Thursday, 12 April 2012

Author Q & A with Andrew Prentice & Jonathan Weil

The fabulous 'Black Arts' came out last week, and I am have been busy thrusting it under all my friends noses going 'Here! You Must Read the Fabulous!' And I am lucky enough to have the lovely (and highly entertaining) Andrew Prentice & Jonathan Weil here offering insights into their writing, the ideas and concepts, and what we might see from them next...

"First of all, I think the book is incredible, but how would you tempt people who don't know about it yet to read it?"

We set out to write the kind of story we love to read – a high-speed thrill ride through a dirty and dangerous setting. Black Arts is adventure cooked the old-fashioned way. First we mixed half a pound of revenge with a hefty pinch of diabolical evil, a spoonful of humour, several pints of human blood and a cheeky dollop of resourceful heroism. Then we baked the mixture in our oven of plot for five years.
When we took it out of the oven we glazed it with telling historical detail. It should be served lightly chilled and consumed in one sitting.

"How did the book come about? The concept and the collaboration?"
We have been collaborating since we were in the sixth form, when we edited our school magazine together. After university we embarked on a ludicrously ambitious, epic project – the re-explaining of all recorded history in comic-book form. We managed to finish fifteen pages of this before reality intervened and we had to get jobs.

Then, five years ago, we were sacked. We had been writing animation scripts for an aquarium tycoon/sushi restaurateur/would-be manga magnate, and for some reason we thought it would be a good idea to strike out on our own writing comic books. One of the scripts we prepared was set in Elizabethan England. It was going to be about the foiling of the Spanish Armada, set in a world of secret intelligence, religious persecution and fraudulent magicians. So certain elements of Black Arts were already there.

No one wanted to make the historical comic, it turned out – but a couple of publishers liked the idea of an Elizabethan spy story; we got a book deal out of it; and over the years, some of the stranger concepts from our first, deranged collaboration began to resurface. Weird magical rituals. Secret, world-spanning conspiracies. Immortal guardians charged with protecting the very fabric of History itself. The story mutated, like a fungus growing inside a nuclear reactor, into Black Arts.

"How did the writing process work?"

We have leaned that it is best to plan everything out very carefully. This takes many long walks, and cups of strong coffee.

We then go our separate ways. We realised long ago that writing in the same house is disastrous. We take alternate chapters (or several chapters at once, depending where the natural breaks are), and go away and write. After each of us has finished, we swap and edit. By the time a chapter is finished it has usually been edited and re-edited seven or eight times.

"Who was the voice of reason in the process?"
Both of us have our moments. The best thing about collaboration is that there is always someone there to talk to. The worst thing about collaboration is that sometimes they are right and you are wrong.

"How were the harder decisions made when writing, was there a nominated person who had the final say?"

Total gridlock doesn’t happen very often. There are battles, and it usually comes down to stubbornness: one person will almost always care more, and end up getting his way. In extreme moments we resort to the ultimate decider: paper-scissors-stone, best of seven.

"Can you tell me a bit about the research that went into the book? For example the lock picking tools, I'm curious, are they real names etc? And did you get to practise so it would be easier to write?"

Our research was almost entirely reading – both history books and original sources like plays, and letters, and demon-hunting manuals (they had them!). Quite a lot of terms we used in the book are accurate, although we’ve found that good research is all about making sure that the stuff you do make up feels right. Once you’ve written a few lines of authentic Elizabethan thieves’ cant, you get into a groove where you can invent the rest and it’ll sound good.

We never practised any lock-picking, but we do try to pick each other’s pockets from time to time. We aren’t very good at it.

"What was the most exciting part of the process for you?"
The most exciting part is seeing how the story evolves when we both are working on it. One of us will have an idea, which will then provide the solution to a problem the other was worrying about, changing along the way into something strange and different that neither of us would have thought up on his own. Chapters start off one way, go through several different phases and emerge a totally different beast at the other end. It’s always exciting to see what the other guy has done.

"And what was the most challenging?"

Accepting that what you thought was amazing needs to be cut. We have got much better at dealing with this over the years.

"Will you be working on anything together in the future? And what can we hope to see from you (either together or individually) next?"

The Books of Pandemonium is planned as a series of four books. We are very excited about where this story is going to go in the future. The second book is well underway, and is going to be better than the first.
After that, who knows? We are always thinking of more stories – and we can’t wait to tell them. 

I want to say a huge thank you to Andrew and Jonathan for taking the time to talk to me about the book - and for providing some of the most entertaining answers to questions I've ever been offered!
I will continue to shamelessly plug 'Black Arts' for the rest of the year (you have been warned) and will be onto the next book as soon as we know more... In the meantime, if you haven't already go and read the book!

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