Author Interview: Sarah Rees Brennan


The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan is our Book of the Month here at yaReads. Sarah added to her already huge stack of awesomeness this week and agreed to an interview with us for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.

So, since we’re running a contest that offers both the UK and the US covers as prizes, I have to ask: which one is your fave cover and why?

My favourite cover out of all my covers? Definitely my Japanese cover! Check it out: Is it not the greatest cover in the world? I’m having it made into posters to pass out when I am on tour with Scott Westerfeld in October. (Yes, you heard that right. Imagine that phone call as ‘You free to go on tour with Scott Westerfeld?’ *scream* *crash* *gurgling sound of someone trying to both faint and have hysterics* ‘… Yes, that sounds acceptable to me.’)

I like both my UK and US covers: I love how noir and dangerous the UK cover looks, and how the boy on the US cover is good-looking with just a hint of something dark in the eyes – and that underneath the US cover there’s a Secret Cover.

The Demon’s Lexicon world is kind of a mash of a whole bunch of urban fantasy genres. You’ve got everything magical in there. Was that a conscious decision or did it just kind of happen naturally?

I feel magic is like chocolate – adding it makes everything better. I’m never really able to believe that just one fantastical thing is true (witches are real but nothing else is, vampires are real but nothing else is) and I wanted to have a secret world that was believable, and magic that was used in a dozen different ways. Including using it for profit!

Nick is a very fierce character. Please explain.

Well, Nick has a lot to be upset about… Heh. I kept seeing characters who were watered-down versions of the mad, bad and dangerous to know type like Rochester and Heathcliff, and I really wanted to write a character who was mad, bad and dangerous to know – but from the inside, so nobody was distracted by the smouldering good looks (well… not very distracted) and so I could see how that character really ticked, make it clear that this kind of behaviour didn’t come from a good place and also (with some luck!) write a character who was still compelling despite all that.

I’m always interested in how authors choose names for their beloved characters. So, how did you choose yours?

Honestly I am always freaked out by characters with bizarre names in books. So many people with strange names like Faraday Moonfeather, so few explanations like ‘My parents were vampire elders/hippies/thought being beaten up on the playground would build moral fibre.’ So I knew I wanted really normal names for my characters, in order to fight the trend. So, Nick and Alan, normal names that I like. Plus it amuses me that Old Nick is one of the names for the devil, and it seemed a good fit for my slightly villainous hero.

Mae and Jamie, the other two main characters, were chosen to be not so strange and yet say something about their characters: Mae calls herself Mae after Mae West, truly one of the most awesome old movie stars ever (a couple of Mae West quotes: ‘Marriage is a fine institution… but I’m not ready for an institution yet’ and ‘Used to be Snow White, but I drifted’) and Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, which says a lot about Mae, and Jamie goes with a cute, non-threatening nickname rather than ‘James.’

Of course then I found out that ‘Jamie’ can also be a girl’s name in America. I’m so sorry, Jamie!

Did your plot, or your characters for The Demon’s Lexicon come first?

I knew the end of the book first, so you could say that plot came first, but the plot is really bound up with the characters: things only pan out the way they do because the people in the book are the people they are – a compulsive liar, a power addict, someone with an anger management problem and someone with a huge secret – so it’s very hard for me to disentangle the two.

How long did it take – from start to finish – to write The Demon’s Lexicon?

From having the idea to being totally finished, with revising it myself, revising it with my agent, revising it with my editor and copy edits done? Two years. (But I was writing other stuff by the time I was in copy edits… like the sequel!)

You were a Librarian before you were a writer. Do you miss it?

I was a library assistant, not even as fancy as a librarian. 😉 I will tell you one thing I miss about it – story hour at the library every Wednesday. I love reading aloud and running around, and we’d read Where the Wild Things Are and then scream ‘LET THE WILD RUMPUS BEGIN!’ and jog around the children’s space as we all screamed and threw up our hands.

… My bosses never need to know this about me.

You lived in New York for a short period. What did you love most about that? Why did you decide to move back to Ireland?

Well, I moved back to Ireland because I only had a year’s visa as an intern, and the Law asks Questions of a young lady who stays on when her visa is expired…

But I did live in New York, yes, and I loved it. Part of it was just how different life is over there. ‘And what do you call this?’ ‘Mac and cheese…’ ‘Ah, MAC and CHEESE. Mmm, exotic.’ ‘And this delicacy?’ ‘Meatloaf.’ ‘Today I sampled the dish known as the Meat Loaf, Mother. I have as yet suffered no ill effects!’

And partly it was that New York is one of those sprawling, wonderful cities full of discoveries to be made. like a street with quotes written on every paving stone, and biker gangs who end up adopting you (long stories) and friends who don’t abandon you even though you shame them in your paroxysms over bubble tea.

As a first time novelist, is being a writer lived up to everything you thought it would?

I don’t think I ever had a clear idea of what it would be like: I spent years and years having it be a dizzy dream – I wasn’t able to think past publishers saying yes before they did, and when they did I didn’t spend any time thinking: I spent my time either ecstatically dreaming of huge success, or coldly fearing terrible failure.

Even now, there have only been a few moments where I could quietly process what’s happened: when I’m sitting down writing a book that I know someone besides my Great-Aunt Jemima will read, or reading a lovely email from someone who enjoyed the book, or curled up with tea and copy-edits. And then I think ‘Wow, I am so lucky’ and try to think about something else fast lest the luck be broken.

What is your fave fantasy novel?

I absolutely cannot pick one. I love far too many. But possibly my favourite fantasy novelist in the world is Diana Wynne Jones, who makes fantasy both funny and believable all the time, and ties it into issues like fantasy, love, family and betrayal in a way that hits all my fantasy-loving buttons at once with a massive hammer.

Do you get into contemporary/realist fiction?

I get into every kind of fiction there is! I love historical, crime, classics, romance, and everything in between. An extremely brilliant contemporary novel I’ve read recently is Jaclyn Mitchard’s The Deep End of the Ocean, about a young boy stolen from his family, and how his loss affects both his mother and his rebellious older brother. (It’s obvious at this point that families in fiction are one of my favourite things!)

You did an MA in Creative Writing. Is this something that you would recommend to all aspiring writers?

It would depend on the course, and also what they wanted to write. My tutor Liz Jensen (The Ninth Life of Louis Drax) was awesome and taught me a lot, but there were also a few people who thought fantasy was a waste of time. On the whole, I’m really glad I did the course, but I think it’s something everyone has to think over very carefully and then decide for themselves.

Which do you prefer…

Coffee or tea?

Tea. You might think this means I don’t have a problem, but tea actually has more caffeine in it than coffee, and I am on a good thirteen cups a day. Tea is my heroin. baby.

Summer or winter?

Summer! I love the sunshine. Which is sad for me, as the Irish summer lasts approximately three days.

Carrot or icecream?

How can you even ask me that? What do you take me for? Ice-cream! I just had burnt sugar and butter ice-cream while I was in Massachusetts, and honestly I still dream about it.

London or New York?

Oh. That one is really, really tough. I will say New York, because America has being exotic going on for it, and there is always something fun and strange happening in New York (though there’s mostly something fun and strange happening in London.) Still, given the Victorian tea parlour that’s secretly a bar, the library that’s secretly a bar, the underground spyhole that’s secretly a bar, the beauty shop that’s secretly a bar (What… I’m IRISH) I’ll have to go with New York. But I love both!

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