I was lucky enough to be assigned the talented and enthusiastic Bella Book as my editor for True Haven. Here, she puts me on the spot with some challenging questions on the book and the writing process.
1. Who was the easiest/most fun character to write? Were any of the characters particularly difficult to write?
To be honest, I have a soft spot for most of the non-villains in the story – and a grudging regard for some of the villains, too. It’s hard to know where they sprang from. It’s as though there were a huge cast of extras hovering in the wings, elbowing their way into the spotlight. I did enjoy creating the metal-fangler, Mr Bellyband, and his little world. Trompe l’oeil specialists Squercher and Crump appeared fully formed – they deserve a book to themselves. However, I must admit to some favouritism regarding the dashing Florian Cabochon, with all his flair and foibles. He was easy to write, although I did have to keep him in check. He’s a shocking scene-stealer.
2. Sibling relationships seem to be a big part of the book, from Otto’s love for Max to Crump and Squercher’s relationship. Do you have siblings, and if so, how have those relationships affected you?
Actually, I’m an only child, so I’ve had to think carefully about brother/sister relationships. I gained some useful insights from my husband Rob, who’s the fifth of five – and the last of three brothers. He’s often regaled me with hilarious anecdotes of his youth.
From my perspective, there are as many relationships between siblings as there are siblings – and these seem to change constantly. I’ve tried to imagine having brothers and sisters. I suspect we would have battled incessantly, especially as adolescents, but perhaps we’d be reconciled now and appreciate our inevitable differences!
3. How has writing True Haven, set in the Regency era, compared to your other books? Does writing for a Young Adult audience change how you write?
I adore YA fantasy. As a child, I devoured such titles as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Borrowers and Five Children and It. A long, long time ago, before my daughter was born, I was unwell for a while, recovering from an ectopic pregnancy. It was ghastly, to be honest, so I distracted myself by starting to write. I still have the manuscript: it’s called The Evil Magi of Scrunge. It’s probably pretty dire, but it served its purpose, and I realised how much I loved mad fantasy worlds. So, I’ve written a few YA books now, and I find them an enjoyable challenge. When you read best-selling titles (Edge Chronicles, Leviathan, Mortal Engines and so forth), you soon see there’s no room for flannel, dull scenes, boring dialogue, worthy justifications et cetera. You have to divebomb in, guns blazing – then accelerate the pace – and go out with an even bigger bang.
So, I hope that True Haven benefited from the writing experience of the earlier books. It was a little different from the others, as it’s written in the first person. I’ve been told that this was a risk, but I took it anyway. Claramina made a good narrator.
To digress, Terry Pratchett used to work at the Bath Chronicle, where I got a job just after he’d left, so perhaps there was something in the air! It’s such a fascinating and beautiful city, but there are definitely shady elements to its past.
4. The power of perspective seems to be a powerful theme in True Haven. Can you tell us more?
As a vertically-challenged adult of five foot one and three-quarters, the world seems a big place. It’s getting bigger, too, but that’s not because I’m shrinking – other people are getting taller. I suspect taller people forget how overpowering the world is when you’re short and I feel that many adults still literally “talk down” to younger people. I thought it might be worth highlighting this feeling, and show that just because you’re small, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice, or the power to change things.
Mina’s growth, literally and figuratively, is a huge part of True Haven. Her actual size correlates with the more intangible parts of her development. For example, when she’s dwarfed by the normal world, after a few moments of reorientation, she must adjust speedily or face certain doom. The sudden transition serves to reveal her inner strengths.
So, when it came to devising the story, along came an inventor with his sizometer and the miniaturiser, and there the fantasy begins. Toying with the concepts of different-sized beings inhabiting the same world is not only mind-boggling fun but an intriguing vehicle to explore all manner of concepts in (I hope) a humorous and exciting fashion.
