Petra McDonald and the Queen of the Fae by Shona Kinsella
 

Petra McDonald and the Queen of the Fae

Review

 
Peter Haynes Interview – The Willow by Your Side
 

Peter Haynes

Interview – The Willow by Your Side

 
Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen by Garth Nix – Series Review
 

Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen

Abhorsen Series Review

 

Adina West Interview

Adina WestAfter last month’s review of the excellent urban/paranormal fantasy Dark Child, today we chat about the book and writing in general with fabulous Australian author, Adina West.

Let’s get the hard question out of the way first. Dark Child is a novel about vampires and at least one werewolf. Do the obvious Twilight comparisons bother you?

Phew. I’m glad that’s the hardest question you’re going to throw at me! And no, I have no problem being compared to anything that’s already out there. Though whether that particular comparison is accurate is a different story.

It’s often said that there are no new stories, just new ways of telling them…and the ideas for my book were certainly percolated through a lifetime’s experience of the genre. However, aside from point of view differences and my main character being older, I also think Dark Child’s scope is more epic than Twilight’s—rather than having a relationship between two central characters as the story’s main focus, romance is just one element (though admittedly an important one). Some genre distinctions are being blurred these days, but I would see Twilight as more a paranormal romance, while Dark Child leans towards urban fantasy.

Fair answer! Rather impressively you managed to get through the entire book without mentioning either of those creatures by their traditional names. Was that intentional?

Yes, although at times it did feel odd to be skating around those words without quite going there. There were a few reasons I didn’t want to use those names, the most important being that my entire story is set within an alternative history. The world is mostly the same as ours, but based upon the premise that four centuries ago, during the ‘Burning Times’, not only those suspected of witchcraft but also the vampiric Tabérin came under attack across Europe, and in response used ancient magic to fade into the shadows, where they’ve remained until the present day.

My Tabérin, who are actually a separate race from humans, have a rich history and culture of their own—one that predates terms like ‘vampire’ and ‘werewolf’ by millennia. They have their own languages and their own ways of referring to themselves and the various castes or groupings within their culture, and so those are the terms I’ve used in Dark Child—along with an explanation in English!

Talk us through your writing process for this story. Where did it begin?

At the very end of 2008, I started playing around with ideas for a paranormal series, and the one that stuck was about an unusual human girl who moves into an apartment building with a secret. A building warded with magical runes, so she shouldn’t have been able to see it, let alone walk through the front door.

I let the idea stew for a few months, embroidering the initial concept. Then I started writing.

When I finally finished, Dark Child was a crazy mishmash of genres, closer to urban fantasy than anything else, but with touches of romance, epic fantasy, and suspense. A somewhat unholy alliance of all the elements I loved. After that I just had to sell it… which took a while!

How do you go about creating such memorable characters? Were they already in your head, or did you have to dig deep to build them up from scratch?

Dark Child (cover)For Dark Child, I didn’t start with all the characters fully formed in my mind. The cast list grew organically as the story unfolded. And some were cut during the editing process! But I do tend to have characters arriving and taking up residence in my mind without really going looking for them. Then it’s just a matter of finding a creative and plausible way to weave them into the story.

Most of the time, when I’m refining a character, they grow slowly more complex over time. I start with a rough feeling for what they’re like, then imagine the experiences that might have made them that way, and then my mind will usually throw them into various scenarios and interactions with other characters, and see how they talk, how they react, and so on.

Most of this takes place before I’ve even set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

The main character, Kat, is a strong, talented woman who doesn’t necessarily feel she needs a man in her life—even after she meets two of them who compete for her attention. What made you decide to run with an older, more capable heroine than we might normally see in this type of story?

She’s older and more capable than a teenaged heroine perhaps, but still younger and less feisty than many late twenties urban fantasy heroines. I can tell you that the ‘New Adult’ genre grouping wasn’t a thing when I started writing Dark Child in 2008-9, so having a character who was neither a teenager (clearly aimed at a Young Adult audience) nor a kick-ass adult came about through a total absence of planning! I was following my heart when I wrote this story.

It’s pure luck that readers have been embracing ‘coming of age’ stories recently, and that’s definitely where I see Kat’s story fitting in. She’s an adult, and a professional woman, but has yet to form a serious relationship or really strike out on her own independently of family, and that’s what we see her starting to do in Dark Child. With a whole heap of epic prophecy and tarot and supernatural bad thrown into the mix.

Similarly, your alpha males slowly reveal themselves to be far more conflicted and vulnerable than we are first led to believe. Did these traits develop normally for each character or did you pursue this spin on the typical male heroes from the outset?

I think that observation is probably true of all my characters, not just my big bad alpha males with their soft underbellies. I wouldn’t say I consciously engineered them that way though.

That aspect of the character creation process is more of an instinctive one for me. I like working with complicated characters and in most cases the way my characters behave is influenced by their past experiences. Each character’s ‘backstory’ dictates their actions and reactions even when that history isn’t discussed in the story itself. I think it leads to interactions between characters—both male and female—that are much more nuanced and interesting. Readers can infer so much from what remains unsaid, and I like to play with those ‘spaces between the words’ in my writing.

