This year has been strange in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I was writing Crater Lake. I hate that people have missed out on so many lovely things, including their residentials, but I hope they have found some unexpected joys to compensate a little.

Jennifer Killick

In the midst of the world pandemic, Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick was published and gave many of us a welcome distraction. The story takes place at Crater Lake Activity Centre as a group of unsuspecting children uncover the centre’s shocking secret. This story has it all, and the reader does go through a range of emotions from fear-induced goosebumps to pure hysterics. Having read this book with my Year 6 class, I know that EVERY child loved this book, which seems to be the common theme across the country.

I’d like to thank Jennifer Killick for not only joining us in the NEW VIP Reading blog, but for the support shown to VIP Reading from the very beginning. Firstly, congratulations on the huge success that Crater Lake has had so far. Why do you think it has been so popular with schools?

Thank you very much! I’m so happy that Crater Lake is being enjoyed by lots of readers. I think there’s a bit of a gap in the market for scary stories for primary aged readers, at the moment. There are a few brilliant books out there, but if you compare the number of spooky stories available with the number of fantasies, for example, it’s so much lower. In my opinion, children now are different in many ways to children twenty, or even ten years ago. It’s a different world, and books are competing with epic movies, and computer games that look like movies. Many children want to experience the same instant rush of excitement and adrenalin in a book that they would get from playing a game, and why shouldn’t they? I think scary books can provide that.

For anyone that hasn’t read Crater Lake, what tantalising information would you give them to encourage them to read?

Crater Lake takes a familiar situation, and turns it into something full of fear, horror, and humour. Imagine being far away from home, with no help nearby, and being hunted by your teachers and classmates. What if the fate of the world rested on your shoulders? How would you cope? And then imagine being bone tired – more tired than you’ve ever been in your life – but not being able to rest. Because if you fall asleep at Crater Lake, you change into something awful. No matter what happens, you must stay awake.

What gave you the inspiration to write Crater Lake?

All of my stories are inspired by familiar everyday things, and Crater Lake started that way. I was watching my oldest son, Stanley, with his friends in Year 6. They were in the playground and about to go on their residential. They were such a tight group, having been friends since Reception, and all very different characters. I loved that it was such a turning point in their lives – so much history behind them, and huge changes looming ahead, and I wanted to write a story to capture that. I absolutely love hostile alien stories, and liked the idea of there being an activity centre that was the starting point for an alien invasion. I’d watched a documentary about parasitic wasps and the horrific things they do to the creatures they lay their eggs in, so I used that as a basis for my aliens. And I’d wanted to write a story for years where the characters were unable to fall asleep, no matter how tired they were, because something terrible would happen if they did. This seemed like the perfect set up for that. I absolutely love sleeping, and the idea of being too afraid to sleep really horrifies me. It’s always good to explore your own fears for story ideas.

This is your fifth book published for Firefly Press, what did it feel like when you were given the green light on Crater Lake?

I actually wrote Crater Lake well over a year before we submitted it to Firefly. I’d always had a feeling that it could be successful, but I’d been busy with Alex Sparrow and Mo and Lottie, so my agent suggested we hold it back for a while. It was also something a bit different to my previous books, so I was very nervous about it. I was absolutely over the moon when my editor at Firefly got in touch to say she loved it, and we were both always on the same page with it, which made edits and cover suggestions a really positive experience. Honestly, every time I get the green light for a story, it feels as exciting as the first time.

At times, this book feels apocalyptic which many people are drawn to. I suppose it brings out people’s true nature. What were your reasons for writing such a book?

I love books and movies set at the end of the world, or in post-apocalyptic landscapes. I love the idea of life being much simpler, in a way, with all the day-to-day things we stress over, like tests, or getting a hole in your favourite top, or being annoyed about someone pushing in front of you in a queue, becoming unimportant. All that matters is survival and protecting the people you love. Situations like that bring out the best and worst in people, and from a story point of view, that’s very exciting and interesting.

Crater Lake is quite a change from writing humorous books, how did you find the change?

I never really set out to write a particular kind of book. I get ideas for stories and develop them, and go along with whatever they grow to be. I knew Crater Lake was going to be darker than my previous stories, but I wanted to give it a try anyway. If it had turned out badly, I still would have learnt a lot – I like to think that my unpublished stories are as important as my published ones. Writing Crater Lake turned out to be really fun, and actually easier than most of my other books, so I guess it fit with me and my writing style in a way I wouldn’t necessarily have predicted.

The characters in the book are very relatable, were they based on any real people?

Yes, most of my characters are based on real people. I don’t take people I know and copy them, but I do use them as starting points and then develop and add and change them until they’re fully formed characters in my mind. The group of friends in Crater Lake are based on children that I have met over the years, and I’m very fond of them.

How do you feel knowing that in March, when Crater Lake was published, this was the only Y6 residential centre that had ‘visitors’ due to COVID 19?

Oh gosh, this year has been strange in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I was writing Crater Lake. I hate that people have missed out on so many lovely things, including their residentials, but I hope they have found some unexpected joys to compensate a little.

I’ve seen you’ve taken part in a whole range of virtual author visits. How have these been for you?

To me, author visits are as important as the writing. Going into schools and working with children is wonderful, exhausting and inspiring, and I know that spending lots of time with the people I’m writing for makes my writing better. I’ve had some really tough visits where I’ve felt unwelcome, and some where people have been horribly rude. When I’m alone in a strange city, a long, long way from home, I find being treated like that especially upsetting. Fortunately there aren’t too many like that, and some of my days spent in schools have been absolutely magical. Of course all my visits are virtual at the moment, which has been a huge change and taken some getting used to. Virtual sessions aren’t quite the same as being in a school, but they can still be brilliant. I’m really enjoying them.

My own class are eager to know more about Crater Lake 2, what can you tell us?

Thank you – I’m so pleased that they’re interested! Book two is called Crater Lake, Evolution and is set six months after the events at Crater Lake, in Lance’s hometown, Straybridge. Lance and the gang are all in Year 7, having spent a term at their secondary schools, and a lot has changed. The tight-knit group has fallen apart as people have been struggling to adapt to life after Crater Lake and all the changes that high school has brought. Lance really misses his old friends, but has made a great new friend called Karim. It’s almost Christmas and it should be a time of cosying up, eating nice food and watching movies, but something happens that rocks the town of Straybridge. As events escalate, Lance starts to worry that something evil made it out of the crater and all the way to Straybridge. It’s smarter, stronger and meaner than before, and if Lance is going to face it and defeat it, he needs to get the gang back together…

We should be revealing the cover very soon – I am so excited for everyone to see it because it is AMAZING. Anne Glenn who created the cover for book one has just hit it out of the park again.

Q & A hosted by
Rob McCann