Interviews

Interview with YA author Clare Owen

We chatted with author Clare Owen recently all about her new YA novel, Zed and the Cormorants.

Can you tell us a little about your novel, Zed and the Cormorants? What made you want to write it?

It’s a story of a young girl who moves from London to Cornwall. Zed’s dad is convinced that a fresh start and a simpler lifestyle will improve the family’s life – he even gives up his job to start an artisanal bakery – but Zed is riddled with anxiety about starting a new school and becomes increasingly convinced that she’s under attack from a flock of cormorants who live in the woods near her home.

 It’s got ghosts, mythology, romance, Cornish history, baking, environmental issues and bucket loads of teenage angst!

The inspiration came when I was walking my dogs and I saw two cormorants on the sand banks, and it struck me how poised but also how sinister they looked!  I went home, began to research them and learned how adaptable they are – they’ve been around since the dinosaurs and live in all parts of the world – but also how often they feature in mythology and literature. I’d been playing around with the idea of writing a story about a young girl struggling with anxiety, but the cormorants wouldn’t go away.  In my mind they stretched out their wings, and said, ‘If we’re good enough for The Bible, The Odyssey, Shakespeare and Milton, don’t you think you should give us a look in?’

Zed and the Cormorants is steeped in mystery, family and centres around a haunting love story that spurs on the entire book. Did you know what you wanted to include from the start, and did anything change through the course of writing it?

I knew I wanted to explore anxiety, loneliness and the oblique ways that we find to face difficult emotions and overcome them. Love needed to be a part of this: the fear of never finding it and the fear of finding it and having it taken away. I also wanted Zed to have a loving family – for that never to be an issue – but for them all to be real, flawed and struggling themselves, so they aren’t always able to give her the support that she needs.  The question was how to combine this very ‘real’ story with the more fanciful elements; how to introduce all the mythology, ways of communicating with the birds and the possibilities for making a truce. And that was where Denzil (a young man who sometimes sleeps rough in the woods) came in.  Once I’d got to grips with who he was – his particular challenges and coping strategies – then he became a kind of bridge between the two worlds. 

This book has themes of mental health, parental illness, loss, and new beginnings. Can you tell us a little about why you felt these themes were important to include? Were any difficult to write about?

All these things are part of our lives and as such they should be written about in literature for any age. The joy of writing YA is that you can tackle them head on, with characters who are hungry to learn about the world, open to self-discovery and their feelings are usually pretty close to the surface.  I didn’t find those bits hard to write, in some ways they were the easiest because they needed the least imaginative input.

Your writinghas been described as ‘Daphne Du Maurier for the 21st century’. Do you find your writing has been influenced by gothic style?

It’s funny, I never set out to write a gothic book and didn’t think I was drawn to the gothic style! I’ve never ever read Frankenstein or Dracula, and it’s only in the last few weeks that I’ve read Poe’s The Raven and du Maurier’s The Birds.  But, of course, Zed is gothic – it has mystery, suspense, foreshadowing, the supernatural and overwrought emotions. And I’ve always loved the Brontës, particularly Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and they are all about wild landscapes, hidden secrets, haunted buildings and passionate, intense love affairs.

The setting and landscape plays such a key role in this book. Did you ever think about setting it anywhere else?

No, right from the start it was always set in a particular wood near my home.  Partly because it’s where I first saw the birds that inspired the story, but also because although it’s specifically a story about a girl at war with a flock of cormorants – why they are seeking revenge and how she can make amends – it’s also about someone being forced to engage with the natural for the very first time and what they gain from that.  I needed a setting that would be alien and isolating to a city girl but also offers her headspace and access to wildlife, so that she can learn to live in harmony with it and at the same time find some peace within herself.

What’s next for you and your writing? Are there any more books on the horizon?

Last year I wrote a lot of short stories and now I’m working on a novel for adults. I’ve had to do a lot of research trips on Google Earth which has slowed me down a bit and isn’t half as much fun as spending the day away from your desk: drinking lots of coffee and lots eating lots of cake to fuel hours and hours of hours of walking round locations that may or may not be used. 

What are your top 3 tips for aspiring writers?

Read. Read. Read. As much as possible and as widely as possible and when you like something – whether it’s a description, a punchy bit of dialogue or even just the rhythm of a sentence, copy it down somewhere.  I put it in Notes on my phone.  Then when you lack inspiration, you can just dip into it and you’ll get all fired up again.

