Anomaly Island by Lois Foster

“Your brother is sick…”

Twelve-year-old Fin O’Rye lives in a tent on a mountain with his father and big brother Tag. Tag’s the best friend a brother could have. They do everything together: swim, watch Captain Canadia, spy on Mrs Tauko. But Fin wishes they could go down the mountain to the cinema and McDoodles, like the Peas.

Then Tag catches the deadly Devil’s Lung.

Now, Fin must follow Tag off the mountain to save him. With the help of doctor’s daughter Ruth, Fin stows away on the hospital ship to Coralton Sanatorium, the place that will make Tag better.

Or so he thinks.

The island is full of secrets, and Ruth’s mum, Dr Blue, is behind them. Fin discovers Devil’s Lung is the least of his worries. Can he trust Ruth? Where has Tag gone? Will the brothers ever see their mountain again?

About the Author

Lois lives in Wiltshire with her sister and a spotty cat called Biggie, both of whom are incredibly grumpy. In a past life, she was a songwriter and musician in three bands. She attended BIMM Brighton for several years, where she achieved a BA in Songwriting and Music Performance. After a long spell of mysteriously ill health, she found solace in writing, and more recently graduated Bath Spa’s MA Writing for Young People with Distinction. When she’s not writing, or dreaming, or singing, or researching weird things, she’s recumbent biking or painting more spots on the cat.

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Anomaly Island by Lois Foster

Anomaly Island tells the story of twelve-year-old Fin as he follows his sick brother, Tag, from their isolated mountain tent community, across the sea to a sanatorium. Set in Canadia – a world a little like ours – Fin meets Ruth, goes through the mental and physical turmoil of illness, and faces the evil Dr Blue, Ruth’s mum.

What was your experience of bringing your story to life?

I have a genetic condition with lots of comorbidities. I couldn’t do anything I used to, so I shut myself away. What was the point in explaining my life? I didn’t understand the illnesses.

Then writing gave me something. There was someone else, somewhere else, and he had agency. Fin experiences an otherworldly parallel to my life.

Who is the audience for your story and how are you hoping to impact them?

All children should see themselves in stories. Children with illnesses and disabilities are no exception, yet they’re often missing from adventure-style narratives. I want Fin and Tag to help ill and disabled children know they can be part of these worlds, and they can take charge.

I’d also like people who aren’t unwell, like siblings or parents or aunties, to understand illness, in a safe place. I want people to know they’re not alone in their experience, and I especially want to give everyone hope.

What was your inspiration for this story?

In Steve Voake’s workshop, we were prompted to write something historical. I panicked! I’d never done that. Instead, I had an image of a boy sitting at a mountain edge, waiting whilst his brother had illness burned out of him. I knew they were in a place like Canada because it’s somewhere I think of often, being the last place I visited before I got unwell. Up until then, I’d avoided writing about illness, but something steered me towards it this time. I read about an outbreak of tuberculosis in the 1930s, in which people in Inuit communities were sent to sanatoriums. Sick children being separated from their families and never finding them struck a nerve with me.

But Anomaly Island didn’t become a historical story. It wasn’t my place to write someone else’s real experience, and there were bits of my life that needed to come out. I wanted to make somewhere up.

What was your most memorable experience on the MA?

The initial interview with Steve Voake and Julia Green. It was the scariest thing I’d ever done, but they welcomed me into Corsham Court like I’d been there already for years. They listened to me as if my crazy dream of writing mattered. Another is working with my wonderful manuscript tutors, Clare and Jo, who oversaw my manuscript with such compassion and understanding. I owe them so much. Jo’s stern but encouraging stare got the job done!

What was the most important thing you learned on the MA?

You can’t always have everything you want where you want it, but that’s OK. It can go somewhere else, or you can save it. Sometimes you need to let go. I also learned to make as much impact in as few words as possible. The space words occupy must be meaningful.

What is your favourite part of the writing process?

I love plotting and the bit just after it, when the ideas are fresh and you have to capture them before they disappear. When I’ve got the bare skeleton of a story with endless possibilities and a voice that wants to say something and I don’t want to do anything else but think about that character and their story all day.

What do you like doing when you’re not writing?

I read! I also spend lots of time with my family and spotty cat (not quite a leopard, but almost) and my parent's dogs. I’m also teaching my body to walk properly again, which is scary, but also exciting!

What is your top piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Do an MA in Creative Writing! (I’ll shout Bath Spa from the rooftops. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.) Otherwise, find a group of supportive writers with the same ambitions as you to workshop with, and find your writerly instinct!

What was your favourite book as a child?

One? I loved Jacqueline Wilson’s The Illustrated Mum, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, and Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. Also, A Series of Unfortunate Events and Harry Potter.

What place in fiction do you most want to visit?

The world of Harry Potter, and the worlds in His Dark Materials.