The excellent Alex Woolf suggested that I take part in the ‘Next Big Thing’ writer meme, and I thought it would be a good way to open my new blog, in which I shall attempt to write properly author-ish things, instead of my usual stream of consciousness rubbish. The idea is for writers to talk a little about their next project. So, here goes…
What is the title of your next book?
The Diamond Thief. The story is set in Victorian England and follows the exploits of 16-year-old circus performer and jewel thief, Rémy Brunel. Brought to London from France to steal a famous diamond on behalf of her evil circus master, Rémy finds herself pitted against a young detective called Thaddeus Rec, who is determined to save the diamond. Together they are drawn into a dastardly plot that takes them into the heart of the city’s criminal world. It’s a children’s book for ages of around 9-12, and is my first ‘proper’ novel. Previously I’d published a few non-fiction titles.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
I always find it hard to pinpoint how ideas start. The Diamond Thief had quite a convoluted evolution – I love the steampunk genre and I wanted to write something within it. My original idea for the main character, Rémy, was actually as part of an adult science fiction novel set in a far-future London, on an Earth that had been abandoned by the quickly-advancing colonies she had established in space. Technological disaster had then resulted in a strange mish-mash of pre-industrial, just-industrial and far-future technologies existing side-by-side. I still love that setting and I will use it for something else one day, but somehow, when I thought of her as a younger character, Rémy morphed into a French circus urchin visiting Victorian London.
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s got a strong steampunk element to it, and it’s quite fantastical. There’s a lot of action, and perhaps a little bit of romance, too…
What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ooh, good question. Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, would probably make a very good Rémy – although she may still be a year or two too young. I’m really not sure about Thaddeus. While I was writing the book, Kew Steam Museum had a steampunk exhibition, and when I went to see it there were a group of teenagers dressed in full-on steampunk gear. One of them was so close to my idea of Thaddeus that I took a picture, and now that’s the only face I have in my head for him! Claudette, Rémy’s older, fortune-telling friend, has always been an actress called Lucy Brown in my head, and her daughter Ameilie would have to be little Pixie Davies, who recently made her screen debut in BBC1’s The Secret of Crickley Hall.
What is the one-sentence synopsis for your book?
Um… Imagine Enid Blyton’s ‘circus’ series meets Sherlock Holmes, with a little Jules Verne mixed in.
Will your book be self-published or are you represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Eleven weeks. It was actually first written for a wonderful company called Fiction Express. They publish choose-your-own adventure ebooks, where each chapter has questions at the end so that the readers can vote on the direction of the plot. They are now concentrating on producing brilliant interactive e-fiction for schools – it’s an excellent way of getting children to have fun with reading.
What other books in the same genre would you compare yours with?
I deliberately try to make my books as little like others as possible, and try not to read novels that I think may be very similar for that reason, though I’m sure just by osmosis there are things that people reading it would say are comparable to other stories. But perhaps Marcus Sedgwick’s The Dark Flight Down, just in terms of tone.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The development of the book as a whole, and specifically the tone, was very closely tied into the development of the main character, Rémy Brunel. I’ve been fascinated by Victorian women for a long time. For all it was a society built on restriction and restraint, there were some extraordinary women who managed to carve out phenomenal spaces for themselves, in a way that few of us do even today. I have a collection of female correspondence and also of books written by female travellers from around the time The Diamond Thief is set. My favourite of these accounts are by Isabella Bird, a pint-sized, rotund spinster who travelled all over the world, alone, to places like Hawaii, India, Tibet, Japan and China. One of her most famous trips was riding 800 miles through the Rocky Mountains. On her own! Through places with no tracks, let alone roads! I wouldn’t do that now, forget about then. When she finally agreed to marry her long-term suitor, it was on the tacit understand that she would still be allowed to do whatever travelling she liked – without him. When she died, in her sixties, she was in the middle of planning another trip to India. It was the independent adventurousness and indomitable spirit of women like her that inspired the character of Rémy.
What else about your book might pique the readers’ interest?
It’s a very London-centric book, and a lot of the places I mention in still exist, such as Limehouse basin and The Grapes pub. When I was writing it as an ebook, I used to take walks around the east end and tweet pictures of where I was and where Rémy had been. I think, when it comes out in February, I will do the same here, on my blog.
And that’s it! Thanks for reading. I now encourage you to follow the link to Stewart Ross’s Next Big Thing, which will be updated on the 19 December.