Emily Walker on Moira Young OR How One Trilogy Made For The Ultimate Birthday Weekend

May 13, 2014

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As Moira Young’s final book in her Dustlands Trilogy is published today in Canada, the author talks to Emily Walker about what has influenced the trilogy.

I first discovered Moira Young in June 2011 when my aunt, Gillie, who doubles as Moira’s literary agent, gifted me a copy of Blood Red Road (Dustlands #1), which had recently been published.

I took the book with me on a relaxing birthday-spa weekend with my mom and devoured it.

I raced back to the hotel room between treatments and meals, desperate to read what happened to Saba.

I could not put it down.

Recently, Gillie gave me Dustlands #2 to read and, much to my delight, it did not disappoint. Complete with even more adventure and drama, I sped through Rebel Heart.

When I was encouraged to interview an author for this, my debut blog, it did not take me long to decide whom I would like to approach first.

I was thrilled that Young agreed to speak with me (on a Bank Holiday Monday, no less).

Excited yet nervous, I called Young at home in Bath, England on that sunny Monday morning and was greeted by a warm, familiar Canadian accent.


Born and raised in British Columbia, but now a long-time UK resident, Young explained how she felt more Canadian than ever after writing Raging Star.

She hadn’t realised at first how “deeply embedded” Canada was in herself, or how important the Canadian landscape was to the trilogy.

On closer inspection, Canada’s influence is apparent: her idea for “Wrecker’s junk” in the novels’ landscape was inspired by the Okanagan’s abandoned orchards and dilapidated dwellings and irrigation channels which she remembers from family car trips in the 1960s.

Indeed, Canada informed more than just the Dustlands’ scenery but also certain characters’ names and locations: Salmo Slim’s name, for example, comes from Salmo, a small village in south-eastern British Columbia.

Young revealed that she had not always recognised the impact of her former acting and opera careers on her writings.

Readers may have noticed that the author does not include “paragraphs of description,” but prefers to use dialogue to reveal character and to move the story forward.

This is a remnant from her acting days.

The fabulous rhythms and pulses in the trilogy’s narrative are very much from her opera life –she thinks of the trilogy as “ the three acts of an opera.”

The authenticity of the characters’ voices, as well as the wonderful pace and crescendo of the trilogy’s plot, are echoes of Young’s dramatic background.

The trilogy’s post-apocalyptic setting is a product of her immense anxiety concerning climate change: she began writing Blood Red Road whilst the media coverage on the then upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference was ubiquitous.

Neither a politician, nor an activist by nature, she chose to mobilise her feelings of powerlessness and “gnawing anxiety” into writing.

She asked herself, “what if? What if the world heated up by three degrees? What would happen? How would people manage?”

But the three novels were not originally set in vast dustlands – this came only as she reworked Blood over a period of four years.

Ultimately, Saba’s dry, spare voice is what led Young to the story’s Western-esqe landscape – that and Western movies.

The novels’ unique dialect is also the result of the author’s editing.

Originally the story had been told from a third person’s point of view but, feeling it lacked conviction, she began to experiment with Saba’s age, and then with language.

Still, wanting to appeal to a young adult audience, she decided to write in a milder dialect.

A “word magpie,” she incorporated phrases influenced by her Canadian background, her Scottish father, her grandfather’s time in the Indian army, and her husband’s great-aunt from Nottinghamshire.

Young’s dialect is a brilliant addition to the story: it emphasises the post-apocalyptic setting, and “pulls your eye along the page and speeds the pace of the story up.”

Ahead of my interview with her, I was lucky enough to read Raging Star, the third book in the trilogy, which I loved.

I found the story so moving that I cried whilst reading most of the novel’s final quarter.

I am not the only one.

Indeed, if you listen towards the end of the audiobook, you may hear the moment Young was emotionally stricken.

The producer chose to keep it in.

Writing the trilogy’s end was also emotional for Young: knowing that she was leaving her beloved characters behind “for good,” she “cried a lot” whilst writing.

Nobly, I think, but likely disappointing for some, Moira has promised that there will be no prequels in the future; nor will she revisit the Dustlands in a sequel. It is up to us, the readers, to decide what becomes of Saba and the Free Hawks.

Thankfully, the end of the trilogy does not mark the end of Moira’s writing.

She already has another story brewing.

But after working on the Dustlands without pause since 2010, she feels depleted and will return to Canada to refill her writing well.

Selfishly, I only hope Moira’s hiatus is not too long.


P.S.: If Saba was literate, Young thinks she might recommend some poetry to her to devour or perhaps some Dickens, Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.

P.P.S: Young’s favourite thriller writer is Lee Child. She is game for reading anything that takes her fancy including biographies, popular-science, history, geography, travel books (she’s read a lot of these), poetry, Shakespearean plays, Jacobean tragedies, YA, even picture books.  

Emily Walker is a Canadian who has been living in London, England for sixteen years. She currently works as a literary agent’s assistant but, luckily for us, she will relocate to Toronto, Ontario in July. 


  1. You have a keen ear for voices and you clearly have met a kindred spirit in Ms. Young. I look forward to following the ensuing, post-debut blogs….you are very readable.
    Barbara S.

  2. Looking forward to reading more of Ms. Walker’s reviews. An added bonus to a great website!

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