‘I like ideas’: a chat with Neands author Dan Salmon

Dan Salmon’s novels are a hit with Hooked on NZ Books reviewers. In her review of 2020’s Neands, Eleanor wrote the story ‘mirrored the 2020 pandemic experience,’ while Lucy described it as a gripping novel about teenagers living in a chaotic world. At the end of Neands, in a world that has turned against them, Charlie, Pru and Ivy have found refuge but they are desperate for answers.

Salmon and OneTree House have this year released the sequel and it’s been reviewed already – check out Hannah’s piece here.

In Neands 2, the characters set out to find out what happened to Charlie’s mother and their foster parents, Alan and Ngaire. We also meet Em and her brother Miro who are risking their lives to escape the horrors of a Neand-run youth home in the South Island.

When their paths cross, they face a fight for their future. If they have any future at all. Salmon answers our questions.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always read Young Adult fiction, but often books are good stories with good characters but don’t have other things going on. I like ideas. I wanted to explore the idea that our social and cultural institutions were changing in a way that younger people could make sense of.

I wanted to celebrate the arts and science, and rationality. I was inspired by the way Philip Pullman and John Green tell wonderful stories in their novels but also leave us thinking about big ideas and issues.

What research was involved?

The Neands are not Neanderthal, they are based on an idea of Neanderthal and the way we use Neanderthal as an insult. But at the same time, I wanted the books to be serious about science. And so they are not Neanderthals, but genetically and historically they are linked, and I needed that to be credible.

So I read extensively about Neanderthals and about the history of Homo sapiens and the interaction between the two species. I was also lucky enough to go to what is believed to be the birthplace of modern humans in Ethiopia while I was writing the first book, and that really got me thinking about who we are and what we come from.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I write in the morning. Setting the alarm and getting up to an empty house where I get a minimum of an hour before anyone else stirs. I make a coffee, put music on my headphones, and write.

What do you hope children and families will take away from the book?

That art is important. That science is important, that it’s real. That we use both art and science to help us understand the world. That people are important.

What book did you read as a child or teen that had a profound effect on you?

Probably the Susan Cooper Dark is Rising books. They would have been the first genuinely scary books I read.

Can you share a piece of good advice you’ve received about writing?

Try and make writing a habit. I really found this to be true, when you try fitting it in around things, it’s hard to progress.

What advice do you give to writers starting out?

Read. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read poetry. Think about what you love about it. Think about why it works for you.


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