Friday, 17 September 2010

Simon & Schuster UK Appreciation Week: A Conversation with Sarah Rees Brennan!

Sarah Rees Brennan is the author of 2009's The Demon's Lexicon and 2010's The Demon's Covenant. I got to interview her on the same day as Scott Westerfeld (straight after, actually. I was pretty excited!), in London on June 14th. I spent most of the time laughing because, if you haven't guessed, Sarah is hilarious. Seriously, if you worked with her, you would get nothing done. At all. It would be non-stop fun.

Here's my interview, where you can find out what's next for Sarah, as well as a couple of spoilers from The Demon's Surrender. Excited for book 3? Me too!


Wondrous Reads: Sarah! Hello! What is your accent?!

Sarah Rees Brennan: Well it should be Irish, but it isn't. I've cultivated this accent by reading a lot and not talking to my peers.

WR: It's a mix of everything! 'Cause you lived in New York for a while didn't you?

SRB: I did, it was great fun. I lived in an incredibly dodgy part of town. I was a publishing intern, which taught me a huge amount because I got to read through slush piles.

WR: How long did you live there for?

SRB: A year, then they kicked me out due to my Visa no longer being valid or something like that. But I had a lovely time, and made a bunch of friends. I met my Cassandra Clare at a New Year's party in Brighton, England, and when I moved to New York I was like, "Hi Cassie!".

WR: Is that how you got into that whole NYC writing group?

SRB: Yeah. My friend invited me to a birthday dinner to meet her friend Holly, and I was like, "Sure, I'd love to meet Holly". I showed up on my own 'cause Cassie was late, and I sat with who I thought looked the nicest. I said "Which one is Holly Black?", to which she said, "I am".

WR: And here you are all these years later! I should probably ask you some questions about your books now, shouldn't I? So, how did you research The Demon's Lexicon and The Demon's Covenant, and were there any legends that inspired them?

SRB: Yes. I already had the idea, and I was cross-referencing demons all over the place. This one German book, the Hexenhammer, which is basically propaganda for witchcraft, was particularly helpful!

WR: I've never heard of that book. It sounds interesting...

SRB: It's great, especially if you want 100 instructions for being an old, powerful magician. I found it thanks to Wikipedia - I ended up with a huge reading list.

WR: So do you travel around for research as well?

SRB: Yes. At one point I was plotting in Exeter, and decided to go to the nice part of town to see if I could find Mae and Jamie's house. I found this mansion; it was the exact right house. So I went up the drive and accidentally pushed the door open. I was wandering around the kitchen when my dad called and said, "You do know Mae and Jamie aren't real? So whose house are you in?" I was like, "Well I don't know, do I?" So I checked out the garden, where there was a guard dog... no charges were pressed, and that's the important thing!

WR: That's possibly the best author story I've ever heard. You're mad! Carla asked this next question, and she wants to know if, because each book is told from a different perspective, did you find it hard to switch between different voices while writing?

SRB: Carla's lovely!

WR: I know!

SRB: To answer her question: not really. I always feel like I have about 100 different viewpoints and I know what a scene looks like from everyone's perspective, so it was just a matter of choosing which one. Like in my initial plan, ook 2 was going to be told from Gerald's point of view, but my agent was like, "From the villain's perspective? That's not a good idea. Will he see the error of his ways and find love?" And I was like, "Well, I thought he could save a kitten from a tree then kill a bunch of people". She didn't think it would work too well.

WR: Haha, I can see why. So how did you choose the narrator for each book?

SRB: I knew I'd start with Nick because the twist has to be from his point of view. He might be a jerk, but from his point of view you end up sympathising with him, and you see that he does have good intentions. I like to think you see the darkest and most sympathetic point of that character archetype in Nick.

WR: You definitely do. That kind of leads on to another of Carla's questions actually. Both Nick and Mae are quite unreliable narrators - was that intentional?

SRB: Yes, absolutely. I love mystery novels - like Agatha Christie and Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief - and I love the idea of a situation being really different from another person's point of view, which happens a lot in mystery novels. I like playing with that by having 3 different narrators. Of course, most people do like to stick with one, and I've had lots of complaints about the changeovers.

