We caught up with the phenomenal science-fiction YA writer, Lauren James, the author of the bestselling time-travel romance The Next Together. Her latest book, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, is coming this September…
The Loneliest Girl has been pitched to readers as a love story – would you agree with that?
Romy is a very romantic person, and the book is completely focused on her experiences and feelings, so in that sense it is quite romantic. But the book for me, from the very beginning, was a psychological thriller. I wanted to write about the fear and confinement and constant stress of being alone on a small spaceship, where you’re completely responsibility for running the ship. The romantic plot came secondary to that. Early readers have said that they definitely felt the horror of it, so I’m happy!
What sort of research did you do for the space-ship settings?
I read a lot of non-fiction about space travel – NASA does a series of free eBooks explaining their science for beginners, so I had a great time diving into them. I also read up on the experiments NASA did where they made people live in a pseudo-spaceship for a year on Earth, to see how that affected them mentally. I read a lot of therapy and mental health books about post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, young carers, etc.
I also got to watch loads of sci fi films like Moon, Gravity and Interstellar – and that really helped with capturing the aesthetics and design of the ship.
TLGITU is quite frightening in places – what was the scariest bit to write, for you?
I found the parts in the stores quite scary. The Infinity is a circular ship, and the living space is around the perimeter. The centre of the ship is used as storage for the supplies needed for the new planet, like building materials and food. Romy explores the dark, cramped storage area, which hasn’t been visited since the ship left Earth’s orbit. At times, it gets quite atmospheric!
How would you describe Romy to someone who had never met her?
Firstly, I would introduce her by her full title – Commander Romy Silvers, Pilot of The Infinity – because I think that tells you everything you need to know. Romy has a lot of pressure placed on her to complete her mission, and even though she sometimes struggles with the responsibility, ultimately, she always does what is right.
I wanted to write a direct answer to the cliché of the ‘strong female character’ trope – Romy is weak and scared at times, but that doesn’t stop her being a strong and well-developed character. Strong doesn’t mean ‘physically skilled’, it means ‘three-dimensional’.
Romy writes and reads a lot of fanfiction – why did you choose to make fandom part of the story?
A lot of teenage girls use online fandoms as a safe space to develop their sexualities, without fear of pressure from peers to move at a pace they aren’t ready for. I thought that a girl completely isolated in space without any human contact would be even more likely to cling to fanfiction as a way of exploring relationships in a comfortable space. It’s also a source of instant, feel-good joy, which helps her deal with her stressful day-to-day life.
What advice would you give to teens who begin to message someone they have never met?
Stay safe by never giving out real-life contact details like your address or school. If you meet someone in person, make sure that your friends or a family member know where you are, and are ready to raise the alarm if you don’t check in after a certain amount of time.
Lauren James was born in 1992, and graduated in 2014 from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics. She started writing during secondary school English classes, because she couldn’t stop thinking about a couple who kept falling in love throughout history. She sold the rights to the novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university.
The Next Together has been translated into five languages worldwide. Her other novels include The Last Beginning, the epic conclusion to The Next Together which was named one of the best LGBT-inclusive works for kids and young adults by the Independent.
The Loneliest Girl in the Universe was inspired by a Physics calculation she was assigned at university. Lauren is a passionate advocate of STEM further education, and all of her books feature scientists in prominent roles.
She lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient. You can find her at on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James or laurenejames.co.uk, where you can subscribe to her newsletter to receive bonus content and news about her books.