Book 3: Quarantine - OUT NOW!

Its now or maybe never sixteen year old Jesse has spent eighteen days in post-apocalyse New York, waiting for help that never comes. He owes it to his new friends, Rachel and Felicity, to go beyond their temporary refuge to find other survivors who may hold the key to escape. Could the collective at Chelsea Piers have the answers or prove to be just another distraction in his quest?

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Book 1: Chasers

Jesse is on a camp in New York when his subway carriage is rocked by an explosion. Jesse and his three friends crawl out from the wreckage only to discover a city in chaos. Streets are deserted. Buildings are in ruins. Worse, the only other survivors seem to be infected with a virus that turns them into horrifying predators...

Book 2: Survivor 28.06.2011

Still reeling from the stunning twist at the end of Survivor, Jesse finds himself truly alone. Trapped in the ruins of New York City, what little information he can glean tells him that safety may lay just beyond the city limits...
When Jesse meets Felicity and Rachel he thinks hes found what hes been desperately looking for a sense of community and the help he needs to get out of the city. But will the trio be able to escape, or will Jesse find himself always within the reach of the relentless Chasers?

Book 3: Quarantine

Its now or maybe never sixteen year old Jesse has spent eighteen days in post-apocalyse New York, waiting for help that never comes. He owes it to his new friends, Rachel and Felicity, to go beyond their temporary refuge to find other survivors who may hold the key to escape. Could the collective at Chelsea Piers have the answers or prove to be just another distraction in his quest?
Is this the end for Jesse?

Who is James Phelan

James Phelan studied and worked in architecture before turning to English literature and graduating with an MA in writing. He divides his time between writing projects and post-graduate study. James has also previously written FOX HUNT, PATRIOT ACT, BLOOD OIL and LIQUID GOLD.

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Being a writer is an odd job for an adult; I'd always wanted to be a storyteller, but I thought you couldn't do that full-time as a teenager or a twenty-something-year-old. I'd started a novel in Year 11 that would eventually become Fox Hunt, although the final story ended up being completely different from that early idea. After secondary school I thought I'd better get a real job so I went to university to study architecture. I figured I'd do my five-year degree, do my work experience to get accredited, start my own firm, and then one day, when I retired, I'd write some novels. That's how it's done, right? Sure, I knew you could be young and write angst-ridden self-exploration stuff, but not the perennial best-selling airport paperbacks. At nineteen, I deferred my third year of architecture to take time off to write. I knew that while design was a lifelong passion (most of my family are in that field) it wasn't my dream job. I wanted to do something more creative and I'd been writing that first novel, with a new story driving it, ever since secondary school; whenever I was meant to be studying, I was a world away in my thriller. So I moved back home to live with my parents on the south coast of Victoria, where I wrote the first draft of my first novel. I worked in the mornings at a primary school as a teacher's aide, but would be home by lunchtime, so I'd write for ten hours on each of those days, going back to Melbourne for weekends. After about ten months of this routine, I had finished the first draft of my novel. I was twenty and was twenty-five by the time I had my first book published.

Writing a young adult series was accidental; it wasn't a career move, it just felt like the natural thing to do. Since the success of Harry Potter, everyone's been saying that YA is 'the new black'. A lot of my friends are making wheelbarrow loads of money writing for kids and teenagers - and they love pointing out that their readership actually read, unlike adults. For me, I felt I was finally a confident enough author to write a novel far shorter, yet just as exciting, as an adult thriller.
I was conscious of wanting to write something that teenage boys would enjoy - there seem to be a lot of action/adventure novels out there, but not many that are truly compelling. I wanted to try to write something gripping that has a similar feel to some of my favourite books - The Graveyard Book, Life of Pi, The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. These are all crossover stories: teenage boys would like them, but so would other audiences.
I met with my publisher and we talked about some ideas. I knew whatever path I went down, I would have to be super-excited about it. If I couldn't reach that level of commitment and enthusiasm, then somebody else would do more justice to the story. So I tried a few angles at a kind of 'Lachlan Fox lite'; four sixteen-year-old characters, a modern take on a Famous Five or Secret Seven scenario. I wrote novel outlines and a few sample

