1. Was writing The Map of Bones different to writing The Fire Sermon?
Yes – in every possible way! I wrote The Fire Sermon over five or six years, and during that period it really was just a side-project that I dabbled in from time to time. It was never my main focus, and only right at the end was I spending big, sustained chunks of time on it. But when I wrote The Map of Bones, it was my full-time job. That didn’t mean that the writing process didn’t still have its pleasures, but it did also mean that the process was much more accelerated and intense. It was hard not be aware of the deadlines, and the editors, and the readers – all the stuff that hadn’t been on the cards at all when I wrote The Fire Sermon. But in a funny way, I’m actually prouder of The Map of Bones, because I worked so hard at it, and it demanded so much of me.
2. Was there a specific inspiration for the series?
Not one single moment, person or idea. But the concept at the heart of the series – the idea of twins that are born together and die together – comes from being so close to somebody that you ask yourself the question: how could I even live if this person died? It doesn’t matter whether it’s a twin, a lover, or a child; it’s about what happens when you become so close that it seems impossible to survive without that person. The fatal bond between the twins in the world of The Fire Sermon series is just a (slightly more fantastical) way of exploring that idea.
3. Do you think you would survive in a dystopian world?
I have some skills that would probably serve me quite well – I do a lot of distance running, and I have a very heavy toddler that I’m forever carrying around, so physically I’m fairly robust. But I’m also profoundly lazy, and lost without a good cup of tea and a daily dose of cake, so I have to admit that if the world got really grim I’d probably be a complete liability.
4. Is there a particular cliché of dystopia that really gets on your nerves?
The twitter account @DystopianYA is excellent at parodying the worst clichés of the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre: ‘Colony Leader Benedair smirked. "I bet you're wondering why I, the Leader of this entire Colony, am meeting with you, a teenager."’ But while there are certain tired tropes in dystopian books, there’s also a lot of excellent dystopian writing out there that undermines those tropes, or plays with them. Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are both astounding and completely fresh takes on post-apocalyptic/dystopian writing.
5. What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers, which was astonishingly good. I adored how unexpected it was – the whole time I was reading it, I had no clue what it was (poem? novel? exuberant fantasy, or grim psychological realism?) and that was one its real pleasures. And I’m about to embark on Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, because everyone I know has been singing their praises.
6. Can we get a peek into where you write?
This is my ‘official’ desk – but to be honest I’m just as often to be found working at the kitchen table, or in the café around the corner. The ‘A Room of One’s Own’ penguin books postcard that you can glimpse, stuck to the side of the cabinet, is slightly ironic, as my ‘study’ is actually just the corridor outside the bathroom! But it’s light and cosy and I have a few of my favourite things here, including (top left in the photo) the actual metal brand that HarperVoyager commissioned and used in the making of the original cover for The Fire Sermon. My editor had it framed and gave it to me at the book launch, and I’ll treasure it always. The process of writing can feel so insubstantial sometimes, so there’s something hugely comforting about that heavy great chunk of metal hanging on the wall.
The Map of Bones is out with Harper Voyager now!