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Author Q&A with Bryony Pearce

As mentioned in How Bryony Pearce Restored My Faith in YA, I recently stumbled back into fantasy territory and have found it’s a bit of a daunting field, really. Luckily for me, I also stumbled upon said Bryony Pearce in the process and like some kind of Christmas Come Early, she made me feel a whole lot better about the thing. I managed to charm her into answering a few questions for me and have finally, finally, finally got around to posting them up.
……. A lot of the questions asked focus on things I’ve found myself worrying about when it comes to my own series (such as my main character’s name being Seraphina. Why couldn’t I be more original and have made it Emma, because it really does seem like the normal isn’t the norm anymore), things I’ve spent so much time and energy mulling over by now, and one of my absolute favourite things about reading Angel’s Fury was that Bryony really left me feeling like I might not have to compromise my entire belief system to write in this genre after all, so yes – thanks for that, Bryony. You’re a star ;>
……. (And, also, thanks for answering and all that.)

And without further ado, here comes the questions –
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01. The first thing most people – if not all – do when they pick up a novel is to read the blurb on the back. The first thing it tells them is who the story’s about. I find, perhaps ignorantly so as my knowledge of YA is somewhat limited, that these people always have a fancy name – one that stands out, sometimes really. In my opinion, Cassiopeia kind of follows that trend. Was this a conscious decision? How (or why – or maybe both) did you choose that name?

Hi Sofie.  This is an interesting question to me, partly because one of the criticisms I have received is that I have given my protagonist an unusual name just for the sake of it and thereby jumped on the bandwagon of oddly named protagonists.  In fact this is not at all the case.  My characters are named very carefully indeed.
……. I love literary allusion and throughout my work you’ll find puzzles and clues to what is going to happen later on.  For example when Cassie sees her father’s begonias just before boarding the plane to Germany a few readers might be aware that in the language of flowers begonias are a warning, meaning ‘beware’, or you may have noticed that water is hugely important throughout the book as a clue to Cassie’s state.  When I name a character I think about who they are and what role they are going to play later in the book and I search for a name that reflects that.  Let’s look at my main characters:
……. Seth Alexander – Seth means ‘appointed’ and Alexander is ‘defender of men’ – so Seth is the ‘appointed defender of men’.  He is obviously going to be the good guy, the ultimate defeater of evil.
……. Pandra Long – The meaning of Pandra is Chief Dragon (from the name Pendragon) and the word dragon in Chinese is pronounced ‘Long’ (the reason for my naming of Pandra in this way will be clear to readers).
……. Lenny: A German name meaning ‘brave lion’ (ironic on two levels).
……. Now we come to Cassie Farrier: Cassie’s name, like Cassie’s character is more complex and contains a lot of information. Cassie’s real surname is Smith and both Smith and Farrier mean blacksmith, as does another surname in the book (I’m trying not to give away too much by writing it here). A smith is a metalworker and the ability to work metal is one of the gifts of Azael to man, indicating Cassie’s link to the fallen angel from the very start.  The actual meaning of the name Cassiopeia is ‘she whose words excel’; it is Cassie who has to persuade the other children to escape the Manor and it is her story we are reading.  Furthermore, Cassiopeia was a queen whose vanity is said in some sources to have resulted in the drowning of Ethiopia. She certainly caused the kraken to be called upon her city (again the water motif, so important to Cassie’s history). She was set in heaven as a constellation and is upside down half of the year (according to Jewish lore, Azael’s brother was set upside down in Orions’ belt as a punishment).
……. Other literary allusions include Orion’s belt which appears again and again throughout the book. The children have a particular affinity with the constellation and it appears throughout their lives.
……. In addition to metal-working Azael is said to have taught man charms, conjuring formulas, how to cut roots, the efficacy of plants, how to make weapons, how to make jewellery, how to use make up, how to brew beer and how to play music.  I use these ‘talents’ as motifs throughout: for example, the twin town to Cassie’s (Kurt and Zillah’s home) is called Hopfingen (hops are used to brew beer) and the lady in the fountain is holding an arm full of hops. When they are trying to escape from the Manor the children plan to meet in a pub (the Blacksmith’s Arms).  In Germany Cassie first learns how to use make-up and she has become a weapons expert over her lifetimes.  Lenny is a musician, Seth is a sculptor and there are many more instances.
……. I wanted Angel’s Fury to be the kind of book you can read more than once and I hope that the inclusion of literary allusions allows the second reading to be a lot more fun – once you know what is going to happen, it is much easier to spot those clues.

