Today I have the wonderful Virginia Bergin on my blog with an interview with Hayley Sprout. Thank you so much for being part of this and check out her wonderful blog!
Virginia Bergin learned to roller-skate with the children of eminent physicists. She grew up in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, and went on to study psychology, but ruined her own career when, dabbling in fine art at Central Saint Martins, she rediscovered creative writing. Since then she has written poetry, short stories, film and TV scripts. Most recently she has been working in online education, creating interactive courses for The Open University.
She currently lives on a council estate in Bristol and has taken to feeding the birds in between writing the sequel to The Rain.
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1) Where did the idea for Who Runs the World stem from?
The compact answer: a teen friend told me she was studying Tess of the D’Urbervilles and I flipped. (If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a story in which a woman is the victim of a patriarchal society’s cruel male oppressors.) I studied the same book at school – about 35 years ago! – and I wondered . . . isn’t it about time we told a different kind of story?
The long and messy answer is: this idea came from my life. What my teen friend had to say was my wake-up call. My whole life I have never felt I am how a female is ‘supposed’ to be. Mainly, I just feel like . . . well, ‘me’. We’re all just human, aren’t we? As far as I can tell, ‘gender’ is a made-up, shifting, essentially hollow idea; a concept of how we ‘should’ be – against which we all fail. We’re all so much more complex than a stereotype! Yet it’s almost impossible to reject ideas of gender – because we are so soaked in them, from the day we are born . . .
I realised it wouldn’t be the right decision to simply turn the world on its head and create a matriarchy in the image of a patriarchy, to make men oppressed. If I wrote for just adults, I might have done it - but I don’t write for just adults, I write first and foremost for teens. I didn’t want to serve up a slice of my own life, flipped. I thought teens deserved more. I decided I could at least try to imagine what a gender-neutral world would look like. That’s River’s world: it’s been shaped by the absence of men and the actions of women, and so she has never really had to think about what being a girl or a boy might mean – until the arrival of Mason, the boy in the story.
2) Were you influenced by other forms of media during the writing process?
No! The very opposite! During the 19 months it took to write Who Runs the World? I shut more and more media – even other books, and films, and ‘the world’ in general - OUT.
Brexit was happening, and then the US elections . . . and, in the end, I swapped my radio news channel for music and I avoided social media – not because I don’t care about what happens in the world – I wouldn’t write this story if I didn’t! – but because I knew I needed to concentrate . . . and listen, hard.
I’ve written other books – The Rain and The Storm – and in them I could hear Ruby, the main character – louder than I could hear myself. In Who Runs the World? River speaks to us from a place so far away from our now I could hardly hear her.
I think it’s so easy to get caught up in reaction – and there is so much in our world to react to. (And we need to! Bad, bad things go on!) But . . . I was trying to find a space to imagine a different world. I think we need that too.
If there is one thing I’d like to come out of Who Runs the World? it’s just that: for readers to imagine the kind of world they’d like to live in.
3) Your first two books were also dystopian, what's appealing to you about the genre?
Because it’s an opportunity to re-imagine the world!
That’s appealing in itself . . . but what I love most about dystopias is the chance they give us to do better. A dystopia gives you the space to imagine utopia. My main observation about teens – and about YA lit – is that there is a great sense of fairness, equality and justice, compassion and empathy. It seems to me that these are things most of us humans instinctively feel, and from quite a young age. Adulthood can mess with that. We discover huge swathes of complexity. We discover all kinds of difficulties, experience all kinds of influences . . . and it can become really difficult to navigate – to even survive! – in our world.
For me, a dystopia is a chance to ask yourself – again – what do I believe in?
A dystopia gives you the space to reconnect with who you are.
4) What did you enjoy most about YALC?
YALC is phenomenal!
It’s an ideas-fest! It will challenge you! It will amaze you! It will make you cry – and laugh! (And, obviously, there are tons of books sold at discount and freebies galore.)
But my favourite thing? We get to meet each other, readers and writers – and don’t forget writers are readers too. I love the opportunity to talk to people face-to-face . . . even though it’s a bit nerve-wracking. Writers spend most of their time alone at a keyboard, readers spend most of their time alone with a book . . . but when we meet, and we break through our various barriers to talk, it’s excellent. YALC connects.
Welcome to the Matriarchy. Sixty years after a virus has wiped out almost all the men on the planet, things are pretty much just as you would imagine a world run by women might be: war has ended; greed is not tolerated; the ecological needs of the planet are always put first. In two generations, the female population has grieved, pulled together and moved on, and life really is pretty good - if you're a girl. It's not so great if you're a boy, but fourteen-year-old River wouldn't know that. Until she met Mason, she thought they were extinct.