Be nosey. I don’t just mean listening to other people’s conversations (although I do this a lot, I’m afraid!) but also follow your nose. Be curious. Most of us have the internet at our fingertips, so use it.  If you have a phone, don’t just use it to scroll through social media, but use it to investigate things. Any number of questions can be answered in a ten-minute bus ride, and those questions can lead to any number of ‘what ifs’ which can lead to any number of stories.

‘Write with the handbrake off’!  I don’t know who said this, but I put it in block capitals somewhere prominent when I start any new writing project.  It’s really just a mantra to push you to the end of the first draft – because that for me is always the hardest bit.  Once you have a first draft then everything slows down, and you can spend as long as you like fiddling with one paragraph!

What are your top YA book recommendations for young people today?

I think every teenager (and probably every adult) should read All the Places I’ve Cried in Public (Holly Bourne) as it explores how easy it is to get into a toxic relationship and how painful it is to get out.

The Space Between (Meg Grehan) – a tender, lyrical novel in verse about mental anguish and coming out.

Sisters by Daisy Johnson. It isn’t marketed as YA, but it explores the dark relationship between two teenage sisters.  It’s beautifully written but very disturbing and not for the faint-hearted!

How would you sum up your novel in three words?

‘The-Birds meets Bake-off’ (ha.. that’s really cheating isn’t it?)

After working as an actor in London – performing in venues that ranged from The National Theatre to the boot of a Ford Fiesta – Clare married a boat builder and moved to Cornwall. Her short stories have been published by Mslexia, Storgy, Litro & Fairlight and in the anthology An Outbreak of Peace.  Zed and the Cormorants (Arachne Press) is her first YA novel. 

You can keep up to date with Clare by visiting her website, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Zed and the Cormorants is available now and published by Arachne Press.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Bookshelf

Summer Bookshelf

Our summer bookshelf is full of book recommendations set during the heat of summer for you to enjoy, from middle grade and graphic novels to YA. These are just a few of our favourites. Are there any we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below.

You can also see this page and lots more recommendations in our Summer 2021 issue, which can be found here.

© PaperBound Magazine

Interviews

Interview with children’s author Tamsin Mori

We chatted with children’s author Tamsin Mori about her debut book The Weather Weaver. You can catch the interview in the full magazine by clicking here and scrolling down to our Spring 2021 issue.

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Can you tell us about The Weather Weaver and where the idea came from?

The Weather Weaver is an adventure story with a touch of magic. Stella, the main character, is spending the summer with her Grandpa in Shetland, but her life takes a turn for the stormy when she meets an old woman called Tamar, who asks her to catch a cloud …

My mother’s family are all Shetlanders and I grew up listening to my Granny’s tales of Shetland – both family stories and the island myths and legends. In all her stories, weather was never a backdrop, it was a character – tricksy and wild. I must have absorbed that idea quite rapidly, because by the time I was 10, I was already experimenting with calling the weather.

What challenges did you face when writing a book about showing how clouds might feel?

The main challenge was that Stella can’t hear her cloud, so there’s no dialogue. Also, though they can change shape and colour, clouds don’t have faces, so there aren’t any expressions to describe! Having said that, once I’d discovered what Nimbus was like as a personality, it became surprisingly easy to imagine how he’d react in any situation.

You might not be able to chat to your pets, but that doesn’t stop you from understanding how they’re feeling – it’s all about body language. When I was editing, I did quite a lot of acting out the scenes, to get the movement right. It would have looked completely bonkers if anyone had seen me.

What do you hope readers can take from The Weather Weaver?

I hope they’ll be left with a sense of the magic hidden inside everything – things that seem commonplace until you look at them a little differently. Even stones are full of stories! I’d love readers to finish The Weather Weaver and look around with a sense of possibility and wonder – breathe bit deeper, dream a bit larger. And who knows? Maybe we’ll discover a few new weather weavers out there.

Did you get into similar adventures as Stella when you were growing up?

Much like Stella, we moved a lot while I was growing up, but my mum’s family are all Shetlanders, so that was the one place we always returned to – the place that felt like home. And exactly like Stella, what I loved most was the freedom! Although they’re wild, the islands are very safe, so I was allowed to roam and explore as much as I liked. Fog was the one thing that could keep us there – when there’s fog, the planes can’t fly – so my earliest attempts at weather weaving involved whispering spells into the wind, to call the fog. It worked, too – we once got fogged in for a whole extra week! Magic!

