Short chapters and tight plotting: how Sarah Govett wants her book to appeal to struggling readers
Published on: 13 August 2018 Author: Alex Strick
Author Sarah Govett talks to us about her Territory trilogy, and the art of combining adventure and accessibility...
How did the idea behind the Territory trilogy come about?
For the last 12 years, I’ve worked as a private tutor, helping teens prepare for exams. I’ve seen first-hand how much pressure our education system places on young people, how it elevates logical subjects above more creative ones, and how results are often as much determined by the school you go to as any natural academic ability. I wanted to take these pressures and injustices and heighten them to a "life or death" scenario.
It’s a very fast-paced book, broken up with frequent section-breaks to help keep any young reader engaged – was this accessible approach always an integral part of the plan?
Yes. I wanted to write something that would appeal to reluctant readers and bookworms alike – a short book, dealing with teen-relevant issues, with lots of plot twists. I wanted the style to be spare and engaging – and anyway, as the story is told by a 15-year-old narrator, long descriptive passages would have been inauthentic and self-indulgent.
I also wanted the book to be very hard to put down. I don’t know about you, but when I read before bed, I hate stopping mid-chapter, so if it’s late and the chapters are long, I won’t begin another one. With The Territory, I wanted to ensure that the next natural break was only ever a few pages away, so you’d always be tempted to read just that little bit more.
Why do you feel so strongly about ensuring the trilogy would appeal to struggling readers as well as the more confident?
I firmly believe that everyone has it in them to love books, they just might not have found the one that really worms its way into their imagination yet.
I think there’s a deficit of shorter books out there at the moment and, in my experience, reluctant readers are often put off by hefty volumes. I’m not talking about dumbing down. All my favourite books from my teenager years (The Chrysalids, The Tripods, Lord of the Flies) were short and pacey, yet still had deep messages.
What do you think is the key to creating an accessible reading experience?
I think in my case it was focusing on an accessible, relatable voice, short chapters and tight plotting.
It sounds like your experience as a tutor has influenced you a lot?
Yes, definitely. The most rewarding moments tutoring were when I helped students discover a book that became "the book" that got them into reading.
How have you continued to develop/hone your technique?
I still work a lot with teenagers through tutoring and school visits and am always keen to talk to students at all reading levels about their interests and reading experiences.
Have you had much feedback from young people who are less confident readers?
I’ve had some really lovely feedback, thanks. One girl messaged me to say I’d changed the way she looked at books and a mum emailed to say that it was the first time her son had begged to stay up late reading! These kind of things are what make it all worth it.