02. In a Goodreads blog post I stumbled upon, and now on your own blog (where, I suspect, it might’ve actually been all along, too) – When sleep does not equal rest for those interested in reading it – you open up about your own experience with nightmares, and it’s clear to see where the initial idea for Angel’s Fury (probably – just because we shouldn’t assume) came from. Was it a difficult subject to (re)visit? Not just in planning, but in writing, too. Or was it, in its own way, cathartic? (My fingers are aching to put the words ‘take something that’s out of your control and very much turn it into something that is’ up on screen, but I’ll refrain.) Perhaps both?

You are, of course, supposed to write about what you know, so it was obvious to me to include nightmares in my first book.
……. My own night terrors enabled me to write, I think quite convincingly, about the experience of having a nightmares; the feelings of disassociation, floating above an event, helpless terror as you return into it, that moment of waking where are you aren’t sure if you are safe.
……. It was cathartic in a way; pinning those moments onto paper remind me that they aren’t real.  And it was such a pleasure finding Cassie a cure, enabling her to turn her experiences into something positive from which she will learn and grow.
……. On the other hand, doing that and curing my fellow, if fictional, sufferer rammed home to me that a solution for my own affliction is not as easily obtained.  
……. I mention in the blogpost that I have since started taking some tablets that have helped matters a lot and which, despite my fears to the contrary, have not impacted on my ability to come up with new ideas for stories, so maybe things have turned around for me, as well as Cassie.

03. In another blog post – The Next Big Thing – you answer ten questions about your next project, The Weight of Souls (killer title, btw). As a writer myself, I paid especial interest to question number nine (‘Who or what inspired you to write this book?’), and it wasn’t so much for the ‘who’ (Anne Macaffrey. Q’er admits to having no idea who she is. Should she be embarrassed?) as it was the ‘why’ – her ‘amazing, character driven tales’, the key words here being character driven. I’d say Angel’s Fury is just that – I don’t know if you’d agree? If so, was this something you thought about whilst writing it? I keep thinking of these kinds of novels as the more plot-driven ones, yet when I read Angel’s Fury, all I could think was, ‘honey badger don’t care’. Just how much does pace matter to you?

I would like to think that my stories are character driven.  My characters are very much alive for me, so I hope that I’ve managed to make them real for my reader.  I think about Macaffrey’s work often (You must immediately go out and read The Ship Who Sang, Dragonflight and The White Dragon by the way) and I try to keep everything I do closely related to the personalities of my characters.  I want my protagonists to learn, to grow, to have interesting arcs, to never do something out of character, to make the reader worry about their choices, fear for them and sympathise with them.  I find that if I stick to that then a decent pace comes along with it.
……. That said I am constantly reminding myself of something that I once learned in my short story writing course many years ago – never let your character’s have it easy.   If I’ve gone a whole page without something horrible happening to my protagonist, I immediately have something nasty intervene.  I try and keep the tension and conflict ranging on a scale somewhere between one and ten, never letting it lapse back to zero.  That too helps with pace.

04. And speaking of things that stood out to me – and I know you’re aware of my love for this one, as I’ve mentioned it to you before – there aren’t a whole lot of adjectives in there to put a finger on. L. J. Smith, of Vampire Diaries and Secret Circle fame, throws them around like crazy (‘[p]roud and independent and humorous and sensitive all at once’ springs to mind. As does ‘[i]t seemed cheap and nasty and unnecessary and cruel’ followed by a full stop and the sentence ‘[s]he was ashamed to be part of it’). Could you, for those who’ve yet to hear about the blanket and the diamond adjectives (and for those of us who’ve forgotten just how it went), maybe explain that one one more time?

Adjectives (and also adverbs) in their place are fine, but I think they can be overused and that it is a lazy writer who does so.  In fact I did try to read Vampire Diaries once and gave up after the first few chapters; I just couldn’t get past the writing style.
……. When I do creative writing workshops I have to be careful as many teachers do emphasise the importance of adjectives in creative writing, and in exam conditions I guess ‘good adjectives’ get students extra points.  But I’ve had talented students ask me in horror how they can possibly describe something without an adjective and to me it is sad that they have not been taught that there are excellent alternatives.  In answer I have two pieces of short writing that I show them –

Example one (packed full of adverbs and adjectives):
The tall girl in the shimmering blue swimsuit dived gracefully into the bright blue lake and vanished, leaving giant ripples that shivered across the iridescent water and quickly disappeared in their turn leaving behind no sign of her elegant presence.