What does your typical writing day look like?

I don’t really have a typical writing day – I write whenever I can find a quiet moment – that can be anything from in the car, first thing in the morning, in the middle of the night, on a windy hilltop, in bed … I have two children and a part time (non-writing) job, so I’ve become a master at making time elastic – stretching it out to make space for writing!

My ideal writing day involves waking up gently, so I can hold onto the tail end of dreams, then scribbling in my bedside notebook. I find mornings best for first-drafting – inventing new things. Afternoons are better for editing, because by that time, my logical brain has switched on.

Is there anything you wish you’d known before becoming a writer?

How long it takes to make a book! Not the writing bit – I love that – more the actual process of turning it into a book. I somehow imagined that having written a book, it would just magically appear on the shelves of bookshops. The truth is, there are lots and lots of rounds of editing and polishing and proofreading, and between each one is a long period of waiting. The waiting bits are the worst – I am not a patient person. I’ve got the hang of it now, so I have several stories on the go at the same time. Each time I send back edits on one, I’ve got another story to jump into. I wish I’d known that before!

In The Weather Weaver, Stella has a book of myths and legends she treasures. Are there any myths and legends that are your favourite?

My favourite myth is the selkies – magical creatures that look like seals, but can shed their skin to become human and walk on land. Growing up, I was half convinced that I was a selkie – I’ve always loved the water. I’d love the ability to transform and be just as at home under the water as on land. We used to sing the selkies when I was small. If you sing from the beach, the seals all pop up out f the water to listen – a semi circle of sleek brown heads, with soulful eyes – selkies one and all.

Tamsin had a nomadic childhood (eight different schools!), but the one place that always felt like home was Shetland, her mother’s homeland. Shetland is a collection of teeny tiny islands, so far north they fight too fit on the map. They are overflowing with myths and legends, most of which are true.  Growing up, Tamsin was usually to be found on the beach, whispering spells into sea shells and singing to the selkies.

Tamsin now lives in Bath with her husband, two children, one rabbit, several crows, and a badger, though she flies home to Shetland whenever she can – if you go there in the summer, you’ll probably spot her, striding about with the wind in her hair, chasing a wild story.

The Weather Weaver is published by ULCAN Publishing and is out NOW! You can keep up to date with Tamsin and all her book related news on Instagram and Twitter.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Interviews

Interview with Michelle Kenney

We chatted with YA author Michelle Kenney about her trilogy, Book of Fire, in the Winter 2020 issue of PaperBound. Read on to discover more about Michelle’s books and what inspires her writing …

Tell us a little about The Book of Fire trilogy.

The Book of Fire YA fantasy trilogy follows wild girl Talia, surviving as a hunter-gatherer in a treehouse village valley, after a biochemical Great War has destroyed most of the world. The story focuses on two communities: a sealed off scientific population who believe the outside world to be poisoned, and a treehouse-dwelling community of foragers who believe they are the only Great War survivors – until a chance encounter changes everything…

The trilogy is rich in Roman mythology, science and history, with plenty of romance thrown in for good measure. The action is also set in and around a war-torn ruined Exeter! Often dubbed ‘The Hunger Games meets Mythology,’ or ‘Percy Jackson meets The Bone Season’.

The series has strong themes and raises questions about the frequent conflict between nature and science.

Inspiration for the series grew from a visit to the Colosseum in Rome where they were burning torches of lavender at the end of every stand. The tour guide explained it was an authentic detail from the real gladiatorial games, where the scent was used to cover the scent of bloodshed. It was a tiny gruesome seed that lodged in my head, and stayed with me for nearly 20 years, before it grew into a trilogy.

How important is setting to you and your books?

I deliberately chose Exeter for my setting because I wanted the landscape to be local and recognisable – partly because I like to ground my fantasy in a little reality, and partly because Exeter has a deep vein of Roman history I knew I could tap into and use. I love living in Devon and feel very lucky to have the moor, coast and historical cities like Exeter on my doorstep for inspiration.

