From an exciting new voice in Australian YA literature, Claire Zorn, comes a haunting novel, The Sky So Heavy, that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.
For Fin, it's just like any other day – racing for the school bus, bluffing his way through class and trying to remain cool in front of the most sophisticated girl in his universe, Lucy.
Only it's not like any other day because, on the other side of the world, nuclear missiles are being detonated with unimaginable consequences.
When Fin wakes up the next morning, it's dark, bitterly cold and snow is falling. There's no internet, no phone, no TV, no power and no parents.
Nothing Fin's learnt in high school could have prepared him for this.
With his parents missing and dwindling food and water supplies, Fin and his younger brother Max must find a way to survive … on their own.
When things are at their most desperate, where can you go for help?
As the weeks roll into months, Fin knows that the only way for him and his brother to survive is to team up with classmates Noll and Lucy and head to the city.
Leaving all that is familiar, they begin the terrifying journey through a landscape that is now unrecognisable.
As they approach the outer suburbs of Sydney, they are shocked to find barricades blocking the road, separating those who will be provided with food and resources from those who will not.
If the four are to survive this nuclear winter, they must somehow cross the border and become refugees in their own country.
For Claire, the inspiration for The Sky So Heavy came from the debate over Australia's treatment of asylum seekers and the looming environmental-refugee crisis. As such, she highlights the issues of prejudice, entitlement and the ethics of a personal struggle to survive. Claire also explores the idea of teenagers inheriting the legacy left by generations before them; generations who thought the world and humanity itself was invincible.
Gripping, moving and unputdownable, The Sky So Heavy will forever change the way you view the world and remind you about what matters most.
Claire Zorn lives on the south coast of New South Wales with her husband and two small children. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Post Graduate Diploma in writing. She is a music lover, retro furniture collector and amateur swim-club enthusiast. The Sky So Heavy is her first novel.
The Sky So Heavy
Question: What inspired the story of The Sky So Heavy?
Claire Zorn: I tend to write about things that frighten me. I've had a strange fascination with the concept of a nuclear winter since early high school - when I had to read Louise Lawrence's Children of the Dust for English. Around the same time the French were performing nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean and the whole thing in general freaked me out.
Question: Why was it important for you to use Australia's ongoing debate regarding the treatment of asylum seekers in your writing?
Claire Zorn: I had the initial idea for the book two years before I started writing. I didn't think there was any point writing a straight up nuclear winter story, as it had already been done so well before. Then the asylum seeker debate flared up again and I was frustrated by what I perceived to be a total lack of empathy for refugees. I wanted to find a way of putting the everyday middle-class Australian in an asylum seeker's shoes - a nuclear winter seemed like a plausible way to do that.
Question: What was the main reason for setting the novel in the Blue Mountains?
Claire Zorn: I grew up there and stayed until I was in my twenties, so I know the area well. The mountains also feel a little removed from mainstream society and I wanted to tap into that sense to really build the atmosphere of isolation.
Question: The Sky So Heavy is your first novel, how difficult was it to finish the writing process and be completely happy with the final product?
Claire Zorn: I don't know if any writer is ever completely happy with their final product! I've learnt that I am far more critical of my work than any reader would be. One of the most difficult things with writing is distancing yourself from the work to try and see it with fresh eyes, the way a reader would. That's the point where you have to trust your editors when they tell you it's ready to print.
Question: Did you take yourself away from the internet, phones, TV and power as research, when writing?
Claire Zorn: I would have loved to have gone away somewhere without those things to write, but I was caring for my infant son at the time, so didn't have that luxury. When I was a teenager we used to go to a holiday house which had no television or phone and this was before everyone had mobiles. I think I tapped into that experience a lot. At the time I was writing I was living in a freezing apartment with only one little oil heater that we'd drag from room to room, so I did have an accurate idea of what it was like to be cold all the time!
Question: What do you enjoy most about writing young adult fiction?
Claire Zorn: I think I write young adult fiction because I find teenage characters fascinating: they are incredibly savvy, yet there's also a vulnerability to that age as well. They are definitely my favourite characters to write. As far as a readership goes, teen readers have a very strong crap-detector - there's nowhere to hide, you have to be snappy in your writing and I like that challenge.
Question: What books, do you read, when you're not writing your own?
Claire Zorn: I'm a big fan of Zadie Smith, Tim Winton and Kate Atkinson. I generally like gritty stuff that's anchored firmly in reality, with a touch of whimsy. I've always had an aversion to anything fantasy, although I've recently finished watching Game of Thrones and became absolutely addicted. I'm not sure I can hold out for season four to come to television, so you never know, I may become a fantasy reader yet.
Interview by Brooke Hunter