Helloooooo everyone, hopefully by now you might have seen that there's a certain special event happening in Waterstones High Street on February 28th! The first (of hopefully many to come) #UKYAextravaganza events where a whooooole bunch of fantastic authors and fans and bloggers are going to have quite the event. Today I had the pleasure of interviewing YA author Gary Megan, author of 'True Fire' a book I had not previously read, so it was great to read something new. True Fire follows Megan's story, as she goes off to rescue her sister after the Witches ravished her village and stole her. But WHY? And what part does Megan play in all of this... Dun Dun Dunnnnnn (overly dramatic sentence over) I hope you enjoy the interview and let us know if you're coming to the event!
Where did your inspiration come from?
The first idea for True Fire was an image of a girl swimming through a submerged tunnel: and who can say where that came from? From there it was a process of asking and answering questions. Who was this girl? Why was in there? And from what was she was fleeing? I picked out bits from history that interested me: the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the fall of the Roman Republic, the persecution of religious minorities, the close interweaving of faith and politics that marked the Byzantine Empire.
What is your writing process like?
I first like to determine the skeleton of the book: the start, the end, and the quarter- half- and three-quarter-way marks. If I’m feeling adventurous I might write a one- or two-page outline or a chapter breakdown (many chapters of which will be blank). Then I bang out a first draft in Word, fuelled by much coffee and a cat on Muse duty. It’s all done in order so I’m discovering the book at the same time as the reader, and I try not to go back and edit unless it’s absolutely necessary, e.g., I’ve made a major plot change. The second draft is when I sort out the story while the third concentrates on the language. Then it’s off to my agent and the inevitable round of rewrites.
When you're writing, how do you decided on names?
Sometimes I make up words in my head, playing with syllables until I come up with something I like the sound of; some times I take names from my childhood or things dear to me and twist them a little bit; other times I allow myself a little literalism: there’s an Arrowstorm Pass in True Dark — guess what happens there.
The Witches in this story, aren't your traditional magical witches, why did you want to focus on the more occult aspect in this series?
I wouldn’t call the witches occult exactly… When I first came up with the idea, the witches were more traditional — strange creatures who solidified out of the ground and stalked around menacingly. This sat uneasy with my inner scientist and atheist: why did I need a supernatural threat? Wasn’t that giving credence to the fact the supernatural exists no matter how much you shout, “It’s a metaphor!”? There’s nothing that gets my eyes rolling faster than when someone claims you need magic in your life, as if believing in religion or its feckless cousin, spirituality, automatically grants superiority.
Did you do any research into the occult?
Nope (see above). In general, I try to do as little actual research as possible. This isn’t (just) laziness — you don’t want to justify hours in the library by making the reader struggle through pages on the debasing of the coinage.
Witches are portrayed in a somewhat negative light, why is that?
Do you mean my witches or “real” ones? In real life, they were a stand-in for everything bad and inexplicable that happened, someone to blame even if they were merely old women with a fondness for cats and restricted access to skincare products (or maybe because they were old women etc., as they were the least likely to put up a fight). In True Fire, they’re a threat to the priests’ position and teachings, and are literally and figuratively demonised.
Where did the idea from the star-broken circle come from?
I needed a symbol of faith, like the cross for Christians, which was easy to describe in text. I came up with a circle for the Faith, which is meant to represent the purity and completeness of their religion. It stood to reason the witches’ symbol would be seen as a parody of this, like the inverted cross supposedly worshipped by Satanists. The stars represent their two lost leaders (and it’s a spoiler to reveal exactly who they are) and they break the circle because the witches feel their religion is incomplete without them.
You hint at a number of controversial issues, was this something you set out intending to do, or something that sort of just developed as the book progressed?
It was very much intentional. The issues True Fire raises — like sex, pregnancy, abortion, religion, politics, poetry — are things that teens should be talking and thinking about. Too often, children’s books are used as proxy in adult wars and the instinct is to hide away anything controversial. When bringing these themes up, I tried not to say this is right or that is wrong, but these are the characters, this is their situation, these are their choices. You don’t have to agree with them — sometimes I don’t agree with them — but I at least want you to have the opportunity to consider what they’re doing. Those who wish to see issues suppressed generally do so to stop you coming to a different conclusion to them.
Who was your favorite character to write?
Damon — I could give him so many great lines, things you’d never dream of saying in real life. He’s also, I think, one of the more realistic characters in the book: not as heroic as Megan or Eleanor but still trying to do the right thing. Just not too hard.
Which was your favorite scene to write?
The scene in the palace when Damon is reunited with Megan and Eleanor. It was so good to have the team back together again I was grinning like mad. Remember, what can seem like a few dozen pages to the reader is weeks or even months to the writer.
What books have inspired you to write?
Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series have been my inspiration for many a year for the combination of humour, ideas and wonderful characters, while it was reading George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire that finally kicked me into writing what would become True Fire.
What advice can you give someone wanting to write their own works?
Get thee to a word processor. Or a pen and paper. Or a Dictaphone. Or a stone and chisel if you’re feeling particularly old school. Seriously, there’s no substitute for actually writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even good (cf. True Fire) and you don’t have to show it to anyone, but your words’ll never get better if you never get any out. And they will get better, trust me. Also, write about what you want to write about. Don’t feel there are subjects you have to cover or avoid if you want to be considered a “real” writer.
On a more practical note, I hugely recommend Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages for the mechanics of actually writing a novel (though he’d probably tick me off for using two adverbs in that sentence).
Do you have plans for what you want to write after next?
It’ll be a short, standalone, contemporary thriller — everything the True trilogy isn’t. Though there’ll still be jokes and a body count.
Would you like to write in any other genres?
I want to write in every genre: sci-fi, thriller, romance, comedy, chick-lit, dad-lit, lit-lit, maybe even a western. Seriously, I can’t understand writers who restrict themselves to a single genre or niche. The True trilogy will probably be the last fantasy I write for a while.
What can you tell us about True Dark?
Fleeing from the witches, Megan, Eleanor and Damon are forced to join the priests’ army as it marches to liberate Eastport. But when disaster ensues, each has a terrible decision to make, decisions that lead to sacrifice, betrayal and grief. (And reading that’ll tell you why they don’t let authors write their own blurbs.)