A seven-book series for young readers that creates a nationalsensation, winning literary prizes never before awarded to children's fiction, with new installments catapulting to the top of bestseller lists? No, not Harry Potter. It's the series that launched in author John Marsden's native Australia with Tomorrow, When the War Began (1994), about a group of teenagers who return from camping in the bush to discover that their country has been overtaken by a hostile nation. The final volume is The Other Side of Dawn (Houghton Mifflin).
PW: Where did the idea for the series come from, and what was it about the idea that compelled you to start writing?
JM: Australia came close to invasion in World War II, with several cities and towns being bombed, so there's that. But more importantly, I felt the adventure genre for young people was rapidly disappearing, to be replaced by relationship and "problem" stories. I've written plenty of novels myself about people with problems, but I also became aware that young people were starved for realistic stories of heroism: battling physical danger and defeating it.
PW: At what point did you decide to write a series? Did you plot out all seven novels at one time, or did the course of the plot evolve over time?
JM: I've never plotted anything, including books, relationships, jobs and life itself. But halfway through the first book I thought there was too much material for one, so I decided there would probably be a sequel. And halfway through the second book I realized that it looked like a series.
PW: What question do readers most frequently ask about the series, and what is your reply?
JM: "How can you write convincingly from a girl's point of view?"
I usually answer that there's not too much difference between the genders in many important areas, and further, that anyone who is observant can write from any perspective.
PW: In how many countries has the Tomorrow series been published? Do readers from different countries tend to respond to different qualities in the series?
JM: They've been published in 11 countries. Funnily enough, outside Australia, it's Sweden and the USA who have responded most enthusiastically. The comments seem to be the same from every country.
PW: Can you tell us a few of your favorite comments from readers?
JM: I love "before and after" comments: "Before I read these books I didn't like reading, now I do." [One boy wrote that the Tomorrow books] "not only caught me but took over my whole body. I was reading nonstop—on the bus, the train, at school, in bed—it was crazy. My mother thought I was ill because of my new love for books."
PW: What is it about the Tomorrow books that teenagers respond to? How do you imagine they react to the frightening and brutal circumstances in which your characters find themselves?
JM: I strongly believe that teenagers in Western society are undervalued and treated without courtesy and respect. The media always report teenage stories in terms of their literacy, drug abuse, crime, homelessness, unemployment, promiscuity or all of the above. The Tomorrow series shows teenagers as heroes. It's the way in which the books communicate to young people that they have qualities of courage, initiative, maturity and resourcefulness that makes [the books] so powerful. There are few people in their lives, and few messages in any of the media that they encounter, giving them this message. In practice, many young people, faced with frightening or difficult situations, respond with courage and nobility. And of course, as with adults, some young people are not able to respond in such a positive way.
PW: Why do you believe young people should confront fear in fiction?
JM: Fear confronted is fear defeated. Equally, when we avoid fear, we give it a license to take over our lives and do great damage. And what's worse is that most of that damage is happening secretly—we're not even aware of it. This is true for children, teenagers and adults. Confronting our fears is one of our great missions in life.
PW:The Other Side of Dawn has a slightly open ending. Is there any chance you'll write an eighth Tomorrow book?
JM : Funny you should ask! I am fooling around with the idea at the moment. But it's too early to see whether it will work.
PW: How do you feel about finishing the series? Do you feel you accomplished what you set out to do?
JM: I was relieved yet proud to have finished. I felt under tremendous pressure as the books became more and more popular. I was determined to defy the rule that "The sequel is never as good as the original," and I was especially keen to make the last book an absolute blockbuster. I always thought that these books would be powerful for teenagers, but even in my wildest dreams I didn't expect the following that they have attracted.