One of the coolest fantasies of the year has been Rosie Best's Skulk, from the superb Strange Chemistry, so I was thrilled to get an interview with the author!
1. When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, what do you see?
This is quite a hard question to answer because I'm still fairly new to the concept of having readers! Basically, the image that springs to mind is of a teenage girl with glasses who spends too much time on the internet, because that's me, give or take fifteen years. I had to pick a label for the readers I hope I'm writing for, I think I'd use 'nerd' - by which I mean the modern, proud, geek-shall-inherit-the-earth definition of nerd which encompasses people from all walks of life, with passions for all sorts of different things.
2. Meg's voice is exceptionally strong. Who are your favourite narrators in other teen novels?
Thank you! A lot of the teen novels I like best are the ones with incredibly strong or unusual narrators. In fact, the two that leap to mind are both World War 2 stories that made me cry buckets of tears:
The Book Thief, by Markus Zuzak, instantly caught my attention and love for its use of Death as an omniscient narrator, telling the story of this girl Liesel who's captured his attention and interest. Death has a real voice and personality of his own, and it's one of the most brilliant and upsetting ways to tell a story set in Nazi Germany I've ever read.
The other book is Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. I won't say too much about the plot because if you haven't read it you really should, but we're introduced to the main character, a Scottish teenager, as she begins to write a confession having been captured by the Nazis in occupied France. She writes about her circumstances with chilling simplicity and then begins to describe how she got there with this beautiful nostalgic poetry... this book plays with the idea of found documents and storytelling in the most amazing way.
Two of my all-time favourite books - great picks!
3. Meg's mother is one of the most compellingly awful parents I've ever seen in fiction. Who do you think is the worst ever fictional parent?
Matilda's parents, from the Roald Dahl novel, are pretty horrid - cruel, neglectful and just totally at odds with their daughter. I also can't help thinking about the parents of the young characters from season four of The Wire. It's a gritty, unrelentingly realistic (and very adult) TV show and there is a lot of terrible parenting in it. In some ways the family who spend all their money on drugs and abandon their son completely are actually less awful than the mother who gives her son everything but expects him to grow up to be something and someone he just isn't cut out to be.
The Wire is a series I keep meaning to try, but never get around to. Matilda's parents are definitely awful!
4. As a reader, Strange Chemistry are one of my very favourite imprints because they publish such a variety of outstanding speculative fiction. As a writer, what was it that made you choose them?
I love Strange Chemistry for pretty much the same reason you do - they publish an amazing range of fantasy and sci-fi and I knew that Skulk would fit right in. I'm thrilled to be in such excellent company and I can't wait to read the ones I've not got around to yet. You can tell they really love and understand genre fiction and respect their readers. Plus, they have some of the best cover art in the business!
5. In Skulk, you bring London to life brilliantly. How long have you lived in the city, and have you always wanted to write something set here?
I've lived here most of my life, apart from a year or two. I haven't really wanted to set something here because it has never really occurred to me that I could set things somewhere else (apart from a few stories that had to take place in New York, fantasy worlds or outer space!). London is my default setting. That said, Skulk is a very London-focused story, and I did try to cram as much of the atmosphere and landmarks that I love about the city into the book as I possibly could.
6. Your shapeshifters in Skulk - foxes, ravens, butterflies, spiders and rats - seem a strange collection of animals. Why did you pick those five?
I started out with the idea of shapeshifting urban foxes, and from there it seemed natural to have other shapeshifters who'd also blend in perfectly with the urban environment. It was also partly because of their plural nouns - I knew I wanted the groups to be named after a group of that animal so I did have a long list of animals and group names that I whittled down to those five. There were several that I would've loved to use, but couldn't justify finding in London - did you know a group of sharks can be called a Shiver? I gave at least five minutes thought to whether I could have secret sharks living in the Thames because I wanted to use the Shiver...
I ended up with Skulk, Conspiracy, Rabble, Cluster and Horde. They're all brilliantly evocative words, plus all of them - even butterflies - are common sights in London (or an actual tourist attraction, in the case of the ravens).
7. I saw on your blog that you recently recommended the wonderful JL8, one of my favourite webcomics. Who's your favourite character in it?
Ooh, that's really hard! JL8 is a work of genius and all the characters are really spot on as representations of those characters. I think I have to say Bruce - Batman just makes an amazing Kindergartener, with his grumpy 'I am the night' attitude and the elaborate plans and smoke bombs (and fear of clowns). But I also have a massive soft spot for Barry and Diana, plus I think the Clark in JL8 is a much better and more true-to-character version of Superman than in some recent comics and films I could mention...
Agreed on Bruce - he's definitely my favourite character! (And I'm not a big fan of Batman generally, but he works perfectly in JL8.)
8. Your Strange Chemistry bio mentions you have a passion for video games. What's your all-time favourite?
Probably Grim Fandango. It's a point and click adventure where you play a skeleton in the land of the dead who works as a travel agent for the recently deceased. It blends noir storytelling with Mexican Day of the Dead design and it is hilarious, occasionally moving, and basically pretty perfect. I highly recommend anyone who hasn't played it to check it out - I think you may have to do a bit of digging to find a version that's playable on modern PCs, but it's absolutely worth it. More recently, I've been playing a lot of Dragon Age - I'm this close to finishing Origins and I already have Dragon Age 2 sitting on my computer desk ready to go as soon as I do.
9. What are you reading at the moment?
Lots of things! I love it when one book hooks me and I can't put it down, but I also enjoy having several books that I'm making my way through slowly and read as and when I fancy it. I generally have an ebook (or several) on my phone, a printed book lying around the house, and another one in my bag at all times. I started The Pelican Brief by John Grisham for a book club, and though the meeting has come and gone I'm still reading a few pages at a time. I'm also reading Dawn, the first in the very weird but very compelling adult sci-fi Lilith's Brood trilogy by Octavia Butler. Plus, I'm a Neil Gaiman completist so of course I have a copy of Fortunately, The Milk that I'm carrying around with me to read in a few short bursts. When I'm done with those I'm going to start Firebrand by the awesome Gillian Philip and I desperately need to buy myself a copy of Pantomime, by my Strange Chemistry compatriot Laura Lam.
Two books there that you really need to start - Firebrand is wonderful, and Pantomime is absolutely phenomenal.
10. What's next for Rosie Best?
I actually have a deadline on the day this interview goes up! That's the third in a trilogy of 7+ slightly-steampunk fantasy books that I'm writing for Working Partners. After that, it's back to work on the sequel to Skulk, which I will be attempting to write while moving house which ought to be entertaining.