Example two:
Emma prepared to dive, lifting her arms over her head and enjoying her stretch.  The sun caught her swimsuit, turning her torso into the body of a kingfisher, feathered with snatches of light.  Even though the lake was opaque as foil, she dived with no hesitation, slicing through the water like a blade to leave behind only a few ripples that vanished as quickly as she.     

I hope that you will agree that the second piece of writing is not only more vivid in its description, but that through my alternative choices, it also tells you more about the diver.
……. I tell students to think of an adjective as a diamond and their blank page as a dark blue piece of velvet.  If a jeweller wanted to showcase a diamond he would place it in the middle of a piece of velvet and it would look amazing.
……. I tell them to choose one excellent adjective that they think will make their teacher turn cartwheels, ‘iridescent’ perhaps, and imagine it as that diamond and their paper as that piece of velvet.
……. Now I ask them to imagine that the jeweller takes a handful of cubic zircons and sprinkles them all around the diamond.  Does the diamond look nearly as good?  Can they even see it?  I tell them to imagine that all the other adjectives apart from the chosen one are cubic zircons; each additional one that they sprinkle on the page detracts from the diamond.
……. I tell them to try and restrict their adjective use to one per page and use alternative ways to describe things.  I ask them to look at the writing of their favourite writer (hoping it isn’t LJ Smith) and count the adjectives and adverbs used.  I trust that they will be surprised.

05. Another thing I noticed was that, in a world where love triangles seem to not just be an increasingly popular route to go down, but the main one, you appear to not be having any of that (and once again, I thought ‘honey badger don’t care’, and it was grand). Yes, there was a second where I thought you might – Pandra was acting strange, after all – but you didn’t, and I was psyched. Was this a conscious decision? To not just go all out on the drama? (She said, knowing the book included everything from rebel angels to the holocaust.)
……. (Either way, I thought you handled it very well. The love story was there, but it wasn’t all-consuming, it didn’t detract from what really mattered – the story.)

The first draft of Angel’s Fury had no real love interest at all.  Seth was there and she fancied him, but it didn’t go any further.  However, I was selling my manuscript at the height of Twlight fever and my editor asked me to ‘big up’ her relationship with Seth.
……. Still, I tried to avoid love at first sight and making their relationship too intense – this book is about Cassie and Kurt after all.  I like to think that I was building up, like an old-fashioned film, to a single kiss (or in this case holding of hands).  You are right in a way though; there is a love triangle.  Cassie very much has to choose between her relationship with Pandra and her relationship with Seth. I feel that a ‘best friend’ bond is just as strong as a ‘boyfriend’ bond and the choice she faces between them just as hard.
……. However, I thought with everything else going on, a standard love triangle would definitely be one plot point too many.

06. And now that we’re on story. It’s common knowledge that what arrives on an agent’s desk (or in their inbox) is usually the first of more drafts to come (not to mention the result of the many that have gone before it). How much did the manuscript change from first draft till that sent to agent, and how much from that sent to agent till final? I do seem to remember you telling me that you’re a plotter (as opposed to a pantser), which means, I assume, that they may not be as far apart as they would’ve been in the hands of others, but still – any noticeable differences? Anything you wish could have made it, but didn’t? Something that went, which clearly had to go?

