Author Kirsty Applebaum sat down with her editor Kirsty Stansfield, to discuss her new middle-grade novel, TrooFriend – a unique, gripping, and little bit sinister sci-fi story about artificial intelligence.
Imagine having the perfect friend, one who never steals, lies or bullies. Now you can, with the TrooFriend 560, the latest in artificial intelligence! What can go wrong with a robot buddy? Especially one that’s developing human characteristics and feelings, and who has just run away with her human?
Hello Kirsty! Thank you for agreeing to answer these questions, and congratulations on the publication of TrooFriend, your brilliant second novel. As I remember it, a funny thing happened on the way to work one day when I took a call from your agent, Nancy Miles, in a graveyard. She had NEWS about the book you were writing…
Thank you! Ah yes. I was supposed to be writing my second children’s novel for you and Nosy Crow – and I was finding it so hard. It just wasn’t going right. But suddenly, in a writing workshop, I’d come up with the first few lines of TrooFriend – and it wouldn’t let me rest until it was finished. I felt terribly guilty as I should have been writing the other book but, on wise advice from my agent Nancy Miles, I continued until I had a first draft. Nancy liked it and I think that was when she called you, Kirsty (although I didn’t know you were hanging out in a graveyard at the time!) Happily, you liked it too, so I was forgiven for writing the wrong book, and given an extra year to complete the one I should have written in the first place.
I was taking a shortcut. Honest. You started The Middler on the Bath Spa creative writing MA. Was it very different writing your second book?
The book I was originally supposed to be writing was tougher to write than The Middler – and The Middler was tough, even with all the wonderful support from everyone on the MA. TrooFriend, however, was really very easy to write. It poured out of me, like it had been sitting there just waiting to be written.
TrooFriend is about the relationship between a human and an AI. It’s not always clear what that relationship is or how benign. When did you decide you needed to write the story from the AI’s perspective? How easy did you find it?
TrooFriend was written from the AI’s perspective from the moment it began – the voice just came to me and I started writing. I found staying in the AI’s perspective quite easy, but at times it became a little challenging to maintain the correct voice. When I finished I went back and carried out several thorough checks for consistency. The final chapter was a lot of fun to write because it’s from a different point of view and in a different voice – it felt very freeing after being inside a robot’s head for several weeks.
When my daughter was small, she was given a Furby for her birthday. It cursed our every car journey. Did I hear your son had a robot when he was little?
Yes – he did have a robot, but it wasn’t all that great. It fell over quite a lot. It could sing songs and do little dances and it snored when it went to sleep, but I’m sure my son would have preferred an artificially intelligent android like the one Sarah has in TrooFriend.
We’ve come a long way from Furbys and robots that fall over. Would you ever ride in the back of a driverless car?
Right now I’d say no – but then I remember saying I’d never use a smartphone (why would I need to check my email while I’m out?) or need a TV remote control (what’s wrong with just getting up and pressing a button?) or use the internet to look up a phone number (that’s what the Yellow Pages are for isn’t it?). So, yep – I expect one day I probably will ride in the back of a driverless car.
It’s exciting to see TrooFriend going out into the world this Thursday. Is the cover anything like you thought it might be?
No – it’s a million times better. The circuits, the heart, the silhouette, the fabulous orange. Nicola Theobald and Sam Kalda are so clever. It’s perfect.
Publishing a book in a time of lockdown is a learning curve for all of us. How easy is it to write now that you have other people in YOUR house?
Ah yes. In the days before social distancing I used to have the whole house to myself to work in. Bliss. Now I’m having to share and it’s not easy at all. Why do people speak so loudly on the phone? Who keeps nicking my charging cable? And why does it always seem to be my turn to make the tea? Argh!
And what’s next?
The first exciting thing after the publication of TrooFriend is that The Middler is coming out in the US on 14th April – so I’m really looking forward to that.
Then I have a third children’s novel being published in spring 2021 with Nosy Crow. It’s the one I was supposed to be writing when I wrote TrooFriend – yes, I finally finished it! I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say, but it’s got a forest in it, and a town, and a stag and a bear and a wolf and a goose. It has something of the fairy tale about it.
And right now I’m working on some books for younger readers and also on an idea for a fourth novel.
Lots to look forward to! And here’s a virtual cheers to send TrooFriend on its way – can’t wait to raise an actual glass one day… Congratulations, Kirsty!
You can take a look inside the book below:
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