As the trilogy progressed, I realised readers were enjoying the local setting as much as I was enjoying writing it, and it inspired me to research and include more local history and landmarks. These included the ruined Roman bathhouse beneath Cathedral Green, which I deliberately used as a backdrop to action in City of Dust, and of course Exeter City’s famous underground passages.

Do you think dystopian fiction is on the rise again?

I think dystopian fiction is always bubbling away beneath the surface. Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to imagine a dystopian world given recent world events, and this adds a factor of relatability at the moment too. The Book of Fire series imagines a world after a devastating Great War, and I’ve been surprised by the number of readers who’ve been in touch to say how the setting feels a little too raw and realistic to be entirely comfortable. However, this is a real measure of its success for me.

Book of Fire’s core themes: science vs nature, history vs future and questioning if we should, just because we can underpin the whole series; and every reader who reviews or gets in contact to say Talia represents so much more than a wild girl in a recovering world, makes me very happy.

What dystopian novels do you love?

So many! The Bone Season series, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games, 1984, Divergent, but perhaps the most influential for me was Robert C. O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah.

Z for Zachariah was the very first dystopian novel I ever read at the influential age of 13, and at that time it felt as though it changed everything. Before then, I’d read a usual range of popular childhood authors including C.S Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Enid Blyton and Ruby Ferguson. But this one story turned everything on its head – a reimagining of a world after an apocalyptical war, where the race for survival is uppermost and no-one is who they seem, felt so exciting and unique. Afterwards, I actively sought books that gave that same thrill. I think part of the reason I love YA fantasy, is that it’s brave and unafraid of taking chances or asking the difficult questions.

Could you tell us a little about your writing journey?

I always scribbled stories as a child, and even had some short stories published in my local newspaper as a teenager/adult; however I didn’t start writing seriously until a traumatic event relating to the birth of my second child. While I always nursed secret hopes of getting published ‘one day’, the event was a wake-up call – a reminder that none of us are here forever, and fulfilling ambitions takes time and stamina! So I started writing seriously.

My first novel got an agent, but no deal. That same agent closed her business after a year, but by that point I had a second novel ‘Genetica’ and received four offers of representation within a week.

The initial feedback from publishers was great, but dystopia wasn’t in vogue and it went on the back burner while we worked on my next novel. Then, just as we were about to submit the new novel, a trilogy offer came in from HarperCollins HQ, a full twelve months after the original book was submitted! It was the most exciting moment of my writing journey.

Genetica became Book of Fire, the first book in the trilogy.

How valuable was it to have people to share your writing with?

Looking back, enrolling in the 2015 Curtis Brown Writing for Young Adults/Children course was one of the most valuable steps in my writing journey. More importantly than the writing wisdom and wizardry – though with Catherine Johnson as course leader there was plenty of that – I met a brilliant bunch of like-minded people who became the best friends and support network a writer could want.

Five years later we’re still in daily contact, sharing and supporting the highs and lows of each other’s journeys and lives. Some of us have agents and deals, some of us don’t, but it doesn’t matter because no-one’s success impinges anyone else’s, and everyone’s journey offers a chance to learn.

One of my cohort, Stuart White, started the hugely successful #WriteMentor, the online, accessible, support network for published and unpublished writers alike.

What’s your favourite ever book for young people?

Too hard! I do remember reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe very vividly, and being absolutely filled with wonder that someone had written a door to another world through the back of a wardrobe. It felt as though they’d read my mind, and heard the questions I whispered to myself when the lights were out. It still captures that essence of childhood magic for me.

Writing Prompt:

The Book of Fire series is full of Roman myths and legends! If you could recreate a beast of myth and legend, what would you create? What strengths/skills would it have and why?

Expand this into a map of your own mythological world. Where does your creature live? Who else lives there? Think about setting/time and add as much ‘world detail’ as you can.

We’d love to read what you come up with. Send your stories here: paperboundmagazine@outlook.com

We may even print it in a future issue!

Michelle is a firm believer in magic, and that ancient doorways to other worlds can still be found if we look hard enough. She is also a hopeless scribbleaholic and, when left to her own devices, likes nothing better than to dream up new fantasy worlds in the back of a dog-eared notebook. Doctors say they’re unlikely to find a cure any time soon.

