Tales Q&A with C J Skuse
I am over the moon to have the lovely C J Skuse on Tales again today to celebrate the release of her new book The Deviants which is released on the 22nd September published by MIRA Ink.
The Deviants is hands down one of my favourite books of 2016 and will be featuring on my list of 2016 faves at the end of the year.
A story about rekindling friendships, secrets, lies and discovery which kept me enthralled and completely broke me. I am honestly still not over reading this book and I am sure it’s going to stay with me for a very long time to come.
You can find a previous guest post from CJ about hot boys in her books here
A huge thank you to C J for agreeing to appear on my blog today and to Mira Ink for sending me a proof copy of such a wonderful book.
To CJ talks about the 15 year journey writing The Deviants, it’s characters and the heartbreaking inspiration behind it in this brilliant Q&A.
Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane.
The Fearless Five, inseparable as children growing up in a sleepy English seaside town. But when Max’s older sister is killed, the friendship seems to die with her.
Only Max and Ella are in touch, still best friends and a couple since they were thirteen. But Ella is hiding things – like why she’s afraid to take their relationship to the next level. And when underdog Corey is bullied, the Fearless Five are brought back together again, teaming up to wreak havoc and revenge on those who have wronged them.
But when the secrets they are keeping can no longer be kept quiet, will their fearlessness be enough to save them from themselves?
Hi C J! Thank you for joining me today! I’m so thrilled to have you here today!
So lets get started with the first question…..
Can you tell us a little about your fifth YA book, The Deviants?
The Deviants centres on a small group of teenagers who knew each other as children but have since grown apart. In the time that’s passed, their lives have taken quite miserable turns and when they’re suddenly thrust back together, they join forces to exact revenge on key individuals who’ve been making their lives hell. It’s being billed as a very dark Famous Five for Young Adults.
Can you tell us a little about your journey with writing The Deviants?
It’s been love/hate the whole way. I started writing it in 2001, thinking it would just be a mickey-take of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five; a group of teenagers would terrorize a small seaside town and then prove themselves by solving the mystery of a serial killer or something. Then I kept getting bored of writing it and I think that was subconscious telling myself I wasn’t ready to write a book like this yet. I picked it up again last year when I was contracted to write another YA in the same vein as Monster and by this point, I knew what kind of story it had to be.
How did you come up with the title? Did it change during the writing or publication process?
Back in the mists of time it was called Whipped, named after the seafront café from where the body was originally spotted. Then it was called Habit for no apparent reason other than I liked saying the word, then that changed to Volcano Town, then Volcano Girl and finally to The Deviants. My cousin called me a deviant one day (I can’t remember why – I probably said something filthy, knowing me) and I really just liked the sound of the word.
Can you tell us a little about The Fearless Five?
The Fearless Five was a nickname given to the kids – Max, Ella, Corey, Fallon and Zane – by Max’s elder sister Jessica. They went to primary school together, spent the holidays going on adventures, played idyllic childhood games in idyllic childhood places like the beach near and the island out in the bay. There wasn’t any problem they couldn’t solve together. Then one day, all that came to a shuddering halt when Jessica died and the friendship was broken. They had to grow up individually and suddenly there was fear and danger everywhere and none of them knew how to navigate their way around it. Breaking up is the worst thing they ever did.
You are quite well known for having at least one hot boy in your books – was their anyone in particular in mind when creating Max?
Max was originally called Shane and all I knew about him was that he walked with a loping stride, smoked and had dark brown hair. Whenever I am struggling with a character, I change their name and suddenly they open up to me. I couldn’t decide whether to call him River, Ashton or Max so I did a Twitter poll and Max won. At the time I was into 5 Seconds of Summer and for me Max is Ashton Irwin, circa 2013. He’s the same build, has the same shaggy hair, the same butter-wouldn’t-melt smile but he carries some dark secrets. And as always with a character, once you can put a face to them, they come alive and develop new attributes, which Max suddenly did.
You can find a previous guest post from CJ about hot boys in her books here
Why is it important to have protagonists like Ella from The Deviants representing the not so perfect protagonist not only in The Deviants but in your books in general?
