Friday, 25 September 2015

UKYAExtravaganza Blog Tour: L. A. Weatherly Q&A

Following the first UKYAExtravaganza in Birmingham at the beginning of this year, where I took part in the blog tour with the fabulous Robin Stevens, I have been lucky enough to be invited to participate yet again for October's UKYA event in Nottingham (info at bottom of post)! And even more exciting is the author I have been paired up with: Lee Weatherly, AKA L. A. Weatherly, author of the Angel series!

As I am also a writer, Lee and I thought it would be really fun to have a discussion about writing; where ideas come from, favourite characters, and writing retreats.
Rather than just having a simple Q&A, we have gone for more of a chatty conversation over a virtual coffee and a slice of cake kind of situation! This was an amazingly fun post to write (for both of us), so we hope you enjoy it too!
If you want to know more about Lee's books, scroll down to the bottom of the post and you will find all you need to know there!

1. Where do you get your ideas from? I know this is a pretty generic question in author interviews, but I think it's a pretty good one. From experience, I know that my ideas can come from just about anywhere, and occasionally there will be an idea that I'll have that just won't leave me alone. These are generally the ideas that get written first.
Do you keep an 'ideas book' or anything similar? Do you have any ideas written down that you can't help but laugh at now? (I know I do!)

I agree; ideas can come from so many surprising places! For instance, with my new series, the concept literally just popped into my head one night while my husband and I were having dinner at our favourite Thai restaurant. Out of nowhere, I thought,

“What if there’s a futuristic society that solves conflicts between nations by having two fighter pilots go up against each other? The victor wins the conflict for his/her country.”

I completely interrupted whatever my husband was saying to excitedly blurt it out to him and ask whether he’d seen it done before. I suppose essentially it’s just a spin on the gladiator or ‘champion’ concept, but I immediately fell in love with the world and knew I HAD to write it. Fortunately, my publishers felt the same way! The result has become the ‘Broken’ series, out next year.

And yes, I’ve definitely kept idea notebooks in the past. I think that’s pretty mandatory if you’re a writer! These days I tend to jot ideas down on my iPad, which I’m surgically attached to. I can’t think of any ideas I’ve had which I’d laugh at now – not that they were all so brilliant, but, you know, they represented something I was excited about once, so that’s cool. But there are certainly ideas that I’ve moved on from for whatever reason and know that I probably won’t do now.

2. What comes first: plot or character?
Most of the time, when I have ideas, it's either a character who arrives in my mind first, or a basic premise for a story. Do you sway one way or the other when it comes to the beginnings of a story? How do you go about fleshing out your ideas?

I usually begin with the basic concept, and then start getting to know the characters very quickly after that. For me, plot and character always develop in tandem, because they each influence the other so much. I start out by taking lots and lots of notes: learning about the world and its inhabitants, and crafting a rough idea of the plot (though this often develops in ways I didn’t expect once I start writing). Eventually I get to a point where I feel like I know enough to type ‘Chapter One’ and plunge in – which is always a terrifying leap of faith, by the way!

3. Who is your favourite character of your own creation?
I know, I know ... choosing favourites from your own characters is like asking a mother of 5 to choose her favourite child ... but there is surely one character (or maybe two?!) that stands out as being a favourite; either because they are a genuinely lovely character, or because they were fun to write etc etc. Why do you like them? Did you have a famous person/person you know in mind when you wrote them? (One of my characters is loosely based on a gay, slightly more flamboyant – and nice – version of Doctor Facilier from The Princess and the Frog!)

Heh, I love the sound of your Doctor-Facilier-inspired character! And yes, as you know, this is SUCH A TOUGH QUESTION. I love my imaginary people lots, and I have no idea how to choose favourites (I can sense them all raising their eyebrows at me, daring me to try) – so instead I’m just going to go with the first two characters who popped into my head.

