Sunday, 17 April 2011

Interview with a Debut Author: BRYONY PEARCE

* Hi Bryony and welcome to tall tales & short stories.
Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi Tracy. Thank you for having me.
I’m really excited at the moment and kind of reeling, it seems very strange that anyone would actually be interested in anything I have to say and I feel a bit celeb-ish. However, I’m going to do my best with these questions and try not to be too boring (like every fanatic, I do love to go on about my subject).

What can I say about me? I’m in my mid-ish thirties. I have two small children (a girl aged five and a boy aged two). I’m a full time Mum, so all my writing has to slot in around the sleep times of small people. I have a cat, who is kind of starved of attention and likes to sit on my laptop (not my lap mark you) and I watch far too much television.


Every atrocity.
Every war. 
Every act of vengeance. 
Will come back to haunt her.
A fallen angel walks the earth to bring mankind to its destruction...
Turning love into hate, forgiveness into blame, hope into despair. 
Through the fires of hell he has come to haunt one girl's dreams. 
But what if everything she ever dreamed was true? 
Every time Cassie Smith tries to sleep, she is plagued by visions of a death: A little girl called Zillah. A victim of the holocaust. In desperation Cassie is sent for treatment in an old manor house. There she meets other children just like her. Including Seth...Seth who looks so familiar. 
Her dream becomes nightmare. 
And then reality.


A tall tales & short stories review 
& Sam Copeland of RCW says why he chose to represent Bryony.


* What inspired you to write Angel’s Fury?

There wasn’t one single thing. The character of Cassie has existed for a while; the girl with the nightmares has been living alongside me for sometime, but she didn’t have a story and I didn’t know why she had the nightmares.

A few years ago, I went on holiday to Bali and learned about the local belief in reincarnation – which gave me a reason for her suffering, but not a storyline. Finally a random piece of research for another idea led me to Nephilim and I had a hook to hold the whole thing together.

Things sit in the back of my head and percolate until they’re ready. Angel’s Fury was literally an idea whose time had come.

* Without giving too much away, Angel’s Fury touches on the horror of the Holocaust and religious beliefs in the form of fallen angels. Did you do much research for your story and, if so, do you enjoy this aspect of writing a novel?

I did absolutely loads of research, from real life anecdotal evidence for reincarnation, to the meanings of the character’s names, to the details of their past lives, to the myth that spawns the whole story (the original myth is from the Torah and I played with it somewhat). For some of the scenes with the Doctor I researched how the brain works, I even read the entire user manual for the K98 rifle.

In my opinion, one of the fun things about this book is how much factual information is in there. I wanted to make it as realistic as possible, so although Hopfingen is a made up place, I located it near the German town of Bayreuth and, for example, the 1936 performance of Lohengrin, which is mentioned in the novel, was a real performance. The test that Cassie undergoes in the facility, where she has to electrocute one of her peers, is based on the Milgram experiment.

I had a great time with the research, I very much enjoy learning and I love that eureka moment when I’m researching and I find a fact that fits in with my story completely perfectly and adds another layer of complexity and interest.

* You have a degree in English Literature. Do you think this has influenced or inspired your writing in any way?

Having read and analysed some of the most amazing writers there has ever been, I have inevitably been influenced, both consciously and unconsciously. My dissertation was on Thomas Malory’s Tales of King Arthur and one of the books I’m working on at the moment (currently titled Aviators) is heavily influenced by this work.

However, I love literary criticism and was always really inspired by each ‘clever’ discovery I made. That has definitely made me ‘seed’ my own book. I enjoy nothing more than sneaking in things that will appeal to readers who like to look a little deeper. For example (contains spoilers):

The ability to work metal is one of the gifts of Azael to man. A smith is a metalworker. Cassie Farrier was born Cassiopeia Smith ... a farrier is a type of smith. Kurt's surname is Faber. Faber means Smith in German. The pub that Cassie and her friends are planning to escape to is called The Blacksmith's Arms. Azael is also said to have taught man charms, conjuring formulas, how to cut roots, the efficacy of plants, how to make weapons, how to work metals, how to make jewellery, how to use make up, how to brew beer and how to play music.

The twin town to Cassie's hometown (and Curt and Zillah's home) is called Hopfingen (hops are used to brew beer) and the lady in the fountain is holding an arm full of hops. When they are trying to escape from the Manor the children plan to meet in a pub. Cassie doesn't start using make-up until she comes under Azael's influence. Cassie's special talent is with weapons, Kyle's is music, Pandra is an artist / painter and Seth and Lizzie are both sculptors.

We are not told what talents are displayed by Belinda, Max and Lenny but we can assume that they are also related to the skills taught by Azael.

And there’s plenty more where that came from … fun, fun, fun.

*You were one of the winners of the inaugural SCBWI-BI Undiscovered Voices competition in 2008. Undiscovered Voices 2012 has recently been launched – could you tell us about your experiences and how it changed your life? And why you think any aspiring children’s writer should enter this year.