The Book of Fire trilogy is published by HarperCollins HQStories and is available globally now (in English). The final book in the trilogy, Storm of Ash, was released earlier this year. Michelle is represented by Northbank Talent Management, and loves chatting all things book-related on her official website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Interviews

Interview with author Damaris Young

We spoke to author Damaris Young about her new novel The Creature Keeper in our Winter 2020 issue. Read on to discover more, or head over to our issues page to read the interview inside PaperBound Magazine itself.

Tell us a little about your new book The Creature Keeper. What made you decide to write it?

When animal lover Cora learns that Direspire’s mysterious owner is looking for a new Creature Keeper, she realises this might just be the chance she’s looking for to save her parents’ farm. But Direspire Hall is a spooky place, and the strange creatures who live there are nothing like Cora is expecting. As Cora settles into her new life, it soon becomes clear that Direspire has its secrets, and that somebody will do whatever it takes to keep them…

Growing up, I was always more comfortable around animals, and sometimes I struggled to talk to people. I wanted to write a story about a young girl who, just like me, feels a connection to animals, and send her on a journey of self-discovery and adventure, where she learns to find her voice.

What does your typical writing day look like?

The first thing I do is take my two dogs for a long walk near the river, which helps wake my brain up. When I get home, I’ll make breakfast, toast and a cup of coffee, and take it up to my home office. I usually write for a few hours, before finishing off the day by catching up on admin. I send out author letters to schools, sign bookplates, write articles for blog posts, and prepare for virtual workshops. I love connecting with schools and readers, it is one of the best parts of the job.

Your book The Creature Keeper has been described as having a ‘creepy gothic setting’. How important is setting to your writing?

The setting is incredibly important to my writing and I will treat it as a character, with its own quirks, personality and different moods. In The Switching Hour, the setting of the drought-stricken land became the antagonist that thwarted Amaya on her mission to save her brother. In The Creature Keeper, Direspire Hall is found near the coast and ‘The sea, the one that bordered our part of the world, wasn’t like any other. It had a mind of its own. Ma said it had eyes and ears and even teeth, and that it would gobble you up if you weren’t careful.’ The setting is wild and unpredictable, not unlike the creatures Cora discovers in Direspire hall.

What other middle grade novels do you love? What is it about them that you enjoyed?

I’m currently reading When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten, set on a small Caribbean island. I love the strong sense of place, and the clever, and perceptive protagonist, Clara. I’m also a huge fan of the author Kirsty Applebaum, and her new story Troofriend is excellent! It follows a robot manufactured to be a child’s companion, and the curious and clever robot stole my heart from the very first page.

You’ve completed a writing course; how valuable was it to have people to share your writing with?

Being able to share your work with other writers and critique each other’s stories is invaluable. Writing a book is tough, and it is easy to lose motivation. Having other writers who support and encourage you is essential, as is being able to celebrate each other’s successes!

What other things do you enjoy when you’re not writing books?

I’ve recently started to learn cross-stitch, and it’s a great way to relax your mind! This year has been particularly challenging for lots of people’s mental health and being able to do something creative and relatively simple, like cross-stitch, has helped me.

If you could share one piece of writing advice with our readers, what would it be?

Don’t compare yourself and your writing to anyone else. When I started on my writing journey I often felt like a chameleon as I tried to emulate the writers I admired. I wasn’t allowing myself to find my voice as a writer, and I caused myself no end of frustration when I couldn’t get it ‘right’.

Once I stopped comparing myself to others (although full disclosure, I do still sometimes find myself slipping into those bad habits) I began to celebrate what made my writing unique.

Writing prompt:

In my new book The Creature Keeper, Cora looks after extraordinary creatures that are extremely rare. When writing your story, imagine your character comes across a rare or endangered creature. What is it? Write an adventure, helping the creature get back to its natural habitat.

We’d love to read what you come up with. Send your stories here: paperboundmagazine@outlook.com

We may even print it in a future issue!

Damaris studied on the Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa University, where she wrote her debut novel, The Switching Hour. She is passionate about inspiring and empowering young readers with knowledge and action about climate change, as well as encouraging a love of the natural world with her stories. You can catch up with Damaris on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

The Switching Hour and The Creature Keeper are published by Scholastic UK and both books are available now!

Short stories

Winning story: ‘Winter’ by Anne Manson

We are thrilled to share ‘Winter’ by Anne Manson – the winning story featured in the Winter 2020 Issue which you can read in full here – on our featured content section of PaperBound. Get ready for a thrilling atmospheric story that’s bound to give you chills …

Wind howled across the frozen prairie, raising spiraling plumes of snow.

