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I Am Traitor

Sif Sigmarsdottir

When spaceships arrive on Earth and the aliens start abducting thousands of teenagers, no one knows why, nor what happens to those who are taken.

After Amy's brother disappears, she is given an opportunity to save him. But in order to have the chance to rescue him - Amy must let herself be taken...

Author SIF SIGMARSDOTTIR talks to us about her gripping YA novel, I AM TRAITOR:

Q: You grew up in Iceland. What kind of childhood did you have and, since you now live in London, what do you miss most about it?

A: Coming from Iceland is a privilege in many ways; it's one of the safest places on the planet. From an early age, we would play outside late into the night without any parental supervision, often under the flashing northern lights you take so much for granted you almost forget to look up.

I think this sense of safety and freedom is what I miss most about Iceland. Iceland is so safe, new-borns in prams are left sleeping outside coffee shops while their parents enjoy a coffee inside.

I realised that I'd turned into a Brit when I went to Iceland for a visit, met up with friends in a cafe but was physically incapable of leaving my child outside on the street in the pram. My friends made fun of me, sitting inside the cafe with a squirming child in my lap while their babies slept soundly outside in the freezing cold.

Q: What brought you into writing for YA readers?

A: I'm very fortunate; writing is my day job as well as my passion. I've been writing children's books for ten years and my novels for teenagers and young adults are best sellers in Iceland. I also work as a journalist. I report on British politics and current affairs and I have a regular column in Iceland's biggest newspaper.

I always knew that I wanted to become a writer. It was after reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman that I became obsessed with YA and decided to do a degree in children's literature.

When I first moved from Iceland to the UK 15 years ago I dreamt of writing a book and seeing it on the shelves in Waterstones. I never thought I would as my native language is Icelandic. But as they say: never say never.

I am Traitor is my first book written in English. It's definitely harder to write in your second language. It's mostly because you are more self-conscious. I worry more about saying something stupid or using the wrong word - or messing up my spelling. But I do like a challenge and I love writing in English.

Q: Why did you decide that this story would feature aliens and alien abduction?

A: The seed that turned into the book I am Traitor didn't actually have anything to do with aliens. I love travelling and in 2007 I visited Sarajevo. Whilst there, my husband and I went on a guided tour of the city. There weren't many tourists there and we were the only people on the tour.

After the tour, we had tea with the tour guide, who was the same age as us, and he told us about being a teenager during the siege of Sarajevo. I'd always assumed that during a war like that people would just stay inside and wait for the awfulness to be over. But far from it.

He told us amazing stories about how the kids snuck out of their houses to meet up, go to parties and just carry on with normal life. They were stories of regular people trying to hold on to a semblance of normality during the breakdown of everything we take for granted.

His stories inspired me to write a book about survival, courage and the prevailing of the human spirit under the most extreme circumstances.

Q: Why do you think that space has recently become a popular theme in YA books?

A: I think space has been a big part of humanity's collective imagination from the dawn of man. How can you not look up and wonder what is beyond the horizon? Space never ceases to pique our curiosity.

Q: During I Am Traitor, thousands of young people are abducted by aliens including your main character, Amy. How hard was this to imagine, and to write about?

A: I read history at university and history is an important source of inspiration to me. A historical anecdote can act as a seed that grows into a novel. The seed to one of my books was the story of a Chinese Emperor and his obsession with eternal life. He died by drinking mercury, believing it to be an elixir of immortality. Calling it irony is an understatement.

History is full of cruelty and awfulness; it's full of people being abducted, locked up, stripped of their freedom and dignity. Although Amy's ordeal seems futuristic, it was inspired by the past and although it takes place in space it has already happened down on Earth.

Q: Was it difficult to develop the setting in the space craft? Did you read any books or watch films to inspire you?

A: The space crafts in I Am Traitor are inspired by a bowl. Yes, a bowl, as in fruit bowl. Not any old bowl though, but a famous Scandinavian bowl made by the Danish designer Georg Jensen. These bowls are very minimalistic, made from stainless steel and stand empty on countless table-tops all across the Nordic countries. I have one. My parents have one, my brothers, my friends in Iceland, everyone...

Q: You also use the alien setting to explore difference and discrimination - were these themes inspired by the way our current politics are developing?

A: Absolutely. I'm a news junkie and I do get inspiration and ideas from reading the papers in the morning. But it also works the other way around. To me, fiction is truth. I'm driven to write fiction because of an urge to make sense of the chaos that is life; the chaos that is the world we live in.

Someone might ask: How can fiction be truth? Well, fiction is like knitting. Reality is a tangled ball of yarn. It's a mess. Bringing order to the confused mess that is human existence and turning it into a story does not make it any less authentic, any less true. Our lives are like a tangled ball of yarn. When you knit a sweater out of it, it is still yarn.

Q: What is your message to today's readers when you compare the conditions some of the characters are held in to a concentration camp?

A: My message is not exactly a happy one: History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Q: You describe a superior alien race in your story that has reached peak physical and mental condition. Do you see that as a logical extension of our obsession with perfection and longevity?

A: I see the search for eternal life as a logical pursuit - but I do hope that my alien race is not a logical end result of that pursuit.

I read a quote recently that made me wonder whether death is perhaps underrated: "Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are to see anything."

The question I ask in I am Traitor is: what is more important; quantity or quality.

Q: There is a budding romance here between the lead character, Amy, and one of the 'alien' characters, Caesar. Will we see more of their relationship?

A: Love, lust, physical attraction; these are such big driving forces when it comes to human motivation. All the best stories have a Romeo and Juliet element to them. I'm pretty sure we haven't seen the last of Amy and Caesar.

Q: If you are you writing a sequel, can you give us a glimpse into what happens?

A: I am indeed writing a sequel. The elevator-pitch goes something like this: From the dawn of man we have been asking ourselves a fundamental question: What is the meaning of life? In a distant place, in a faraway galaxy, someone has come up with the answer. But instead of offering salvation it has the power to wipe out all life in the universe.

Q: What are you writing now and where do you write?

A: I'm writing the sequel to I Am Traitor. I have an office at home where I work but I do like mixing things up and working from my local cafe every now and then. They do an excellent iced coffee which is what fuels my writing.

Q: What would be your perfect 'writer's shed' and where would you want it located?

A: A wooden hut on a secluded stony shore. I love the sound of waves crashing on rocks. It reminds me of Iceland.

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Your reviews Sif Sigmarsdottir

I AM TRAITOR is a gripping story of alien abduction, survival and hope against all the odds. We...

Your reviews

Ella Queen of Jazz, I loved the direct style and brightly coloured, eye-catching pictures, the collage design and...