I’m bored of perfect protagonists. I don’t want my characters to be fully likeable because no real person is and I want my books to feel real. We all have our little off-putting qualities and I wanted to reflect that in my books. I’ve had some criticism about the character of Zane – that he’s not a positive role model for gay teenagers but I don’t want him to be a positive role model; I want him to be him. He’s the way he is for a reason – thankfully most people get that. Ella too has been through incredible trauma and I don’t see her as coming through that in the positive, life-affirming way society expects her to. I find it a little insufferable that there’s this right way to present characters in YA fiction – they have to be positive, they have to come through their experiences as better people to teach readers that ‘it gets better’. For some kids, it doesn’t. They’re eaten up by what’s happened to them and they’re full of rage, as they have every right to be. The only person at fault is the perpetrator of the crime against them.
What was your favourite scene to write?
I like any scene where two characters are having a bit of a heart-to-heart. Fallon and Ella by the pool, Zane and Ella on the island, Max and Ella at the garden centre, Corey and Ella at the hospital etc. All these scenes were fun to write because they’re tearing down barriers and getting down to the nitty gritty of who these kids truly are.
What was the hardest scene to write?
The ending. That was very tough to write. It’s the first time I’ve ever killed off a character I really liked and it hurt. I hope readers take some positives from it and understand why it ends the way it does though
Did you know how the book was going to end before you started writing The Deviants?
I had no idea actually. The body on the beach prologue has always been a constant but who it was has changed with every draft (and there are thousands of drafts!) Then one day I was watching a programme about one of Shakespeare’s plays (can’t tell you which one cos spoilers) and it came to me in a blinding flash. The same thing happened with my Monster. I had no idea who the ‘monster’ of the story actually was until I’d written the penultimate draft. Then I had to go back and seed it all in. Very annoying but ultimately, I think it’s a better book because of this.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters in The Deviants or have you used any of your own experiences in the story?
I guess there are pockets of adventure that I had with my friends when I was younger which I’ve used in the book but nothing solid. I know what it’s like to be molested by someone and feel too ashamed to talk about it and I know what it’s like to hold onto bad news and let it eat you because you don’t want to make a sick person sicker (in the case of Ella and her dad). I’ve used my home towns, Weston super Mare and Burnham on Sea as prototypes for Brynstan on Sea in the book. There is a hill which I climb all the time with my dog and I used that for Brynstan Hill. Ella definitely has my anger but although I know where it comes from in her, I don’t know how to explain mine!
If you could cast your characters from The Deviants in a big Hollywood film adaptation who would you choose?
I never see my books as Hollywood movies really (except Pretty Bad Things cos it’s set in the USA). They’re all set in Britain so I see them as British independent movies with all-Brit casts. Ashton is too old to play Max of course, but I think Tilly Keeper who plays Louise Mitchell in EastEnders has an Ella look about her, and Charlie Wernham was in my head in the later stages of drafting Zane’s character so maybe them. All suggestions welcome though!
What would you like your reader to take away from reading The Deviants?
If just one person reads The Deviants and feels able to speak up about their own experiences, or if they can help someone else talk about theirs or inform on a culprit, then the last 15 years of rewrites will have been completely and utterly worth it.
What do you think makes a good story?
Character, character and character. If the character isn’t interesting to read, chances are the plot won’t be either. I’ve read thousands of books and uncorrected manuscripts in my time and the bad ones are always bad for the same reasons – namely I didn’t care about the characters so I didn’t care about the story.
Can you give us 5 random facts that we don’t know about CJ Skuse?
- I love gummy bears but think gummy worms are an abomination
- I am an orphan, but Daddy Warbucks ain’t bailed me out yet.
- I’ve fictionally killed two people today (this isn’t linked to me being an orphan, by the way)
- My favourite Bronte sister is Anne
- I think about the actor Taron Egerton approximately every 6.3 seconds during the average day
Growing up who inspired you into writing? Are there any Authors or books that inspired you?
I wrote to novelist Gillian White when I was 16 and she sent me back two signed books and a letter full of useful advice about getting published. She inspired me a lot in the early days. One of my favourite books of all time is The Madolescents by Chrissie Glazebrook – it taught me about the power of humour in writing fiction. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is my favourite book – I read it in one sitting and it blew me away. The Deviants is my attempt at a ‘Perks.’ I also love Melvyn Burgess and Kevin Brooks – solid, old school YA. I feel that a lot of YA stuff gets watered down these days sadly but Burgess and Brooks always bring the purest and best to the table.
Are there any recent works or authors that you admire or books you wish you had written?
Amy, Chelsea, Stacie, Dee by Mary Thompson is coming out next year with The Chicken House and it’s a recent book which made me want to be a better, cleverer writer because it constantly surprised me. The first Hunger Games novel taught me about the power of propulsive writing and great chapter hooks. Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg I read recently too. Simple, compelling and so affecting.
