A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
A couple of days ago, Laura Lam’s wonderful follow up to her critically acclaimed debut Pantomime was released, much to the delight of her fans – me included! I thoroughly enjoyed Pantomime’s intoxicating blend of circus-drama, romance, fantasy and mystery, and was delighted to see such diversity in its cast of characters. It’s a super unique read. If you haven’t read it yet, then what are you doing! Go get it now! And if you have, then read on for a cheeky little insight into the just-as-brilliant sequel, Shadowplay …
Did you always plan for Pantomime to be a series?
Yes, though originally it was going to be a different series of the book I started with Micah Grey ten years older and in a different profession. I kept getting stuck on that one, though, so I started what I thought would be a short story of him joining the circus as a teen. That pretty quickly spiralled out into a series of its own, though I hope to get back to it one day.
How different was writing Shadowplay to Pantomime, if at all?
The process was much quicker as I was under deadline. I found being under a deadline really motivating, and I found I wanted to work on it every day. Even after I turned in Shadowplay, I’d gotten into the habit of writing consistently that I still write at about the same pace or even quicker than I did when I was under deadline. Shadowplay was easier in the fact that the world and some of the characters already existed. I wasn’t making up everything up from scratch. But I had to make sure the next arc of the story was interesting and that the characters and world stayed consistent.
Pantomime really resonated with readers who have been craving more diversity in YA literature, especially in regards to sexuality. Did you feel any pressure from this going into book 2?
Not really. There were a few things I wanted to make clearer in the second one, especially in regards to how Micah’s intersexuality relates or doesn’t relate to the mythology in the world. I already knew before reviews of Pantomime came out that Cyan (the girl on the cover) was going to be from Temne. I think my work will always be fairly diverse and not only because writing only straight, white, able-bodied people is boring. I think diversity is super important, especially in YA. People should be able to see themselves reflected in fiction, and the world is made up of many shades of people.
There are some brilliant new characters in Shadowplay (I personally adore Cyan!). Do you have a particular favourite?
Cyan was definitely my favourite new character. Her voice was so strong from the beginning and I really like her, especially the way she teases everyone and calls them out on their ridiculousness. Yet she has her own vulnerabilities, too. I also quite like Maske and his journey back to the limelight.
Ellada is such a rich, vivid world with its own complex history and socio-political structure. What was your world-building process like?
It’s hard to pinpoint as it percolated over a few years. I first came up with the world in 2007 or so. I wrote the book with the adult Micah Grey first, and figured out a lot about the world through that, and then even more while writing Pantomime. I usually think of the overall history, the religion, myths and fables, the government/monarchy/prominent families, the relationship with other countries – macro issues, I suppose. And then as I write the books, I come up with the smaller details as needed.
I love the snippets of diaries, folk stories and other documents that are at the beginning of each chapter. Did you include these in the first draft, or were they something you added later?
These were one of the last things added to the draft before I resubmitted it to Strange Chemistry. I originally subbed an earlier draft to Angry Robot for their Open Door Month in 2011 and then received a revision request. One of the requests was more world building, so I took a leaf out of the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb – at the beginning of each chapter of those books there’s a bit of the history written by the main character, and I thought it was a really clever way to add world-building without being infodumpy. But I took a wider approach and added snippets of all sorts of things.
What was the hardest scene to write in Shadowplay?
The scene where Micah and Drystan spy on a Shadow. It was so delicate to get the balance right. The magic duel took a few hefty revisions, too.
How would you describe your perfect writing day?
In an ideal world, I’d not have to go to work and I’d work out first thing in the morning instead of putting it off for ages. Then I’d sit down, TURN OFF THE INTERNET ROUTER, and write a bunch in the morning. Take a break for the internet, lunch, and maybe an episode of something to unwind, and then write a bunch more in the afternoon before finishing off at say, 4, and relaxing the rest of the day, reading and cooking a good dinner (in this alternate reality I can actually cook). I’m really happy if I write more than 1000 words when I’m working, so 2k+ or a fair chunk of editing would make me very happy on a non-work day.
… And how would you describe your actual writing day?
Hah. Set alarm ideally for 6 am to write before work. Blearily groan when alarm goes off and press snooze. Then press snooze again. And again. Roll out of bed just in time to get ready for work instead of getting up early to write. Go to work. Work. At lunchtime, do a wee bit of writing. Work some more. After work, I do go to the café fairly often for 1.5 hours to write at Starbucks before it closes, and I get most of my writing work done then. Then, if I’m not too knackered, I go to the gym, and then I’m back home at around 8 pm. Sometimes I try to write more but it usually fails as I’m too tired.
What advice would you give to people writing YA fantasy?
Write as often as you can. Treat it like a job if you want to be a professional. Be self-critical but don’t be too hard on yourself, especially with early drafts. Beta readers are worth their weight in gold. Don’t skimp on the world-building – even if it never makes it on the page, YOU knowing random trade treaties between countries of your fictional world might come in useful.
And finally, can you give us a cheeky little glimpse into what’s waiting for us in book 3 (pretty please!)?
Some snapshots: an explosion, the Phantom Damselfly, more romance, cemeteries after dark, the doctor’s theatre, a frightened princess, more magic and illusion, an abandoned observatory, and a plan that puts the world at risk.
PANTOMIME (Strange Chemistry, out now)
SHADOWPLAY (PANTOMIME #2) (Strange Chemistry, January 2014)
THE ELITES (Hot Key, out now)
THE MEMORY KEEPERS (Hot Key, Autumn 2014)