Exclusive Interview: “The New One” Author Evie Green
I can only imagine the pain of losing a child. Which may be why there’s been a lot of stories about parents who’ve suffered this unimaginable loss…but have also refused to accept it. In her new novel The New One (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), writer Evie Green puts her main characters through this kind of suffering, but with an A.I. / cloning twist. In the following email interview, Green discusses what inspired and influenced this story, as well as why she says it’s, “a human story first, sci-fi second, and maybe horror third, with strong thriller elements, too.”
Photo Credit: Charlotte Knee Photography 2020
To start, what is The New One about, and when and where is it set?
The New One is set in the near future, and begins in Cornwall, in the far south west of the U.K. (where I live). The family, the two parents and their daughter Scarlett, live in a trailer and never have enough money. Scarlett is fourteen and out of control: in short, life is bad. When she is catastrophically injured by a car that doesn’t stop, everything seems hopeless until a mysterious lifeline appears. Will Ed and Tamsyn move to Geneva to take part in a medical trial? There’s only one catch: they will have a luxurious new life, and Scarlett the best medical care, but they also need to welcome a cloned version of their daughter, boosted by A.I., into the heart of their family. What could possibly go wrong?
Where did you get the idea for The New One? What inspired it?
It came out of a conversation about A.I. that I had while walking in the Cornish countryside with my husband. I remember saying “what if… what if… what if…” and ending up with a story. What if you could replace difficult children with “better” ones? What if the original child had an accident and was replaced? What if she then woke up…? And then I couldn’t wait to start writing.
And is there a significance to the family moving to Switzerland as opposed to Sweden or Japan or West Orange, New Jersey?
The move to Geneva is a little nod to Frankenstein: I love the story of Mary Shelley beginning to write the novel there after Byron proposed that he, Shelley and her future husband Percy Shelley should competitively write ghost stories on a rainy day. It’s a tangential thing: they were going to go to Switzerland anyway, but Geneva seemed like a great fit and I knew the city, which really helped.
As for Switzerland, it’s reasonably close to the U.K., but is a bit of a landlocked island in Europe. Like Britain (regrettably) it’s not part of the E.U., which means there was the potential for a little more exploiting of legal loopholes, in my imaginary future world.
The New One sounds like a sci-fi horror novel. Is that how you’d describe it?
I’d call it a human story first, sci-fi second, and maybe horror third, with strong thriller elements, too. It’s really about regular people thrown into a very strange world, not by choice, but because of events. So the parents are living their difficult lives in Cornwall and this series of things happens to them. I want people to read it with a “what would I do?” feeling.
Moving on to the always appreciated questions about influences, are there any writers who you think had a particular big influence on The New One? Because it kind of reminds me of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.
I read a lot of non-fiction for this one as, even though the technology of The New One is extremely fictional, I wanted to have a level of background knowledge. So actually the book that influenced this one above all was Peter 2.0 by Peter Scott-Morgan, an incredible man who confronted his own terminal diagnosis by basically making himself into a cyborg. Seeing someone using technology essentially to cheat death inspired me, and I hugely recommend his book.
Fiction-wise, I’ve always loved Margaret Atwood’s sci-fi books, so she was at the back of my mind while I was writing this one.
I also think it’s impossible to write horror elements without being influenced by Stephen King. King is brilliant at pinpointing the dilemma of whether to do the best thing for your family, or follow the pull of the unwise course of action. Without getting into spoiler territory, there’s a dilemma along those lines in this book, and for me the lasting King influence comes in those human moments: what if this weird thing happened to someone like you?
There is a bit of common ground with Pet Sematary, too, though that didn’t occur to me until you mentioned it. The idea of losing a child and them coming back is a powerful one.
How about non-literary influences; was The New One influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because aside from Pet Sematary, it also reminds me of the movies A.I. and Godsend.
The movie Ex Machina was definitely there as an influence. I haven’t seen Godsend, but having looked at the synopsis there’s definitely some common ground there. The Cornwall part of the book owes a certain amount to the movie Bait by Mark Jenkin, and the teenagers’ storylines come out of my history of writing Y.A. (under my real name, Emily Barr).
I wish I could cite a board game. That would be cool.
And what about your guinea pigs? What influence did they have on The New One? Also, how many do you have, and what are their names?
They are a lovely distraction, but sadly we are now down to one. Guinea pigs aren’t generally happy on their own, but this one is. She has lots of space, lots of food and hay, and plenty of human company. She’s called Saffy, and her recently-deceased sister was Hetty. They were named by my daughter six years ago, after two Jacqueline Wilson characters: Hetty Feather and Sapphire Battersea, who are actually both the same person, which does lead me back to the girls in The New One, though I hadn’t thought of that before.
And having mentioned Pet Sematary just now I’m wondering about that deceased guinea pig…
Uh, maybe you should read the book or watch the movie before you start Googling “ancient Indian buriel grounds.” Anyway, it sounds like The New One is a stand-alone story. But you never know. It could be setting up a whole series of Matrix-y / Terminator-ish novels. So, I’ll ask: What is The New One?
It’s a stand-alone story, though I could definitely write a sequel, or a book set in the same world, and would love to do that. But I wrote it as a stand-alone: it’s one family’s story and it ends in in a very different place from where it begins. It does, however, leave a lot of things open, so you never know…
Earlier I mentioned that the plot of The New One reminded me of the movies A.I. and Godsend. Do you think The New One could work as a movie as well?
I definitely think it could work as a movie. The idea of clones is a very visual thing: there’s something about meeting someone who is identical to your family member but not them that is very cinematic. I also think the settings would work. First of all, Cornwall, in the far south west of the U.K.: the family live there with no money and lots of rain and mud. Then we move to Geneva which is all clean and shiny and a total contrast with a backdrop of mountains. I think it’s a very visual story, so yes please I’d love it to be a movie.
And if someone wanted to make that movie, who would you want them to cast as Scarlett, Tamsyn, Ed, and the other main characters?
I think for Scarlett / Sophie, as she’s in her mid teens we’d need someone new, probably playing both of them unless there happen to be twins who are great at acting around. For the parents, there are so many actors who would make it work. I actually don’t want to name anyone as perhaps someone will make a movie in which case I don’t want to pre-cast it.
What about actress Eva Green, who I’m sure you never ever get tired of being asked about. What role should she play?
Oh yes, she should definitely be involved. Anyone with (basically) the same name as me can have a job.
Finally, if someone enjoys The New One, what similarly scary novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
Foe by Iain Weir (who also wrote I’m Thinking Of Ending Things) has a similar theme at its core, but is written in a very sparse and unsettling way. It’s about a man who is visited by a government agent who tells him he’s been randomly chosen to go to a space station for two years, but that he’ll be replaced by an artificial version of himself while he’s gone so his wife won’t miss him. It’s a very odd read and I loved it.
Also, for some wild plot twists, The Perfect Wife by J.P. Delaney which I’m glad I only read after finishing writing The New One as we touch on similar ground (in this case, a wife is resurrected as a robot).
For Y.A. readers, I strongly recommend Every Line Of You by Naomi Gibson, in which Lydia, a teenage girl, builds her perfect boyfriend as a sentient A.I. As you can imagine, things don’t entirely go to plan.
Sorry, you asked for one, but I’ve given you three and I could easily have kept going.