Whenever I introduce myself, I usually start with: I’m Fleur Bradley, and I love mysteries. I read them, I write them, and sometimes (mostly while watching true crime) I think I can solve them, too.
I write mysteries for middle-grade and YA, sometimes with a horror element as was the case with my latest book, Daybreak on Raven Island. I’m proud of being a genre writer. And I always liked to think that writing genre meant I could leave books about difficult issues to other writers. Secretly, I considered those better writers (we’ll leave the armchair psychology at the door for that one).
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I’m on book five now in my publishing journey, so you’d think I wouldn’t surprise myself anymore. When I set out to write Daybreak on Raven Island, I started with a cool location as I always do—setting is just the best way to set the tone for me. In this case, I chose Alcatraz, with all its mysterious history and scary folklore. I created Raven Island, a fictional version of Alcatraz, complete with abandoned prison, lighthouse, morgue, and cemetery. Three kids on a field trip, stuck overnight after they miss the ferry, and boom! A nice scary mystery. I even had my short pitch figured out: Alfred Hitchcock for kids.
I thought I had no issues—literally, and when it came to the theme of the book, which I had yet to nail down when I started writing. But then the research began, into Alcatraz since that was my springboard. A phone conversation with my (very smart) editor brought up an angle to the story I was trying very hard to avoid: prison in America.
It would be great if you could discuss this in the book somehow.
I was at a loss. I pondered the issue, while cleaning out the fridge, vacuuming my house, and weeding the yard, frustrated with my writing and lack of ability to see the right way to cover such a heavy issue in a middle-grade. I was just trying to write a cool, scary mystery here, people. Issues were for other writers—plus, what right did I have to talk about this particular issue anyway? As a (quite privileged, white) writer who spends her days typing in a very comfortable, now freshly vacuumed office, what could I possibly bring to this topic?
I did more research, as I do when I get anxious. I read anything I could get my hands on, watched documents like 13th. The numbers and facts made me furious, and as a writer, I decided to use those feelings and them channel into the book. I created Tori, one of my three kid characters, who has a brother caught in the justice system. She’s angry, lonely, and doesn’t share what’s going on at home. I wove in some facts, but I still felt like I was stretching as a mystery writer, and most importantly, I felt like I was stretching my kid reader.
While writing this book during Covid lockdown, I was doing dozens of virtual author visits. I would look into kids’ homes and classrooms, and I answer to their questions, listening to their favorite books, food, and pets. All the while I wondered.
How am I supposed to cover the political complexities of incarceration in America for that eight-year-old who just showed me their cat?
It was the statistics that made everything fall into place at the end. Because amid all the doom and political infuriation was the most heartbreaking fact: one in twenty-eight kids in the US has an incarcerated parent. It just so turned out this is about one kid per classroom, and that was something I could wrap my brain around and shed a light on in a way that kids could understand. I imagined how kids of incarcerated parents might not want to talk about it, and how lonely that has to feel.
This, I could write about.
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Daybreak on Raven Island now had a theme too: loneliness, which I could relate to as well, writing amid the pandemic. The book is still a scary mystery first and foremost. I learned that just because you’re writing genre, doesn’t mean you can’t cover a deeper issue, even one you don’t feel qualified to cover.
Now, about that true crime series…
Meet the author
Fleur Bradley has loved puzzles and (scary) mysteries ever since she first discovered Agatha Christie novels. She’s the author of numerous mysteries for kids, including Midnight at the Barclay Hotelwhich was on many award lists, including the Reading the West, Agatha and Anthony Awards, Sasquatch Award, and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, Sunshine State Young Readers Award and the Colorado Book Award.
A reluctant reader herself, Fleur regularly does librarian and educator conference talks on ways to reach reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, she now lives in Colorado with her family and entirely too many animal rescues. Find out more about Fleur at http://www.ftbradley.com and follow her on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.
About Daybreak on Raven Island
From the critically acclaimed author of Midnight at the Barclay Hotel comes a thrilling new middle grade mystery novel inspired by Alcatraz Prison.
Tori, Marvin, and Noah would rather be anywhere else than on the seventh-grade class field trip to Raven Island prison. Tori would rather be on the soccer field, but her bad grades have benched her until further notice; Marvin would rather be at the first day of a film festival with his best friend, Kevin; and Noah isn’t looking forward to having to make small talk with his classmates at this new school.
But when the three of them stumble upon a dead body in the woods, miss the last ferry back home, and then have to spend the night on Raven Island, they find that they need each other now more than ever. They must work together to uncover a killer, outrun a motley ghost-hunting crew, and expose the age-old secrets of the island all before daybreak.
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 08/23/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post