Interview: A.L. Tait, author
Were the settings for The Book of Secrets inspired by real places?
The setting for the Book of Secrets was loosely inspired by medieval England. It’s an era I’ve always been interested in, so I used it as a jumping off point to create my own world.
What helps you to better know your characters – what they look like/their morals and thoughts?
I think that I get to know my characters from the inside out. I find their thoughts and voice before their physical characteristics start to come through. Which is not to say what they look like isn’t important, but it’s more about the way in which their appearance impacts on their experience and other people’s experiences of them, rather than simply ‘she had blonde hair and blue eyes’. Scarlett, for instance, is a very beautiful girl and Gabe notices it when he first meets her, as well as noting the impact of her beauty on strangers, but in the day-to-day scheme of things the people who see Scarlett all the time aren’t bowing down before her pretty face. She’s just Scarlett to them.
Do the characters on the front cover of your novel look like how you would envision them?
I’m always a little bit surprised, as an author, to see an illustrator’s interpretation of my characters, just because it’s so strange to see someone who’s been in your head for so long finally bought to life. A book cover is such a long process, though, they change and evolve as time goes by, so the first ‘roughs’ I see often look quite different to the final product. For the most part, though, the characters on the front of The Book Of Secrets look very much how I had envisioned them.
What helps you to plan a novel?
I’m not much of a planner in the very early stage of writing a new manuscript, but I’ve learnt over the course of writing six books in two different series that a bit of an outline goes a long way! So I tend to start with a question – why would you write a book that no one can read? – and a chapter (in this case, Gabe, who had only ever known the very small world in the monastery) and start writing. This usually gets me through 10,000 or so words, with new characters and new ideas coming at me – then I stall. That’s when I take out a notebook and ask myself another question – what happens next?– and I just keep asking that over and over again until I have a bit of a plan to follow until The End.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I find ideas for stories all around me. I worked as a journalist for many years before I started writing fiction, so I get very used to listening to what people were talking about and looking beyond the news headlines to find ideas for articles. The ideas for my books came about the same way-usually based on something I’ve heard or talked about, something I’ve seen, a feeling that evoked. The Mapmaker Chronicles series came from two conversations I had with my then-nine-year-old-son about how far space goes and how the world was mapped. So that feeling that you get when you stare out into space combined with the difficulties of actually getting on a ship and mapping the world. The Ateban Cipher came from a small news story I saw about an ancient coded manuscript – and the question became why would you write a book that no one can read?
What was the hardest part of publishing a book?
Interesting question. The publishing of a book if a different premise to the writing of the book. I think the most difficult part of publishing a book is actually writing the book in the first place. Then comes the question of whether the book that you’ve written appeals to a published who wants to take it to the world. It’s a step-by-step process, but it all begins with writing a great book – which is not easy!
Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
I have five tips, because I am very bossy like that.
- Every author says ‘read a lot’, so I’m going to say that, too (because it’s true), but I’m also going to say read like a writer. So when you really love a book, take the time to write a list of WHY you love it. Think about the characters, the plot, the setting. What was it about this book that grabbed you so much?
- Write a lot. I’m not saying you need to write every day, but I do think you need to write a lot, mostly to figure out how you write. Lots of people can tell you how they write books, but you’ll never know how you do it until you actually write one.
- Finish something. This ties back into tip two, but I know so many people who start writing a story (of any length) and they’re all excited and they’re writing and writing – and then it gets difficult, and they get distracted by a completely different idea that think will be better (read: easier). It won’t be. It will get hard, too. So write the shiny, new idea down in a notebook and go back to that problem-child first story and finish it. Don’t be the writer with the 50,000 half-stories cluttering up the place.
- Your first draft is not your story. I understand the joy of typing The End on the first draft and thinking that you’re all done. Unfortunately, I’ve learnt over the years that, really, that’s just the beginning. Editing is where the magic really happens with writing. That’s where you take that half-baked first draft and make a masterpiece out of it. And sometimes that takes another five or six or more drafts.
- Have fun. Writing is really the most fun you can have sitting at a computer (or at your desk, pen in hand if that’s your bag). Embrace it. If your story suddenly calls for dragons or flying cars, put them in because, really, why not? After all, when you write a story you control the whole world. What could be more fun than that?