Book Birthday Interview: PHOENIX RISING author Bryony Pearce chats to Natasha Ngan
Yesterday marked the release of Bryony Pearce’s new book Phoenix Rising, a rollicking, action-packed pirate adventure that I absolutely fell in love with when I read an advanced copy – and SO WILL YOU! It’s one of those rare books that would be perfect for both MG and YA readers. If you haven’t grabbed your copy yet from your local bookstore then let this interview whet your appetite. I chat to Bryony about the unique junk-punk world she has created, the crazy cast of characters that inhabit the two rival pirate ships, and her tips for aspiring writers…
At the beginning of the book there are a few pages with cuttings and excerpts of news stories and memos that reveal what’s happened to our world in the time leading up to Phoenix Rising. I loved this! It’s such a great way to quickly deliver information and immerse the reader in the book’s setting in a junk-filled future. Where did this junk-pocalypse idea came from?
I feel that it is the natural progression of the culture and world that we are living in now. We are in a consumer driven society, more inclined to toss away and upgrade, than reuse and recycle. When I was growing up my mother shopped for me in the thrift shop. For most middle class families now the go-to store is Next! A world buried in junk is simply the next logical step from our current treatment of the environment. We already have islands that have never seen a man, so covered in our rubbish that the nesting sites of the local birds are being decimated. And we all know that fossil fuels are running out – what will we do without them? Wars, recessions and geopolitical consequences all feel quite inevitable at the moment. I simply worsened what I feel is coming, by adding the eruption of the Supervolcano in Yellowstone and the junk-pocalyse (great word) was born.
There’s so much amazing detail about the lifestyle and mechanical workings onboard the Phoenix, the boat Toby lives on. Did you have to do a lot of research?
I did a lot of research. If I was dumped onto a cargoship and locked in the boiler room, I would probably be able to operate the machinery, or at the very least understand what was going on! I joined a karate club so that the fight scenes would be realistic, I researched the shape of coast lines following rising sea levels, the medical consequences of no sun (and no vitamin D), the construction and operation of solar panelling, Polly’s biomass generator, the likely location of the island and much more. I love research. I think that it is essential when building a realistic world and I am glad that comes across.
One of the things that grabbed me most about the book is the large cast of characters, each one interesting and unique. I particularly loved Polly, the mechanical parrot, and Ayla, who is such a kick-ass female lead! How do you create characters when you write?
Characters tend to arrive in my head pretty much fully formed. I have a picture of who they are and build around that, giving them full back-stories. I really believe that every character is the hero of their own story and I try to give a sense of that, regardless of who the protagonist is.
Do you have a favourite character?
Ayla. I wanted Ayla to be a strong, kick-ass heroine, as a foil for Toby, who is stronger in the mental arena, but also because I think that it subverts the natural ‘pirate story’ trope of the damsel in distress. I love that the first thing Ayla does when meeting Toby is head butt him in the face. She has a back bone of steel, but a core of loyalty and love deeply buried and waiting for someone to unearth it. I hope Toby manages it one day.
You’ve already had a few books published. What was it like writing Phoenix Rising? Was the process different at all to your previous novels?
My previous work has been what I would term ‘supernatural thrillers’ aimed at 15+ and told in first person and with female protagonists. Phoenix Rising is very different – it is dystopia, with no supernatural elements at all. It is much more action packed and pacey, it is told in third person and has a younger male protagonist (although Ayla would get on well with Taylor and Cassie my previous MCs). I always do a lot of research, but I think I did more for this novel, as boys apparently like more technical details and I had to keep this novel lighter than my previous work. I had a big sign with the words ROLLICKING ADVENTURE written on them, pinned above my laptop.
The other difference in writing this novel, is that it is the first in a series, while my others were stand alone. This meant that when working, I had to bear in mind the overall story arc, as well as the arc for this particular book, adding in things that foreshadow book two and possibly three and building up characters for a series appearance rather than cameos. I have a lot of very careful notes.
Without giving any spoilers, what was the hardest scene to write in the book, and which was the most fun?
The most difficult scene was the moment when Toby and Ayla find out their true history but the fight scenes were by far the most fun.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Read everything, write as much as you can, get your work critiqued and then write it again. Be thick skinned and keep on writing.
I’m so excited that there’ll be sequels, as when I finished Phoenix Rising I wasn’t ready to leave Toby and Ayla’s world just yet! Can you give us some hints at what we might see in the next book?
In the next book Toby and Ayla leave the Banshee and go on a proper full on heist. Things inevitably go wrong. There are crosses, double crosses and triple crosses. There are new characters, heel turns and the reappearance of someone they thought was long gone.
And finally, I had to ask – #teamphoenix or #teambanshee? 😉
Although I love an anti-hero and Nell and Ayla are really good ones, it has to be Team Phoenix. It would a much nicer ship to sail in.
Find Phoenix Rising:
Bryony Pearce lives in a village on the edge of the Peak District and is a full time mum to her two small children, husband and cat. She is vegetarian and loves chocolate, wine and writing. People are often surprised at how dark her writing is and since the publication, by Egmont, of the award-winning Angel’s Fury, have started looking at her as though worried she might start serial killing in her spare time.
She enjoys doing school visits, festivals and events, when the children let her out of the house. Her new book The Weight of Souls is published by Strange Chemistry on 1st August 2013.
For more information on Bryony, please visit her website www.bryonypearce.co.uk follow her on Twitter @BryonyPearce or like her FaceBook author page BryonyPearceAuthor.
Natasha is a YA writer represented by Nicola Barr at Greene & Heaton. Since graduating from the University of Cambridge with a Geography degree in 2011, she has been working as a social media consultant and blogger, running top UK fashion blog Girl in the Lenswith her photographer boyfriend, and has effectively swapped sleep for writing. Her debut novel THE ELITES will be published by Hot Key Books in Autumn 2013, with another standalone YA title released the following year.