Saturday, January 10, 2015

10 Nick Lake, author of THERE WILL BE LIES, on being inspired by a coyote

What was your inspiration for writing THERE WILL BE LIES?

Two things I think. The first is that I was in the grounds of a hotel in Arizona on a little tour for In Darkness, very late at night, when a coyote ran across the path in front of me, stopped, and looked at me. It was one of those moments that imprints itself on your memory, it felt somehow like a curtain was drawn aside, and I was seeing behind the workings of the world, into something ancient. And I knew I was going to do some kind of story where a character met a coyote that took them into a different world.

The second was… well, I suppose you would call it a kind of fear, about protecting my then-one-year-old daughter. I have a friend, actually an author too, who always reads my books after my wife has read them. And he said, “this book is basically you playing with your worst parental fears, like picking at a scab, isn’t it?” I can’t say much more than that, without giving away one of the book’s bigger twists, but I think he’s probably right.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

Oh, gosh. These are really good questions by the way. From a technical point of view, I think the first quarter of the book was the hardest to write, because there’s a twist that comes at the end of that section of the book – the first twist in the story really – and on the one hand I didn’t want people to guess it straight away, but on the other hand I wanted to do it in such a way that if you go back and re-read it, the clues are there. I also… and I’m conscious of not wanting to give it away here… but I also wanted it to feel real on the page, in the sense that it’s a very specific thing that affects what Shelby is aware of, and has practical ramifications for how the text is treated, on a words-and-punctuation level. This will make NO sense to those who haven’t read it, but that was hard.

The scene I love, and am also most proud of, is the scene after Shelby is escorted from the motel by the police towards the end of the book, and a kind of conversation that she has, across a dark parking lot. I worked on that a LOT, rewrote it lots of times, because it’s kind of the emotional hinge on which the entire story turns, and I wanted it to tell you something very important about Shelby without it ACTUALLY telling you, and I think and hope that it does. My editor wrote to me to tell me that the scene made her cry twice, and that pretty much made my year.

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

Hmm. I guess it’s a kind of blend of something like How I Live Now, my favourite YA novel, and various Stephen King and Neil Gaiman books. I love Coraline and I love the likes of Looking for Alaska, and if you could squash those together you’d have my idea of pure joy, and maybe the closest thing to what I’m trying to do.

Which, to be honest, is probably a disastrous thing to try to do, since reviewers who like the realistic elements tend to not like Coyote and the Dreaming, and vice versa. So it is perhaps a stupid goal. But what can I do?

How long did you work on THERE WILL BE LIES?

There are so many answers to this, and it depends what is meant by ‘work’. But I think the story was bouncing around in my head, and evolving, for about a year or a year and a half, before I started writing at all. Then maybe six months for a first draft, then another couple of months after my agent read it, then again after my wife read it, and again after my editor read it… so two; two and a half years?

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

It taught me that it’s really hard to write books with twists in them. But also really satisfying when readers don’t guess them in advance.

About myself… I think, without putting too fine a point on it, that Shelby goes on a journey of reconcilement, of self-healing, that was a way for me to do something similar, and it has to do with abandonment. That sounds really self-help and wanky, sorry. And also cryptic. But the book was a kind of therapeutic exercise I think.

What do you hope readers will take away from THERE WILL BE LIES?

A reviewer said that it was about the power of stories to heal, and while I wasn’t consciously thinking of that while writing it, I read that and I was like, YES. THAT IS WHAT I WANTED TO SAY. So thank you, Kirkus reviewer.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

There’s one book that has never been published, and rightly so. No, two – I also did a Nanowrimo novel that was terrible. And one that was published that I wouldn’t write now. Which is not to say that I’m not grateful to those who read it and liked it. That’s a really weird thing about writing: what I think I’ve done that’s good, what I’m proud of, and on the other hand what reviewers like, seem to have no real correlation.

My journey to publication was basically of being an editor for a few years and working on other people’s books, and then gradually starting to try to do it myself. I was rejected by a couple of agents and knocked back quite severely by someone in publishing who I trusted, which was a shock, but then I was lucky enough to be picked up by Caradoc King, who has ably guided me ever since, and I’m very grateful for that. Since then I think the thing I’m most thankful for is that I got a second chance, after doing my vampire ninja trilogy, and was able to go in a completely different direction. It’s rare that writers are able to completely shift genre. In Darkness was SUCH a different book to anything I had done before, and I am eternally grateful to Caradoc and to Bloomsbury for believing in it, and for believing that I could go from ninjas to a very different kind of first-person, contemporary-YA-with-magic.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

Yes, all the time. I know from being an editor as well as being a writer, and from talking to other writers, that it’s very common to receive JUST the element that you need for your book at just the right time, almost as if the universe is providing it. It’s a really spooky feeling. A couple from There Will Be Lies were particularly weird. The thing is, when I first wrote the book I hadn’t particularly read much Navajo myth, I just thought it was cool to have a talking coyote appear after Shelby got hit by a car, and tell her that there would be two lies and then the truth. And then I had him, alongside the realistic chase narrative with Shelby and her mother being pursued across Arizona, taking Shelby into this magical fairytale world of the Dreaming, and I had him tell her about the crone in the castle that she had to kill, and had him show her the gaunt deer that were dying because the crone had stopped it raining. And he was meant to be able to make it rain, but he couldn’t because the crone had imprisoned the First Child, so he needed her help. And I only made him in charge of the rain, and made the crone the one who had stopped it, because it made a neat parallel in that the reason Shelby’s mother has taken her from Alaska, where she’s from, to Arizona, is because she hates the rain, and I wanted the reader to see a link between the crone and Shelby’s mother.

