On the 25th September I was privileged enough to be invited to a book blogger’s event in London to meet the lovely Leigh Bardugo, author of THE GATHERING DARK (Shadow & Bone in the US). I reviewed this for BCC a while ago, and it was the first book I gave 5 stars to for the site. It was a book that really captured my imagination, and I was super excited to meet the author.
I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to interview Leigh before the blogger’s event, as organised by Indigo publicist Nina Douglas. Just to set the scene, we met in the exclusive, members-only Groucho Club in London, and were shown to the gentleman’s snooker room as the venue for our interview. We were just expecting a small table in the bar, but were gifted with a huge room all to ourselves!
Then I got to interview Leigh, who was so amazing to meet in person and so incredibly nice. We had a great talk about the book, and I also got the chance to ask Leigh some personal questions about her life as an author (as well as some random fun questions!). (For the interview, see below.)
I then spent some time walking around London before heading to Waterstones, Picadilly, for the Leigh Bardugo blogger’s event. We were treated to mini cupcakes and white wine cocktails (very tasty!), before the event was opened by a beautiful video made by the crew over at Dark Readers (video here). Leigh was overwhelmed by this, as it was completely unexpected and she fullyappreciates any fan-made media such as art, videos, etc.
After a brief introduction from Nina, the event was handed over to Leigh, who treated us all to a passage reading from the book. She chose the passage near to the beginning in which the Darkling discovers Alina’s power, and we were all excited to hear Leigh read from her own book. It is always thrilling to hear a writer read their own story, as it gives a better idea of how characters speak, or what kind of mannerisms they possess.
The floor was then opened for Q&A, many of which were similar to ones I asked in my interview with Leigh and some that I wish I’d thought of! It was interesting to hear other reader’s opinions of the book and to be within a group of people who were all passionate about the same thing, and I got to meet a host of other bloggers who were all such lovely people!
A big thank-you goes out to everyone at the event and to Nina Douglas for arranging everything. For my first experience of a blogger event it was definitely a great trip, and I’m so glad I got the chance to meet such a fantastic author.
To start off, how long did it take you to write the book?
It took almost a year between coming up with the idea and finding an agent. That included a two month research stage.
Did you know when you started writing that it would be a trilogy, or was it intended to only be one book?
Originally it was only going to be one book, but I realised as I started writing that I had so much more story to tell. I didn’t know how the first book would be received and if anyone would want the rest of the trilogy, so though the ending of SHADOW AND BONE is left open, I wouldn’t say there’s a big cliffhanger.
The book seems to have many Russian influences, what made you decide to use Russia in particular?
Though some of my favourite fantasy series are set in medieval Europe I wanted to take readers someplace different, but that was still grounded in reality. As a kid I always had these romantic ideas about Russia, most of them from the story of Anastasia and all of them pretty much wrong. But as I researched, I realized Russia was a good fit for the themes of SHADOW AND BONE and for the power dynamics that had already started to emerge in the text.
There is a lot of hype over being Team Darkling or Team Mal, did you always intend for the Darkling to be so popular?
I always hoped that readers would connect with the characters. I intended for the Darkling to seduce the reader as he seduces Alina, but I’m still pretty surprised by readers’ reactions to him.
Were any of the characters based on real life?
None of the characters are specifically based on real people, but I can tell you that the relationship between Genya and David is based on a couple of friends that I’m hoping will get together.
Baghra’s attitude was based on a really mean ballet teacher I had as a kid. Sometimes, the mannerisms of people you know creep into a book and you don’t always notice until you’re reading back through it.
Who is your favourite character to write in the series and who can you identify most with?
My favourite character comes in book two (SIEGE AND STORM), and I had to rein myself in when writing his character, as he could easily have run away with the whole book. I would also say that Genya and Baghra are fun to write.
As for identifying with the characters, I feel that as a writer I have to identify with them all, or they will fall flat. But there isn’t a specific character who I would say really represents me. I guess if I had to choose then probably Genya, because of my background in make-up, though I certainly don’t look anything like her.
Genya is definitely my favourite character in the series, what do you think about her persona?
I like how Genya seems like the typical fairy godmother/best friend character, but there’s more to her than meets the eye. I grew up in Los Angeles and worked in Hollywood, and to me, she’s the embodiment of what beauty can and can’t do for you. I also like that, as different as they seem on the surface, she and Alina are both outsiders who have never really belonged anywhere.
If you were a Grisha, which power would you want to have?
I would definitely want to be a Heartrender. One, you get to wear red, which is one of my favourite colours, and two, I think it would be fun to have the power to affect people in that way. But at heart, I think I’m a Fabrikator. I love making things and being left alone in my little workshop.
When and where is your favourite place to write?
When I’m in the drafting stage, there is a great little café in LA that I go to which is just noisy enough for me to work. It also has great food, and great music, and it’s where I discover a lot of new artists to listen to.
