Tegan Bennett Daylight is a writer, teacher and critic. Her books include the Stella Award shortlisted Six Bedrooms and the novels Safety and Bombora. Good Reading for Young Adults caught up with Tegan to discuss her latest novel, mysteries, and inspirations.
ABOUT THE BOOK
A group of teenagers alone in an empty shopping centre, with everything they could possibly want … and a baby?
With no phones, no internet and no way out, Shannon and five other trapped teens are completely disconnected from the outside world … and their online lives. It’s hard to say whether they’ll be driven to delinquency, or – even worse – forced to make friends irl. Will the limitless bubble tea, Maccas and new sneakers be enough to keep the six teens satisfied until they can find a way out, or is this the start of something much more sinister?
In Royals, her new novel for young people, acclaimed author Tegan Bennett Daylight upends Lord of the Flies to find out what really happens when there are no adults in the room.
MEET TEGAN BENNETT DAYLIGHT
This book is described as Lord of the Flies for Gen Z. What elements of William Golding’s book inspired you?
The only thing that inspired me about Lord of the Flies was how much I hated it! I had to study it at school, and it seems as though every successive generation has to as well – my daughter Alice did the play version for Drama. I’ve never believed that young people trapped together would end up descending into violence and chaos. I love this story, which proves that William Golding was wrong:
So when I started writing the book, I had in my mind that it would be an anti-Lord of the Flies story, an anti-dystopia (while not quite being a utopia). I was sick of my kids having to read miserable books and see miserable movies about teenagers. I wanted to write something joyful.
What is your favourite coming-of-age teen story?
Ooh, I love this question. Naturally I don’t have a single favourite. The Catcher in the Rye really got into my bones – for a nerdy while, I spoke and even dressed a bit like Holden Caulfield. But I also loved (and read over and over again) S E Hinton’s The Outsiders, Joan Aiken’s James III series (for its incredible heroine Dido) and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising.
A big part of this book is being separated from the outside world. Did the covid lockdowns influence your writing journey? In what way?
For a long time I hated people who did useful things during lockdown. In the first lockdown I just ate chocolate and tried to keep our three teenagers happy. Around the beginning of the second one I woke up one morning and said to my partner – I have this idea for a book about six teenagers trapped in a shopping mall. He said immediately write that book. So I wrote it in lockdown, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had at the desk. Because our kids couldn’t go anywhere, I asked them what they would do if they could get down to Penrith Plaza, which is every Blue Mountains kid’s first place of adventure, and I just wrote it into the book. And that’s how I became one of those insufferable people who did useful things in lockdown. I apologise.
The book introduces 16-year-old Shannon as the main lead, but do you have a personal favourite character out of the six young teens?
Ooh, another fun and impossible question. Shannon is a mixture of me and my daughter Alice, so I am deeply connected to her. But I’m there in each one of the characters, they’re all speaking and living from some part of my experience. But twist my arm and I’ll say James – he’s the one I had the most fun with. He’s based on a friend of my son’s, a beautiful noisy loving 17-year-old who we love having in the house. He just rocketed off the page – I barely had to ‘write’ him. He was just there.
What is your favourite part about writing mystery?
It’s new to me – I seem to range around a lot of genres, and hadn’t written YA since I was at uni, when I wrote five books in the Dolly Fiction series. Check it out: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34690848-rose-loves-nick
But because these were romances you pretty much knew what was going to happen in the end! Royals was very different. I loved writing the mystery part of it because I was solving it at the same rate I was writing it. I knew I wanted it to be speculative – that it wasn’t just some situation where the kids were trapped in the Plaza while everything else was completely ordinary. But it took deep thinking, tinkering, and a lot of conversation with my partner, my kids and my three adored writer friends: Vicki Hastrich, Lucinda Holdforth and Charlotte Wood. We talked about the book nearly every day – we have a group chat about our work that we’ve had for years and years; it’s one of the best things in my life.
I loved the feeling of ideas slotting into place. I did a lot of trying situations out and discarding them before I came up with the central mystery – and meaning – of the Plaza.
Gen Z is a generation that LOVES their slang and pop culture references, so how did you approach writing from a teenager’s voice? Did you have any Gen Zs in your life that could test your lingo?
Yes, we have two kids of our own, Alice and Patrick, and an unofficial foster daughter, Tiannah. I kept a diary when our two were small, writing down the things they said and did, but I hadn’t been doing that for years. The way the three of them talk is so vivid. My son in particular – his language evolves faster than I can keep up with it, but there are so many phrases he uses (sorry, used – he was pretty clear that that he was always about six steps ahead of the book) that just sound so beautiful to my ear. Alice and Tiannah too. I wanted to have a record of the kids, the things they said and the things that were important to them. I’ve also been teaching at uni for more than 25 years, so I’ve worked with wave after wave of 18-year-olds. Listening to them is such a gift!
One of my main aims was getting Paddy’s expression ‘shit’s mid’ into the book. A friend was telling him that he really liked a particular TV series and Paddy shrugged and said ‘Shit’s mid.’ My editor Lizzie and I are still a bit sad we couldn’t find a spot for ‘based’. As in ‘I think Kanye might be insane.’ Based.
If you were locked in a shopping centre, where is the first place you’d go?
Another superb question, and one I asked pretty much every person I met as I was writing. The first place would definitely be the Food Court – I’m not made of stone. Bubble tea (premium pearl, half sugar half ice) and sushi for me. But my next, and my favourite, would be Forty Winks. I loved writing the scenes in my characters’ ‘bedroom’; watching them set up their beds, their stuff, the freedom of the space, the openness but also the cosiness. It was so fun.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Most of all I hope they take away joy. And I hope the joy is communicated through the characters. My experience of bringing up Gen Z kids (and teaching them for so many years) is that they are an open, generous, loving generation. They support each other, they make room for difference. Yes, they’re vulnerable and often anxious but in their situation who wouldn’t be. They’re brave, they’re kind. I want to show the world how lucky we are to have them surging up behind us.
Also I wouldn’t mind people having a little think about capitalism and how much it dominates their lives!