Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sarwat Chadda talks Templars, Old Gods and Werewolves

Readers, I am so excited to present our second interview with Sarwat Chadda. He's currently doing a blog tour here in the UK to celebrate the release of his new novel, The Dark Goddess, which is the follow-up to The Devil's Kiss. Now, between you and me, I really enjoyed The Devil's Kiss but trust me when I tell you that The Dark Goddess will blow you away. It's ridiculously good and well, read my review that'll be live tomorrow but in the meantime, read Sarwat's interview with MFB today.

1. Another year, and a brand new book from you! Can you tell us what Dark Goddess is about without giving too much away?

The Dark Goddess is Baba Yaga, a twenty thousand year old witch who sees herself as the living embodiment of the natural world. She’s seen the damage humanity has done to the planet, the pollution, the destruction of the forests and extinction of so many of its species that she’s decided the human race needs to be culled.

And who’s the say she’s wrong? What other species has prospered under the dominion of Man? Not one.

But Baba Yaga is old, weak and far past her best. She feeds on the psychic energy. If she’s to create a global cataclysm she needs to gain more power. What Dark Goddess centres around is a young nine year old girl, Vasilisa. She’s a potential avatar, a psychic of god-like proportions. The Templars have found her and Billi’s sworn to protect her until the Templars can get Vasilisa to Jerusalem, where she’ll begin her training to be the next Templar Oracle.

Meanwhile Baba Yaga has sent her priestesses, the Polenitsy, to find Vasilisa and bring her to her. The Polenitsy are old school religion. They believe in human sacrifice and will do anything for their goddess. They are also werewolves.

2. Having had the opportunity to read it I have to say I love how much Billi has grown as a character. Although she’s still pretty darn tough, there’s a new vulnerability to her that is really charming. This enhances her as a character greatly. How did you as a male writer tap into a teen girl’s psyche to pull this off?

Having two daughters, a wife as a first reader and two female editors certainly helps. However lot of teen issues are the same, whether male or female. Billi’s conflict is centred around her identity, what is she going to be, now she’s on the threshold of adulthood. What responsibility is so going to take on for the wider community and of course, who does she love?

Devil’s Kiss presented her with two sides of her personality, reflected in Mike and Kay. Mike was the resentment, the anger and the rebellion while Kay was duty, compassion and the chance for honesty.

Love is shaped by the type of person you are, and want to be. Through it we aspire to be better than we are and strive far more than we’d do for ourselves. This theme is all the way through Dark Goddess. Baba Yaga loves the natural world. The Polenitsy love Baba Yaga. Ivan loves Russia and as the story develops, Billi too. But, after the pain Billi’s suffered, she’s closed herself off and that makes her a smaller person. What Dark Goddess is about is her rediscovering her connection with other people and her capacity to love.

3. I know you’ve been to Russia to research the places Billi gets to see in Dark Goddess. What was your experiences like when you were there?

Moscow is AWESOME. The place is just gigantic and has a monolithic grandeur. The tube stations have mosaics, bronze statues and chandeliers. The palaces are endless and the city is dominated by the Seven Sisters, Stalin’s skyscrapers that brought Moscow into the modern age. I love it in the way I love London, it’s mythic. It reeks of history and has a brashness that comes with its new found freedom, but under that skin is a deep, old culture and a profound connection with its history.

Rather than wander around with a guide book I contacted Alan Steel who runs a company called Russian Gateway. He arranged a guide who took me way off the beaten track and filled me in on a lot of history that gets brushed over in the usual tourist articles. Then he did the Russian translation work for me too. Alan really helped turn the story around so it didn’t read like a travel brochure.

4. Billi’s relationship with her dad has changed dramatically – she is still a squire in the Templars – yet there is a newfound respect between Billi and Arthur yet you sense that there is still a hesitancy there. Will they ever be a happy father/daughter unit?

Things have moved on in Devil’s Kiss and Billi’s accepted her duty as a Templar. She still doesn’t like it but she knows she has to do it. And there’s what she achieved in Devil’s Kiss, saving all the firstborn. Arthur respects her for that and the price she paid, emotionally, in defeating the dark angel. Alas, both father and daughter share a lot of tragedy. Arthur will never recover from the death of his wife and that has tainted his relationship with Billi. I hope Billi does move on from her loss and certainly the emotional journey she takes in this book is centred around her embracing life, rather than brooding in the darkness and being angry with the world, which is Arthur’s way. So, Billi has a new maturity that Arthur lacks, and he knows it. I think that’s another big reason Arthur has a great respect for his daughter. She survives her pain and moves on, which is something Arthur can’t do.

But while they’ll never be an openly affectionate family, there is an incredibly deep bond between them and part of that is because of Jamila, Billi’s mother. That’s something I’d like to explore if the series continues.

5. Most of the action in Dark Goddess takes place in Russia. You have used a lot of imagery and legends from parts of eastern Europe and Russia and they play a big role in Dark Goddess. Did you have a lot of fun doing research and playing with mythology?

I’ve been reading about Russian mythology since the early 1990’s, which was when I first decided to do a Baba Yaga story. I’d done some travelling around Eastern Europe and had just visited Romania, and Transylvania so was very into the Dracula myth too.

I find Eastern Europe fascinating because the culture and mindset, as well as the myths, are very different. There’s a darkness to the tales that’s been taken out of the Western fairy tales, and there’s a greater sense of the otherworld. The forests are spookier and the characters much more macabre and you cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys so easily.

Four characters come up again and again. Prince Ivan, Vasilisa the Fair, Koshchey the Undying and Baba Yaga. I’ve put my own spin of them in Dark Goddess but, hopefully, retained their virtues and vices from the original fairy tale versions.

