Friday 28 September 2012

Friday Feature: Author Interview with Stephanie Burgis

Yesterday I reviewed A Reckless Magick, which brought the Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson trilogy to a close. As fabulous as the book was, I'm rather devastated that one of my very favourite trilogies has now ended! To help ease the blow, I managed to grab a chat with author Stephanie Burgis. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed talking to her.

1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

The wonderful thing about the internet is that I've gotten feedback from so many different readers - girls, boys, men and women - that there's no homogenous group in my head! I think of us all as a shared group, though, people who love magical adventure and humour and noisy, loving literary families.

2. I love the way you capture the Regency period so well! Did you have to do a lot of research before starting the trilogy?

I was lucky that I'd been researching the Regency period for years and years already, just for fun! I'm a total history geek, and I first fell for the Regency era as a kid when I discovered Jane Austen's novels (followed shortly afterwards by Georgette Heyer's lovely Regency rom-coms). Because I was fascinated by the era, I gobbled up biographies of Austen and Fanny Burney and a whole host of other Regency-era women whenever I could find them, for well over a decade before Kat ever appeared in my life.

I'd also been working on my PhD in late-eighteenth-century opera and politics for about four years before I ever started writing the first Kat book...and the honest truth is, whenever I'd go into the (wonderful) Brotherton graduate library at the University of Leeds, there was a 9 out of 10 likelihood that I'd get side-tracked over to the room of books about turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Britain, just because it was so full of wonderful resources. So I'd sit there reading Fanny Burney's diaries or Jane Austen's letters instead of working on my thesis!

(This is why I now have 3 published novels and no PhD thesis. Oops.)

I'm sure your PhD thesis would be worth reading, but I'm going to be selfish and say I'm very glad you ended up with the novels instead!

So in other words, by the time I finally had the idea for Kat, I had a pretty good grounding in Regency-era history and society. However, I ended up doing a ton of in-depth research from then on to find out all the small details and practicalities that only popped up as I was writing, like fashion details, food, lighting, etc. Most of that came from books, but I've also dragged my husband around almost every Regency-era house/museum in Britain, some of them multiple times! He's been very tolerant. ;)

3. As regular readers of my blog will know, Kat is one of my all-time favourite heroines. Who are your own personal favourites?

Oh, there are so many! But here are a few: Amelia Peabody (from Elizabeth Peters's mystery series, which begins with Crocodile on the Sandbank); Sarah Thane (from Georgette Heyer's The Talisman Ring); Jane Eyre (from, er, Jane Eyre!) and Elizabeth Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice); Flora Segunda (from Ysabeau Wilce's Flora Segunda trilogy); Aluna (from Jenn Reese's Above World); and Abby Hale (from Caitlen Rubino-Bradway's Ordinary Magic).

4. You have a fabulous website which offers the first few chapters of each book for free, gives behind the scenes details of the books, and has some other wonderful extras. You also have a regularly updated blog. How important do you think the internet is to an author writing for children and teens today?

Oh, I'm glad you like the website! I'm lucky to be married to a pro web designer, so I get to be extravagant with my site. :)

I think the internet is important for any author nowadays, because so many books are bought online, and we can't rely on readers getting to discover and flip through them in a bookstore first. A lot of the books I want to buy aren't even stocked in my local bookstore, so as a reader, I get really frustrated if I can't read an excerpt on the author's site or elsewhere - how else will I know whether I really want to order the book or not? (Note: I often order them through my bookstore anyway, rather than ordering them online, but at least in my local bookstore, you need to pay upfront when you first make the order - and how can I be sure I really want a book if I haven't read at least a few pages of it first?)

Most of all, now that Amazon has changed bookselling so much (for better or worse), I think we really need to be able to offer some kind of online equivalent to the traditional flipping-through-the-book experience that readers get in bookstores.

So my website is really there for the purpose of helping readers figure out whether they want to buy my books or not. (Of course I always hope the answer is yes!)

My blog and my Twitter account, on the other hand, are really just for me. Writing is such an isolating profession, and my second job is parenting, which is also wonderful-but-isolating! So I love the feeling of community that I get through social media. It lets me stay in touch with old friends and make new ones and feel like I'm surrounded by fun, smart, interesting people even when I'm actually stuck in my house all day, desperately trying to meet a deadline.

