setting part of this book in Nigeria, Robert said that he chose Nigeria as it is the part of Africa with the most research resources available, and that he read a lot of books and watched the Nigerian news network rather than visited because as a tourist your experience of a country and culture are artificial ones compared to the realism of day to day living.
Talk of Nigeria of course leads to the subject of Julius, and the representation of different sexualities within Robert’s work. In the CHERUB series (2004-2016) Kyle Blueman is gay, and this isn’t used as part of his story arc (which makes it rare as in most cases it is only included for that reason) the same is true of Mango and Veryan in Killer T.
While there is no love story, Georgia and Julius do meet each other in an adolescent mental health unit. This and the characters, were in part, inspired by Robert’s own stay in a psychiatric hospital (this is addressed in a letter to the reader right at the start of the book). Mental health is something that we should, as a society, talk about and remove the stigma from. We need to recognise and address the limits of the system, of the NHS, and that of private health care.
Will CHERUB ever make it to our screens? Well long time Muchamore fans will know that it has recently been optioned (again) and with the film industry moving into a more big budget arena with no room for smaller films, and the ever rising streaming, CHERUB will probably be incarnated as a series on one of the streaming platforms. Although Muchamore did laughingly say “It’s about 2 years away. But it’s been about 2 years off for 15 years.”
What next? Arctic Zoo is due for release in July 2019, and in 2020 we can expect the first of Robert Muchamore’s Robin Hood series. A return to the same age range reader as CHERUB (10+) a modern day Locksley City is home to 12 year old Robin Hood. With the city turning to ruin and the police force controlled by local gangster Guy Gisbourne, Robin ends up on the run and hiding in Sherwood Forest – which isn’t much safer.
I can’t wait to read (and review) Arctic Zoo, and look forward to the upcoming Robin Hood series.