chapters, but none of it rang true. While I loved reading as a teenager, I never really enjoyed reading teenage-packaged dragon or spy or vampire books - I chose to read adult dragon or spy or vampire books. So why water down the themes for a younger audience? Why not simply write something new?
Inspired, I took these four characters, put them in a New York subway carriage, and ended the scene with a dramatic accident. I imagined that these kids would be up against some kind of zombies, but knew they had been done to death in adult books and movies, and just weren't menacing enough. Instead, I invented a new virus and changed the world as these teenagers knew it.
Working on the first book in the Alone series, I kept thinking about the elements that have stuck with me from my favourite teenage books. All these characters and all that they did came flooding back to me, so writing this series has been a fun journey back through my memory banks to those early readings. As I was writing I realised that I was immediately engaged by the voice of Jesse, cared for him, and lost myself in his story; I'd found the three things I need to fall into place to know that a story is worth exploring.
There was no Eureka! moment in deciding to write Alone, it was all these little things coming together. I remembered a movie I'd enjoyed as a kid: Red Dawn. It seemed like a great idea, teenagers in a warzone, so I wondered how I could convey that sense of foreboding, of a worst-case

scenario, in a way that hadn't already been done. The virus I created did that, but with this first book I wanted more, to really focus on our narrator, Jesse, and how he could possibly cope in this extreme situation.
The angle I wanted to try was something that would either work or not; there'd be no middle ground. I kept wondering whether I could start a series like this and have it accepted by publishers and librarians as a viable teenage read? I remembered reading a recent New Yorker article about the hell that EB White had to go through with the establishment when Stuart Little was published. I thought my story was worth the risk. I wanted to tell kids that dangerous things could be overcome. Tell them that they're not alone. Tell them that there are always options, there's always a way out, a way ahead. That it's okay to go out and dream.
Any lingering doubt I had was squashed by Neil Gaiman. I'd long been a fan of his work and I watched interview after interview where he spoke about his work, particularly Coraline and then The Graveyard Book. His daughter, who was seven at the time, read Coraline and loved it. Then he sent it to his agent, who read it and told him, 'You can't be serious, this cannot be a children's book.' Neil asked her why, and she responded, 'Well, it's terrifying!' So he replied, 'You have two daughters. Read it to them and get back to me.' His editor phoned him a week later and said, 'They loved it - they just saw it as an adventure.' I think it comes down to adults forgetting story; we're so used to being spoon-fed dumbed-down facts on TV that

we've forgotten what a story can and should do. If you think back to fairytales, it's not important how there came to be a cannibalistic witch living in the woods, it's just important that we know she can be beaten.
On day one of writing, I came up with the first few chapters: Jesse and his friends on the subway, the attack, what they saw, how they'd run, and how they got to 30 Rock. I went to bed that night and slept on this idea. It was a good sleep. The next day, I decided that this was what I wanted to write, and the first instalment would be all about what it meant to be truly alone.

My tips for new writers...

Work hard
Read heaps
Share your work, with friends or family or classmates. Get feedback.
Read books on writing
Yeah, revise some more

