* Hi Stephanie and welcome to tall tales & short stories. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi Tracy! I’m 33, I live in a small town in Wales, and I’m hopelessly addicted to dark chocolate, Regency romantic comedy, castle ruins and magic of all sorts.
A Most Improper Magick
At twelev years old, any proper young lady should be sitting quietly at home, practising her embroidery, learning French and keeping her opinions to herself.
But Kat Stephenson is no ordinary young lady.
Kat's father may be a respectable vicar, but her late mother was a notorious witch, her brother has gambled the whole family into debt, and Kat herself is the newest target of an ancient and secretive magical Order.
* What inspired you to write A Most Improper Magick?
I’ve always adored Regency romantic comedies (starting with Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer) and fantasy adventures (starting with The Lord of the Rings, of course). A Most Improper Magick gave me the chance to mix up both genres, which was perfect!
My direct moment of inspiration came when I heard Kat’s cheeky, confident voice speaking the first two lines of the novel into my ear. (I was in the middle of chopping onions at the time - and in the middle of writing a completely different book!) I raced to grab a notebook and capture her words…and I just kept on going from there, because I really wanted to find out what would happen next!
* You’ve based Kat’s adventures in Regency England. Are you a fan of books from that time and did they help inspire the story?
I am a huge fan of Regency romances, and yes, they definitely inspired me. In the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, the romantic heroines frequently have younger sisters who are minor characters, popping up only for a scene or two - just long enough to offer decidedly snarky opinions on their sisters’ love lives. In A Most Improper Magick, I wrote a novel from a youngest sister’s POV, making her the true hero of the story and giving her magical adventures of her own that take place alongside her older sisters’ romances…and of course she’s more than ready to take charge of her older sisters’ love lives, too!
* Although this is a wonderful historical fantasy mash-up it’s still important to get the period detail and social mores as authentic as possible. How much historical research did you do for A Most Improper Magick and do you enjoy this part of the writing process?
I was lucky enough to already have a good basis of knowledge about the era, having spent years researching the late eighteenth century for my Master’s degree and my PhD studies at the University of Leeds. Also, as my “just-for-fun” reading, I’d always really enjoyed reading biographies of Regency-era women like Jane Austen and her contemporaries, which ended up being really helpful. (I actually based some of Kat’s own personal situation on the life of Jane Austen. Like Austen’s family, Kat’s family is genteel but not financially well off, and Kat and Austen both have intelligent, highly-educated clergyman fathers who often have students come to live with them.)
When I got the idea for A Most Improper Magick, though, I had to settle in for a LOT more research into all the details of everyday life in the era. Luckily, I love that kind of research, so it was no chore!
* When writing historical fiction do you think it’s important not to laden the narrative down with too much information? That sometimes, less is more? How do you decide what to include and what to leave out?
Yes, I do. Basically, you need just enough information to give a sense of time and place without ever getting in the way of the pacing and the story. It’s a fine balance, but it’s important.
* What, if anything, do you think historical writers should bear in mind when writing for a younger audience?
Accessibility! Again, it’s a fine balance - I never want to write anachronistically, but on the other hand, it’s counter-productive to make your language SO faithful to the period that readers won’t understand it or identify with the characters.
* A Most Improper Magick is your debut novel. Was it your first attempt at writing a novel or did you have other manuscripts hiding away?
Oh no! I finished my first full-length novel when I was 15, and I was 29 when I began writing A Most Improper Magick…so you can guess from that how many novel drafts must be sitting on my computer! ;) I learned something from every one of them, though, and every single novel I wrote made me a better writer.
* How long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving the publication deal?
I began the book in the spring of 2006, finished the first draft in 2007, and sold it in the summer of 2008.
* Before getting an agent and achieving publication did you have to deal with rejection along the way? How did it feel to finally secure the agent and publishing deal?
Absolutely! Rejection is an unavoidable part of publishing. It took me seven months of intense querying to find an agent, with many, many rejections along the way. Of course, the funny thing about that was that at the end of the seven months and MANY queries, I ended up being offered representation by multiple excellent agents, all at once. This is why stubborn persistence is SO important in this business! If I’d given up just one month earlier, I would have thought that I could never get an agent…but I ended up with the one who’d been my dream agent from the very beginning, even before I sent out a single query.
And the answer to the second part of the question is: it felt AMAZING to get that representation - from someone I’d been so nervous about (because I thought he was way out of my league) that I hadn’t even had the guts to query him when I first started searching! And the night that he called to tell me that two different publishers were offering on my book…well, that was one of the best nights of my life.
* What made you think ‘I want to write for children?’ Is it a genre you enjoy reading?
Yes, it is! I’ve always loved the genre, and Kat’s story just naturally fit into it - from the moment I heard her speaking the first lines of the novel in my head, I knew she was young, not yet an adult, so of course her story was going to fit into children’s fiction. I would be very happy to write in that genre forever - it’s so rich and full of possibilities.
* Which authors/stories did you enjoy reading as a child/teenager? How do you think they compare to the children’s novels available today? What do you think children of today want to read?
Some of my favourite novels as a child/teenager are still favourites today, both within and outside children’s fiction: Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances (especially The Talisman Ring), Elizabeth Peters’s The Crocodile on the Sandbank (and the rest of her Amelia Peabody adventure series), Virginia Euwer Wolff’s The Mozart Season (about a twelve-year-old entering a career in music), and Joan Bauer’s Squashed (a fabulous comedy). What I loved most in books then is what I still love most today: humour, adventure, and characters I care about.
I think children of today are looking for many of the same things.
* A Most Improper Magick is the first in the trilogy of The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson. Can you give us a sneak preview of what might be happening in Kat’s further adventures?
Book Two, A Tangle of Magicks, will come out in August 2011. It’s set in Regency-era Bath, where Kat and her family get tangled up in a scandalous adventure with rakes, Napoleonic spies, and dangerous wild magic.
* Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?
Be stubborn! Work hard on improving your skills and listen carefully to critiques (get as many as you can, from people you trust to be honest with you!), but don’t lose confidence when you get rejections along the way.
* Any other comments/observations/general mind-blowing information you‘d like to add?
Thanks so much, Tracy!
The first three chapters, free to read online
A Most Improper Magick ~ a tall tales & short stories review
I must admit, when I received the ARC to review I saw yet another pink cover and opened the book with some trepidation but what a wonderful surprise once I started reading. And I'm so glad the final book cover doesn't have the garish bubblegum pink so favoured by publishers of girls' books. This book is such fun and the main character of Kat is a feisty, funny heroine and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her 'Unladylike' adventures.
So where to begin genre wise? It's in a genre all of its own - a magical Regency mash-up! There are all the trappings of a Regency romantic novel but imagine Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice with witches and magic, evil villains and highwaymen, Gothic abbeys and romance, etiquette and polite society, and a tomboyish young girl with more than a penchant for mischief. This is the first book in a series so the reader is given intriguing glimpses into a secret magic Order and its aristocratic members, sinister deeds and family secrets, there's much to pique the interest for the next instalment yet the book's ending reaches a satisfying conclusion.
Kat is a thoroughly 21st century heroine yet believable as a character in a Regency setting. All the women seem to be the stronger characters in the novel, even Kat's older sister Elissa who sees herself as the tragic heroine shows great courage in trying to solve the family's problems.
A Most Improper Magick is an engaging, funny and thoroughly enjoyable romp through a fantastical version of Regency England.