Sometimes I feel a bit in awe of the publishing process, and a large part of that centres around the talent behind the bookcovers so I'm perticulary pleased with this, the Italian cover of Devil's Kiss, which has just come out.
My translater, Giorgio, contacted me to arrange an interview for his Italian website, but his questions were cool and different from what I'm normally asked, I'm uploading the interview (in English), here.
1) Billi SanGreal: a kick-ass heroine who’s not just brave and strong, but also well trained and highly educated miles away from the image of an inactive princess waiting for her prince charming to make her happy. Are you trying to tell young readers something about the role of women in modern society?
I have two daughters, so I knew I was going to write a heroine. But I wanted the books to have a mythic quality, after all we’re talking about Templars and monsters and archangels. So I based Billi on the mythic heroines like Athene, like Boudica and the Rani of Jhansi, all powerful warriors as well as being female.
Athene is perhaps the biggest inspiration. She’s the goddess of war and wisdom, and wisdom is what Billi’s chasing. How does she know she’s making the right choice? Because her father told her so? Because society expects her to be like that? She questions, and that is what’s important.
I think, even now in the 21st Century, there are still old-fashioned gender expectations which, sadly, get reflected in a lot of literature aimed at girls. I think it starts early with stories like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. What do these heroines actually do? Cinderella looks pretty in her dresses and Sleeping Beauty just lies there!
This seeps into a lot of YA fiction too, where the heroine is fundamentally passive and it’s the male love interest that holds all the power. That’s not the world I want my daughters to inherit.
2) "What is Hell? Hell is the cry of a starving infant. Hell is the begging for mercy then denied. Hell is the betrayals between man and wife. The lies between father and child. Hell is where the heart is.”
OMG! That certainly leaves not much room for Heaven! What can we do?
Remember who you’re quoting, it was the Devil and he’ll have a fairly negative view of humanity, so I wouldn’t trust his opinion on anything.
But Devil’s Kiss is a grim, dark story. It’s not your usual paranormal romance where the girl gets the boy and they all live happily ever after. I wanted the horror and brutality of the world Billi lives in to be authentic and sincere, she’s playing for the highest stakes imaginable.
Billi and the Templars are about the struggle. They know they’ll never win, the best they can do is keep the darkness at bay for a little longer. That takes a particular type of bravery, knowing it will never end but carrying on regardless.
It’s too easy to let morality and common humanity fall by the wayside as you pursue your ambitions. The Templars are heroic because they fight to defend humanity when at times they may feel humanity is no better than the creatures they face. That’s especially true in Dark Goddess when Billi realises the enemy is just as dedicated as her, and they may be right, not her.
3) As translator of your book I had to do a bit of research before starting to work on the text and I believe a book, when is well written like in this case, has the power of pushing the reader to find out and discover a lot of information he didn’t know or care about before. How important was research for Devil’s Kiss – or any other book you wrote or are about to write?
I do a lot of research for all my books, for me it’s half the fun. Firstly, they all have some historical aspect to them and they’re set in real locations, I need to get those right. Book 2, Dark Goddess, is set in Russia so I spent a week in Moscow because I knew a large part of the story would happen there. I read up on Russian history to get a few ideas, visited the museums and read some of their literature (The Master and the Margerita by Bulgakov is awesome).
Before I wrote Devil’s Kiss I read everything I could on the Templars, probably for about six months.
The new series is set in India, so again lots of reading and a trip out there to walk the streets and alleyways of Varanasi. By actually being there I get a depth of realism I couldn’t get any other way.
Remember, my first book is set in my home town. I need all my other books to have the same level of detail or else I’ve failed.
4) I would say London is not just the setting of your first book, but a real character that makes the story unique. 3 must-see places in London by Sarwat Chadda’s travel agency?
I love London. I’ve lived here most of my life and I never tire of it. I’m glad you think London had a character of its own, that was exactly what I was after.
Temple Church (of course). The entire area of Temple is great, so bring some sandwiches and explore.
Then try Southwark from Tower Bridge, the walk along the Thames through to Waterloo. You’ve got the cathedral, the Globe, London Bridge and brilliant views of St. Paul’s. I’d do that at night when the city’s lit up.
Finally I’d spend a day in Knightsbridge, visiting the museums. You’ve got the Victoria and Albert, The Natural History and the Science Museum all next to one another. There’s Kensington Palace, Harrods and the Albert Memorial.
5) Turning page after page of Devil’s Kiss I found it highly visual and often thought “Gosh, this scene would look great on a big screen!” or “I’d love to see this fight”. Should we readers get the pop corn ready for a night at the movies?
Ah, I hope to be able to make an announcement on that soon. There’s been screen interest on and off over the last few years and I’d be so happy if something like that did happen. I love epics!
6) Any tips for all the new writers wishing to make a name for themselves in the crowded children’s literature world?
Do not follow the crowd. It will serve you best in the long run. Write what only you can write and don’t try to copy someone else.
Each of us has a unique view of the world, and something we truly believe in, that is what you should write about. Aim at writing the best book you can, not something you think will sell. If your heart’s not in it the reader will know.
7) As a child, what were your favourite readings? Were you a frequent reader?
Oh, I read a lot! I loved the Hobbit and I still think it’s my favourite book. I was also hugely into the Greek myths. I had a story book about Jason and the Argonauts and spent ages copying the pictures.
I don’t read is much as I’d like. I read most on holiday when I make sure I am not working. The problem I find is when I’m reading at home I feel I should be writing. Plus I have less patience for a poorly written book nowadays, so have a tendency to stop books half-way through if I’m not enjoying them.
8) From engineer to acclaimed writer. What skills from your old profession did you take along with you?
Planning. I have some writer friends who just launch into their books, not having any idea how it’s going to turn out. Alas, I can’t operate like that. I need a clear idea of where I’m headed before I start. Now that doesn’t mean it won’t change and it invariably does, but I do plan my books and my time in quite a lot of detail.
More directly Devil’s Kiss climaxes on a building site so that’s been directly drawn from my life in construction.
9) What’s your perfect “writing habitat”?
I’ve got a fairly standard routine. After I’ve dropped the kids at school I write almost straight through until I pick them up. I aim to get 2,000 words down per day. I also work in a cafe a few days a week, just for a change of scene and I enjoy seeing people. I’ve written two books in that cafe so the locals know me well. Writing can be a very lonely profession so it’s good to work in company.
10) I know you recently toured the US. How was it? Any chance to see you in Italy in the near future to get our copies signed?
I’ve been to Italy three times in the last four years! There was Rome for my wife’s birthday, then Bologna for the book fair and recently to Naples to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum.
I studied Latin at school and have been fascinated by Roman history ever since, so going to Pompeii was a life-long ambition of mine, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. The period of the Julian Caesars is probably my most favourite period of history. Without giving too much away Mount Vesuvius and the fate of Pompeii has a direct relevance to my second book, Dark Goddess.
I’m sure I’ll be in Italy soon enough and it would be very cool to sign some of my books.