Bishop stared out the tiny cabin window into the wilderness, then emptied the flour bag into the week-old fat of the frying pan. It was the last of her food. She set it on the wood stove.

Above the howl of the wind rose another howl—a series of them. They were closing in on her.

At first, they’d simply gathered around the cabin at night, sniffing at the door. Later they’d got bolder, hurling themselves at the exterior with ravenous cries, while she stood terrified, shaking, clutching the cast iron pan—her only defense—as the cabin door shuddered under their weight.

Daytimes, they disappeared, and she wondered if her mind was playing tricks on her. She felt as though she’d been here forever, as though she was light years away from home. All alone. Sometimes, she even thought she felt a familiar, barely detectable vibration under her feet. It was hard to know what was real and what wasn’t.

As a precaution, she’d run around the perimeter of the cabin, squatting and urinating in the brilliant snow. Father had told her about a scientist who’d done that—marking his territory to keep them away—a vague memory from the mists of time. But they didn’t seem to notice. She remembered something else, something about the scientist altering his diet. Had he eaten mice? She would have tried it—tried anything. But there wasn’t a single sign of life in that white desert. Except for them.

Even the nights they didn’t come, she sat awake, sleepless, by the cooling wood stove, the iron pan in her lap, waiting, starting at any unfamiliar sound. During the day, she gazed out the window in a sleep-deprived fog, occasionally slipping into a blessed doze.

Eventually she made a plan. She took apart the chair, cut strips from the legs, soaked them in water and bent them, painstakingly forming an oval with a tapered end. She soaked cords from the hammock in fat and wove them across the frame. Snowshoes.

She spent endless hours pondering, mountains or prairie? Open plain or wooded slopes? They could bring her down in a flash in the open. And the mountains were covered in pines—she could climb a tree. But how long would she last? They would wait her out. And in the end, what were the chances of finding anyone to help her up there? Nil. She’d have to go across the prairie.

Bishop ate the greyish, floury sludge straight from the pan, staring out the window at the first glimmer of dawn—no rosy sunrise, but a lightening of the black landscape into a charcoal grey. She finished, put the pan away, banked the stove, and set about putting on every piece of clothing she had. By the time she was done, her shirt was damp with sweat and she could barely move. Last of all, she tied the snowshoes tightly to her boots.

She eased the cabin door open, but the wind caught it and slammed it hard against the exterior wall. A heavy mist of snow blew in and settled on the floor. She pulled her scarf up over her mouth. Then she summoned all her strength and heaved the door closed again. She might need to come back here.

She took a last look at the cabin’s small wooden overhang, the snow-covered wood pile, the thin trail of dying smoke from the chimney, and felt a pang. At least it had protected her for a while.

Then she turned and stared out into the grey, clouded light—the sun, a muted silvery glow on the horizon. To her right, the west, and the massive peaks of the mountains—sharp, snow-covered pines, spiking the grey sky. To her left, east, and the barren, white plain.

A chorus of howls rose from the mountains and her heart shot to her throat. She shouldn’t have used bacon fat to soak the rope for her snowshoes. It was like laying a trail for them. But what could she do now? She’d needed to make them waterproof.

She set off across the prairie, heading toward that silvery, clouded sun. She tripped and fell on her first few steps and terror rose in her gorge. What if the snowshoes didn’t work? But she figured out how to lift the tips with each step so they didn’t catch, and soon she settled into an uneasy, careful jog, her heart racing, her legs aching numbly from lack of exercise. She kept her eyes fixed on the rising sun. East. She’d have to keep her wits about her so she didn’t end up going in circles. Sun ahead. Mountains behind. Fingers crossed.

East. East. East. The sun edged along the horizon at a low angle. There was so little light at this time of year. When was sunset? Three? A little later? It only gave her six hours or so. Her inner clothes were soon drenched with sweat, her face, hands and feet, rigid with cold. She was fiercely thirsty. She stopped and raked her gloves over the frozen earth, stuffed snow in her mouth, gagged on the bits of grit, then scraped up some more. She pulled off her gloves and sucked on her numb fingertips. She couldn’t afford to lose them. A toe or two, even the tip of her nose, fine. But not a finger. Please.