5. Speaking of extras, there's jewellery inspired by Kat's Chronicles available, which has to be one of the coolest things I've ever seen! How did that come about?

Isn't that fabulous? Way back in 2001, I went to a six-week writing workshop, Clarion West, where I learned a whole bunch about writing *and* met my future husband. Years later, another one of our Clarion West classmates, Emily Mah, started a jewellery business, and I loved the pieces she was making. So when she asked me whether I'd be interested in tie-in jewellery...well, I was thrilled!

She's created different jewellery for each book in the trilogy, and each time, she's asked me what my ideal piece of book-themed jewellery would be. I don't have much of a visual imagination, so I've never tried to dictate what anything should look like - I know she'll be better than me at figuring that out! - but I've always asked for jewellery that tied in to particular elements of the books. For instance, with the first book, I wanted jewellery based on Kat's mother's magic books, and I wanted a charm bracelet that spelled out "Everything's better with highwaymen!" With the last book, we decided on a ring that spelled out a new phrase that is, again, key to the book's theme...and also, the fact that it was a ring was meaningful, because two different rings are actually important in A Reckless Magick.

I don't take any profits from the jewellery that's sold, but I do get free copies for myself, which I love, and also copies to use in giveaways. And it is unbelievably cool to wear beautiful jewellery based on my own books!

It is seriously cool! Great that you get free copies, and I'm in awe of Emily's skill in making it.

6. Kat is from a very close-knit family who all have moments of brilliance in the trilogy (even Stepmama!) - who's your favourite fictional family?

The Casson family, by Hilary McKay! I love them SO much. She's one of my very favourite writers, and Saffy's Angel (the first of the Casson family books) is simply one of the best MG books I've ever read.

I think that's one of the most-recommended series in my interviews, I REALLY need to get round to reading it soon!

7. If you were a character in your own books, which of the men would you most like to marry?

Ha! OK, I'll vote for Frederick Carlyle on this one. Charming, funny, smart and good-looking...Angeline may be getting a terrifying mother-in-law through him, but he's definitely worth it. (Although I have a few friends who I know would vote for Charles! ;) )

I think Frederick's awesome, although I also really like Charles. And another one I won't mention because I know most people reading this probably haven't had a chance to read A Reckless Magick yet...

8. If you could ask any other author any question, who would you ask and what would you ask them?

Erm...honestly, I'd probably pathetically beg Hilary McKay or any other of my favourite authors for sneak-peeks at their next books!

Sounds like a good plan to me!

9. What are you reading at the moment?

I just finished reading Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, and I loved it - a really fun, funny YA rom-com. Now I'm in the middle of reading Guadalupe Garcia McCall's Summer of the Mariposas, a lovely contemporary YA fantasy novel inspired by The Odyssey. It's about five Mexican-American sisters who sneak across the border to Mexico to return a dead man to his family and then have to face various magical barriers on their way back home.

Dash and Lily is another one that's been on my list of books to read for ages, while I haven't heard of the Mariposas, but it sounds great!

10. What's next for Stephanie Burgis?

I won a bursary from Literature Wales this spring to work on a new historical fantasy adventure for children (tentative working title: Antonia O'Toole Takes the Low Road to Hollywood), which I've just finished drafting! It's a screwball road trip across 1930s America, with ghosts and gangsters and a 13-year-old heroine, and I'm about to send it out to some other writers for critique. Then I'll revise it, send it to my agent...and then we'll see! Please cross your fingers for me. :)

Fingers duly crossed! I can't wait to read it.

Very best wishes for the future, Stephanie - thanks for taking the time to talk to me!


  1. Oh my god, that road trip across 1930s America sounds AMAZING! I want to read that book for sure.

    Also? Book inspired jewellery is my favourite, I think it's wonderful that you have someone who can create those things for you and for your readers!

    1. I love road trips, and I love early 20th century America as a setting, so that looks like an amazing book - can't wait to read it!

    2. Thanks, both of you, for that! :) I'm just waiting for my agent's feedback on it, so it's perfect timing to hear from you guys that you like the concept.