Moving into the writing stage, I work best at home in an old leather chair that belonged to my grandfather.
I try not to get precious about my workspace. I just sit down and force myself to write as much as I can, but I do work best in the daytime. I lose steam in the dark, unless I’m near deadline, in which case I will work well into the night.
Do you let people read the book before you send it to your editor?
Yes, I have two friends who are television writers whom I let read the manuscript (of SHADOW AND BONE) before I submitted it to my editor. I knew they’d be honest and gentle with me and I needed fresh eyes to tell me which big moments might not be working or if anything was confusing. An editor or agent should never be the first person to see your work.
Where do you get the most inspiration?
I love reading history and non-fiction, so a lot of my inspiration comes from there. Also, I just love stories, whether they’re from books or friends or cab drivers.
A lot of my ideas tent to arrive right before I fall asleep, so I’ll record a voicemail for myself on my phone to make sure I don’t forget in the morning. Although a lot of the time I’ll wake up thinking I’ve recorded something good and I’ll just find nonsense like ‘the man says pancake!’
(This question really stumped Leigh, and it took her a while to come up with an answer. To my knowledge, she is still thinking about this question, but here is the answer she gave at the time!)
Okay okay, I’ll choose a contemporary person and a historical person. Contemporary, I’d say Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who plays Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones. Or any of the Game of Thrones cast really, one of the actors, because I’d love to visit the set.
Historically… I’m not sure, I’d love to have been alive during the American Revolution. For just one day, I guess I’d say Benjamin Franklin. That guy liked a good time.
What was the last book you enjoyed and which authors do you admire?
I loved Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, and as for writers I admire I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan, so George R. R. Martin. Also, there’s Diana Wynne Jones, Frank Herbert, Glen David Gold. There are so many great authors out there.
What would you say about the status of the book as YA?
I didn’t set out to write YA so much as I set out to write a particular story and to create an accessible fantasy. Still, I was surprised when an adult imprint bid on the book before it got published, because I do think of it as YA.
The book has two titles, SHADOW & BONE in the US, and THE GATHERING DARK in the UK. Do you find it confusing with the fans?
I like both of the titles, but my original title idea for the series was going to be The Grisha. I also pitched The Black Shore, but no one at either publishing house went for it.
I wouldn’t say I find having two titles confusing, but it is more challenging to talk about the book—especially via a medium like Twitter where you only have a few characters. I do think readers have found it confusing. I think it makes it hard for readers to have two titles. I know some people thought they were different books. You can be the first to know that they’re going to be changing the title in the UK to match the US title.
How did you feel when the book made the New York Times bestseller list?
Oh my good gravy! I was amazed. When it happened I was like, ‘Well, okay, I’m done now. I don’t need anything else.’ It still doesn’t seem real.
I was on the Fierce Reads book tour when I got the news and I’d just left a hair salon. No lie: when I’d gone in, the stylist asked me if I wanted my hair “pageant or porn star” and apparently, I chose poorly, because when I walked out of there, my hair was huge. I got the call from my editor on the way back to the hotel, and when she told me I made the list, I just plunked down on a bench in the 90 degree heat and cried my eyes out while everyone walking by stared at the crazy lady with the huge hair.
How do you feel about the potential for the book to become a film?
I am beyond excited. I think it’s thrilling to see others’ visions of your work, and I can’t get over the fact that you I might to get to see something I created brought to life on screen. And I know a lot of people find out about the book after a film comes out, so I’d love to have more readers discover the series.
Not really. I know that with Dreamworks and David Heyman, the story is in good hands. I know that no film will ever be exactly what I imagined inside my head. I see it as more of a collaboration rather than saying, ‘This is mine, it has to be done this way.’ The film might even be better than the book.
What can you tell us about the next books in the Grisha trilogy?
What can I tell you? Well, Alina has only tasted the power that she will come to know.
Most characters from the first book will return in Siege and Storm, but I will say that not everyone will make it out of the series alive. My favourite character in the series will be introduced in book two, and we will step outside the borders of Ravka and discover more about the Grisha and their power.
Is the trilogy the end of the Grisha world or will there be further spin off series?
The trilogy is definitely the end of Alina’s story, so there won’t be any more books specifically about her. But if the books are well received, there are definitely some characters I would love to give their own books.
A massive thanks to Leigh for this interview, and to Nina Douglas and the Indigo team for arranging such a fanastic day!
Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. She indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as makeup artist L.B. Benson. She lives in Hollywood and can occasionally be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic.
Her debut novel, The Gathering Dark/Shadow & Bone, is the first book in the Grisha Trilogy and will be published by Holt Children’s/Macmillan in June 2012. She is represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary.
The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka. Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free? The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfil her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him. But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him? Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance.
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