Millie Versus the Machines and boarding schools
I’m pretty sure everyone in the whole world has at some point read a boarding school book. Even if there are still people who haven’t read Harry Potter (and there aren’t), there are also Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and the Twins at St Clare’s, the (criminally underrated) Trebizon books and more recently Robin Stevens’ Wells & Wong series. As a child going to boarding school was my absolute dream. The appeal for young readers seems to be down to a) no parents b) hanging out with your friends all day while c) either learning magic, solving mysteries, playing overly elaborate pranks on teachers or beating the everloving crap out of each other at hockey.
I chose to set my debut novel Millie Versus The Machines in a boarding school in 2099 because the main character, Millie, needed to be isolated from the rest of society as she starts to wonder if the robots, or units, that cook for and clean up after all the pupils, are plotting something. In London, the units rights act is about to be passed, granting unit workers the same rights as humans, and when Millie’s friends start disappearing from their dormitories overnight she becomes convinced the units plan to rise up against the humans. Millie’s boarding school, Oaktree, is run by the Company, which her parents work for, and is home to the children of the most privileged executives. As pupils, they’re being educated and trained to take over the same roles at the Company when they reach adulthood.
Despite being set in the future, it seemed natural that Oaktree would have been created in the image of all those Blyton classics- the pupils sleep in dorms, they play lacrosse and they (pretend to) revise for hours in the library. But as it’s set nearly 100 years in the future there are also a lot of opportunities to play around with the traditional setting. Units aside, all the pupils have access to social media through their embedded IndexChips (I swear, I wrote it before Google Glass became a thing). They can also download live feeds from their brains and share them with others. Instead of midnight feasts, all the pupils eat mudge, designed to give them exactly the right amount of nutrients, and every day their intelligent wardrobes produce brand new, custom-sized clothes for them.
Millie’s school is a safe haven and a paradise for any thirteen-year-old. So when that security and safety is threatened by the presence of the units, she starts to question her whole world inside its boundaries.