On the 23rd of October, authors Leigh Bardugo and Melinda Salisbury came up North to Newcastle upon Tyne for an event organised by Seven Stories in their attic filled with fairylights. Leigh is currently touring the world in promotion of her new book Six of Crows (the first in a companion duology to the Grisha Trilogy). Melinda is author of The Sin Eater’s Daughter (its sequel, The Sleeping Prince is currently set for release in March 2016).
The event was led by Lorna, who works at Seven Stories. After Melinda had gushed over the manuscripts by Diana Wynne Jones she’d been taken to see earlier that day (Seven Stories has a massive archive of Children’s Literature), the moderator took some time to draw parallels between both women’s writings: both their books are political, include intrigue and are set around a court, and, obviously, are both fantasy books.
At this point, Leigh could no longer contain her enthusiasm and asked Melinda whether she could (please hurry up and) read an extract from The Sleeping Prince. Apparently this was the very first time she’d read it to anyone other than her editors, so I feel very honoured to have been able to hear it (and though I have not yet read The Sin Eater’s Daughter, her upcoming book did sound really good).
When Melinda had finished, it was Leigh’s turn to read an extract from Six of Crows (including her doing an Irish accent). I’ll admit I didn’t completely understand what happened in the extract, as it’s from the middle of the book, but I’ve now got the book and will read it soon (and hopefully find out what actually went down).
When they’d both read their extracts, the moderator asked them a whole bunch of questions which the authors answered happily. Now, since I’ve got over six pages of notes on this event, I’ll condense the questions and answers to a selection of the answers I liked best (do note: these answers will most likely be a bit paraphrased as they spoke a lot and I only had one hand to write with).
Question: How much research do you do for your books?
Mel: None, really. I travel all the time (I’ll save up all of my money by eating dry toast for weeks and then go travelling), which is where I get ideas from. For example, the golems are in Prague, the Mirror Maze is real, sin eaters exist. You can’t really research what you make up!
Leigh: You can research what you make up, though. For example if you’re going to write about a disastrous economy, you should have a basic understanding of how an economy works; if you’re going to write about the way a land is ruled you should have a basic understanding of, for example, a dictatorship.
Mel: If you put it like that, I guess I do do research – it just doesn’t feel like research. I just love reading about stuff like the War of the Roses and Richard III.
Leigh: Even reading folktales, etc. is research. I absolutely hate reading about nautical stuff, so when I had to learn about that for Six of Crows I just read an entire book series that involved it a lot. It was still research, but fun. Six of Crows is based on the Dutch Republic in the 17th Century and I wanted to create an economy in a period like that with an actual middle class economy – so I had to research those.
Question: what about characters’ names?
Leigh: I’m always surprised by how many people ask me how to pronounce them! I thought they were all straightforward!
Mel: I don’t consciously choose names for my characters.
Leigh: All the Crows just had their names, although Kaz was originally called Baz, but then Rainbow (Rowell) came with Fangirl (and later Carry On) and I couldn’t use it anymore. I can’t write characters properly until they have a name.
Mel: I actually think I’m somewhat possessed. I just had this vision of a red-haired girl singing for a king. She loved singing, but they’d turned something she loved into something she hated. And her name was always Twylla.
Leigh: Really? I wish writing was like that for me. I’m definitely someone who outlines. I have to turn off the internet and write, and if I come across things I don’t know yet (like character’s names), I just insert ??? and fill that in later. The most important way to write about is just getting it written.
Question: What would you be doing if you weren’t an author?
Mel (who had an answer at the ready): A zookeeper.
Leigh: Must say I’m a bit freaked out about that.
Mel: Or I would be a wildlife photographer. I’d be doing something with animals.
Leigh: So you wouldn’t mind picking up their poo?
Mel: No! It’s not like I’d be picking it up with my hands – you get a shovel. And it’s not my own.
Leigh: … If I could be anything, regardless of whether I’m good at it, I’d be a fashion designer – even though I can’t sew at all.
Lorna: I would’ve thought both of you would say you’d teach at Hogwarts!
Mel & Leigh: I didn’t know that was an option!
Mel: Though I’d probably still be a dragonkeeper, like Hagrid, and shovel dung.
Leigh: I think the curse might be lifted off the job now, so if that’s the case I’d like to be a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.
Question: If you were to go home and write fanfic, what would it be?
Mel: Marauder’s Era fanfic – Remus and Sirius. (I think she said these names, not 100% sure)
Leigh: I’d write fanfic about The Sleeping Prince!
Question: Could you picture your characters?
Leigh: No. They’re more like a dream: I know what clothes they wear, but I can never discern facial features, which is why fancasts always weird me out a bit. There are a lot of people who see Sean O’Pry (from Taylor Swift’s Blank Space music video) as the Darkling, and I think I’m OK with that.
Mel: If I were to fancast I’d probably go for Saoirse Ronan (starred in The Lovely Bones and The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Twylla – she doesn’t have that typical Hollywood face, but is very aesthetically pleasing. Merik would be Aneurin Barnard (who plays Richard III in The White Queen).
Question: Who should we be reading?
Question: If you could steal/borrow a character from anyone else, who would it be and why?
Leigh: Geoffrey, so I can kick him around, because he needs more punishment.
Mel: Definitely Sirius Black. I would just like to give him a life – he was 21 when he went to prison for 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit and two years after he escaped he died. He never got to live.
Question: Do you find that you want to change things in your books after publication?
Leigh: There’s this one thing in the first chapter of Shadow & Bone that I’d love to change, but generally I don’t reread my own books – unless it’s at events.
Mel: I don’t reread my own books, because I’d have the urge to change things.
Question: When do you come up with titles?
Mel: Afterwards. The Sin Eater’s Daughter was always The Sin Eater’s Daughter, but for The Sleeping Prince I just had a random name and thought my publishers would come up with something genius. But they gave me this list of names that were hilarious, and barely had anything to do with the book, and I really didn’t know whether they were being serious or not.
Leigh: Titles are always there. Sometimes I sit in the bath tub and use my storyteller voice to come up with something. Shadow & Bone was first going to be called The Grisha and Six of Crows was The Dregs (which is still the name of the series in both cases), but the publishers didn’t think that was very marketable. Also, the name of the Six of Crows sequel that’s currently on Goodreads isn’t the actual title of the sequel – it got changed after it was put on Goodreads.
Leigh: Yes. I’m a plotter. I think of highs and lows in the story and work towards those. Otherwise I would start enthusiastically, knocking out a few thousand words a day, and soon after hit a wall of questions and have to stop. Outlining helps.
Mel: I plot, but by chapter two the story starts to get on with its own business. I can’t make the characters do anything they don’t want to do, so as long as what they do gets them to where they need to be and they stay true to who they are, I don’t mind.
Leigh: You really are possessed! Honestly, I had never even planned for Shadow & Bone to become a trilogy, but the way the story took off it naturally became a trilogy. I hadn’t even finished writing a book before Shadow & Bone.
After the Q&A part of the event, it was time for them to sign everyone’s books! Having never read books by either of them, I’d bought the books earlier that evening – I’m very excited to read them when I get the chance!
So there you have it! I’m aware this is a ridiculously long blog post, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’ll be going to a Patrick Ness event in November and intend to do something like this for that event as well, so keep your eyes out for that!