Scavengers

Live Q&A between Darren Simpson and Taanika Shankar

Darren Simpson writes vivid, unruly fiction for children. His debut novel Scavengers was a Guardian Best Book of 2019, the first book chosen for ‘Reading For Change’. Scavengers was also selected for 2019’s national Summer Reading Challenge. Darren also provided the story for The Dust on the Moth, a crowdfunded multimedia novel for adults.

He lives with his wife and two sons in Nottingham, where he has worked with the Literacy Trust to promote reading for pleasure. He loves using otherworldly settings and unconventional characters to explore bravery, self-discovery, and the endless quirks that make up our real lives.

On 25th August at 6.30 p.m. Darren was in conversation with Taanika Shankar, an undergraduate in economics at Azim Premji University. 

Taanika is currently a second year undergraduate student at Azim Premji University. She is majoring in economics and wishes to minor in sustainability. She has been very keen about environmental and developmental issues since her young age

If you’d like to find out more about Darren please visit darrensimpsonwrites.co.uk

In case you missed the Q&A, here is a summary.

“I think he will have friends at the end of the day and that’s what gets us through”

How did Darren feel to get his first book published?!

After years of writing, getting my first book published made me feel grateful and very thrilled. Scavengers was initially supposed to be an adults book and was a lot more grave. His agent suggested making it a children’s book and to end it on a note of hope. That is how he became an accidental children’s author.

What is some of the research and train of thought/ imagination that went into creating Hinterland?

The idea came to his head when I was going to drop off some garbage and I saw two cats fighting over a ham sandwich. That made him think of a world where animals lived in a landfill; and that further made him think of having humans live here. He knew that he wanted a little boy to grow up in this kind of space – a forgotten and run-down area reclaimed by nature. Other people still work at landfills – the place needed to be secluded so that the two characters can live there without other people knowing. He did some research and found about the unused CWM Coke Works, which inspired the setting of Hinterland.

Did Darren ever feel like living a solitary life like Babagoo?

He sees the appeal but feels like his life and work is too interwoven with society and other people to want to do that or be able to do that. The idea of a grown man (Babagoo) living as a recluse makes you realize how much we all need people.

What part of Landfill does Darren personally relate to the most and why?

He does not relate to Landfill himself as an adult but sees the child-like innocence and curiosity in his sons. Landfill also reminds him of himself as a child in the same sense.

How did the made up words come about?

There weren’t any made-up words initially but then someone pointed out that if Landfill and Babagoo were living away from the rest of society, they must have lost some kind of touch with the rest of the world (and Landfill had never heard/ seen the rest of the world). There was a system to decide which words would be made up: it was mainly nouns and words of common use – like wolflings for wolves, bleaters for goats. Grubbins was used for food because grubs is an informal term for snack.

The animals in the book were named after authors; was there a personal connect to those authors?

They were authors he liked. Kafka the goat was related to a personal anecdote: Darren had been to an animal park with his children and saw a goat there and for some reason thought of its name as Kafka. When he wrote the book, he had to name the goat Kafka.

Also, Babagoo named all the animals, so in a way it’s a clever play since we know so little about his past. The fact that Babagoo had named all the animals after famous writers must have meant he was well-read despite seeming like a haggard recluse.

What is your favourite character from the story?

Babagoo! He was also the most fun to write because of his complexity and all the layers that his personality has.

The summary is written by Taanika Shankar and edited by Lena Robra

To see Darren answer more questions about Scavenger watch him on Oxford Education: Secondary English

Discussion of the book by Lakshmi Karunakaran and Seema Mundoli

The first discussion takes Darren Simpson’s “Scavengers” as an entry point to SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities. How is life for people who live their entire life in the shadows of others, yet without them the city could not sustain? They are visible, yet invisible to most of us most of the time. Drawing from the theme of landfills and waste this conversation will put waste pickers at the centre, looking at their role and perspective of sustainable cities and communities. Usually the conversations around people involved in waste management are not empowering, especially in their representation in writing which tends to be descriptive. The YA novel by Darren Simpson, “Scavengers” allows us an ingenious approach to tackle this topic from a very different perspective. 

The discussants

Seema Mundoli worked for the most part in conservation, and advocacy on issues of mining, land and forest rights, and education in tribal and rural landscapes. More recently she researches on the social and ecological interactions around urban commons especially in the current phase of increasing urbanization that the Indian cities are witnessing. She is also the co-author of the popular and critically praised Cities and Canopies, a book on trees in urban India. She is now a faculty at Azim Premji University.

Lakshmi Karunakaran is an educator and a communication professional based in Bangalore, India. She has worked with children experiencing social exclusion in government schools, special needs schools, remedial schools, and in disadvantaged communities. Through Hasiru Dala, an organization that works with informal waste pickers she currently heads the Buguri Community Library Project which is an after school library and art centre for over 700 children of waste-pickers in Bangalore, Tumkur and Mysore.

Call for illustrations 

Illustrators, Imaginators, Creators

What does your “Hinterland” look like? How do you imagine a post-industrial world, reclaimed by nature? Get inspired by “Scavengers” and send us your illustrations to bsf@ncbs.res.in. Let your mind wander as you read about Landfill’s, Woolf’s and Babagoo’s world. Is Babagoo just an old vulture, is Hinterland as romantic a place as it sounds to be or is it a just dire display of decay?

Illustrations will be added to this webpage with due credit