Receiving the call to say I was a winner of Undiscovered Voices 2008 was amazing. It was my first moment of success after a host of rejections, so you can imagine how it made me feel. Puffin asked for the manuscript of my book (which was an enormous boost) and I received two offers of representation from agents.

The book Undiscovered Voices represented the first time I’d seen my work in print and at the launch party (where I admit I was too shy and nervous to take proper advantage and sell myself to the editors present) I met a group of writers who have since become real friends.

I definitely believe that publishers were more receptive to my work having seen my UV win and it inspired me to keep going when I was feeling down.

Every aspiring children’s writer should enter. In my view one advantage of entering is that in this competition your work genuinely gets in front of real industry professionals. Even if you don’t win, you might find a champion, someone who remembers your name and when you’ve had another go and it lands on their desk a year later, it might just be the thing that kicks you out of the slush-pile.

And if you win … wow.

* How long have you been pursuing your writing ambitions and what have you done along the way to improve your writing?

I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen, but only properly pursuing my ambitions since about 2004, when I left London and planned to spend three days a week telecommuting and two days a week writing (it didn’t always work out that way, work being what it is, but that was the intention).

In terms of improving my work, I never under-estimate the importance of reading books by other authors; I’m an avid reader and every book I read (good or bad) improves my writing. In fact I can often read back what I’ve written and tell what I was reading at the time (one particular section of draft one of Angel’s Fury was written during a total immersion in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series … )

On a more practical note, several years ago I did a short story writing course with the London School of Journalism in order to dynamite away a particularly nasty case of writer’s block and for my first novel, Windrunner’s Daughter, I sought a report from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, which helped hugely.

* 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?

I feel as if I’ve dealt with a lot of rejection, but when I speak to other aspiring writers, who have been doing it a lot longer than myself, I realise how exceedingly lucky I am.

My first attempt at a novel, Windrunner’s Daughter, was finished in September 2005 and that received ten or fifteen rejections from literary agents before I won Undiscovered Voices in 2008 and secured an offer from Sam. Which felt amazing, I can tell you. I actually sobbed with joy.

Windrunner’s Daughter then received a huge number of rejections from publishers (I’m sure Sam has the real amount hidden away from me somewhere). From each set of rejections I always tried to find something constructive and worked hard to fix the book. I rewrote Windrunner’s Daughter eleven times (I kid you not), but it still didn’t sell.

However, while I was waiting for those rejections I was also taking everything I was learning and working on Angel’s Fury. That sold to Egmont pretty quickly. There wasn’t exactly a bun-fight over it, but one publisher is enough and again, the relief, joy and yes, validation was just incredible. The only feeling similar to me was childbirth …

* Do you use your own children or any others as a ‘sounding board’ for your books?

My children are five and two, so not an appropriate audience for YA fiction. My husband hasn’t even read my book. He says he “wants to … want to” but he is what you might call a reluctant reader (unless you count Maths or Science text books, sadly)!

I considered doing some sort of focus group (seeing as I do have a research background), but then I asked myself (as I would any client), ‘Would you act on the findings of the research, Bryony?’ - i.e. would I make huge changes to the book, if the children I spoke to didn’t like it, or would I be better relying on my instincts and my agent to tell me what was or wasn’t working? Had I not sold the first draft of Incarnation (as Angel's Fury was then called) maybe I would have gone down that route, but as it was, I was really lucky and sold early on.

* How long did it take you from initial inspiration for Angel’s Fury to finally achieving the publication deal?

That’s a really hard one to answer as the initial inspiration for Angel’s Fury has been sitting in my head for so long. But I wrote the first word while I was pregnant with Riley, in early 2008. I met with the publishers in November 2008 (eight months pregnant) and I got the publication deal in May 2009.

* Did achieving your first book deal change the way you approach your writing?

Yes, in the sense that the book deal meant I got an editor, so I was able to experience working with a very talented individual to improve my work. I learned an awful lot and had a huge amount of fun working with Philippa on my novel. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed seeing it get better with every draft.

* Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?

I’m definitely a plotter. For my first novel, Windrunner’s Daughter, I only plotted the first half and thought I could fly by the seat of my pants for the second. The feedback I had from publishers was that the first half was great, but the second was terrible. Message received.

I know some authors like to let the story grow organically, but that doesn’t work for me at all. Perhaps it’s because I can’t spend all day writing. I’m a full time mum, so I have to dip in and out of writing between childcare responsibilities, sometimes I have only ten or fifteen minutes at a time, so maybe I’m not as fully immersed as other authors and need my plot to keep me moving along.

For me, plotting has several advantages: I know where I’m going so I can have fun seeding and foreshadowing, if I’m feeling a bit stuck with a chapter I know what has to happen to get me where I need to be and if I’m feeling a bit like I’m getting nowhere, it’s nice to know exactly how much I’ve achieved and how far I have to go to get to the end of the story.

* Do you work on more than one project at once? And if so, how do you juggle your writing time on each project?

