Q. In Nevernight you address a lot of common worries teenagers have regarding sex, looks, etc. through some of Mia's experiences. Was it important for you to make Mia feel like a "normal" girl and for the world she lives in to feel recognisable to readers?
Most definitely. Readers fall in love with characters, not worlds. Mia is the heart and soul of NEVERNIGHT, and if she didn’t work as a character, the book simply wouldn’t work. Even though there are some distinctly earth-shattering events going down the pages, even though she’s driven by her quest for revenge, first and foremost, I wanted Mia to be relatable. That’s the real challenge of writing a compelling assassin character—nobody wants to read a story about an inhuman killing machine, and keeping a cold-blooded killer likeable is a tricky dance.
Q. Something that fascinated me about the book were the footnotes, interjecting the narrative withhistorical trivia, and it reminded me a little bit of Ivanhoe and Walter Scott's desire for it to come across as a historical and edited text. Were you going for a similar impression or was it a way for you to bring in extra story material?
The footnotes really serve three purposes:
- I’m the kind of author who likes to build complex worlds, and I love reading books with ultra-granular settings. But, I understand not everyone enjoys those same kinds of books. So the footnotes are a way for me to delve into some intensive world building without troubling people who don’t like that level of detail—they can just skip the notes.
- Nevernight could have been a really bleak, depressing book if I let it, and so much epic fantasy these days is almost unrelentingly grim. One of the reasons I loved Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora was that it made me laugh. So the notes are a tool I can use to lighten the mood, and hopefully bring a smile to the face of readers who’re delving into what is ultimately a very dark, gory tale.
- Breaking the fourth wall. The narrator is a character, and he’s talking to you, the reader. Footnotes are a handy way to do that without breaking wall in the narrative itself.
First off, I love Italy. I’ve been there six or seven times. I lived in a restored monastery in Venice (no fear, I didn’t have to take any vows) and and my wife and I also lived in and got married in Rome. I’m also a huge history nerd, and two of my favourite periods are Merchant Prince Venice and the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Caesars. I’ve been studying both those periods for over twenty years, so you could honestly say there’s 20 years of research in this book.
The entire setting really began as a thought experiment for me—trying to imagine what might have happened if Julius Caesar’s march on Rome failed, and the Republic endured until the medieval period.
Q. Nevernight, as well as your other works, are very much about family bonds, about struggling in order to achieve something and about sacrifice. What about these themes attracts you so much? And do you think Fantasy is the genre that best allows you to write about it?
Sacrifice is essential to victory, imo. Stories where the heroes never lose anything, never fail, never get hurt or even perish bore me to tears. I want my reader to be afraid that the characters they love won’t come through the book alive. As for family, battles against our parents and siblings are really the first true conflicts we fight—we find out who we are and what our limits are by clashing with our families. If we’re lucky, the bonds we form there will endure the rest of our lives, and bonds that strong make a wonderful playground for storytelling. There aren’t many people you can love or hate so much as your own blood.
I’m not sure if fantasy is the best genre for these kinds of stories, but for me, fantasy is always a genre I’ll love. I grew up reading it, so I can’t help but want to write it now that I’m lucky enough to get to do this for a living.
And thank you, by the way, to all you amazing readers who let me do that.
Q. And finally, if you could go back to any historical period, which one would it be?
You know, history seems very romantic and dramatic from behind the safety of a history book. But truth is, even in periods as amazing as the Rome of the Caesars or the courts of the doges, life for regular people was often short and brutal. Imagine a world without penicillin or functional sewers or toothpaste. Imagine a world where slavery was an everyday part of life. Imagine no electricity or running water.
We live in an amazing time. We carry the entirety of human knowledge in our pockets, we send people into space, we unlock the building blocks of the universe.
Still, hanging out in the court of Augustus would be pretty kickass. :)
Nevernight comes out on the 12th of August and I highly recommend it! Check it out on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble!