Halloween is just around the corner, so it felt like the perfect time for an interview between the authors of two haunting new titles!
In this first interview, Laura Ellen Anderson discusses the first book in her spooky new series, Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball, along with her favorite villains, the writing process, and what it’s like both writing and illustrating her own stories.
Questions forAmelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball‘s Laura Ellen Anderson:
Nocturnia! What a fun place to visit . . . unless you’re afraid of the dark, of course. Luckily, I’m the sort who finds gloom and grotesquery utterly charming, and I can’t wait to return. If Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball were made into a movie (fingers crossed), what location would you pitch as the ideal setting for the Kingdom of the Dark?
Great question! Crossing all my fingers and toes that this becomes a reality one day (or should I say, one night!). If Amelia Fang were ever turned into a movie, somewhere bleak but beautiful would be the ideal setting for the Kingdom of the Dark; perhaps locations such as Highgate Cemetery in London for Central Nocturnia Graveyard and parts of Edinburgh, because of its beautiful Gothic architecture. All filming would have to take place once the sun had set!
Vampires, yetis, and even petite grim reapers are the heroes. Fairies, unicorns, and angel kittens are the villains. The world of Amelia Fang is a topsy-turvy place of opposites, where worms are delicious and glitter is horrifying. As a little girl, did you suffer a terrible trauma involving something sparkly or super cute? If not, what attracted you to the Dark Side?
I love this question. . . . I have to admit, as a little girl I was definitely more of a “decorate the walls with paint and take the legs off of my dolls” kind of kid. I like to think I was testing my creative boundaries! Casper the Friendly Ghost and The Addams Family were childhood film favourites of mine, along with the Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy, and The Witches by Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. Since discovering the work of Tim Burton in my late teens, I have adored anything a bit dark, stripy, and spindly! I think I’ve always had an “inner goth” eager to make herself known, and I’ve been able to channel that inner goth through my Amelia Fang books.
Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball is a very fun and light-hearted romp, yet it manages to deftly tackle a pretty serious and timely theme: blind prejudice against other people based on misconceptions. Did you set out to take on this issue, or was it an organic development of the writing process?
When developing the Amelia Fang series, I’ve always focused very much on character. Even the “baddies” have depth and a backstory. The themes of friendship, tolerance, and acceptance began to weave their way through as I developed Tangine’s character in Barbaric Ball. I felt that these themes echoed a lot of the current world issues, and I sincerely hope that the books resonate with readers and exude a message of positivity.
Prince Tangine is just horrible (and no, not in the nice way). But like most great antagonists, there’s a story behind the villainy that renders him more empathetic. Who is your favorite literary villain, and why?
I think my favourite literary villain(s) might be Croup and Vandemar from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. They ooze evil. They are grotesque, not so clever (even though they would think otherwise), and downright awful, yet I found myself loving every one of their scenes! Twisted, I know. But we all secretly love a good villain, right?! Tangine has certainly become one of my most favorite characters to write, and I feel he has probably developed the most over the course of the Amelia Fang series so far.
Miss Inspine enjoys the convenience of a detachable head, which makes finding a quiet place where she can relax much easier. Do you need a quiet place in which to be alone and decompress? Where is it, and what do you do there?
Living in London makes finding a quiet place a little difficult at times. However, there is a beautiful park in my hometown which is full of stunning plant life and little ponds you can sit by to give yourself space to think. It offers a peaceful getaway for anyone with a busy, chaotic lifestyle. I find I sometimes come up with my best ideas after a nice stroll through the park, which is conveniently placed right beside Highgate Cemetery!
Although Squashy is “just” a pumpkin, I found his and Amelia’s forced separation quite traumatic. When I was five, my rabbit developed cancer and had to be put to sleep. I did not take it well, and for some time referred to my mother as “the murderer.” Have you suffered a loss that inspired this heartrending storyline?
Sadly, I have indeed experienced the loss of a pet on more than one occasion. Like Amelia, I adore animals (and pumpkins), so I find losing a pet is like losing a part of myself. I recently lost my cat Tiddles. Like Squashy, he would greet me as soon as I got home and climb up for lots of cuddles and belly rubs. I’ll miss that little guy. I find that channelling feelings of loss and sadness can be beneficial when writing. It allows us to be more empathic with our characters, making the writing more believable and, in turn, connecting the reader to those emotions, too.
Amelia Fang’s home has many capricious doors that lead to unexpected places. If you could open a door to any place, real or fictitious, where would you go? My choice would be Narnia.
I would LOVE to open a door that took me to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Perhaps straight into the Great Hall in time for supper!
After reading Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball, I was left wanting to know more about the somewhat retiring and enigmatic Count Drake the Third. Is there a character in A Small Zombie Problem with whom you’d like to become better acquainted?
Every character in A Small Zombie Problem had such an interesting past, but I found Aunt Hydrangea particularly intriguing. Even though we see a lot of her throughout the book, I’d LOVE to see more!
You and I are relatively unusual in that we illustrate our own stories. Do you prefer writing or drawing? If you were too busy to illustrate your own work, which illustrator (living or dead) would you choose to visually bring your words to life?
Writing or illustrating? Hmmm, this is a very tricky question, and I think it depends on the day of the week, if I’m honest. Although, if I HAD to pick one, I think I prefer writing. It’s so much more immediate, and I love bringing the ideas in my head to life and getting completely lost in the world. If I had to choose an illustrator to bring my work to life, I think it would have to be the fabulous illustrator and animator Gillian Reid! She once drew a version of Amelia Fang in her style and it was FANGTASTIC. There’s so much energy and movement in her characters.
