BROUGHT TO BOOK
Meet the YA author whose dystopian debut made the bestseller lists
US author Victoria Aveyard.
Some stories don’t work as films. Or at least they don’t seem like movies to the writer who originated the idea. Despite majoring in screenwriting at the University of Southern California, as soon as Victoria Aveyard came up with the character of Mare Barrow, reluctant leader of a rebellion on a dystopian world, she instantly knew Mare’s story “needed more space” than a script would allow. Great, decision made – except for Aveyard the idea of writing the novel that became her debut Red Queen, the first part of a sequence that continues with the publication of Glass Sword in February, was a “terrifying” prospect.
“Basically there was about 11 months between college graduation and the sale of Red Queen to HarperCollins [ in the US],” she says. “The scariest parts were actually writing the book – I had no idea if it was good, was constantly scared I’d made the wrong decision, and I lost my motivation so many times – and finishing the book.
“Once the manuscript was written, I was in an even more terrifying limbo. At least before I wrote ‘ The End’, I could fall back on the fact that I was still writing. It was still a work in progress. Now it was ready for the next stage, and I had no idea how it would be received.”
She needn’t have worried. The book not only found a publisher, but hit number one on the New York Times YA bestseller list in the week of its release in 2015. “It’s still very weird to wake up and know this is my full- time job,” she says as she reflects on finding success in her early twenties. “I’m constantly counting my lucky stars.”
But such success brings external pressure. As she wrote Red Queen, living with her folks in Massachusetts, there was no expectation the book would do so well. Not so with Glass Sword. “The first book was such a whirlwind and I was blissfully ignorant as to what publishing it meant,” she says. “Now I sort of know what’s coming, and how many people are now invested in the series. My number one goal is to leave readers feeling like they’ve been entertained by my words for a few hours, so hopefully I accomplished that.”
She probably has. Picking up “exactly where Red Queen left off ”, it again focuses on Mare, a girl who can summon lightning, yet who lives in a society where, because her blood is red rather than silver, she’s part of an underclass.
“The entire book is basically the next step in her journey, both physically and emotionally,” says Aveyard. “The events of the first book took heavy tolls, and we see that in everyone, particularly Mare. It’s been really interesting to explore how her character reacts to trauma, and what the aftermath looks like in a 17- year- old girl.”
That sounds pretty heavy for a YA novel, but this doesn’t worry Aveyard. “I’ve never felt restricted by the YA category,” she says. “To me, it just means your characters are in this age bracket, so this book is YA. The series only gets darker and heavier as we press on, so maybe I’ll hit a wall eventually, but I don’t think so. There’s no reason to soften the blow or dumb down anything simply because it’s shelved in YA.”
Besides, most children have a habit of finding their way to stories that interest them. That was the case for Aveyard. “Not only are both my parents teachers who are avid readers themselves, but they’re huge movie buffs,” she says. “I saw Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc all very young, and that sort of set my tastes for the rest of my life. After I read Lord Of The Rings, I kind of realised that writing stories wasn’t just this compulsion I had, but something I needed to do with my life.”
COLLECTION OF heroes
Underlining the point, she adds: “I’m a worshipping child of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin, Peter Jackson – pretty much anyone who can suck me into a story, but they do it best.”
The mix of cinematic and writerly names here is reflected in the way Aveyard’s nascent career has developed. She’s continued to write for the screen too. In early 2014, it was reported Sony had optioned her Greek god- themed spec script for Eternal. Later that year, it was further reported it was “merging” with a script on a similar theme developed from an idea by Stan Lee.
Aveyard sidesteps a direct question about hanging with Stan, but she says she wants to work for Hollywood, if she can ever find the time. “Between touring, publicity, and you know, writing the rest of the [ Red Queen] series, I haven’t had much time to work on script ideas,” she says. “Plus now I have the added question of: does this work better as a book or movie?”
We’re sure she’ll work it out. Meantime, let’s finish with a really important question: George Lucas or George RR Martin? “This hurts, but my answer is George Lucas,” she says. “I may be biased because I just saw The Force Awakens last night, but Star Wars has been with me my entire life, and is a cultural touchstone that changed an entire industry.” See, she still loves the movies.
Glass Sword will be published by Orion on 11 February.