The first book that I wrote was a crime novel. I say ‘wrote’ but the truth is that I got about three quarters through and then realised that I wasn’t enjoying writing it all that much. There was something about the grim spiral of constant despair that the main character had got herself into that just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. So I stopped writing it and now I can’t even remember where I left Eve, Abbie and Tom. They have been left frozen somewhere in Unfinished Books Land forever, probably.
Boy in the Tower is the book that I wrote straight after that.
This one I did enjoy writing. So much so that I didn’t mind getting out of bed before the sun had on a lot of days (and that is not something I ever thought I would hear myself saying – not the enjoying writing bit, but the getting up part.)
Don’t think the story’s not grim though. There’s a lot about it that is full of despair. But it was fun to write and I hope that it will be enjoyable to read too. You can only hope.
If you would like to see if it is, click here to read a short extract.
The idea came about when I forced myself to sit down with a piece of paper and a pen one day after I bid goodbye to poor, old abandoned first book, determined to have a good idea. Not very William Blake I’m afraid. But I’m a big fan of doodling.
I drew a lot of silly things and wrote some nonsense words, as you do, but from those scribbles came an image that didn’t go away.
It was of a tower block. An inner-city tower block. But instead of being enclosed by a network of busy roads and crowded by building after building as they always are, it was surrounded by a wonderful kind of jungle. It was desolate but beautiful, weird but familiar. If Boy in the Tower started anywhere, it was right there.
I worked in a South London Primary at the time and my school was surrounded by a few towers. It was these buildings which remained in my head as I started to write.
Since I sat down that day, so many things in my life have changed. I’m not teaching now, and I’ve moved out of South London.
And Boy in the Tower was published and lots of people (who I don’t even know) have read it.
Winner of the Calderdale Book of the Year Award 2015
Runner-up of the Teach First New Children’s Fiction Award 2015
Runner-up for the Redbridge Book Awards 2015
Nominated for Carnegie Medal 2015
Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2015
Shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award 2015
Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2015
Shortlisted for Peters Books Book of the Year 2015
Shortlisted for the Tower Hamlets Book Award 2015
Shortlisted for the Chorlton Book Award 2015
Longlisted for the Grampian Children’s Book Award 2016
Shortlisted for the East Sussex Children’s Book Award 2016
Shortlisted for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups Children’s Book 2016
Shortlisted for the St Helen’s Libraries Book Award (BASH) 2016
Shortlisted for the Haringey Children’s Book Award 2016
Shortlisted for the Dorset New Horizons Book Award 2016
Shortlisted for the Hillingdon Secondary Book Award 2016
Shortlisted for the Burgess Hill Book Award 2016
‘An unusual and impressive debut’ The Bookseller
‘Haunting and compelling, with characters you really care for.’ The Bookseller, Top Bookseller Picks July 2014
‘This strong debut works as a page-turner and as a depiction of life in inner-city Britain, full of weird, incomprehensible perils, quotidian heroics and unexpected resources.’ The Observer
‘I loved it and I think you – whoever you are, whether you’re aged eight or eighty – will love it, too. Boy In The Tower comes highly recommended by me. I think it might even be my favourite story of 2014 so far.’ The Bookbag
‘Taking place in a believable urban, multicultural environment that will be familiar to many young readers, Polly Ho-Yen’s debut is an impressively moving and thought-provoking story that will touch children and adults alike.’ Book Trust
‘This book is much more than a sci-fi plot, touching on friendship, sacrifice, love, loyalty,loneliness. Ade’s voice feels very authentic and this is a powerful story with a heart-racing conclusion.’ Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2015
‘This is a wonderful story of courage, determination, strength and bravery.’ Scribbles Book Reviews
‘This is a story of survival, a story of resilience, a story of hope when all hope is lost. I loved it, I want to tell the world about it.’ Armadillo Magazine
‘It’s a brilliant premise and once Ho-Yen hits her stride, it’s delivered with a strong and rich skill that bodes very well.’ Did You Ever Stop to Think? (blog)
‘Ade is a superb character and his care for others shines through. The tension is kept going right to the end. A remarkable story.’ Parents In Touch
‘A dramatic story which holds sadness for some but centres on courage and friendship in adversity.’ Centre of Literacy in Primary Education
‘I loved everything about this book and definitely recommend it.’ The Guardian Peer Review
‘Polly Ho-Yen writes wonderful characters, not just Ade and his mother…I think Boy in the Tower is a brilliant debut.’ Luna’s Little Library
‘An adventure story for the 9-12′s, this book celebrates the bravery and indomitability of children, their resourcefulness and strength in friendship.’ Mumsnet Suffolk & Norfolk
‘A wonderful read for all ages or even to read with your children. This book will not leave you disappointed!’ Opinionated Cupcakes (blog)
‘Totally absorbing tale that manages to combine HG Wells/John Wyndham style alien invasion with the rites of passage of a young boy. Really couldn’t put it down. Excellent debut.’ Peters Books
‘It isn’t a long book but it’s wonderfully original with an engaging narrative written entirely from the perspective of a young boy.’ Amazon
‘This is excellent, something like a kitchen sink disaster movie…but for kids!’ Cethan Leahy (http://cethanleahy.wordpress.com/books-ive-read-in-2014/)
‘I enjoyed this book immensely. It had a wonderful lightness in the style of writing. I wish there were more books like this for the middle grade market… A book well worth reading.’ The Bookette
‘I treasured every moment of reading Boy in the Tower.’ Raising Mighty Girls
‘Not only does it remain with you, but you want it to continue – a long time after you turned the last page.’ The Literacy Tree
‘There is no wasted time in Polly Ho-Yen’s superb sci-fi debut. The setting is tight, the plot builds with confidence and the narrator is utterly engaging. Ho-Yen has written a thrilling story with Boy In The Tower, but her masterstroke is the narrative voice of the boy at the centre of the story.’ Young Post
‘An absorbing and thought provoking story from this debut author.’ Berkshire Library Services
‘A gripping, spooky dystopian drama with a host of brilliant characters, beautifully narrated.’ Mumsnet
‘This is above all a story about friendship, about resilience and loyalty. This a perfect book for young people to read alone, but would also be an excellent choice to read aloud to Year 5 or 6.’ Hello Pipski
‘It’s a book about friendship and sticking together and helping other people out in any way you can, even when you’re feeling unhappy or scared yourself. And it’s a brilliant adventure!’ Space on the Bookshelf
‘This book made me laugh and cry and was so powerful that I felt the feelings of the characters as if I was living in the story. It’s joined my collection of magnificent reads.’ Harry Paynter, National Geographic Kids
‘This is a heart wrenching story of survival. It also focuses on a theme of depression and death. I thought it was really well written and very realistic.’ Peer Review, The Guardian