Billy’s mum isn’t like other mums. He has to call her Sylvia and she spends all their time together teaching him The Rules of Survival – how to make fire, build shelter and find food. Sylvia is always testing Billy, making sure he knows the Rules, until one day the test goes too far…While Sylvia is getting better, Billy has to live with the dad he’s barely met.
Billy misses his mum and keeps practicing the Rules, but he also learns new things, like how it feels to make a friend and be part of a different type of family.
And then the world changes for ever.
People are turning into zombie-like creatures with grey skin, and as chaos breaks out and Billy and his family flee Bristol. Their journey is the ultimate test of survival, and Billy’s going to need all he’s learned about survival – and the Greys – to get through it.
How I learnt survival skills for my new book, ‘How I Saved the World in a Week’ by Polly Ho-Yen
I’m interested in different people’s skills sets. Mine is pretty limited. I’m pretty good at eating vast amounts of chocolate without feeling sick, I can read quite quickly, I can flip a pancake and swim in a cold river without complaining too much but I’m pretty much lacking in any essential survival skills. In my new book, ‘How I Saved the World in a Week’, I imagined a child who I named Billy who is very different to me: he is incredibly skilled at survival. He is the hero of my story. When a world-changing event occurs, all of his knowledge and experience is more than just helpful, Billy is able to save the day.
But like I said, I’m actually categorically terrible at survival skills. And so I turned to the two places to learn from that have never let me down in the past – books … and Youtube.
Books first. I dug out an old survival guide that belonged to my husband which was full of beautiful nuggets of information as well as wisdom that could be about survival or simply seen as great lessons in life. For instance: ‘Tell yourself, and keep on telling yourself that you will succeed – and you will! To be a survivor you must never stop trying – never!’ (An extract from ‘How to Survive’ by Brian Hildreth)
I visited my library and found more survival guides to look at. I read all the instructions and looked at all the diagrams and waited for some time to clear and so I could have a go at practising them myself. In the meantime, I kept writing and so I didn’t lose the flow of the story and got myself online to look at videos of people doing the skills. My favourite Youtuber was someone called Survival Lily and I watched a video of her making a fire countless times. She takes you through each step slowly and the description of making a fire with a firebow that appears in the finished book is thanks to Survival Lily’s clear and practical video.
I have to admit something to you. I never was able to find the time to try out the survival skills that appear in ‘How I Saved the World in a Week’ before I finished writing the book. I still can’t make fire like Billy can. Sometimes even with a box of matches and dry kindling, it can be difficult for me to get my wood burning stove lit – I’m terrible. However, when lighting our wood burner, I still love that moment when the flames take hold and feel oddly proud of myself even though I know it’s not much of an achievement.
The skills that used to be critical to our survival have become lost in our modern age and yet I found writing about them and the meagre experiences that I managed to use to help imagine them, to be transformative. Is it because they so fully demand our attention? You have to be focused to make fire, you cannot eat the wrong berry. You really have to be there. And in an age where our attention is always being called upon, something that calls you to the present, that demands that you be there actually feels extraordinary.
It’s a work in progress for me but I’m still committed to improving my skillset.
About the author
Polly Ho-Yen used to be a primary school teacher in London and while she was teaching there she would get up very early in the morning to write stories. The first of those stories became her critically acclaimed debut novel BOY IN THE TOWER, which was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the Blue Peter Book Award.
She lives in Bristol with her husband and daughter.@bookhorse