WR: Well, you have no complaints from me! The sense of family is really strong in your books, I was wondering if that was inspired by your own family?

SRB: Well I'm not crazily co-dependent on any of my family - we're not bound together by any hideous hardship. One thing I did learn is that they're very different from me. My 3 siblings are super sporty, my brother's a champion poker player who read one book once and refuses to read mine. When you're a teenager is when you're discovering your individuality, and to be trapped in a house with people who you have this bond with, but who are so different to you, can be hard. It's a time when you both love and hate your siblings, and I think that's an exciting time.

I mean, I love a romance, don't get me wrong. I'm all about the make-out scenes, my original version of book 2 had 36 of them, but I wanted to write about siblings, and how romance comes at them when they least expect it.

WR: I like how you've done that. Which leads on to my next question: if you could give each of your characters a piece of advice, what would you tell them?

SRB: Okay, hmm. I guess I would give Jamie and Mae both the same advice, which is "Watch out for the bad boy". Alan, I would say "Just try every day. Just tell one truth to somebody". And to Nick I'd be like, "Just try not to commit property destruction and murder today sweetie".

WR: That's all very sound advice. So, if you had to choose between Nick or Alan...

SRB: Oh wow. Well of course I don't fancy them because they're my kids and that would be weird. That's tricky. Well, they both kiss like minxes because I figure anyone who is willing to put up with their personalities is owed some material benefits, so that's good. I guess it'd be Alan for the reading, but then Nick is more attractive... I don't know, for life or for a night? Or for a week?

WR: For a week.

SRB: For a week, Nick. You don't need people to talk to for a week. Alan would be the long-term life project, and Nick would be the hot fling. Like the difference between a lasagne and a pancake.

WR: Ha! I'll go with that! Moving on from your boys to your book covers... I always have to ask, do you have a favourite?

SRB: The Japanese Demon's Lexicon one is my favourite, but I really like my UK covers a lot.

WR: What do you think of your new American ones, photographed by James Porto of Hush, Hush fame?

SRB: I think they're an improvement on my first one. It wasn't my favourite. I liked that it was bright and it stood out, but I didn't think it really conveyed my book very much. He's a very cute guy and I like his necklace, but I'm not sure it says Nick to people. And the way he's soulfully looking out at you made people expect a romance I think. It's a fine cover, but perhaps not the right cover for me. I think the new US covers are very dynamic, but I do prefer my UK covers to those.

WR: I agree!

SRB: Good, then we're all agreed.

WR: The original Demon's Lexicon was cool though, with the sword on the actual hardback.

SRB: Yeah I really did like that. I was sad I didn'thave a secret cover for the second one, but I take that US edition to schools so I can tell the story of setting my kitchen floor on fire.

WR: You have a lot of entertaining stories.

SRB: Thank you.

WR: I'm not sure if I'm supposed to laugh at them, but I am.

SRB: No, they're meant to be funny. I laugh so I may not believe them myself.

WR: That's okay then! Now I don't know if you're allowed, but can you tell us anything about the third book? Does it have a title yet?

SRB: No, we're negotiating. It used to be called The Demon's Talisman, but my editor didn't like it. Currently the frontrunner is The Demon's Tempest.

In book 3, Nick gets completely defeated emotionally, and also sets London on fire. And Alan gets a girlfriend! There are the two spoilers I will hand out.

[Sidenote: Book 3 does finally have an official title, as announced on Sarah's blog. The Demon's Surrender!]

WR: Ooh, I want to see London on fire!

SRB: Yeah, it comes from this old phrase which is talking about someone not being very bright, and they say "Oh well, they'll never set the Thames on fire". So I thought it'd be quite funny if Nick just did set the Thames on fire. It's cool, alright!

WR: Very cool. So after this trilogy, what's next for you? Do you have any plans?

SRB: Yes, I'm currently working on a new book - a romance this time rather than a bromance - in which these two characters think they're crazy and have an imaginary friend, but of course they are each other's imaginary friends. There's also some teenage sleuthing and a dark and gothic mansion in which two cousins, who are both guys and truly hate each other, think that there may be something dark and magical afoot.

WR: So when can we expect that?