Game of Thrones has perhaps unreasonably raised expectations for fantasy to deliver on the violence front. Yet in Dark Child you neatly skip a couple of violent encounters. Was this an intentional choice?

Yep. I’m not a big fan of violence. I don’t like reading it and I don’t like writing it. Even the fight scenes I did include in Dark Child were some of the last things I wrote and I pretty much made myself do them under sufferance.

I think this is because I wrote this book while I had a young child, and my own personal taste for violence was at an all-time low.

That’s not to say that Dark Child is full of sweetness and light. There are actually some pretty gruesome things happening, but they tend to be in the background rather than the main focus. I’ve consciously chosen NOT to leave readers with any unpleasant images. I don’t describe violent encounters or their aftermath in a graphic way. Or at least, that’s my intention.

It’s interesting you mention Game of Thrones, because it’s certainly hugely popular and it’s one of several shows that rate high on the violence meter. But there is also a substantial audience out there who simply don’t like violence with their entertainment. For me, violence isn’t entertaining. If something makes me cringe, I’ll walk away from the TV (or close the book and cross that author off my future reading list). And while I’ll tolerate it in an art film or piece of literary fiction, it’s not something I like in my more escapist viewing or reading.

You’re a mother of two. I’m a father of two. While I struggle to even get these interviews written, you manage to not only write novels, but go through the publishing process with all the edits, publicity and ongoing interviews it involves. How?!

Luckily all those aspects you describe are spaced out over many months! It’s certainly not easy balancing family needs with writing, editing and publicity. I’m still struggling to find the perfect balance, I have to admit. But I think the important thing to remember is that the writing itself has to come first. If you want to work as a professional writer, you have to write. Not blog about writing, or build a huge twitter following, or endlessly network online. Unless those things satisfy you in and of themselves, of course!

At some point, you have to unplug from the distraction of social media and publicity and everything else, and just write the damn book. I’ve heard writers refer to this as ‘going into their writing cave’ and I think that’s apt.

Talk us through your journey from starting Dark Child to finally getting published.

Dark Child was completed in draft form by the end of 2009, and I spent about six months redrafting and incorporating feedback from beta readers. Then I started querying agents, both in Australia and the US. Which basically means I started collecting rejections. That’s how this game works.

In the second half of 2010, Sophie Hamley—who became my agent—finished reading my full manuscript, and she had a number of issues she asked me to address via email. Basically testing my willingness to revise, I think! I sent through new synopses dealing with those issues, and she then offered to represent me. By the end of 2010, I’d completed the revisions she’d requested, and then began a protracted wait, because the Global Financial Crisis had just hit, and publishers were even more cautious about new work than usual.

It wasn’t until the beginning of 2012 that Sophie sent Dark Child through to Momentum Publishing, Pan Macmillan Australia’s brand new digital-only imprint. She knew they were keen to publish genre fiction, and luckily they loved Dark Child!

Dark Child was originally released as a digital serial in five ‘episodes’. Who made the call to split the book up and why?

The suggestion to serialise came from my publisher. Being digital-only, Momentum was very aware of changing trends within the fast-growing market. Certain things were possible with digital that were cost-prohibitive with print publishing. Their model for serialising meant that Dark Child—a debut novel by an unknown author—could be released over a period of several months, and promoted throughout that period. I’d have a number of titles on digital ‘shelves’ rather than just one, which would increase my visibility in a crowded digital marketplace where discoverability is the biggest barrier to success. And finally, my publisher, Joel Naoum, felt the way I’d structured the story made it particularly well suited to being split up.

Do you feel it worked as well as you hoped?

Dark Child (detail)There were a few very small teething problems, but on the whole it worked wonderfully well. There is no way I would have experienced the sales success I did if Dark Child had been released as a single debut novel.

If I ever did this again (and if the decision was up to me, which it quite possibly won’t be!) I’d be keen to collapse down the release schedule a little, or increase the length of each episode. So three longer episodes, or four or five episodes released fortnightly rather than monthly perhaps. I’d also make sure that all the marketing copy very explicitly told readers exactly what they were getting—that a single episode was only one part of a larger story—and exactly how many episodes there would be. And a summary at the beginning of each new episode recapping the story so far would be good too, I think.

Is there a sequel to Dark Child on the way?

I’ve been getting this question a lot lately, which is the biggest compliment any writer can receive. The answer is a definite YES! I feel like I was just getting warmed up with Dark Child. Now the fun can really begin…

And finally, why fantasy?

I really love world-building, so fantasy is a natural home for me. I’ve grown up with some wonderful authors in the genre. It’s not all I read or write by any means, but it provides such wonderful scope for exploring relationships between characters. Such rich ground for those ‘what if’ questions writers delight in.

A huge thanks to Adina for being so generous with her time with this interview and supplying us with some fabulous answers! Her book, Dark Child, is out now.

Share

Leave a Comment