I do plot out my stories very carefully, so yes, this final version is similar in a lot of ways to the version that first landed on Philippa(Donovan, my editor)’s desk.  There are two big changes from the original version.  First of all the Doctor gets away.  In the original ending the children all end up at Hope Farm, as they do in the final version, but are pretty much divided into two camps – those whose evil past’s have caught up with them and those who are still fighting to be good.  In the original Belinda was on the side of Pandra.  Pandra and Belinda tell the Doctor where the children are and they end up having to hide out on the Moors from the Doctor and her staff until morning, when Seth’s father comes to collect them.  The original version was obviously much more open to a sequel and finished with the Doctor watching them drive off and promising to come for them.
……. I much prefer the new ending, I love the finality of it and the way that the Doctor is defeated.
……. The one change I wish I’d been able to leave alone, is the change in Lenny.  In my original draft Lenny was Kenny Goldstein – a Jewish boy.  I had Cassie hating him, alongside Pandra (for reasons which will be obvious to people who have read the book), realising that she is being anti-Semitic but unable to stop herself.  
……. Then I have her save him from Pandra (pretty much as she saves Lenny in the final version) and together they defeated the Doctor.  I hope you don’t need me to tell you why I thought that had such a lovely circularity to it.
……. I had to remove that because my editor thought that having my main character betray anti-Semitic leanings would make people uncomfortable and open me to accusations of being racist myself.  My Jewish agent Sam had no problem with the storyline, but political correctness won out in this case.
……. The final book is a huge improvement on my original manuscript, but you would definitely recognise one from the other.

07. Which made me wonder – due to yours truly being a plotter, and thus aware of how much a novel can change when it’s in its pre-writing phase – are there any fun facts from the early stages worth noting? Ideas you had, but decided against (perhaps on account of better ideas showing their face, or for plot reasons)?

I think I’ve kind of already covered that one above with the Kenny / Lenny controversy.  The only other thing that didn’t make the final cut was the clear divide between the children.  In my original idea I had them split down the middle, four and four, good vs. evil, with a gradual revelation regarding who was on which side.  I also had a subplot with Belinda and Max – he, a good guy, ended up doing evil just to please her, then later came to his senses and migrated to the ‘good side’.

08. I read somewhere – was it in the The Next Big Thing post? – that Angel’s Fury took seven months to write. I’m assuming you’re here talking about the actual writing time and not the full amount of time you worked on it, plotting included and whatnot? Could you, however briefly you want to, take us through the stages of the novel, from the moment of the initial inkling of an idea to the moment where you stood with the final, published work in your hands?

All my stories tend to start in the same way – at some point an image pops into my head of the main character in a frozen moment. I can see them clearly, I often even know their name but I don’t yet know their story.  When I see Cassie, I still see her in as she first appeared to me in about 2000 – struggling up out of a nightmare, her hair in disarray, her face tormented, patting herself down to check that she is still alive, still herself.
……. It was years ago that I had this first vision of Cassie and I knew I wanted to write about her, so I kept a constant look out for elements of her story to come to me.
……. In 2002 I flew to Bali and the in-flight magazine had an article on reincarnation. Fascinated, I made of point of visiting temples and speaking to the locals about their beliefs – and that gave me a reason for Cassie’s bad dreams: reincarnation. I asked myself what would be the worst point in history for her past life to have come from and the natural answer was ‘the holocaust’. Cue a great deal of research – thank goodness for the Internet.
……. I still didn’t have a story for Cassie though, so she sat there in the back of my mind until I stumbled across the myth of Shemhazai and Azael while doing some research for another idea about fallen angels in late 2007. When I found this myth, from the Jewish Torah, Cassie’s tale fell into place almost instantly and I spent seven months writing it down.
……. Then I sent it to my agent.  Sam loved it, we did a few tweaks together and he sent it out to publishers.
……. I actually wrote Angel’s Fury while pregnant with my son, Riley, and Egmont asked to meet me when I was eight months pregnant. I had a total hip replacement in 2007 (arthritis) so I was still on two crutches. I travelled down to London to meet with them and although they were lovely, they took a step back and said they wouldn’t give me a contract due to my condition (they were understandably concerned that I wouldn’t make deadlines).
……. I asked if they’d tell me the changes they’d want and whether they’d look at the book again once I’d made them. Philippa (my editor) was happy to set up a phone call to go through the proposed changes.  Six hours before the call was due, and three weeks early, I went into labour. I wasn’t missing that call for anything, so I warned Philippa that I might go quiet every so often because I was making notes and I took that call (making sure to have contractions away from the receiver).
……. I made the changes Philippa wanted before Riley was three months (luckily new babies sleep a lot) and Egmont offered me a contract in May 2009.
……. I worked with Philippa for about 18 months on the edits and the book was finally published in July 2011.
……. So although the first draft took seven months to write, you could say that Angel’s Fury was ten years in the making.

09. Being able to say you’re a novelist aside, should that be your initial answer, what has been the most amazing part about being published? The most gratifying?

