Sophie Cameron

Our Sister, Again
Sophie Cameron

About Author

Sophie Cameron's new novel, My Sister, Again, is a compelling read about a family on a small Hebridean island, and way that humanity, grief and technology might intersect in the near future. Sophie is a YA and MG author from the Scottish Highlands. She studied French and Comparative Literature at the University of Edinburgh and has a Postgraduate Certificate in Creative Writing from Newcastle University. Her debut novel Out of the Blue was nominated for the Carnegie Medal 2019. She now lives in Spain with her family.

 

Interview

Our Sister, Again  (Stripes Publishing)

May 2022

Imagine that it is possible, after you lose someone you love, to bring them back as an AI (Artificial Intelligence - or a robot)? How might that affect the people who knew that person, and how would you manage having them back in your lives?  Sophie Cameron's new book, Our Sister, Again, explores what happens when a much-loved daughter and sister returns in the form of an AI. She tells us more in this Q&A.

Read a chapter from Our Sister Again

Competition to win a copy of Our Sister Again

Q&A with Sophie Cameron

1.   Can you tell us a little about your life as an author and what brought you into writing for young people? Do you have any favourites from the books you have written?

I've wanted to be an author since I was about nine or ten, but I didn't get into writing for young people until I did a Creative Writing postgraduate course in 2011. I'd been reading and enjoying quite a lot of YA, so I wrote the first chapter of a YA fantasy novel as one of my course submissions and it got such positive feedback that I was encouraged to keep going. My debut novel came out in 2018 and I'm now working on my fourth, which will be published next year. I think my favourite of my books is whichever one I'm planning on writing next!


2.   What is your latest novel, Our Sister, Again, about?

Our Sister, Again is about a 13-year-old girl, Isla, whose family are grieving the death of her older sister Flora when they're invited to be part of a top-secret trial that recreates recently deceased people as fully lifelike robots. At first Isla has her doubts about their promises, but she's stunned when the AI version of her sister turns out to be just like the Flora she remembers. Not everyone on their small Scottish island is happy about the project, though, and soon anonymous messages arrive that Isla fears could end the trial and lead them to lose Flora all over again.


3.   What first sparked the idea for the story? How different is the finished novel from your early ideas for it?

The story came to me bit by bit and was mostly inspired by films and TV shows, such as Humans, the Black Mirror episode Be Right Back, and AI; Artificial Intelligence. I've always been really interested by the impact that creating such lifelike robots would have on the humans around them - how strange it would be to interact with someone who seems fully human but isn't, and whether we'd be able to accept them as people.  That was the main thing I wanted to explore, which is why the story is narrated from Isla's point of view rather than Flora's.

I'd planned to write it as a YA novel at first, so the characters were a little older and their dynamics slightly different, but otherwise the finished novel is pretty close to my initial plans for it.


4.   One of the key themes explored in the novel is bereavement and how different people cope with this kind of tragedy. Why did you want to explore this, and why use an AI character, Flora, to do so?

Grief is a common theme in my writing - my first book, Out of the Blue, is also about a family going through a bereavement and how different people cope with loss.

I've lost a few family members who were really important to me and I often think about what I would do or say if I could have a few minutes with them again, so Flora's story was a way of exploring how being reunited with loved ones who have passed away could become a possibility and what the implications of that would be.


5.   Flora, the AI version, gives the family a chance to 'connect' with their late sister / daughter. Was it challenging to write this version of Flora?

Initially the AI version of Flora is exactly like the human girl that her family remembers, so in that sense it wasn't particularly difficult as the 'new' Flora acts just like any other human. As the book goes on, she becomes more distant from the person she's based on, though, so the challenge was in thinking about the factors that would create that change - how the fact she's a machine would give her a different experience and outlook to humans, for example, or how the way that other people react to her now might alter her mood or reactions. The AI version of Flora is also recreated using online data, so I thought about the ways her online persona would be different from who she was in person, too.


6.   Through Flora (V2), you delve into a possible future for how we use AI - do you think we ever will be able to produce a digital version of ourselves? 

I did quite a lot of research into AI when I started writing, but I quickly learned that robots like Flora are actually much further away than I thought - one researcher said the highest level of intelligence they've managed to reach so far is around that of a bug. So while it was interesting to find out more about how AI works and useful in thinking about how engineers would try to replicate human traits in a machine, it didn't necessarily serve the story all that much because a robot like Flora is so much more advanced that anything that is currently possible. I do think they'll likely get there eventually, though!


7.   Can you tell us a little about the setting of Eilean Dearg for the novel,  and how you adapted it for the story? 

I'm from an area of the Highlands called the Black Isle (which is, confusingly, not an island but a peninsula on the mainland) and initially I planned to set the book there, but a friend in my writing group pointed out that an island would make more sense; the trial has to be kept anonymous and it would be much easier to limit who comes into contact with Flora on a small, remote island.

I picked the Outer Hebrides partly because I really love it there, partly because it's a Gaelic-speaking area and that lent itself well to some points about how we use language that I wanted to explore in the story. I wrote most of the book during the first lockdown, so I also enjoyed writing about all those beautiful beaches while I was stuck inside!


8.   What was the most challenging part of the novel to write?

There's a mystery/investigation aspect to the storyline which I found quite tricky as it's quite different from anything else I've written before and it took quite a bit of playing around with to get it right, but I really enjoyed doing it.


9.   Are you planning to follow up with Flora, or do you feel her story is told?

I think Flora's story has been told now, though I'm definitely still thinking about what she might get up to next, so you never know!


10.   What are you writing currently, and what keeps you at it? 

I'm currently working on my next MG novel, which will be out in 2023. It's very different from Our Sister, Again but there are a few common themes. I work much better with a deadline than without one, though unfortunately I don't always meet them! And I definitely need a lot of tea when writing, and in life in general.


11.   What do you most enjoy doing to relax?

I'm a big TV fan - right now I'm obsessed with the new seasons of Gentleman Jack and Derry Girls. I also love learning languages so when I have free time I'm often revising grammar or studying vocab, which is maybe a strange way of relaxing but it works for me!

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