There was still no sign of a living soul. No houses, no road. Maybe she should have stayed and starved in the cabin. The scarf around her mouth was frozen rigid. The winter air passed over it and raked her lungs with every breath. She stuffed her fingers back into the gloves, looked behind her, held her breath, and listened. No howls. No sounds at all over the wind. No low grey figures running through the waist-high mists of whirling snow. The cabin was long gone—vanished into the horizon. But she couldn’t see far. And they were clever. They might well be hunting her silently. Or merely waiting for her to tire and fall.

She set her jaw, lifted her aching legs, and set off again, this time keeping the low sun more or less on her right, to the south. It must be close to midday now. She stuffed down thoughts of panic and replaced them with anger. Yes. Rage would keep her warm. She untied the makeshift spear she had on her back and clutched it in her right hand. She wasn’t going down without a fight.

At the end, the sun was passing behind her, hovering on the edge of the horizon, the landscape all frozen shadow, and there was still no sign of human habitation. Why hadn’t she tried the mountains? She could have climbed a tree and rested. Her head was ringing. She had to hold herself upright. If she turned quickly or tilted her neck, the horizon spun round. She couldn’t feel her toes or fingers. She knew she should stop and eat more snow, but she feared if she squatted down, she’d tumble over and never get up again. She plodded forward, her legs numb with pain, her head reeling, using the spear as a walking stick.

Occasionally she thought she saw a light, heard a voice, but then it would vanish. She really was imagining things. Maybe everything was in her mind—the snow, the ravenous howls, the endless tundra. All she knew for sure was that she had no compass and night was falling. And the frozen earth was hard as rock—no way to make a snow cave, no wood for a fire.

It was then she heard them. Not the long-accustomed desolate howl—rather a chorus of joyous yips and barks.

They’d found her.

She ran, staggering wildly forward, trying to stay upright, as their hungry cries came closer and closer. She felt nothing but ache, saw nothing but grey whirls of snow, heard the eternal wind that grew and grew in her mind with the throbbing beat of her heart. Louder and louder, filling her head, like a relentless engine.

Suddenly she felt a stab of pain, glimpsed the grey mouth clamped on her leg and knew they’d got her. She fell, skidding forward. Immediately she felt a massive weight on her back. She screamed, her head reeling. She couldn’t move, spasms of agony in her leg, explosions of noise all around, that screaming roar in her head.

Then, nothing but black.

Bishop opened her eyes. Everything had turned still and white. So, what she’d heard was true—this was what you saw before you died.

Then she became aware of her throbbing leg and pounding head. And something else. That long-familiar hushed vibration underneath her, the smell of disinfectant and filtered air. She closed her eyes, wished she was back in the cabin. Out alone on the tundra, even. Anywhere but here.

“Congratulations, Bishop. The Committee felt that was a pass.” The voice was neutral, impassive.

She turned her head painfully. He was sitting next to her bed. His face, pocked with old acne scars, his green uniform, the pulsing, blueish screen in the upper corner of his wire rim glasses.

“Ingenious to mark the perimeter with urine. Unfortunately, they only respect that if you’ve eaten mice.” He didn’t look at her, didn’t take her hand. It was as though he didn’t even know her.

“What?” Bishop’s throat was painfully dry.

“You have to eat mice—that’s the wolf diet—in the arctic, that is. They smell it in the urine. That’s what keeps them away. I told you that. You didn’t remember?”

She stared at him. “There weren’t any blasted mice.”

“No mice?” He glanced at his watch. “Dear me. I’ll make a note of that.” His left eye flicked left and right, and a miniscule line of text rolled across the lens of his glasses.

Bishop wondered how the Committee would feel if she throttled him.

“In any case, no time for regrets. I suggest you prepare for stage two. You’ll have a week or so for…” He gestured at her injured leg with distaste. “And then…well, Bishop, we’re hopeful Spring may go a bit better. In the meantime, at least you’ve passed Winter.” He showed his teeth—his version of a smile.

Bishop stared at his yellowed canines. He was mistaken about the mice. It wouldn’t have made any difference. There was no escaping real wolves.

Anne has a Masters in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. Her first novel, ‘Lobster Wars’, is a thriller about two boys who find a dead body on a small island off the coast of Maine. Her second, ‘Dark Sun Rising’, is about a girl accused of murder at the time of the American Revolution. You can keep up to date with Anne by visiting her website or following her on Twitter.

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