Most YA writers wouldn’t describe a story about Somali pirates as a “fairy tale.” But Printz Award-winning author Nick Lake is not most YA writers.
In Lake’s new novel, Hostage Three (available November 12), 17-year-old Amy has just failed out of high school when she reluctantly agrees to join her banking executive father and new stepmother on a yacht cruise around the world. Her father plans to use the cruise as a way to break the cycle of bad decisions that have plagued Amy since her mother’s recent suicide. But when the yacht is boarded by Somali pirates—including one young and magnetically attractive boy—their pleasure trip takes an unexpected turn.
“I dreamed the plot,” Lake tells BookPage from his home in Oxford, England. “I don’t know why Somali pirates were rattling around in my subconscious.”
After listening to a radio documentary about Somali pirates, Lake was struck by the program’s focus on wealthy shipping firms, rather than on what would drive young Somali men into seizing seagoing vessels in the first place. “You’ve got a group of people who live in a place where there’s virtually no government, virtually no law and order, and virtually no other opportunities,” Lake says. “To me it would almost seem surprising if you were an 18-year-old man who lived on the Somali coast and you didn’t get into piracy.”
Lake’s long-standing interest in cultural globalization also contributed to his choice of topic. “I think there’s something very interesting about a group of people who are using the tools and the technology of Western business but turning them against Western business,” he says. For example, after boarding the yacht, the pirates in Hostage Three use cell phones to record a video of their conquest, which they then upload via satellite link.
So what makes Hostage Three a “fairy tale”?
“The stepmother angle,” Lake explains. “In a sense that’s really what the story is about—Amy reconciling herself with a new family.” The pirates and the action are essentially just the means to an end.
Hostage Three is Lake’s second literary thriller, after his 2013 Printz winner In Darkness, which is set in Haiti. His first books, the Blood Ninja trilogy, “didn’t come from inspiration”—instead, these tales of vampire ninjas were designed specifically to appeal to boys who wanted books like Twilight, only with more action. While Lake enjoyed this project, he reached a point where he wanted to explore new directions.
“I was probably finding my voice,” Lake muses. “The third person [point of view] didn’t quite work for me. As soon as I clicked into doing the first person in In Darkness, I thought, ‘This is what I should be doing.’ ” His agent agreed, saying, “I think you need to stop looking at the market and write something that comes from inside.”
Even when he’s actively eschewing a market perspective, Lake—who is also publishing director at HarperCollins Children’s Books U.K.—brings considerable knowledge of children’s publishing to his writing. “Helping other people to shape and fashion stories kind of was an intensive creative writing course,” he says. “It did mean I was hugely aware of what’s out there and what other people are writing.”
The roles of writer and editor are different in some ways—“If you’re an editor, what you’re trying to do is be a loud hailer [megaphone] for the author’s voice”—but both are, to Lake, “an extension of the same thing, which is tinkering and playing around with stories.”
When asked if he ever considers giving up editing to write full time, Lake says absolutely not. “If you’re someone who loves books, I don’t think there’s much that’s more fulfilling and satisfying than working with someone on a story and getting it to where it can be the best expression of what the author really wants it to achieve. And also, you never know what’s going to come across your desk next. You never know when the next amazing thing is going to come in.”
Writing and editing young adult literature in particular resonates deeply with Lake. “So much of YA literature is about going from being one thing to being another. A lot of fiction for younger children is based around a more literal kind of quest narrative, but I think in YA literature the ‘quest’ is more about self-understanding and acceptance.”
This quest often comes with a message for teens, and Hostage Three certainly does. “At some point, something is going to come along and break you into pieces. But actually you can put yourself back together,” Lake says. “I’ve always found it interesting when people view In Darkness and Hostage Three as very dark, depressing books, because I very consciously wanted them to have that kind of feeling of hope and redemption and positivity. You’re put through hardship and deprivation, but then in the end, you achieve your quest.”