Most young adult books take place in the United States or England. Abi Godsell’s Idea War takes place in her hometown of Johannesburg, South Africa. It has everything a reader craves: a dynamic setting, a group of rebel teens, an impending occupation, and an unusual teenage girl that has to deal with it all while trying to make it through high school.
“[Johannesburg] is magic. It’s dynamic. And it’s constantly fixing itself from the ache of its past and into the complication and beauty of its present.” said Godsell. “It was mostly a process of taking things that I saw, places I knew, and seeing how gritty, grungy and dangerous feeling I could make them, and then building a self-consistent story-world, in which such incarnations of these places might be plausible, justifying images and concepts that I wanted to write because they were cool.”
Like all other teens, Callie deals with sexuality, societal norms, and people’s expectation – but it takes place against a “backdrop of war, government conspiracy, death and combat.”
But Callie’s story is not just a novel. Idea War is told in a series of short stories.
“I wanted a form that delivered the same punch and emotional satisfaction of a full story, in a fifteen minute chapter,” said Godsell. “Because sometimes fifteen minutes is all you have.”
At the same time, Godsell wanted things that linked her short stories together. Characters that Callie meets, places she visits – they all weave in and out of the short stories, connecting and strengthening the core of the novel. Godsell drew inspiration from author Ursula K. Le Guin, who often connected and intertwined her short stories.
Still, Godsell knows she has “a lot to learn about making the form smooth and accessible.” With diversity, too, there is always room for her to improve; but that won’t stop her from publishing stories with a diverse cast of characters and exciting landscapes. She’s not afraid of making mistakes.
“There’s something deeply satisfying about the short-form edition process, paring down and paring down your words until you reach the real heart of what you want to say.”