Yes, I commonly work on more than one thing at once. At one point I was doing edits on Angel's Fury, finishing up the second draft of The Society, replotting Windrunner's Daughter and researching Aviators (which has about six chapters at the moment). Part of that is because everything was at different points.

I'm not sure I could sustain writing more than one whole novel at once. I did write the first five chapters of Windrunner's Daughter and Aviators pretty much simultaneously, depending on my mood each day, but that was part of my process of deciding which to focus on, I certainly never intended to keep that up. In fact I decided about six months ago to focus on finishing Windrunner's Daughter, so right now I'm only working on Windrunner. Aviators is waiting for me to get back to it (I decided I needed a bit more experience before I could do my plot real justice).

I don't really see myself as juggling time - I make few conscious decisions regarding my timetable; I never think 'I spent an hour on The Society last week, so now I have to spend an hour on Windrunner'. I just know what I want to get done on each project and when I get some time, I work on whatever I'm feeling that day. Unless I have a deadline, of course, in which case everything else takes a backseat.

* During the editing process what would you say are the most important things you’ve learned and that all aspiring writers should aim for?

Listen to the editor, she knows best.

Use your laptop. Technology makes ‘killing your darlings’ so much less painful. If you have to take out big chunks you thought you loved, you can always save them elsewhere until you realise your editor was right all along and they need to be deleted from sight of man.

Simpler is better. Brevity is good. Never use four words if one will do.

* What made you think ‘I want to write for children?’ Is it a genre you enjoy reading?

To be honest I never considered the question; never deliberately targeted my writing at a particular reader. My writing style just seems to naturally fall in this area. I write what I like to read and perhaps I write YA fiction because I enjoy reading it so much.

* 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?

I have no idea what children of today want to read. I get the impression that they’re less na├»ve than we were, older-younger, as it were, but in the ways that count, surely they’re just like the children of twenty (ahem) years ago. Wouldn’t they want something exciting and inspiring, something they can sink their teeth into, a world they can totally escape into, just like we always did?

Specifics of each world depend on individual tastes … personally I loved a whole range of books from David Gemmell to Anne Macaffrey, and focused mainly on science fiction, historical fiction and fantasy. There’s a page on my website where I explore the books I loved as a child, if you’d like to know more, please take a look.

* What’s next for Bryony Pearce? Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

I’ve written another YA novel which is currently titled The Society. My editor says she loves it, so I’m hoping that Angel’s Fury will do well and encourage my publisher to take it on. I’m also almost finished with the (yes the twelfth) rewrite of Windrunner’s Daughter (which I thoroughly plotted this time round) and obviously have hopes for that one as it’s so close to my heart.

* Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?

Be persistent and never stop learning.

* Any other comments/observations/general mind-blowing information you‘d like to add?

Aren’t you sick of me yet?

Why I chose to represent Bryony:

Because she’s a wonderful writer with a great imagination who is going to be an absolute superstar. I’ve always felt that she can’t help but write for kids – it truly is in her blood, and because of that her style is perfectly natural and perfectly pitched. And, crucially, she’s not only one of the most hard-working writers I have worked with, but also one of the most delightful!

Bryony also blogs at The Edge.
A group of UK based authors who write sharp fiction for young adults and teens. 

Angel's Fury ~ a tall tales & short stories review

Picture the scene - a sunny, Saturday morning and a new book has arrived. There's so much to be done but you think, I'll just read the first couple of pages to get a feel for the writing and story...
The next thing you know it's later that same Saturday night and you've finished the book. You've been so engrossed in the story you've hardly noticed the hours pass by.  This really happened, so keen was I to find out what would happen next and where the story was going, I had to keep turning the pages.

The opening pages are genuinely moving and unsettling but also very intriguing. What is the importance of the little Jewish girl, Zillah, and her heartbreaking story?  What do Cassie's intense dreams really mean?  And bravo Bryony Pearce for writing in some fantastic twists and turns.

This is a book that the publishers, Egmont, describe as a 'mix of mythology, fantasy and real-life terror', and it is a very apt description. It's hard to define this book by any one genre and that is one of its greatest strengths. The inclusion of horrific real-life events add a pathos and integrity alongside the paranormal influences. The writing is fresh and honest, yet powerful in its haunting imagery especially the scenes involving Zillah and her story. There's a big concept at work within the compelling plot but Bryony succeeds in moving the story along at a page-turning pace and it's a world inhabited by fully-rounded, psychologically complex characters, none of who are quite what they seem.

For anyone looking to read a multi-faceted paranormal thriller with a touch of romance woven through the twists and turns of a compelling story that also brings into stark relief the horrors of some of mankind's actions, I'd highly-recommend this book for you. It's thought-provoking, moving and it stands out from the crowd.



Miriam Halahmy said...

Wow! Terrific interview Bryony and Tracy. This is a book I am very much looking forward to!

kathryn evans said...

Great interview - truly inspiring :O)

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