SRB: I don't know! First I have to finish it, then I have to find someone who will be willing to publish it. I like to tell jokes, I don't know if you've noticed, so I'm really enjoying writing characters who don't know they're in a genre novel quite yet.

WR: Sounds great! If The Demon's Lexicon was optioned for a movie, who would you like to play your characters?

SRB: I don't really think I could pick anyone because these characters have their own faces in my head. A couple of actors who have stood are James McAvoy as Gerald, Rachel Leigh Cooke as Mae, and Rufus Sewell as Black Arthur. I wouldn't be able to pick Nick or Alan though, especially not Alan, because we're casting for the US cover of demon's-whatever-it's-going-to-be-called, and Alan's going to be on the cover and my God there are no read-headed models in all of New York! We found one red-headed guy, and nine other guys with blonde to brown hair, and we were just like, "We'll photoshop the red".

WR: Maybe you should look in England, I'm sure there's plenty here.

SRB: There's plenty in Ireland too. We went with the only red-headed guy we could find, we thought we might as well use the real one.

WR: Why not eh? By the way, so you listen to music when you write, and do you have any song recommendations?

SRB: I do, I listen to a lot of country music - Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift speak to my soul. It's really sad because people will ask for character songs, and I only have one character song for Jamie and it's Taylor Swift's '15'.

WR: You should ask for that to be on the soundtrack if there's ever a movie.

SRB: I will, but I think only authors with that much creative control are people like Stephenie Meyer and her loyal fangirl army.

WR: True. I'm one of those fangirls I'm afraid. Actually, while we're on the subject, why did you switch from Team Jacob to Team Edward?

SRB: Well, it was partially because Jacob really put me off with the baby thing. I know it had already been established that werewolves imprinted, and that was fine, but I have to sday, speaking as a grown woman, I was slightly put off. It was obvious that Bella really wanted Edward, and there was plenty of time for to cut Jacob loose. So yeah, I'm Team Edward because she wanted him more.

WR: That's an excellent reason Sarah. Obviously I approve. So do you prefer vampires of werewolves?

SRB: Vampires. I thought I liked werewolves, but no. Vampires. I'm fond of animals, But I don't date them. Team Vampire!

WR: I like you!

SRB: Yay!

WR: I'm almost done now, but I need to ask you to recommend some other YA books. I value your Team Vampire opinion.

SRB: For a vampire book, I liked My Love Lies Bleeding by Alyxandra Harvey. Obviously non-vampire: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Cassie Clare's Clockwork Angel, Holly Black's White Cat, and I could go on.

WR: So what's your favourite book?

SRB: Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen. It has the bad guy who actually isn't a bad guy in any way, and it really shows an attraction by conversation.

WR: Cool, well I will read it one day. Really, I will. That was all my questions, so thank you muchly!

SRB: Thank you for a lovely interview!


So Many Books, So Little Time said...

Fabulous interview, ladies! Sarah sounds completely awesome and hilariously funny. I really love the sound of the new book.

June 14th was a really good day for you, wasnt it? :)

Ladybug said...

Wonderful interview, girls! I have TDL in my shelf but I've never really got into the story when I started it, I want to like it cause' Sarah seems like such a lovely(and a bit crazy, I mean that in a good way) person.

Liz. R said...

I love Sarah! <3. The Demon's Lexicon series is actually one of my favourites ever. I am so so so excited for the third one (and so happy it finally has a title!). Can't wait to see Nick set the Thames on fire...:P. Thanks so much for the great interview!

Clover said...

One of my favourite author interviews ever :) Very funny and interesting. I've just picked up Demon's Lexicon this week and I feel like I'm in for a treat..

Lynsey Newton said...

I enjoyed reading that and Sarah sounds hilarious!!

SusanKMann said...

Great interview. I can't wait to read her books. Sarah sounds lovely, funny and interesting. x said...

We agree with you, SRB is funny. Great interview!

Charlotte said...

Thanks for the great interview! 'They both kiss like minxes" - so funny!

Becky said...

Ooh the new US cover for Lexicon is very goth, isn't it? Coolio.
This was a really witty and fun interview. I'm loving the sound of reading through the sluch pile. I want to have a go at that now.