Each of your YA books are very different and unique – What have you learnt after writing each one?
That I still don’t know what I’m doing really! It gets easier (or rather, quicker) with each novel, but I’ve learnt to expect surprises in the last draft because it never ends the way you think it will. I plan everything but the ending – I just have an idea of it and once I get there, it invariably changes and goes in another direction.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading a lot of books about murderers at present for research on my adult novel Sweetpea (April 2017) and I’m currently looking at Female Serial Killers in Social Context: Criminological Institutionalism and the Case of Mary Ann Cotton by Professors Elizabeth Yardley and David Wilson.
What is your favourite book of 2016 so far?
I think probably the new Catherynne Valente book I read and did a report for in my capacity as reader. Valente’s signature beautiful writing style and a heavy dose of the Brontes. Gorgeous.
Are there any authors you would like to collaborate with? Who?
I’d love to do what Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison did with their novel Lobsters and write a book with a guy. I used to read all of Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees’ books and I’d like to do something like that for an older audience. It would be different and a challenge and ultimately I think with each book that’s what I’m after. That’s what keeps me wanting to do this – new challenges to keep things fresh and exciting.
When starting a new book or idea what does your writing process look like?
It always starts with an A4 hardback notebook and the numbers 1-30 written down one side of a page. Then I sprinkle down some scene ideas, do a bit of a brainstorm on character and what I’m trying to say, then off I go. In the old days it was reams and reams of paper/maps/drawings etc. I don’t have time for the fun bits now, sadly!
Do you have any strange writing habits?
If I’m really getting into a scene and just as I’m about to write the pivotal moment, I’ll click out of it and go on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr, anywhere but the scene. I don’t know if it’s excitement or fear or a heady mixture of both but I just need a moment away from it before I plunge back in. Other than that, I think I’m pretty normal. I sit at a boring old desk in a a boring old office and just get it down on the screen. I also click Save after most sentences, and email it to myself after every session, just in case of disaster.
Did music have any influence in The Deviants or the characters in The Deviants? Is there a song or soundtrack that would sum up the book perfectly?
Yep, definitely. Music is always an important co-writer for me. I think the Imagine Dragons song Demons sums the book up perfectly, as does Army by Ellie Golding. I also find myself listening to Hello by Adele recently and thinking about the ending of the book. It gives me goose bumps. Here’s the full Spotify playlist …
The Deviants is your last YA book for now. Can you tell us a little about your first adult thriller Sweetpea which is due for release in 2017?
Yes, it’s being pitched as Bridget Jones’s Diary meets Dexter which is probably the most accurate summation of a book ever! I watched that BBC 3 show Fleabag recently too and there’s definite shades of that in it. My character is your everyday girl-next-door type of woman, trying to hold down a job, a relationship and friendships while simultaneously having an incredible lust for murder. It’s first and foremost a comedy but with dark themes and lots of killings.
Are there any further exciting plans for CJ Skuse that we don’t know yet?
Yes, I’m going to eat an entire bag of Maoam Stripes now and god help anyone who tries to stop me…
You can buy a copy of The Deviants here
You can find a previous guest post from CJ about hot boys in her books here
About C J Skuse
C.J. SKUSE is the author of the Young Adult novels PRETTY BAD THINGS, ROCKOHOLIC and DEAD ROMANTIC (Chicken House) , MONSTER and THE DEVIANTS (Mira Ink).
She was born in 1980 in Weston-super-Mare, England. She has First Class degrees in Creative Writing and Writing for Children and, aside from writing novels, works as a freelance children’s fiction consultant and lectures in Writing for Children at Bath Spa University. C.J. is currently working on her second novel for Mira Ink.
C.J. loves Masterchef, Gummy Bears and murder sites. She hates carnivals, hard-boiled eggs and coughing. The movies Titanic, My Best Friend’s Wedding and Ruby Sparks were all probably based on her ideas; she just didn’t get to write them down in time. Before she dies, she would like to go to Japan, try clay-pigeon shooting and have Ryan Gosling present her with the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
You can find C.J. Skuse on Facebook or on Twitter – @CeejaytheAuthor
You can buy CJ’s books here
A huge huge thank you to CJ for a brilliant Q&A and answering all of my questions!
Have you read The Deviants or any of CJ’s books? What did you think? I would love to hear from you! Why not leave a comment using the reply button at the top of the post or tweet me on twitter using @chelleytoy !