6. I think the reason everyone likes Billi so much is that she is a no nonsense kind of girl that can as easily smile at you than put you on your butt. Did you have to learn what it was like being able to throw punches or use weapons to write it well?

I’ve dabbled in a lot of martial arts as I’ve grown up but never for long. I’m a writer, not a fighter!

Actually, writing about fighting is a curious skill. It’s all in the anticipation, rather than the event itself. I don’t write much about the actions, but on the emotional state of the warrior. It’s life and death and so Billi’s feelings will be intense. We don’t really need to know how she swings the sword, but what she’s feeling as she does it. The fear, the excitement.

Billi’s all about raw emotion and that’s what appeals to me when I write her. She’s not a girl who does things by halves! She’s not cool or calculating. Even when she’s trying to be cut off and cold at the beginning of the story you sense her emotions storming beneath the surface. Perhaps she feels too strongly, too intensely. But it’s what makes her such fun to write.

7. Let’s talk Romanovs. Specifically let’s talk about Ivan Alexeivich Romanov. Tell us a bit about Ivan. What makes him different from the usual bad boys we see in YA these days?

Ivan’s the anti-bad boy. Ivan’s an old-fashioned hero, elegant, civilized and totally deadly. He’s had the best of everything and has a certain, natural arrogance of nobility.

The bad boy template’s been a bit done to death now and hasn’t really evolved from the James’ Dean misunderstood, ‘tough on the outside and soft on the inside’ formula. And all he needs is the love of a good woman to make it all better. There was absolutely nothing I could do to add a new spin on the bad boy character so decided to go the opposite direction. If you spot a cliché, do the opposite. It’ll keep your writing fresh and interesting.

Ivan isn’t like that. He’s got responsibility, duty and commitment to what he believes in. He is willing to die for his honour, which isn’t something modern heroes have any real interest in. What I love about Ivan is he realises that nobility is not in the blood, but in the deed. He has set himself an ideal and that is what he strives for. To be better.

8. Tied intrinsically with Dark Goddess are the werewolves. Here we have really tough Amazonian werewolves who follow matriarchal law. Why did you decide to buck the trend and walk away from male alphas / male dominated packs?

My two biggest werewolf inspirations were from ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Angela Carter’s short story collection ‘Company of Wolves’.

Werewolf mythology is intrinsically female. It’s centred around moon worship which is a female deity and connected with Hecate, the goddess of witches. Plus the weapon of the Amazons was the double-headed axe, itself mimicking the curves of the moon.

On the Yin/Yang front I wanted DG to have a strong female energy to balance the male dominated energy of Devil’s Kiss, where Billi and Elaine were the only two female characters in the entire book and that was centred around the Templars, all men. I wanted to create a rival organization, as tough, as deadly and as dedicated as the Templars and my female werewolf pack fits that role perfectly.

9. What have you learned about writing between Devil’s Kiss and Dark Goddess? Do you think you’ve grown as a writer?

Very complex question since I still feel very much a novice. I’m making fundamental mistakes still but am getting quicker at recognising them and correcting them. The biggest difference is greater objectivity. To stop a problem with a story you need to be able to view it from a distance. This is not easy especially when you’ve got deadlines and the urge is to write and write and write. But what you need to do is think.

What I’ve also noticed is my lack of tolerance for reading. I read less and am far more willing to put a book down that just doesn’t work for me. That’s a shame because I’m finding it harder to get out of the writer mode when you’re reading and analysing, rather than just letting yourself get caught up in the world of the story.

10. I love the short stories you’ve been doing on the site, will we be seeing more of those? (explain here if you like, why you are doing them because obviously we know, but others may not)

There was going to be slightly over a year gap between Devil’s Kiss and Dark Goddess so I thought it would be fun to write a series of short stories to fill the space. Some would hint at the second book, or expand on some event out of Devil’s Kiss, others would look at one of the secondary characters.

I’ve done about four or five. Some have been released on my website but some are being saved for the US publication, so do keep checking. I’ve two more I want to work on. When Arthur joined the Templars and the first meeting between Billi and Kay.

11. Two years on, on the cusp of Dark Goddess being published, what is your writers’ advice to newbie authors now that you’ve had a lot more experience in the biz. I’m referring to the advice you gave us in our previous interview, over a year ago, see my cleverly added link for reference.

Funny reading up on it, later down the line. I was at a function yesterday talking to an agent trying to place her zombie novel with a publisher. Problem is EVERYONE now has their zombie book so don’t want any more. So, I was right, the zombie trend has come and gone. Apparently dystopia is the next big thing, following from Knife of Never Letting Go, Hunger Games and Matched. You have been advised.

The only thing worth emphasising is passion. You have got to love writing. When it’s your fifth rewrite, deadlines are looming and the plot makes no sense whatsoever the only thing that will stop you from giving up and becoming an accountant like your parents wanted, is the passion. No matter what a shambles my attempts are with this job, I love it as much now as I did in that first interview. More in fact. I can’t believe this is my day job. When I’m at the pc lost in the world I’m building, nothing else compares. AND you get paid for it. UNBELIEVABLE.
Thanks for that really interesting interview, Mr. C! The Dark Goddess is out tomorrow, 1st July (yay!) so make sure to get yourself a copy...or swing by here tomorrow as I'll be running a competition in which you can win a signed personalised copy of The Dark Goddess. UK entrants only, just so you know!
In the meantime, make sure to visit Sarwat's blog site here and his website here, to keep up to date with all his shenanigans. Also, the next stop in the blog tour will be: Bookzone on the 2nd of July.

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