An Interview With: Elizabeth Stewart
Elizabeth Stewart is an award-winning author of Blue Gold, a fiction story that focuses on the problems of technology. I got the chance to interview her about the cultural fiction book that was nominated for the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize in 2015.
Q1. Blue Gold is an award-winning novel about the mineral of the same name and the ways in which its trade, particularly through electronic devices, affects three teenage girls’ lives – it’s a different and unusual topic for a YA book - what inspired you to write about this in particular?
Yes, it’s a heavier topic, for sure. Definitely not a light read, but I hope an illuminating one!
My initial interest in writing about the sources of the cell phones and other devices we take for granted was sparked by a horrifying fact I read about the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Sylvie, one of the three main characters, is from: the DRC is known as the rape capital of the world for the systematic use of sexual terror against women and girls, as well as men and boys as various groups try to gain control of precious minerals, including coltan, which is used in the making of these electronics.
I knew I also wanted to write about an end user of a cell phone, so Fiona in Vancouver, Canada – where I live – was born. As I began to write, I realized I was missing a third point in what would become a triangulation of characters: Laiping, a young factory worker in China who, like Sylvie in Africa, suffers so that that we can enjoy cheap electronics.
I really didn’t intend to get on a soapbox about this issue. I learned about conditions in Africa and China as I wrote, and my goal was to share that awareness with readers – as well as, I hope, to create compelling teen characters that give a glimpse into how others live outside of North America.
Q2. If you had to describe Blue Gold in 5 words to YA Love readers – what would they be?
Your cell phone’s dark side.
Q3. The themes of your book are hard-hitting and powerful. Did you worry at times that the content might be distressing for young readers?
I think the whole point of this book is that the content is distressing. I researched meticulously and, although the characters are fictional, what they go through represents the lives of millions of real people. If anything, I pulled back on the horrors that people are suffering, especially in Africa, so that we can buy cheap electronics. Having visited several high schools to talk about the book, it’s clear to me that although reading about such brutality can be disturbing, young people can not only handle this truth, but want to know more about it.
Q4. Your passion lies in screenwriting, how were you able to switch off from writing for film & TV in order to produce a fiction novel?
Interesting question. Having written two YA novels, I would say I have equal passions for both forms. Screenplays and novels share lots in common – for me, any good story begins with complex characters facing challenging situations. Writing novels has been a steep learning curve for me, though. As a screenwriter, you count on a whole team of talented people – actors, directors, set design, wardrobe – to make your story come to life. As a novelist, you’re on your own! You have only words to create dimensional characters and a convincing world.
Q5. Growing up, were you much of a reader? If so, what kinds of books did you read yourself?
When I was growing up, I loved reading, but if I’m honest I would say I equally loved certain TV shows and movies – hence the first part of my writing career was focused only on the screen. Now I have to reveal my age: I am 60, so I was 12 when the original Star Trek episodes hit the air – which I loved! But I also loved classic novels like Anne of Green Gables when I was younger, and Lord of the Rings as I got a bit older.
Q6. If you could recommend 3 books that all YA Love readers must read, what would you choose?
A tough one. I can’t say that I would ever force my literary tastes on anyway else, but here are three books whose stories have stuck with me:
White Oleander by Janet Fitch – not officially YA, but an honest and often disturbing portrayal of a teen girl’s life in foster care. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for younger teens.
Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara, a non-fiction, first person account of a 12 year-old girl’s survival following a brutal attack by rebels in Sierra Leone.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – again, not officially YA, but Jane is a teenager, and who doesn’t love gothic romance, combined with beautiful writing?
Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us!
You’re very welcome! Thanks for asking.
Alas, I am woefully behind in developing social media. But more information about my books can be found through my publisher at annickpress.com.