It’s an absolute pleasure today to welcome, author Will Hill to my site today as part of his blog tour for the fantastic young adult novel, Department 19. Wherein Will agrees to answer some questions about the book and his writing and I try to get him to spill some secrets about the next book! 😉
Welcome to Bart’s Bookshelf, Will. It’s really great to have you stop by.
Very nice to be here!
At the launch event, you talked about how Larisa forced her way into a much bigger role in the book. Now as she’s a pretty dangerous vampire, 😉 I can totally understand why you let her have her way… However, in general, do you prefer to keep your characters on a tight leash, or do you allow them a certain amount of leeway to tell their own story?
She was definitely the pushiest! It was like that Family Guy joke where Peter claims he doesn’t like The Godfather because ‘it insists upon itself.’ Well, she insisted upon herself, and I could only fight her off for so long…
Most of the rest of the main characters were pretty well formed before I started Department 19 – Jamie, Julian, Kate, Matt, Frankenstein, Valeri, Alexandru – but a few of them changed and evolved. Valentin, the youngest of the three Rusmanov brothers, became more interesting (I hope!) even in his relatively short appearance, mainly because he was so very different to his brothers, and I loved the idea of a vampire who was four centuries old and essentially royalty, but all he wanted to do was throw parties and bask in everyone’s adoration. He became a lovely counterpoint to the dour traditionalist Valeri.
And Terry, the instructor who trains Jamie when he first arrives at Department 19, was also never meant to reappear – to explain why and how he does would be a bit too spoilerific, but it was the idea of my agent, who said ‘there’s no way Terry would miss this.’ And he was just so obviously right that I rewrote the section in question immediately to bring him in.
Can you tell us something about Jamie that isn’t in the books (and I heard you confess about your notebook full of character bios, so I know you must know something!)
There are lots of things I could tell you about him, but most of them would see my agent string me up and ban me from the internet! Suffice it to say, if you think he’s been through a lot already, you haven’t seen anything yet – there seem to be a lot of people who like him (me included, obviously!) and I’m anticipating a lot of upset emails from people when they see what I have in store for him over the course of the series. All I can say is that I don’t like putting him through horrible stuff, but I’m afraid that seems to be his burden to carry…
You’ve also said you know the ending to the series, and you appear to have a fair bit of stuff worked out, what with the family trees and stuff we saw a the launch and on the website, but are there any secrets you’re interested in discovering as you write the remaining books?
There are some pretty huge revelations that occur in the later books, but there’s something that happens at the end of book two that I’m very intrigued to see how Jamie handles. I haven’t even started thinking seriously about book three yet, but a lot of it is going to be concerned with how he deals with having done something he can never take back, even if he did it for the right reasons. I’m sorry that’s so cryptic, but I really can’t tell you any more – and trust me, you wouldn’t want me to!
The other big thing is how the main characters deal with the moral ambiguity that lies at the heart of Blacklight – the idea of destroying vampires simply because they’re vampires, even though many of them are not inherently evil, or dangerous, is something that is going to cast a long shadow over everything that is to come. It’s what Department 19 has always done, but is it what they should have been doing?
Just how much do you taunt your editor Nick Lake with; stuff only you know, but he wants to? 😉
Quite a bit, to be honest!
Although really it tends to be more me wanting to tell him bits that I’ve written that he doesn’t want to know because they would be out of context. There’s a moment towards the end of the sequel to Department 19 that made me want to jump out of my seat and cheer, and I was desperate to tell him about it, to see whether it got the same reaction from him. But he wanted to wait and read the whole thing, which I can totally understand!
And Nick is an absolutely brilliant writer himself – his new novel In Darkness is as good a novel as anyone will read next year – so there’s just as much of me begging for information on his next book – it’s a mutually needy relationship!
As a self-confessed Buffy fan, which of your bad guys would you most like the Slayer to go toe-to-toe with?
I’d like to see Buffy face down the Department 19 version of Dracula!
I loved the episode where she met him – it was typically great Buffy, with Xander turning into Renfield, and Buffy incredibly flattered that Dracula knew who she was, but I think even she would find herself out of her depth if she came face to face with my version of the oldest vampire.
Can you share a few words on your writing process? What is the most rewarding aspect of writing for you?
I write in a very non-linear way – on any given day I tend to write the chapter that excites me at that moment rather than the one is next in the sequence – so the most satisfying moments are the ones where I realise that the structure works, that something I’ve written fits in with what will follow it, or precede it.
I normally try to write a chapter a day when I’m at full speed, so reading back what I’ve written at the end of the day and realising it works – that it’s exciting, or scary, or moving – is the best feeling. I write very fast, trying to keep momentum and pace rather than agonising over the exactly right verb or line of dialogue, and then polish and re-write and polish again, so feeling like I’ve got something at the end of the day, even if I know it needs a lot more work, is what keeps me coming back to my laptop every morning.
What’s your writing area like? Neat and tidy or covered with Post-It notes and the like?
I write in the British Library so my actual day to day space is incredibly neat – just my laptop, a few notebooks and the key bits of planning and research. But my room at home looks like someone detonated a Department 19 bomb in the middle of it – it’s covered in scraps of paper, lines of dialogue, spider diagrams and timelines, and hundreds of other bits and pieces.
Sometimes I don’t even know what they’re referring to – they’re snatches of ideas for scenes or conversations, little maps of fights and battles, things that just occurred to me and I wrote down, without any real idea of how or when I might use them. It looks like the inside of my head tipped out onto the desk and the floor!
Lastly, Good Willow, or Evil Willow? 😉
There were two Evil Willows – the genuinely evil vampire Willow from the alternate timeline where Buffy never came to Sunnydale, who was just a brilliant, dark, unsettling (and very funny!) version of the real character, and Willow after she went bad when Tara died, and nearly destroyed the world, who was more tragic than evil. Typically for Buffy, it was completely plausible, and based in reality – it was a girl driven almost mad by grief, and lashing out at the world, until her best friend talked her down. So, so sad, and brilliant. Like all of Buffy.
Thanks for having me at the Bookshelf, and for such great questions!
It was a pleasure to have you stop by Will! Thank you for your great answers as well. Even if I couldn’t manage to get you to spill some juicy secrets about book 2! 😉
Buy: Department 19 by Will Hill from The Book Depository.
You can also find Will at the Department 19 website, Facebook, & Twitter: @WillHillAuthor.