5. How was it navigating a story with so many twists and turns?
Once you start fiddling about with dimensions on a Gulliver scale, the normal rules of physics don’t apply. Everything goes topsy-turvy and inside out. To keep up, I made pages and pages of furious notes and drew myriads of diagrams with squiggly arrows. I even had to look up the size of flea and do some maths to make sure everything was to scale. I must admit, at times my head hurt.
6. True Haven has many different types of tyranny, from the Skews, to the corrupt seamen, to Lady Celadon, and to the behaviour of the Mexx in True Haven. How does this misuse of power affect our main heroes?
This issue of the abuse of power never goes away, does it? It was certainly true in Regency times – or more broadly Georgian – when the world was changing so fast. The rich were getting richer, and the poor more desperate. In True Haven, the valiant heroes begin by grudgingly accepting the status quo, but when events catapult them into facing the various oppressors, they are finally pushed to breaking point. They get angry, they dig their heels in – and they fight back. I tried to show this shift in attitude and reveal strong points they didn’t even know they had when it comes to the crunch.
7. Florian continually tells Mina she has a soldier’s mind, while she keeps insisting that she is a tailor’s apprentice. Who is more right? Can Mina be both things at once? Or, once she had assumed the role of a soldier and a strategic thinker, do you think she could ever go back to being an apprentice for Mr. Thrums and be satisfied? With Mina being such a powerful protagonist, is there a specific message you hope some readers, especially younger girls, take away from True Haven?
Claramina is so much fun. “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” My daughter has this apt Bardic slogan on a T-shirt we bought in Stratford-upon-Avon. Personally, I feel there’s still a gender gap today, even in so-called civilised societies. I was brought up not to climb trees, get grubby or speak out of turn, so I’m a bit of a petal. It’s sad that things haven’t changed as much as they should: girls should be treated as equals, and that’s that. Young Claramina is not well educated, but she is smart. At first, she uses her wits to survive, and get on, but as the danger increases, so does her ability to cope. Of course, being modestly raised, she doesn’t realise it at first. It takes an experienced soldier to point it out. She’s proud of what she’s achieved, and a tailor’s apprentice sounds much better than a seamstress! By the time the dust has settled, however, there’s no going back. If she returned to her former life, she’d be bored rigid. No, a whole new future awaits ... Yes. This is a clear message to get out into the world and shape your own destiny, whoever you are.
8. What would you consider to be the major themes in True Haven?
I’ve tried to tackle the themes of independence, adapting to circumstances and using one’s wits to survive. I’m interested in how adults perceive younger people (and vice versa), and attempted to show how important it is to have clear communications on both sides.
Beyond this, it also looks at adults in positions of responsibility and considers issues of bullying and authority. The story also delves into the concepts of truth and fiction, for nothing is quite what it seems, especially True Haven itself.
9. What character traits would you say make a truly villainous villain?
I love a juicy villain. In fact, I see villainy on a sliding scale. To make the most dastardly villain seem truly black, I think there has to be an array of darker characters, from the slightly dodgy to the deeply criminal. It was diverting to create a motley crew of miscreants to offset the main villain of the piece. The nastiest piece of work must also be convincing and function in society, so appear seemingly normal. Examples of their villainy should increase in nastiness, I feel, so when it comes to the denouement, we as the reader aren’t surprised, but vindicated. Without being too psychoanalytical, I think a “back story” is important, as well, so there is a reason for their “criminal” behaviour. I have a detailed timeline for each of my villains, so I know exactly when they started to turn bad – and why.
10. And what makes a truly heroic heroine?
I’m very fussy. She must cope well with adversity – although not be too happy to accept it. Intelligence is a must, as well as a sense of humour. Who likes a prig? Honesty is good, and a calm ability to see things for what they are and reason them out. I love a heroine who can get indignant, even a little angry, as the precursor to some rip-roaring, fearless action when the time comes. To sum up, she must be human and not too perfect, or we’d never dare to aspire.
Thank you, Bella. And thanks for all the editing. You might like to know I’m mapping out the sequel ... which so far has even more twists and turns and Regency-inspired madness than True Haven.
By Pamela Kelt