A.F. Harrold is an English poet and children's author, whose books include The Worlds We Leave Behind, The Song from Somewhere Else and The Imaginary. He has had his work broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and Radio 3 and is active in schools, running workshops and slams and doing performances , and has published several collections of poetry.
The Worlds We Leave Behind (Bloomsbury)
The Worlds We Leave Behind is a powerful story that you won't forget, an eerie and shadowy novel that questions friendship, consequences, and what makes us act the way we do.
In The Worlds We Leave Behind, a strange woman offers to avenge young people for wrongs they have experienced, and the story explores whether they decide to take up her offer, or not. Author AF Harrold tells us more.
Read a chapter from The Worlds We Leave Behind
Q&A with AF Harrold
1. Is The Worlds We Leave Behind part of the 'group' of novels you have created with illustrators Levi Pinfold and Emily Gravett? Are there connecting threads or themes?
The Worlds We Leave Behind is the second book I've made with Levi, and it is certainly connected to the first one, The Song from Somewhere Else. The tone of voice and style is the same, shadowy and strange, and there are a couple of characters in common between the two books. Furthermore they also link to the two books that I made with Emily Gravett, The Imaginary and The Afterwards - there are subtle links and connections between all four of the books!
2. What do you feel Levi Pinfold's illustrations bring to The Worlds We Leave Behind?
Even the best of illustrators can be hobbled by being matched with a text that just doesn't suit them, and so what Levi really brings is a deep and instinctive feeling of being right. He really gets what I'm talking about in the stories and it just fits his style so well, that it becomes really hard to imagine anyone else illustrating these words.
When it came to writing this second book, I knew I was writing something for Levi, and so I was able to think, 'What would I like to see Levi draw?' and let that guide me. What Levi brings is a joy that I'm being understood!
3. Can you tell us about The Worlds We Leave Behind, and what inspired it?
The Worlds We Leave Behind is about a boy called Hector (Hex, for short) who gets beaten up by an older girl and who is offered a chance to get his own back, to right the injustice. We all know what unfairness looks like, what it feels like, whether we're kids or grown ups - it's a universal feeling, injustice and it's easy to find yourself powerless on the other side of it (perhaps even more so as a child). And part of the book was just a chance for me to ponder this, and also to think about what it's like to be human, how difficult that can be, and how hard it is to know other people, in a philosophical sense.
But also, it was a chance to write a mysterious and creepy story about a cottage that shouldn't exist deep in a forest you shouldn't be able to get to, where a witch lives who can offer you a deal you shouldn't take... and who doesn't want to write a book like that?
4. Why did you decide to include the pivotal moment of a girl breaking her arm, repeated with different outcomes, at the heart of the novel's structure?
It just happened, and then happened again. I find most things out as I rattle my fingers on the keyboard, and that was one of those things. I kept it because it made sense.
5. The story explores how one action can ripple through to different consequences. Did you need to map out these 'alternate worlds' in order to write the novel?
I think we're all well aware of these questions now - there are so many 'alternate timeline' or 'multiverse' stories out there that you barely even need to explain it anymore. I don't think I mapped anything out or thought about anything beyond the few characters the book concerns - anything beyond the edge of the page exists only in the reader's imagination.
6. What was it like as an author to revisit your characters' friendships through a different lens, first Hex and then Tommo's perspective?
That was fun, because I got to reuse text I'd already written, and just change the names. A lot of that got cut and changed before the version you read in the book, but it was nice to have that framework, that conceit there - that Tommo had stepped into Hex's shoes and his life was running down the same tracks.
As the story was rewritten their paths separated more (and Maria's view of things, and explanations, became more central). But part of what I wanted to do was to think about the class clown, about the kid who (as I did) made his or her classmates laugh, and to try to think about how one ends up in that position.
In The Song from Somewhere Else, Frank is being bullied; in this book Hex (and Tommo) might almost be the bullies, without meaning it, and so it's not just revisiting the characters in this book, but those in all the other books, reflected through the lens of what happens here.
One of the great things about art is that each new artwork not only affects what people will make tomorrow, but it also affects every artwork that already exists - the waves of a piece of art propagate both forwards ad backwards through time, meaning we get to look at everything with fresh eyes…
7. How did the old woman and the dog, who lead the children away from their 'normal' worlds, develop? What do you think of Levi Pinfold's illustrations of them?
I knew they were the supernatural doodad at the heart of the story, the thing that would offer Hex (and Maria and Tommo) their deal, but I don't remember if I knew exactly what they were going to be until they walked down the stream bed to find Sascha with her broken arm.
I absolutely adore Levi's pictures, of course. I knew he could draw dogs, because of his Kate Greenaway Medal winning picture book Black Dog, so Leafy had to be there (see what I said earlier about 'What do you want Levi to draw?'), and he does not disappoint.
8. Where and when do you prefer to write and what are you writing currently?
I do very little writing, very rarely, but when I do it's alwys at my desk, here in my shed at the end of the garden. I go for long periods of time when I write nothing (thinking about prose, rather than poems, which I sit down and have a go at more frequently) and then tend to write quite quickly when I do. I just wrote a ghost story thing, but we'll see if anything comes of it in due course.
9. Have you read any books recently that we could recommend to our teenage readers?
I've read Simon P. Clark's Not Yet Dark (about some teenagers who accidentally get in the way of a cult's black magic ritual to capture Death) and Deep Water by Lu Hersey (about a teenage girl whose mum goes missing and who discovers she's not entirely human) - they were both Good Things, if you like something a bit creepy and not entirely normal.
10. What are your favourite ways to spend lazy days?
A book and a bath, thank you.