Rachael Craw studied Classical Studies and Drama at the University of Canterbury, but became an English teacher after graduation. Working with teenagers has given her a natural bent towards Young Adult fiction and a desire to present a feisty female protagonist in her writing. Her debut novel, Spark, is the first in a series released with Walker Books Australia from 2014. Rachael was born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand, and currently lives in Nelson with her husband and three daughters. To get a glimpse of her work, visit her here.
NAW- Tell us about your book, Spark. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?
Spark is a Young Adult Sci-fi cross over novel about a seventeen year old girl who discovers she has been genetically engineered to save her best friend from a genetically engineered killer. She must learn to master her new physical and psychic capabilities in order to keep her friend safe, all the while coping with grief after the death of her mother, settling in with her Aunt, fitting in at a new school and trying hard not to fall in love with her best-friend’s brother, Jamie.
The idea for Spark came to me in a dream. That dream is the prologue of the novel. I was running through a forest at night with incredible speed and reflexes and I knew I had to reach a girl who was lost and in danger out there in the dark and that someone was going to kill her if I didn’t get there first. I woke knowing I had the idea for a story, the idea I had prayed for before going to sleep. I immediately began asking questions: why was I so fast/strong? How did I know the girl was out there? Why was it my responsibility to save her? Why would someone want to kill her? It didn’t feel like magic, it felt like being a bit of a superhero. Genetic engineering seemed like the right premise.
NAW- DNA manipulation to breed fighters was a really interesting concept. Do you have a background in science? How did you carry out all the research needed for the book?
I spent some time Googling DNA, brainwaves, basic physics. I spoke to clever science friends and had them explain things to me in very small words. Then I just went a bit mad making things up like a gigantic game of Balderdash.
NAW- What drew you to science fiction?
I love science fiction. I especially love gritty dystopian science fiction. My favourite Sci-fi movie is Minority Report and I love Blade Runner and the Star Trek movies. I also love comic book/movie crossovers. I like sci-fi more than magic as a means by which I could create a ‘fantastical’ element to the story. The issue of genetic engineering creates high stakes drama and stirs up dark and disturbing questions about free-will/freedom of choice.
NAW- How do you decide the names for your characters?
I was impatient to begin my story but I could not think of a name for my central character. My 3 month old baby was lying on her play mat next to my work desk and I looked at her and said, “Evie, darling, mummy just needs to borrow your name. I promise I’ll give it back.” But I never did think of an alternative. Opps. I hope she won’t mind too much! Almost all the other names came straight off the top of my head. I picked ‘Miriam’ because she was a warm and loving person with a great sense of humour and I have two Miriams in my life just like that, so I gave her that name. And I have always loved the name Jamie.
NAW- How difficult (or easy) was it getting published? Tell us about your publishing journey.
From the inception of the idea to publication it has been 5.5 years. I had several professional assessments of my work and a year of mentoring with Chris Else. He and his wife Barbara Else then offered to represent me as Literary Agents. We pitched the manuscript to two publishers and Walker Books Australia picked it up. I spent another 7 or 8 months getting the novel ready with my incredible editor Nicola Robinson, cutting it down to size because it was even longer than it is now! I would say the experience of getting published was a lot like being in labour for 5.5 years: wonderful,tiring, excruciating but incredibly rewarding.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I grew up in Christchurch, New Zealand and studied Classical Studies and Drama at University. I am married and have 3 daughters. I was an English teacher before I started writing and also did a little bit of acting and amateur theatre. We live in Nelson at the top of the South Island and have a funny little dog called Miss Jingles.
I’m not sure if I can remember what I do when I’m not writing. But I do love reading! And going to the movies! And I love music. I always write to music.
NAW- Who are your favourite writers?
My favourite author of all time is Margaret Atwood. I also love Kate Atkinson, Isabel Allende, Alice Hoffman, Patrick Ness, Elizabeth Knox and Mal Peet.
NAW- How do you write, planning the complete plot beforehand or do you let the book take its course? Take us through your writing process.
I began with only a premise and basic idea of where I wanted the story to go. Mostly I sat at my desk and wondered what would happen. Mostly I would create terrible situations for my characters and then lie awake at night worrying about how on earth they would resolve them. My story surprised me many times! Now I would like to be a better planner.
NAW-What are you currently reading?
I just finished Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Eleanor and Park’ which I adored and am about start Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Very exciting!
NAW- What next in the series?
At the moment I am working on book 2 ‘Stray’. Evie goes in for orientation with the secret organisation responsible for her genetic engineering. She is interrogated, tested and stretched to her physical, emotional and psychological limits and all her relationships are placed under great strain. Stray is due for release in 2015. Book 3 ‘Shield’, 2016.