One is from the ‘Broken’ series, and he literally strode into the pages of Broken Sky one day, put his hand out to another character with a grin and said, “Hi, I’m Mac Jones – nice to meet you.” I didn’t know him and hadn’t expected him, but I instantly liked him.

As a result, Mac’s become a fairly major character in book 2, Darkness Follows (and possibly beyond!). For me, it’s kind of rare for a character to just appear this way: so immediately and completely their own person. There’s a magic to it that never gets old. I love Mac for this and hope readers will love him, too – though they’ll have to wait for Darkness Follows to really get to know him.

The other character is Raziel, the evil baddie from the ‘Angel’ series. He was just so much fun to write, in a dark and twisted way!

4. What book do you love so much you wish you'd been the one to write it?
I, for example, often find myself wishing I was Neil Gaiman ... oh, to have that man's mind! Which authors most inspire you to write (or used to when you were younger)?

I hear you on Neil Gaiman! Good choice. Actually, the things where I think ‘DAMN, that was well-done – wish I’d written it!’ usually tend to be films, not books. (I’m not a screenwriter, but wanted to be a director back in the day.) Ones that immediately come to mind are School of Rock, Sean of the Dead, Shrek, 28 Days Later…I’m a huge fan of just plain old, good, solid storytelling.
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The author who probably most inspires me to write (or sends me into utter despair, depending on my mood), is Herman Wouk. Herman who? I know; you haven’t heard of him. He’s an American author and is AMAZING. He’s just had a new book published even though he’s in his 90s now. One of my favourite books of his is ‘Marjorie Morningstar’. I also love ‘Youngblood Hawke’. They’re just…beautifully written, beautifully observed, touching and heartbreaking and funny, and, and – read them!

5. Writing retreats: Yay or nay?
I often think about how good it would be to go on a writing retreat ... somewhere surrounded by forest and with a lake that I could relax at the side of. Somewhere peaceful and out of the way, where I would be surrounded by other authors being wonderful and creative. But then I think ... I love my desk chair too much, and what about my bed? It would get so lonely without me there! And those chocolate biscuits in the cupboard aren't going to eat themselves. In other words ... I love being at home perhaps a little too much. And would being surrounded with other authors for an entire week actually help my creativity and productiveness or hinder it?
How do you feel about writing retreats? Have you ever been on one?

Well, I know what you mean about loving being at home. But since I’m currently away on a solitary writing retreat in a small East Sussex cottage, I’d have to put myself firmly in the ‘yay’ camp! I’ve been coming here for years – some of the ‘Angel’ series was written here, as well as some of the first two ‘Broken’ books – and it feels like my second home now. It’s walking distance from the beach and a great place to get away and really get my head down. My husband (and cat!) usually come and join me for a while, but mostly it’s just me on my own. Being alone with your story can be a very powerful (or terrible!) experience – but I never fail to find it useful.
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I’ve done retreats with writing-friends, too, which can be just as inspiring in a different way. We’ll work during the days, and then socialize in the evenings, talking about our day’s work and bouncing ideas around over a glass (or two!) of wine. It’s great to have alternate creative input; sometimes you can get a bit locked into your own thought process. But it’s important to have the same ‘vision’ of the time away and be able to say, “I can’t talk to you now; I’m in the zone.” Writers get this. The downside, I suppose, is that you often have so much to talk about that it’s easy for those ten-minute coffee breaks to turn into an hour of nattering!

6. If you weren't a writer, what would you like to do instead?
Or is the thought of not being a writer too painful? I've only ever imagined myself as a writer, personally. Whenever I try to imagine myself in a 'proper job' my brain just gets confused and refuses to process it.

See question 5! If I weren’t a writer, I’d love to work in film in some capacity. When I was a teenager I wanted to be a director, but actually I think I’d be a better film editor: the person who puts the story together once all the raw material is there. I love the editing stage of writing – it’d be awesome to try it with film.

