So on the 4th of November in this sparkling year of 2013 I got the fabulous opportunity to meet the amazing YA authors Holly Black (author of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and the Spiderwick Chronicles) and Sarah Rees-Brennan (author of the Demon's Lexicon trilogy and Unspoken) at an event in Foyles, Charing Cross, where they revealed all about their books, writing habits, and even their friendship love triangle with Cassandra Clare. I was even lucky enough to join some other YA bloggers in an interview beforehand, which is I have lovingly typed up for your interest here:
1. When you have the initial idea for a book, how do you go about it? What is your process?
Holly: A lot of times when I have an idea for a book it's a very little bit of an idea; an image, a person, an event that happens to a particular person. When I started Coldtown I had a lot because I had just written a short story also called The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and I had characters in it and a setting I thought it was going to be great- what could go wrong?! I went on a writing retreat with Sarah and I sat down to start writing it and I realised that none of it was right. I had to throw out 30,000 words that I had written and start over. I realised those characters and that story, the interesting thing that was going to happen in their lives had already happened to them, so I had to start over with new characters. When I started over it started to feel like the right book. The hardest thing is that sometimes it feels wrong until it feels right, and you know. Sometimes you don't know what's the thing that's going to make it feel right so I try to plot things through but sometimes I just have to feel my way through.
Sarah: My process is very simple, I simply wrote a book when I was seventeen and then I left it for ten years and one day I thought that I should go back to my parents' house because that was a great idea. Most of the book was already written so I thought I just needed to make it a bit more good! So I went home and I read the first page and threw the book like it was a snake because it was very bad! I thought I should just write a whole different book. So that's most of the time, but other times the story just comes to me when I'm lying in bed or when other people are talking to me and then I work it out and tell it to my friends. I like to work things out by telling stories to people and I find that really helps.
Holly: Talking out loud about stuff is interesting, some people find it helpful and others think it's not good for their process. I think that it activates another part of your brain and it really helps you to think differently about a story once you're telling it to someone. You realise the things that don't make sense!
Sarah: So if you can at all bear to I think that it's really good to just talk about it to someone else, and if they don't want to listen, that's okay!
2. Holly, when you started off writing Coldtown, with lost of vampire books and series becoming more successful, were you a bit wary about stepping into that genre?
Holly: I was very wary! There are so many hugely successful series and well-known series and beloved vampire books, and it is intimidating to throw your hat into that ring. The thing that made me do it anyway was that for as long as I have been a reader, there have been big vampire books and vampires have either been so big that you probably shouldn't write about them because there's no room in that market, or so over that no one will ever write one ever again. I realised that there was no way that vampires were never going to be in that cycle and that if I wanted to do it I might as well just write one and see what happens.
3. You both write gothic, supernatural books, what do you use for research for those kind of books?
Holly: There is a lot of great folklore out there. One of the greatest pleasures of writing Coldtown was going back and looking at a bunch of vampire folklores from around the world. If you go and read folklore about different creatures one of the great things that you will be able to do is cobble from them stuff that is pretty strange and feels oddly resonant to you. The thing about folklore is that it feels true, even if it is the first time that you are experiencing it, there's something about it that has the ring of truth to it, so I love using folklore. I love using fairytales also, I think that they make great spines for books.
Sarah: I think it's interesting to look at the bits of folklore that people thought were real, and I love mashing up mythologies too. Seeing how people translate stories into something like reality is really interesting. I love the idea of all the stories being true and thinking of how the stories can relate to each other.
4. Holly, what do you find so interesting about vampires and why did you decide to write about them?
Holly: I think that the really interesting thing about vampires is that they are our best and worst selves. They are ourselves with the brakes off, our hungriest selves, our most basic selves, our most violent selves and they are also our most powerful, elegant, eternal selves. So I think that the juxtaposition is really interesting, and also I like to think about how we would interact with them and that we could become them. Unlike fairies, being a vampire is attainable, and would you want it? What would that be like, and what would it mean? So I was really interested to know the answers to those questions.