When somebody asks what my novel, The Sign Of One, is about - I start out by telling them it’s a ‘twins are evil story, with a twist!’ If they don’t back away, or start babbling about the weather in an attempt to steer the conversation to safer subjects, I gleefully elaborate. It’s the first in a science-fiction trilogy for Young Adult readers, I say, set on a world called Wrath where identical twins are considered evil. Only one twin is human, the other a monster with ‘twisted blood.’ But how to tell them apart?
Sooner or later, I always get asked the question: ‘How did you come up with that then?’ Well, one answer is because I am an identical twin so it really was the clichéd case of ‘write what you know.’ Another answer is ‘because I had to!’ But the real answer is because of a silly t-shirt!
I’ve always been a twin, apart from fifteen minutes of temporary uniqueness before the midwife was heard to say: ‘Hang on, Mrs. Lambert, there’s another one coming out!’ Martin joined me out in the world, and ‘I’ became ‘we.’ That’s how I grew up, as one of ‘the twins.’ And I wouldn’t change it for the world. You got noticed. You were fussed over. You’re different (by not being different), but in a good way. We were so alike that in older pictures of us, your guess as to who’s who is as good as mine. But as we grew up, we both started to notice that people are not just fascinated by identical twins but also challenged by them. There seemed at time almost a desperation to be able to tell us apart, and an urge to deny our similarities. Which one of you is the clever one? (Martin, sadly, but only by a hair!) No, you’re a bit taller/thinner/
Anyway, in 2011 I had completed a very different middle-grade manuscript (World War One, airships) and had half-heartedly tried to secure representation and get it published. Alas, no joy. All was not lost, however, as this played its part in getting me onto the excellent MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. The major output from said programme is a completed manuscript, in my case to be written over two part-time years. So that’s the ‘I had to’ part of the answer, and illustrates the miraculous and mysterious role that deadlines play in inspiration!
This leaves the t-shirt. A few months before I started the MA, it was getting towards ‘our’ birthday and I was on the lookout for a present for Martin. In Oxford’s covered market (I think) I saw a shop selling t-shirts emblazoned with witty messages. One had the line: ‘I can’t remember if I’m the good twin or the evil one.’ I bought us each one, mine in blue, Martin’s in black. And to cut a long story short that set me thinking.
What is this about one twin being good, the other evil? Could there be a world where that was actually the case? So when I had to come up with an idea for my MA manuscript, the ‘evil twin’ premise popped into my head …
Of course, like any book, The Sign of One is riddled with many other inspirations. For a start, I wanted to write science fiction. When I was a Young Adult reader (not that YA had been invented yet) I was a massive fan of science fiction, in particular the older ‘pulp’ stories with bug-eyed women and scantily-clad monsters1 and rocket ships, etc. The delicious sense of wonder, the thrilling adventures, the glimpses of weird alien worlds, these books lifted me out of my mundane growing-up-in-the-Midlands life.
And then there were the original Star Wars films, the seismic SF event of my youth. Need I say more? No, but I will. Although I had enjoyed Star Trek, I absolutely loved Star Wars (and the slightly later Alien). Why so? Because these movies pioneered the gritty end of the ‘sliding scale of shiny versus gritty’, the so-called ‘Used Future’ trope. The spaceships were rusty and battered, and so were the hard-bitten characters that flew them. In other words, even though it was SF everything felt more real. And, for me, this is so-o-o-o important. To give you one final example: Aliens. Apart from the clever plotting that allows this sequel movie to pick up from where the excellent Alien left off, the thing I still rave about to this day is how the Marines go into the colony all macho only to get their butts well and truly kicked. And then they’re scared. Not square-jawed and stoic, but really scared. Shitting-themselves scared, like you or I would be!
There are also more recent sources of inspiration lurking within the pages of The Sign of One. During my MA, I read plenty of mind-blowing contemporary YA and that inspired me. Think Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, Moira Young’s Blood Red Road, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, and so forth. I could go on and on, but I won’t.
Thing is, I have another book to write…
THE SIGN OF ONE, which will be published on the 7th April 2016, published by Egmont's Electric Monkey Imprint..... Grab a copy and read it......