There have been so many wonderful things about being published.  Feeling my book in my hands for the first time; seeing my name on shelves next to writers that I recognise and admire (while still feeling a bit like a charlatan); getting fantastic reviews; receiving emails, letters, tweets or facebook messages from people who love my book and tell me they are fans; hearing that someone has read my book four times and loves it; getting nominated for awards; winning The Leeds Book award.  Every part of the process has been amazing.

And the ‘on a side note’ ones –

10. The cover. I’ve recently found myself worrying quite a lot about those (though, really, I should be worrying about the writing for now, shouldn’t I?) – I think it’s got something to do with my feeling that the writing is within my control, whereas the cover feels somewhat out of it. It’s about marketing, I know that and I get it, but I’d like to end up with a final product that I can look at without bursting into tears. I think Angel’s Fury falls into the category of such a product. What was your initial reaction to it? Was this the first cover you saw or were there others? Was there much of a say for you in terms of the cover?

The cover you see is the first cover I saw.  I loved it.  Which is lucky as I don’t think the writer normally gets much say.  There was a sticky moment a few months after I thought the cover had been finalised when they said they were going to ‘feminise it’.  I objected heartily.  I thought it would be halving the potential market (as I felt that the book has male appeal as well as female) and didn’t think that a pink cover (or whatever they were planning to do) would represent the book very well.  I got a few testimonials from friends in the industry (other writers, bloggers etc.) who all said they loved it too and Egmont relented, finally leaving it as it was.  I’m glad they did.  I think it draws the eye from a distance.  In a line of books, mine is the one that stands out and I love the imagery.

11. Which brings me to the title. I know from previous author talks that some novels are re-named. Was Angel’s Fury always Angel’s Fury, or is there a working title out there, a submission title, that we don’t know anything about?

Angel’s Fury was in actual fact originally titled Incarnation.  I loved that title because, for me, the book is about reincarnation, not Angels.  However, the marketing team thought that teens would have difficulty understanding my title.  Also angels were getting very fashionable and as the book had an angel in it, they wanted to capitalise.
……. I was given a few options and was able to veto a couple.  Angel’s Fury was the title we all agreed on.
……. For me though it was like someone coming up to me and saying, “yes, I like your daughter’s name, ‘Maisie’ is quite nice, but actually I’m going to start calling her Ingrid, OK?”
……. It’s taken me a couple of years to stop thinking of Angel’s Fury as Incarnation, but the name change has now stuck.  It’s Angel’s Fury all the way.
……. Interestingly, as a result I was unwilling to commit to a title for my next book.  I chose something I didn’t really care about and came a cropper when my new publisher wanted me to come up with a much better name.  I’d spent so long divorcing myself from the title process (so I wouldn’t care when the publisher made the inevitable change), that it was actually very difficult for me to come up with one of my own.
……. I’m very happy though with The Weight of Souls.

12. I asked you about sequels on twitter, and you mentioned that it was a one-book deal. Does this mean we won’t be seeing any more of them, or could we be so lucky? If not, will you let us know how it all ends? (If not the rest of it, then just that whole Seth and Cassie thing. I’m SO rooting for them.)

This is a standalone book and you won’t be seeing any more of Seth and Cassie, but yes, the story does continue in my own head.
……. In my mind Pandra escapes and goes to Afghanistan to locate the other Nephilim mentioned by the Doctor.  Cassie gets qualifications in psychology because she wants to help the younger Nephilim that she was warned would be coming her way.  Seth joins the army.  The other children too have gone in different directions.
……. Eventually Seth and Cassie realise what Pandra is doing and reunite (with the other survivors) to track her down.  Once in Afghanistan earlier former lives start tormenting them.
……. Pandra, it turns out, is the reincarnation of Ghengis Khan.  Cassie was once Alexander the Great.
……. The two raise armies and clash.  Pandra wants to destroy the world and redeem the fallen angel brothers, Cassie and Seth want to save it.
……. Finally Pandra / Khan is defeated.  Cassie and Seth fall in love and live happily ever after.
……. There you go.

13. And just out of plain curiosity: could you let us in on how many words Angel’s Fury actually is? (Am somewhat obsessed with words per page.)

A quick word count on my master document reveals around 63,000 words.


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Woohoo! Now go buy it!

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