Hollywood calls. They want you to write an Amelia Fang screenplay and press you to accept the roles of executive producer and art director as well. You’re swamped! You need an assistant. Which are better qualified for the role, mummies or ghosts?
Definitely ghosts—namely Wooo. Hardworking, determined, and organised. Mummies are great but can be a little scatty at times, not to mention their tendency to lose limbs. That would be highly inconvenient.
Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball is on B&N bookshelves now.
In this next interview, K. G. Campbell discusses her first book, A Small Zombie Problem, along with bringing atmospheric settings to life on the page, finding yourself in your protagonist, and the snacks she would risk danger for.
Questions for A Small Zombie Problem‘s K. G. Campbell:
I absolutely loved delving into the macabre and deliciously gothic world of A Small Zombie Problem. It reminded me of delightful mix of The Addams Family and A Series of Unfortunate Events with a dash of Tim Burton! What were your biggest inspirations when writing this book?
Well, there’s a certain dour fatalism present in the Scottish national identity, so I have a natural taste for the gloomy and morose. As you’ve discerned, I’m inevitably drawn to Tim Burton’s aesthetic. Edward Gorey, Neil Gaiman, and Lemony Snicket are also in the mix of primary influences. Perhaps less obvious is Charles Dickens, particularly his ability to craft larger-than-life, highly memorable characters.
Your cast of characters is so rich and varied, I’m sure every reader can relate to at least one of them. Do you relate to any of the characters in your story?
I’d love to give an unexpected answer here, but as this is my first novel, I took the easy route and put most of myself into the protagonist, August. I was a “lonely only” and very shy. Still am. I wanted August’s predicament to illustrate how difficult it can be for kids who feel isolated when all they want is to belong.
I can see quite a few parallels between some of the characters in A Small Zombie Problem and some in Amelia Fang. Who do you think Amelia, Florence, and Grimaldi would be best friends with from your book?
Amelia and August are both intelligent, level-headed, and empathetic young people. I think Amelia would take the less confident August under her wing. Florence would certainly connect with fellow rebel Madame Marvell. Grimaldi, with his taste for the darker things, would find most in common with Belladonna, I suspect.
I love the over-the-top and high-strung nature of Aunt Hydrangea and that she takes such pride in having been the county Chili Pepper Princess. I think she and Amelia Fang’s mother, Countess Frivoleeta, would get on rather well if they met! Weird question, but I’m intrigued to know . . . if Aunt Hydrangea and Countess Frivoleeta made a perfume together, what do you think it would be made of, and what would they call it?
Hmm. Well, Nocturnians clearly delight in morbidity, and Hydrangea herself is a withering bloom, so I think you’ve already coined the best possible name to reflect a collaboration: Eau de Decay. As for its ingredients, I suspect it would be composed of browning graveyard roses, powdered raven’s nests, and a touch of deadly nightshade.
August loves Mud Pies, and even ventures outside for the first time to retrieve a box dropped in a puddle by a delivery boy. What kind of snack would YOU put yourself in danger for?!
I would risk much for the perfect avocado toast, made with super-thin and crispy olive bread. Or maybe the perfect french fries (also super thin and crispy). Basically anything thin, crispy, and salty.
You describe the graveyard and tombs of Hurricane County so well. It reminded me of Highgate Cemetery in London or the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Have you ever visited either of these beautiful cemeteries? Or are they places you wish to visit?
I used to live in West Hampstead, so I know Highgate well. Although I’ve been to Paris several times, I’ve never done Père Lachaise, which is, upon reflection, highly surprising. I did, however, attend a very old school which adjoined a very old kirkyard in Edinburgh. On summer days, our classes might be treated to an outdoor session of grave rubbing. Explains a lot, really.
Your settings are so vivid. I can almost taste the sweetness of the humid summer air and smell the must and old wood of August’s deteriorating house. Were there any places in particular that inspired you when writing your book?
In finding a “reason” for the zombie’s presence in the story, I investigated the roots of zombie lore, and discovered them in Voodoo, which—at least in the US—puts one in Louisiana. Voodoo is a living religion and, as such, is a little complex and heavy for the mood and demographic of this book. But during my research, I became enchanted by the Southern Gothic atmosphere of Louisiana, and even went there to soak it all up. So, while Voodoo was set aside, the location remained. We had to nix much of the local French-based lingo (levees, bayous, etc.), again to accommodate the life experience of the readership. If the settings seem vivid, it’s because they are real places. Bringing them to life in this story was one of the great joys of writing it.
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Beauregard Malveau enjoys fencing. Do you fence? If not, is this something you’d like to learn? Are there any activities you wish you’d learned? I used to play the piano, but I haven’t for years! I wish I’d pursued the hobby, but I guess it’s never too late to start again!
I don’t fence. It does actually seem like quite an appealing sport, and we had a decent team at school. So yes, I might have enjoyed pursuing it at the time. But now, as I’m sure you know, when you both write and illustrate, it doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for hobbies. If I could ever carve out some spare hours, I’d use them to develop some serious painting skills. But I don’t feel shortchanged; I’m incredibly fortunate to have a career doing something that I love to do.
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to read A Small Zombie Problem and ask you all about the rich and delicious world you created!
You’re most welcome. And thank you for introducing me to Amelia Fang and the wonderful world of Nocturnia. I will never look at glitter in the same way.
A Small Zombie Problem is on B&N bookshelves now.