Author Sebastien de Castell talks about writing his first book for young adults, Spellslinger.
Can you sum up Spellsinger in a sentence?
When fifteen year-old Kellen loses his magical abilities just days before his mage's trials, he's forced to team up with a mysterious gambler and a conniving squirrel cat to find the means to protect his family and his future.
What inspired Spellslinger?
I'd been thinking about how both Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker start as very ordinary young men coming from dull places with mundane parents who then learn that all along they've had a magnificent destiny awaiting them, they're innately powerful, and their real parents are incredibly cool. I loved those stories and many like them, but my experience growing up was very different, and I wanted to explore how someone who discovers they're not the best looking or strongest or most talented goes about making themselves into the hero of their own story.
Why did you decide to write YA after writing for adults?
The move to Young Adult fiction wasn't a conscious decision on my part but rather the inescapable conclusion that the story I wanted to write could best be told in the context of a teenager coming to grips with one of the most difficult truths any of us encounter as we grow up: that we might never become the person we always dreamed of being. Kellen's dealing with the loss of his magic, the realisation that his people may not be as noble as he always believed, and the desperate need to find something inside him that makes him special. Young Adult fiction is a place where those dilemmas can be written in a way that's both dramatically satisfying and meaningful.
What were the challenges of writing for a YA audience?
For me the principal challenge was voice. I'd written a draft of a completely different novel that began with Kellen already an adult who'd been an outcast for some time, struggling to survive in a dangerous world with only his wits and the help of his business partner who just happens to be a nasty, thieving squirrel cat. While the spirit of fun was in that book, Kellen as a character was world-weary and cynical. So when I set about writing the story of how he first became a spellslinger, I found I was bringing that voice into it and Kellen just didn't feel right. It's not a matter of vocabulary or complexity, but the emotional depth with which the character experiences people and events. Being just shy of sixteen, Kellen's quick-witted and clever, but conflicts with friends and enemies, fears about his future, and even romantic attraction hit him like a sledgehammer. That's the voice I needed to uncover before I could write the book.
What’s the appeal of writing fantasy?
Fantasy brings both advantages and disadvantages for the writer. On the one hand, it takes a lot more work to create a deep sense of realism because the reader is always aware that this is not the world they live in. However by letting you define new people, places, and social structures, fantasy literature gives the author the space to magnify different themes and dramatic conflicts in a way that would be challenging to do in other genres.
Who is your favourite character in the book?
It changes on a daily basis, but Ferius Parfax is the most interesting for me to write. I love that she's bold as brass, swaggering into this very dangerous city of mages and never backing down from anyone even though she has no magic of her own and instead has to rely on her wits and the razor sharp steel playing cards she can throw with deadly accuracy. Her dialogue is fun to write as well – it's a mix of frontier slang and stoic philosophy that both annoys Kellen and leads him to greater insights about the people around him.
What can we expect from the rest of the series?
In each of the six books in the series, Kellen is simultaneously trying to learn the skills he needs to survive in a dangerous world while also dealing with the realities of being an outcast from his people and especially his own family. There's lots of adventure and magic, but there's also the challenge of coming to grips with being an outsider, and trying to form bonds of friendship, love, and family.
What are you working on next?
I'm wrapping up Shadowblack, the second book in the series. After that I'm going straight into Charmcaster, which is the third. I've also got a mystery novel about a former teen detective who discovers her past may not have been everything she believed it to be; that book is aching for a second draft so I hope to get to it by the end of the year. Of course, I keep getting asked about more Greatcoats books, so those will have to figure in there somewhere. The great joy of being an author is getting to come up with new ideas for books and the biggest challenge is finding time to write them all.
Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell is published on 4th May by Hot Key Books.