A Q&A with Triona Campbell!

We spoke to author Triona Campbell who answered questions about the her new pulse-racing thriller, The Traitor in the Game.

The highly anticipated sequel to A Game of Life or Death, The Traitor in the Game is out now!

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Tell us about the concept of A Game of Life or Death and the latest sequel, The Traitor in the Game.

Okay. Both books centre around Asha Kennedy and are set in the near future. Freedom, power, corruption, revenge, grief are all themes in both books. The books also ask what we are willing to sacrifice for the truth? What we are willing to give and do to save those we love.

A Game of Life or Death starts with Asha finding her sister Maya dead on the floor of their locked apartment, with no apparent cause of death. Her search for answers leads her to Zu Tech – the too big to fail videogames company run by the charismatic Zu Thorp. Desperate to find answers and get revenge, Asha eventually infiltrates the company and discovers a deadly secret that affects all of us, and, that discovery comes at a terrible cost.

The Traitor in The Game picks up the action a few months after A Game of Life Or Death with Asha having lost the boy she loves (Dark). But by now the stakes are even higher for her and the rest of Tower Team (Augie, Josh, and Ruby). Together they travel to New York where nothing is as it seems. There’s a traitor on the team, someone Asha’s always trusted. Lives, including her own, now hang in the balance as she tries to unravel the clues before it’s too late.

In The Traitor in the Game we realise that Zu tech was only the beginning. The plan was always much bigger than that. And as Asha reels from the death of someone close to her, she learns a bitter truth – trust the wrong person, and you’re dead.

Where did the idea for the series come from?

The concept came from a few different places. As a TV producer for teen shows I had already spent a good deal of time researching, developing, and then creating a series on Video Games – looking not just at new games and tournaments but also at developments in that space such as Brain Computer Interfaces, and advances in Virtual Reality. I knew while I was producing the series that I wanted to write something set in that space.

I’ve also always been a fan of books like Ernst Cline’s Ready Player One and of course Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games as well as thrillers like Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – and for me the series started off being a mix of the things I love about those different genres. A mix of dystopian science fiction and YA mystery thriller – with a strong love triangle at the centre (are you Team Dark or Team Augie?).

In The Traitor in the Game, large global corporations are portrayed as being more powerful than governments. What made you create a world where this was the reality?

Because sadly, in a lot of cases – I think that’s partially true.

It is problematic when governments start to focus on only attracting large corporations to our shores, without building up a balance of medium to small local enterprises at the same time. When one company is the biggest contributor to your economy and the largest employer, then that company has a good deal of influence over government. Why? Because if that corporation suddenly decides to pull out and move to a place that’s cheaper – what is left behind is massive unemployment and economic depression that can take decades to emerge from.

Something no one wants, least of all someone who needs votes to get elected. I mean if you have an employer like Apple worth around 2.25 trillion (more than twice the value of Mexico’s GDP) and they are the single largest employer where you live – your government is going to do everything in its power to make sure Apple stay based in your country.

Also – particularly in the tech sector – there has until recently been an era of “self-regulation”. With technology advancing faster than governments can legislate, we’ve been relying on big multi nationals to have and keep our best interests at heart – and that is not what big corporations tend to do. Corporations are answerable to shareholders; their priority is always going to be profit.

Where did you get the inspiration for the character of Asha?

I LOVE writing Asha. For me, it was important that she was someone who could rescue herself. There is no prince coming to rescue her, no magical birth right, mysterious object, or ‘chosen one’ prophecy. And – Asha doesn’t need any of those things. She is more than capable of saving herself (and that is one of the things I adore about her).

I think that Asha is also ‘relatable’. She has flaws. She has lost people she loves, and she could deal with that pain in a better way. Instead, she ‘numbs’ out to avoid feeling the things that hurt (like her grief at Maya’s death). I also like the dynamic between Asha and Dark – she is completely out of her depth in a relationship where she is falling for (perhaps) the last person she should ever get involved with. Her character I think comes from seeing and working with so many strong women in different industries over the years. She is ever girl who has come before and yet also something new in terms of a hero that is in many ways deeply flawed and scarred by life.

In both books, we see incredibly advanced versions of video games that are similar to the ones available today. Do you think the games you created might be possible in the future?

I think all things are possible. If anyone is looking at things like Neurable and AI based brain computer interfaces for the mass market – then yes – it’s probably not that big a leap to think these games might be something, we see in the near future (although, hopefully less deadly).

How did you carry out research for The Traitor in the Game?

I over researched. I am really fascinated by the technology. One of the things I loved most when researching TTITG was sitting down with some cyber security advisors. They were terrifying in their analysis of how much of our data can be sold online, and on how advanced deep fake technology has become (which is why trusted sources of information are now so important).

What’s your favourite video game?

I love retro games. I put one of my favourites in The Traitor In The Game: House of the Dead. I have a copy of it in my house. While some people meditate at the end of a stressful day – I fight zombies.

What do you like to do when not writing?

I read (all writers are readers). Like a lot of people, I am in a romantasy phase now, but I also read a lot of YA thrillers. Other books that I’ve read (and loved) recently include Brianna Bourne’s The Half life of Love (I ugly cried), The Girl Who Broke the Sea by A Connors, and Jenny Ireland’s The First Move. I am also looking forward to reading I Hope This Doesn’t Find You by Ann Liang and the new Sam Blake book soon.

Something else I like to do is go to live music (I am counting the days till the Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift tours). I watch a good bit of TV too (old job habit) – especially teen TV drama series from the 2000’s (like, Gilmore Girls, Dawson’s, and One Tree Hill) as well as things like The Summer I Turned Pretty, Heartstopper, and Never Have I Ever. In between our family play board games at least once a week: from Cantan to Exploding Kittens.

*What is one key message from the book that you would like readers to take away? *

The key message for me is that one person – no matter the obstacles can make a difference. That there is always hope.

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The Traitor in the Game
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The Traitor in the Game

An addictive thriller from the most sensational new voice in YA fiction. Perfect for fans of the gaming and fierce love of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow The sequel to explosive YA thriller A GAME OF LIFE OR DEATH: At the end of book one, Asha Kennedy (Lisbeth Salander for a new generation) uncovered the dark secret at the heart of Virtual Reality game ‘Shackle’ – You don’t play the game; it plays you – and must now go deeper into a dangerous world of corruption and greed: who is the puppet master of the game and what is their ultimate goal? Set in New York, this is a whiplash-paced, twisty mystery and scorching romance where Asha’s enemies may be closer than she could ever imagine…

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