7. Can you tell us a little about the first book in your upcoming series, Broken Sky?
Where did the idea come from?
I always love the sound of a good utopia, and I love it even more when the cracks start to show. But your world sounds even more intriguing, thanks to its distorted 1940s setting ... what made you decide to set it in that era? When will we be able to read it for ourselves?

Thanks for being intrigued! I have to say, I love this series SO MUCH, and it’s fun to finally be able to talk about it.

OK, so I’ve mentioned the basic ‘gladiator’ concept. The Broken series follows the adventures of Amity Vancour, an 18-year old Peacefighter pilot for the Western Seaboard. When we first meet her in Broken Sky, she’s very idealistic – but slowly realises that the system is corrupt beyond measure and her life is in danger. Meanwhile, John Gunnison, a Midwestern Hitler-esque character, is growing in power, using astrology to control people. If your chart is wrong, you could be sent away forever….

There are lots of secrets in Broken Sky, many of which don’t begin to be revealed until book 2. People aren’t necessarily what they seem. Trust is a big theme, as are idealism and identity. And yes, there’s plenty of romance!

As to why it’s set in what’s effectively an alternate 1940s (though in the far future), it’s just what felt right. When the idea first came to me, I knew immediately that the planes were Spitfires, though in the series they’re called by the fictional name ‘Firedoves’. That led me to the 1940s, and then to the realization that Broken Sky was basically film noir. This was a huge key; it gave me a whole mood, a tone: a dark, alternate Los Angeles with fedora hats and seamed stockings and smoky nightclubs.

It’s interesting that you call it a ‘utopia’ – to be honest, I genuinely have no idea what it is! I think I’ve inadvertently invented my own genre. It’s part dieselpunk, part futuristic, part utopian, part…well, who knows, but I’ve loved writing the first two books!

Book 1, Broken Sky, comes out in March 2016, with Darkness Follows out in October ’16 and the final book, Black Moon, out in March ’17. The first two books are already written, and I’m just embarking on the third. (See question 3 regarding the terror of such an undertaking!)

8. And finally, a completely unrelated question: Could you tell us a little something about yourself?
Something maybe a bit quirky? Or a favourite childhood memory, or a funny thing that happened once? Whatever you like :)

My parents were divorced, though it was all very amicable, and my father got the family cat (imaginatively named ‘Black and White Cat’). One day when I was about 13, my mother came home, very distressed, and told me that she’d spotted Black and White Cat several miles from my father’s house. She needed my help to get him back, because she was afraid he wouldn’t find his way home again.

So we went to the neighbourhood where she’d seen our cat, and sure enough, there he was in someone’s yard. I went and grabbed him, and we drove him back to my father’s house…where we encountered the real Black and White Cat, sitting in the driveway staring at us, like, ‘What are you doing here? And who’s THAT?’

My mother and I looked at each other. Um. Yes. Who’s that, indeed? We very quickly reversed out of the drive, drove BACK to where we’d stolen this completely unrelated doppelganger-cat (who was remarkably mellow about the whole thing) – screeched to a halt, shoved him out of the car (praying that no one would think we were dumping him) – and drove off.

Leaving behind what was probably one very confused cat.
I had so much fun doing this post, and I know Lee did as well, so thank you lovely readers for coming by and checking it out! Here is a little more information on Broken Sky and the Angel series (just click on the images to go to the Goodreads pages!
Click to enlarge
Hopefully Lee and I (and all the other authors) shall see a few of you at the UKYAExtravaganza in Nottingham on 10th October! You can purchase tickets (only £3!) for the event from the Nottingham Waterstones store by calling 0115 947 0069 or dropping into store.
Broken Sky
Series: Broken #1
Publisher: Usborne
Release date: March 2016
Add to Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis:
Welcome to a ‘perfect’ world.

Where war is illegal, where harmony rules.

And where your date of birth marks your destiny.

But nothing is perfect.

And in a world this broken, who can Amity trust?

Set in a daring and distorted echo of 1940s America, the BROKEN trilogy is an exhilarating epic of deception, heartbreak and rebellion.

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