Guest Post: Q & A with Louise Cole

Get yourself a cup of tea and come and have a read of the Q & A I did with the lovely, Louise Cole.

1. I was lucky enough to be part of the blog tour for your new book, The Devil's Poetry (which is amazing, by the way!). Was it always your intention for it to be a YA book? If so, what drew you to that genre?

Yes, to the extent that I always imagined Callie as someone in her late teens. YA is a difficult concept because it’s really a marketing term. It’s one of those things that’s been created by the publishing industry. There’s a very good chance that if TDP had been written 20 years ago, it would simply have been sold as a thriller, or a fantasy, and we would have had no sense of what age group it was aimed at.

I do like writing about young people though, for all kinds of reasons. I think they are more honest about not knowing everything, not being confident with everything, at least to themselves. (That sense of terror at new things, being out of your comfort zone, being unsure of many decisions, not always being confident about how others see you – a lot of those things never go away. They aren’t actually peculiar to the young. For a lot of us, the only thing that changes as you get older is that 1. You care less and 2. You don’t feel quite so stupid about not knowing/being scared/being sad because you’ve worked out by now that this is, at least in part, what it is to be human. All those people who look so perfect are just good at covering.)

But what really draws me to writing about young people is their innate sense that, given the chance, they could do great things. They could change the world. They could save the world. Corbyn is a great example of this (regardless of whether you like his politics). He is tapping straight into that huge well of belief in young people that things can be different.

I’ve never really bought into the whole coming of age concept with YA books. That seems to be a lazy ‘adult’ – for which read ‘old person’ – way of looking at it. It isn’t about the first kiss, the first moments as an adult – I think it’s about wanting power and knowing you could do something great with it. Somehow that’s harder to write about in an adult novel, maybe because people expect greater cynicism from adult characters.

2. Did you draw any inspiration from any books when writing The Devil's Poetry?

I think The Devil’s Poetry is a fusion of influences really. I’m a sucker for big crescendos in books and films and TV series. I like everything coming together at the end in one breathless, adrenaline-filled moment, where everyone has a stake in the game and fate hangs on a knifepoint. I guess, to that extent, I was probably pulling on things like Lord of the Rings, where there are many agendas and viewpoints, and at the end Sam and Frodo are approaching Mount Doom, Aragorn and the Rohirrim are fighting outside the gates of Mordor and Gollum is desperate to get the Ring back.

Unlike Lord of the Rings, however, I love rooting my fantasy in the very realistic, making something magical and impossible sit just an inch from what we know and truly fear. I think it’s my way of saying: You think you know what’s going on in the real world? Look a little closer…. There are some great authors producing real world fantasy at the moment, like Jim Butcher and Ben Aaronovitch. Technically I guess it’s urban fantasy, except that’s become about werewolves and vampires. Besides Callie, the heroine of The Devil’s Poetry, lives in the countryside and no one has yet invented ‘rural fantasy’. Can we start a new trend?

Finally, I was inspired by movies. The very first draft of The Devil’s Poetry treated the reading Callie does in a very different way. It was more literary and abstract. That’s actually all still there but my son pointed out to me at the time: “You’re telling us, not showing us. Show us what this reading does. Show us what happens inside people’s heads, inside Callie’s head. Write it for me like it’s a movie, not a book.”
So I did.

3. Can you tell us a bit more about the series?

Book one of The Devil’s Poetry series is about Callie having to make the decision of whether to embrace a magical solution to the war threatening to engulf her generation and the world. With nations polarising either side of the Oil Wars and terrorism rife, national service has been reintroduced. Ministerial fingers grow twitchy over nuclear buttons. Emergency peace talks are being held between India and Pakistan and it is hoped that if these succeed, international tensions will ease.
If they fail, everyone’s going to die.

So when Callie is given an ancient book by the secretive Order of Sumer and told that she can stop it all just by reading aloud, it seems an easy solution. Too easy? The demonic Cadaveri are drawn by her possession of the book, just as the book begins to possess her… and the Order of Sumer is every bit as dangerous and ruthless as those who want Callie dead.

Callie needs to find out the price of this reading and who pays it. She needs to decide how far she will go to stop a war.

So book one is very much Callie’s story up until that point – the decision she makes. But as the reader finds, there are always unexpected consequences.

We face so many problems in life which are impossible to solve alone, and painfully hard to solve together, that we often dream of miracles or wishes which could take it all away. The Devil’s Poetry asks that question: if you could change life by waving a wand, would you? Not knowing how the genie’s wish might turn on you? Not knowing the price?

I can’t tell you too much about book two – On Holy Ground - without huge spoilers for book one, but the game has changed for everyone. The Order, the Cadaveri and Callie have all been shocked by the consequences of the ending of book one. Callie finds herself in a dangerous game of cat and mouse in the US, as she hunts for answers and desperately tries to get home.

This is a pivotal point in the series because Callie must confront a chilling question:

Are you still a hero if you fought for the wrong side?

