Meet the YA au­thor whose dystopian de­but made the best­seller lists

SFX - - Contents - Words by Jonathan Wright /// Pho­tog­ra­phy by Stephanie Gi­rard

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.”

greater ex­pec­ta­tions

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.”


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.

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