Monday, 23 July 2012

Interview #3: Bryony Pearce

It’s always fascinating to find a writer in the first flush of success, newly published, brimming with ideas and eager to talk about her work.

Enter Bryony Pearce.

She is a rising star of the young adult genre, thanks to her stunning debut, Angel’s Fury, which magically fuses a contemporary story with the Holocaust and the paranormal.

It was published by the mighty Egmont a year ago and has just won a Leeds Book Award. It was also longlisted for the Branford Boase award.

Bryony Pearce
She has great reviews and more books ripe for publication.

Impressive, indeed.

It’s hard to believe this is the same person who fifteen years ago as a Cambridge University student gave up her childhood dream of becoming a writer, believing she would never measure up to writing heroes such as Chaucer.

Thankfully she overcame her self-doubt and got back on her true path to become a writer, and a successful one at that.

I spoke to her on the phone last week. I was interested to hear how she writes her books.

She explained: “I start with a snapshot of a character. With Angel’s Fury I had a picture in my head of a girl who kept waking from a nightmare. I suffer from nightmares myself. It took me years to find her story. About ten years.”

She knows exactly where she’s going when she begins to put pen to paper, partly because it allows her to concentrate on things like allusion, naming of characters and foreshadowing, but also partly because she’s a full-time mum to two young children Maisie and Riley and her writing time has to be fitted into the moments in between.

“I’m a plotter. When I sit down I need to know exactly what I’m going to write. It’s interesting that with my first book (the as yet unpublished Windrunner’s Daughter) I plotted the first ten chapters and the final ten I pantsed it. The feedback I got was that the first half was great, the second not so great. So there’s a lesson there for me. I’m a plotter.”

Her debut novel, Angel's Fury
She has since completely rewritten the book several times, under the eye of two different agents, and she hopes there will be a time when Windrunner’s Daughter finds a publisher.

“I love the editing process, working with an editor to make it better each time,” she said.

She also loves research and the rich textures and layers of her stories is the result. But she likes to do her research as she goes along, allowing the story to flow where it needs to. She will stop when she needs to delve a little deeper into a topic. That way she doesn’t impede the act of writing.

When she was working on Angel’s Fury, to research a Nazi past life of a character, she went so far as to download a user manual for the rifle he would have used.

She also became fascinated by the Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram’s experiments of the 1960s which involved electrocuting his volunteers.

Bryony now uses this research as an educational tool during her school visits.

“I talk about how I write and I discuss the Milgram experiment and then I let the students ‘electrocute’ me.”

She said she trusts in the creative process and serendipitous events to guide her towards her story.

When the character of Cassie from Angel’s Fury was germinating in her mind, she was plagued with nightmares about a place that was clear in her mind, but she had no idea where it was or if it existed.

During a trip to Gibraltar a tour guide pointed out an RAF base, where she had lived for a time as a child (her father was in the Air Force) and she realised that this was the scene from her dream, even though she had no conscious memory of it.

On another holiday, this time to Bali, she learned about reincarnation and this became central to the story.

“I was always fascinated by mythology – particularly Nordic, Greek and Roman. It’s interesting how universal many of these stories are – every culture seems to have a flood myth or dragon myths.

“The more realistic a book is the more creepy the paranormal elements become.”

She must be thrilled by the Leeds Book Award.

“It was unexpected!” she said, adding that it meant so much because the shortlist was drawn up by librarians in Leeds and then voted on by young people.

Her audience, I suggested.

“Yes, that’s why it’s so important,” she said.

Bryony is a member of The Edge
Bryony is a member of The Edge, a group of YA authors who appear at festivals together and generally promote each other’s work. Several of The Edge are winners of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Undiscovered Voices competition (Bryony heartily recommends new writers entering this award).

They have an excellent website, well worth a read if you’re interested in the YA genre and writing in general.

So what’s next? Her agent, Juliet Mushens, is trying to find a publisher for her next novel, The Society, which sounds fantastic, about a girl who sees ghosts. When a restless spirit touches her, it leaves a mark and she must avenge their death.

And she’s currently working on a story about a teenage boy who can jump between dimensions, based on multi-universe theory and Homer’s Odyssey.

Yes, the future looks bright for Bryony Pearce. So glad she didn’t give up altogether on her dream of being a writer.

My thanks to Bryony for speaking to me. You can visit her website here.

Her SCBWI page is here.
The Edge can be found here.

Follow her on Twitter at @BryonyPearce.

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