And, before you think that’s a spoiler, it really isn’t. One reader actually complained to me that The Devil’s Poetry doesn’t make it clear who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. No, it doesn’t. That’s for you to decide. Because in real life, people don’t wear black hats and white hats. People do not get up in the morning and think: Golly, what wickedness can I unleash upon the world today? The terrifying truth is that most of us believe we are doing the right thing most of the time - even when we aren’t.

So that’s for the rest of the series. What is the Order of Sumer and where did it come from? What does it really want? And who are the Cadaveri, why do they hate the reading so much – and is there a solution which can save everyone or does someone always have to be sacrificed?

4. Is there any particular music or a playlist you listen to whilst you're writing?

Oh, I am SO boring. No. And that’s because when I’m writing I don’t hear anything. And I mean I don’t hear anything. “What’s for dinner?” “We haven’t eaten in four days…” “Are you ever coming out of there, it’s been like a week…” “I just spent £400 on your credit card.” Apparently these are all conversations my family has tried to have with me when I’m writing a new book and I haven’t heard any of them. (You can see how open to abuse this situation is, right? I’m the victim here.)

So I don’t listen to music while I write, although I do sometimes make myself stop every two hours and dance madly to something fast for the length of a song. I need something really upbeat and bouncy like Voodoo Child by the Rogue Traders, or Love Shack by the B-52s. This combats that crippling literary disease known as Writer’s Bum, which leaves you with a distinctly chair-shaped ass.

5. From start to finish, how long does it usually take you to write a book?

Oh blimey. First draft, three weeks if I don’t have to do anything but write. That will be a complete novel with characters and a storyline and most of the prose. It will also be horribly flawed, have plot holes, and bits of the world that were in my head but didn’t make it to the page, and scenes that just don’t work. There is so much to get right in a first draft, I don’t know anyone who gets it all first time around.

For me, the gap between first draft and publication is huge. I know that technically these days a writer can publish whenever they want and I did have a couple of indie friends who urged me to publish TDP two years ago. But I didn’t because it wasn’t yet as good as I could make it. It wasn’t yet done. I think TDP went through at least five drafts. Each one may be changing less and less, or really just editing a few things here and there – but they are crucial things. And sometimes how to change something takes a lot of thought. So there are periods where I may look like I’m painting a wall or washing up rather than writing but I’m actually problem-solving.

The first draft of TDP was written in 2007 (which is why it is so freaky and scary to have reviewers saying how relevant it is to today’s political situation. When I first wrote it, it was futuristic. Not implausible but a long way off.) But I haven’t just worked on TDP in that time. I’ve written the sequel On Holy Ground; a first draft of the third in the TDP series; a middle grade novel called The Colour of War which I will one day offer to someone; and the first in a YA fantasy series which I love but which is in the process of a becoming an adult fantasy. I’m not entirely sure what the difference is as the protagonists will all stay 17 or 18, but anyway, I’m redoing it and will eventually release it to a broader audience. The YA version was commended in the Yeovil Literary Prize last year, meaning I had two books on the finalists’ list, which was rather lovely.

I am very lucky in that a wonderful and very well-known fantasy editor loved that novel and as a result, has come on board as my developmental editor. He’s editing On Holy Ground as we speak. (You can’t hear the quivering fangirl excitement in my voice when I say that but it’s there, trust me.)

6. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors (like myself!)?

Drop the ‘aspiring’. You’re not an aspiring anything. You are either a writer or you’re not. People who set out to run a marathon don’t call themselves aspiring runners. They just run.
The published tag isn’t the huge divide people think it is. The publishing industry and the self-publishing industry have both produced some great books and some not so great books. An unpublished writer who is still looking for an agent may be the next Stephen King or Cornelia Funke. That person dithering in their attic over whether they dare press ‘save’ on that KDP book might be the next JK Rowling. Being published or not being published is not the distinction you need. What you want is to be a better writer – and that’s what we all want.

Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman and JK Rowling all sit at their desks every day and think: ‘Can I do this? How can I make it work?’ They haven’t stopped learning, or pushing themselves and, crucially, they’ve never stopped writing.

So write, as much as you can, and read as much as you can, and hold your head up because you are on a fabulous journey of self-discovery and self-expression with writers throughout the world. This journey makes the world a better place – and it never ends.

7. Last one: What is your favourite book, and why?

I hate this question. I don’t just have one. That’s like asking me which of my dogs I love best. Can I cheat? I’m going to cheat. I love The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson for its extraordinary magical realism and a very, very tender love story. I love Lord of the Rings for its characters and its story but also just its sheer, sweeping ambition.

I love the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud because it’s magical, moving and funny. (And I’d love to be funny. Really funny. I think it’s such a gift when you can move people to laughter or tears. I just make them cry. ;))

And I love Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I suspect that book will be rapidly added to the literary cannon, as well as being enchanting, sad, moving, funny and full of wonderful side stories about the folly of men and the wickedness of faeries.

BIO: Louise Cole is the author of the first book in the recently published series, The Devil's Poetry. You can find her here.

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