Earlier this month, I was invited by Nina Douglas, from Indigo (an imprint of Orion Children’s Books) to Foyles along with three other book bloggers to interview Holly Black while she was in town. She was in London to promote her new YA book, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and was due to be interviewed that evening by one of her best friends as well as interview extraordinaire, Sarah Rees Brennan. If you haven’t ever seen Sarah interview at Foyles then you are truly missing out!
I am a huge Holly Black fan, in fact she was the first paranormal YA author I ever discovered. So I was a little author struck to be sitting in the same room, but both Sarah and Holly quickly put us at ease. Holly was simply gorgeous. She looked just as I imagined she would with her striking blue hair and beautiful maroon velvet jacket. She was very down to earth and really easy to talk to. Sarah was hilarious and kept us all amused with her quirky sense of humour. She kept trying to get a sneaky peak at my questions so she could prepare her answers in advance, but I was too quick and disappeared to the other side of the room. You have to be careful of these tricksy authors.
We were interviewing as a group. We all hoped that we had differing questions, although Sarah did give us permission to punch each other if someone said our question before we got chance to! In this post, I will only be showing you the questions I asked as well as some snippets from the general interview with the audience in the Foyles theatre.
Me: You’ve written children’s books as well as Young Adult books, which age group do you prefer writing for?
Holly: When I started out, my first book was a Young Adult book and I thought of that as being my natural voice in fiction. Though saying that I didn’t think of it as a Young Adult book, I only saw it as a fantasy novel. I had read so many fantasy novels growing up, where there were sixteen year old protagonists. A teen librarian friend of mine read it and told me that it would fit into the YA market, which was different from what I grew up reading. So she gave me Tamora Pearce and Garth Nix to go away and read. I found it really different and I was excited by it. So that was natural to me to write.
When I sat down to write The Spiderwick Chronicles it was because I was inspired by the stuff Tony (DeTerlizzi) was doing. He had this Field Guide he wanted to make and I had been doing all this research about fairies, so I was like, YES, I want you to do this and I will do what ever it takes to help. So when I actually sat down to write it, I really didn’t know if it was something I could actually do. It has been a surprise to find out I really like doing it. However even though I love writing for younger children, I always think of my voice more as YA.
Me: I know you are both good friends with Cassandra Clare (author of City of Bones). Is there any plans to write something all together?
Holly: We already have. Not a series. But we have written a short story.
Sarah: We volunteered to do it. There were meant to be two authors and we said how about three. The editor was like, whatever.
Holly: It was for anthology called DARK DUETS. The editor asked me to do it and then he asked Cassie. So we both told him we would be writing with Sarah.
Me: Did you argue about the story?
Holly: It all worked out more or less.
Sarah: It was fun. We wrote about three evil witches, whose initials began with H, C and S. Three quarters of the way through the story, Holly asked if the characters were us. So you will hear of their adventures soon.
Me: Is that out now?
Holly: No it will be out in the anthology, Dark Duets, edited by Christopher Golden (published by Harper Collins in January 2014).
Me: I want to go back to before your got your publishing contracts. Were there times you both thought you wouldn’t ever be published and how did you get past that?
Sarah: Here is a tale. A tale that concerns me and a friend of mine. I was in Brighton, on New Years Eve with a friend, over a decade ago. You know one of those parties, where you only know one person – the wing man you went with. Well my wing man had hooked up with someone else and gone off into the garden. Apparently no one was allowed in the garden but they didn’t care. I was looking around at all these strangers who seemed really weird to me. It wasn’t a great party. It sucked. The worst New Years Eve. And I was convinced I would never be a writer. So I went off into the kitchen and met a little red head. She told me her friend had gone off to mess with someone in the garden. Well that was my friend she was messing with. We got talking. She told me she wanted to be a writer but it probably wouldn’t ever happened. I agreed and told her I wanted to be one too. That was Cassandra Clare and look, it worked out for the both of us.
A quote I saw on Tumblr, although I can’t remember who wrote it, stated that for years and years and years, no one will care what you write. And that is the case for all who write. But if you can keep going in the face of total indifference from the whole world, people will eventually care and that will totally awesome. Even if it is only sharing it with three other people. The only ones who will understand how you feel are the ones who go through the same journey. And that is how you get through it, knowing that to get through it the only way to get to where you want.
Holly: To me, it felt like a vast wall, between getting published and being published. And it was strange to get to the other side and realise it wasn’t a wall at all. That very little had changed. I grew up in New Jersey, in a place where I didn’t know any adult who had ever done the thing they really wanted to do. I knew painters, musicians and a very serious amateur historian. The people I knew didn’t get their dreams, that was part of my growing up.
So when I talk to people now, I tell them that they have to believe in themselves, even though I think that is horrible advice, because when I heard it, I would tell myself that I didn’t believe in myself. I think it is too much to ask to do that as well as write. You just have to write. You don’t have to believe it will work. I did it knowing that it would never work. So when I sold my first book it was such a profound and shocking experience; it was the thing I had always wanted and I thought it would be my life’s work to get. I was happy for two months straight. Nothing could upset me. However, that summer after I went into the only depression of my life. I think I messed up my brain so much, because I convinced myself I was going to die. And much later, when I met Cassie, she said this is something that happens to a lot of lottery winners. Basically your brain has reached a point which you have never planned beyond. I never planned to write a second book. So my brain told me there was nothing left for me, only death.
A few years later I went to a SCWBI conference and told this story. At the end of it, a woman came up to me and was so pleased that I told this story, because the same thing had happened to her. So really this is my bizarre warning.
What I really want to say is you don’t have to believe it will work, you just have to keep going. And sometimes it is easier to keep going by telling yourself it won’t happen. No one will ever read it, no one will ever have to see it. This is just for you. And keep doing it.
Me: Do you try to write a certain amount every day? Even when you are travelling?
Holly: I try to. Even though there are times when I know there is no way.
Me: Do you get anxious if you don’t write?
Holly: I don’t except from the perspective of deadline. I know people who do write every day even when they are travelling. I just can’t always do that. I try.
Sarah: I was a panel and an author told me she had only written 2,000 words today and I told her I had only just got up.
Me: Now surely that must make you feel anxious, if someone else is saying that to you?
Sarah: I feel just fine until someone else displays a work ethic. It’s like being at school and someone tells you they have been studying for a test all week. You then start to panic.
Everybody has different ways of writing. Some people rise before their kids get up and write. That seems like a horror to me. But I will stay up really late to finish my writing. Some days I don’t feel like it. The TV calls. The deadlines get met.
Holly: Sarah should never feel bad about how much she writes, because she can do up to 5,000 words a day, when I am lucky if I can do a 1000.
I’ve used work out breakdowns since Red Glove and I was pretty good about them. Not sure what my breakdown will be for the new book because I’ve ripped so much out of it. Previous to that I was really good at breaking down what I had done every day. I think it was useful for others to see. Especially how little and often it was. The books just staggered along.
Me: How long does it take for you to write a book that way?
Holly: It depends on the book, and how much time I have. Also how easily it came together. Six months probably for first draft. Maybe a little bit more. I have a terrible process where I will revise the beginning a lot. Each time I get stuck I go back and revise.
Sarah: It doesn’t matter how you put in the work, it is what works best for you.
After the interview with Holly and Sarah, we were all lucky enough to get our books signed. It was really lovely to finally meet Holly and Sarah. Thanks ever so much to Nina Douglas at Orion for organising such a fantastic event.