But it was only after I’d written the book that someone suggested that the world Shelby entered should be more connected to the Native American myths of that place, as well as to fairytales, and so I started reading lots of stuff, and what I discovered was this Navajo and Apache idea that if a coyote crosses your path, you should turn back, because you will die or be injured or undergo some radical transformation. Which is uncanny enough because of course Shelby’s life gets turned COMPLETELY upside down from the moment the Coyote appears to her, but then I also read that it was given to Coyote to control the rain, because it fits with his whole chaotic, ambiguous trickster persona – rain is life-giving but it can also cause floods and death – and I had a real “WOAH” moment, because by pure and total accident I had given him that precise power in the book.

That’s either some Jungian collective unconscious stuff or I absorbed something about Coyote somewhere, some time, but I don’t remember doing so. Writing books is an exercise full of weird coincidences like that.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I have a wife, a four year old daughter and a one year old son all of whom I love spending time with, so I have a rule that I don’t write in the evenings or at weekends – and in fact that time was sacred before I had kids too. So the only window is when I’m on the train to and from work – I commute about three times a week from west Oxfordshire to London, which is literally about 100 miles, and I have a good hour and half each way on the train without changes. So I put on my noise-cancelling headphones, and write.

Actually, that’s not true. About a third of the year, I write. Another third, I spend editing other people’s books – I publish books at HarperCollins – and the final third, I watch TV shows like Breaking Bad and Spiral.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

Write what you feel, not what you know.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a book called Whisper to Me. It’s the first time in four books that I’ve used speech marks in a text, and there’s a very specific reason for that, which is that it’s about a girl called Cassie who is about to finish high school and lives in a slightly rundown Jersey resort town, and who starts hearing a voice. I was fascinated by the increasing body of research showing that a lot of people who are not at all schizophrenic, but have mostly experienced some kind of trauma, go through the struggle of hearing voices; and also how much more common it is than we think.

And the speechmarks are because I wanted the voice to appear identical on the page to the way that real voices appear, so that the reader’s experience echoes Cassie’s – for her, she is HEARING this voice, it’s not distinguishable from other sounds. It’s the voice of a woman, and at the same time, there’s this serial killer who is murdering young women in the town, at least it’s assumed so, though the bodies have never been found. Anyway, then Cassie’s friend disappears, and at the same time she’s going through all this stuff with hospitals and drugs and so on because her dad has found out about the voice, and she convinces herself that the voice is one of the murdered women, a kind of auditory ghost, and that her mission is to find this serial killer, and of course to find her friend who has gone missing.

Oh and the whole book is written as a letter from Cassie to a boy she has fallen in love with who is only referred to as “you”, and she is asking him to forgive him for something she has done to him, which she gradually reveals to us, while revealing to him the reasons for what she did, because he never knew about the voice. And the book starts basically with her telling him, ‘read this, and if you can forgive me, meet me on the pier at 4pm on Friday’. Because I liked the idea of playing with this thing that the whole book is an actual artefact, which is the email that she is writing to “you”. (Incidentally, it turns out to be VERY HARD to write a whole book addressed to someone who knows your main protagonist, knows the town, knows what everything looks like, knows her friends… it makes description a real challenge, because why would she describe anything he already knows?)

Anyway, at the end of the book, she hits send and it flies through the ether to him.

So it’s an out-and-out love story, and a real-life horror story, and a book about mental illness, and murder. But more than anything a love story, on a few different levels, and maybe the most obviously “love story” thing I’ve done.

With, you know, awful things.

ABOUT THE BOOK


There Will Be Lies
by Nick Lake
Hardcover
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Released 1/6/2015

In four hours, Shelby Jane Cooper will be struck by a car.

Shortly after, she and her mother will leave the hospital and set out on a winding journey toward the Grand Canyon.

All Shelby knows is that they’re running from dangers only her mother understands. And the further they travel, the more Shelby questions everything about her past—and her current reality. Forced to take advantage of the kindness of unsuspecting travelers, Shelby grapples with what’s real, what isn’t, and who she can trust . . . if anybody.

Award-winning author Nick Lake proves his skills as a master storyteller in this heart-pounding new novel. This emotionally charged thrill ride leads to a shocking ending that will have readers flipping back to the beginning.

Purchase There Will Be Lies at Amazon
Purchase There Will Be Lies at IndieBound
View There Will Be Lies on Goodreads

Nick LakeABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Lake is a children’s book editor at Harper UK. He received his degree in English from Oxford University. The Blood Ninja trilogy was inspired by his interest in the Far East, and by the fact that he is secretly a vampire ninja himself. Nick lives with his wife and daughter in England.

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