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Author J.D. Fennell on finding inspiration in Belfast

Belfast-born author J.D. Fennell has released his debut young adult novel Sleeper - the first in a series of thrillers, that were heavily influenced by the city.

The writer explains what readers can expect from the book and why he chose to write the story.

Q. Tell us about your new novel.

A. It's a young adult thriller set during the Second World War. It's about a 16 year-old boy called Will Starling who has been pulled from the sea, with no memory of his past. In his blazer is a strange notebook with a bullet lodged inside - a bullet that was meant for him.

So the notebook is the key for him in uncovering his past and he is set on this journey through London trying to find out who he is, and along the way he comes across quite a few villains who want his notebook.

It's kind of a quest story.

When Will’s memory begins to return, he realizes he is no ordinary sixteen-year-old. He has skills that make him a match for any assassin.

He's then fighting for survival with the help of Government agent and mentor, Eoin Heaney, who is a Belfast man a World War One and Easter Rising veteran.

Q. Where did the idea for Sleeper come from?

A. I love fast paced thrillers, and I wanted to write something like that.

I also wanted to set it in the 1940s in a time when people don't have mobile phones and technology.

I wanted that back to basics feel and I wanted to set it in London during the Blitz, which seemed like a great backdrop to me.

All those ingredients came together to make the book that I wanted to write.

Q. What made you want to become a writer?

A. I grew up in west Belfast in the 1970s which was a pretty treacherous time. I lived on a street called Springfield Park which was once one of the last places where Catholics and Protestants lived together harmoniously and that unfortunately all changed as time went on.

There was so much going on at that time and in my head in terms of the Troubles.

My primary school teacher encouraged my classmates and I to write to help us understand what was going on around us and I really enjoyed that, it was like a release.

I suppose just continued that all through my adult life.

Q. Would you say growing up in Belfast has influenced your writing?

A. I think that was why I chose to write a novel that was set in the Blitz.

Although we didn't have the Blitz in Northern Ireland, the streets were littered with debris and glass and Belfast just felt like it was crumbling around us and that struck a cord.

There was a comfort factor in writing about that and I enjoyed that side of it.

Q. Take us through your writing process - how do you get an idea from your head to the page?

A. Normally I will have an idea cooking in my head for what could be a matter of months - I could have a few ideas kicking around and I typically choose the one I would want to read.

That's what I aim to do - write the book that I would want to read. It sounds like a cliché, but it's very true.

I'm very much a planner - I will write out a synopsis first of all, so that I kind of know what direction I'm going. Then I'll do a chapter-by-chapter break down, so it's good to have that as my plan.

I then start working on a daily basis to try and pull it all together.

Q. Now Sleeper has been released , what are you plans for the future?

A. Sleeper is the first in a series and I'm working on the second one right now and no doubt I'll just crack on and write the next one.

Although I enjoy writing young adult books, I also want to write a crime novel which I do have an idea for.

All my books involve people from Northern Ireland because I think we are very underrepresented - certainly in young adult fiction anyway.

  • Sleeper by J.D Fennell is available now from The Dome Press.

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