I get asked a lot to write various things, and aside from the occasional short story I always say no. Since being published I've had a few other publishers asking if I'd write a series with them, or take my career over to their house. Again, I always say no. While I'm not one to plan far ahead, I kind of set myself little five-year goals. For example, when I was twenty I wrote Fox Hunt and aimed to have it published in five years. Then, by twenty-five, I decided I wanted to have five books published by thirty, and to have my doctorate complete by then too. So I've been busy enough fitting all that in, plus all the talks at schools and the occasional teaching of literature at university in Swinburne's MA program.
When I finished Alone: Chasers, some early-draft readers asked me whether it's a kid's book or an adult book, a book for teens or a book about teens. I likened it to the Harry Potter series, the Phillip Pullman books, Clive Barker's Thief of Always and the Lemony Snicket books, as these all seemed to be read by any age-group; they were books with young protagonists, with stories that children enjoy and that adults enjoy and they seem to be enjoying different things. It's not a long book, at about half the usual length of my Fox novels. I think that kids seem to read it as an adventure. Adults get nightmares.
Prior to publication, I asked probably a couple of dozen of people to read the book who gave me feedback. I do this with all my books, and more

and more people are now reading them before my agents and publishers. Many have questions, wanting to know more about this or that, which was perfect in this case, as this was the first of a series. Once I'd finished Chasers, I asked myself: what would entice me to read the next instalment? So I ensured the ending leaves us hanging and turns many of our questions on their heads.

Questions for James Phelan about Alone: Chasers (published in Bookseller+Publisher magazine)

The four central young characters in Chasers seem quite resourceful in dealing with a difficult situation. Do you think they reflect the skills of a current younger generation?

I think teenagers are as resourceful as any age-group, particularly so when we are seeing this story's events through the eyes of sixteen-year-old narrator, Jesse. Characters are more stylised than people we know and stories in novels are the more dramatic moments, so sixteen year olds in fiction, such as Holden Caulfield and Picene 'Pi' Patel, seem more resourceful than we'd expect. I put Jesse into a post-apocalyptic world and tried to be true to him while letting the chips fall where they might - extraordinary circumstances brought out some unique methods of survival for him.

The novel is very much a New York-based text. Do you think this will this be a problem for a foreign reader who may not know the Big Apple quite as well?

I chose New York because it's the world's greatest city and its most inglorious, its most frenetic and its most lonely, and it has played a key role in spawning two global events that have shaped the opening of this century. Australian readers will see New York as Jesse sees it - through Australian eyes. The setting is a backdrop to the series but is a minor component compared to the story of Jesse that unfolds on the page. I tried to make every word of his so true that it hurt, so that by the final chapter when our truth is skewed it hurts all the more but at the same time it's an uplifting revelation because the lies preceding it were beautiful: they'd saved a life.

The parallels with 9/11 are drawn by the book's narrator. Were you trying to make a metaphorical link between the nature of terror and horror?

I'd written three novels for an adult audience that dealt with terrorism and 9/11. The third one, Blood Oil, was very dark: my response to where we'd gone as a society. Alone: Chasers was a departure as it was an entire world that I created - a world forever changed from the end of the prologue. Jesse is aware of 9/11 (he was headed on a field trip to the memorial when the disaster struck) so it seemed logical he'd think of it in the context of what he's seeing all around him. Linking real events in his mind was something he employed to cope with the situation at hand - this kind of thing has happened before and people have overcome it, so he can do that here, too. It deals with horrors as Jesse sees them: illness, mortality, heartbreak and loss.

The characters in Chasers seem quite nonchalant about their distant families and the plight of their peers in the city. Is their emotional disengagement symptomatic of their shock or a deeper question about the way in which youth today operates?

I can't answer this any further than the final chapter explains the situation. I just trust that as a writer I've created something that doesn't pander to kids. From the feedback I've had most readers have read it as an honest story full of hope and the belief that one can go on no matter what.

Chasers dwells heavily on the existential angst of the loneliness of the four main characters. What sort of answers do you think a younger reader can give to the endless questions the situation throws up at the protagonists?

The situation in this story is a simple matter of survival in a world filled with danger. I think at the end of this first book many of the questions that it threw up are turned on their head. The main question that remains is 'Are you ever really alone?' Some readers will like or hate certain characters or moments, which is great, because I never write to make everyone feel or think the same thing. As for answers, I take kids too seriously to doubt that they're already far smarter than me and can see answers that I couldn't ever anticipate.

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