Please welcome Vic James to The Qwillery as part of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Gilded Cage is published on February 14th by Del Rey.
Please join The Qwillery in wishing Vic a Happy Publication Day!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Vic: Thank you so much for inviting me in! I was a reader first. Every night my parents would check on me after lights-out and find me sound asleep with a book on my face where I’d not wanted to put it down! As for when I started to write, well, my mother just moved house and found a copy of a story I wrote age 7 that won a prize in a local library competition. It was about a statue of a dark ages king who comes to life and walks through the city centre, where he breaks into a cake shop and a bookshop – my 7-year-old’s priorities, right there! I write to tell the stories I wish had been written for me.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Vic: A hybrid. Before I start I need to know my ending, and to have a few significant ‘waymarker’ events. Then I let my characters find their own route between them. I do write chronologically, and can’t imagine doing it any other way! I can never leave a tricky bit unresolved and simply move on. I stop where I am until I’ve got it right.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Vic: I use multiple perspectives – three ‘leads’ and two other significant ones – and though they are each telling their own story, they are all part of the same, single narrative. Making sure that the reader can confidently fill in for themselves what one character might have been doing while we spend time hearing from another character is very important.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing? How does being a TV director influence or not your novel writing?
Vic: My works as a current affairs TV director is central to my writing. It’s given me insights into everything from the harsh realities of life at the bottom of our society today (when I made UK reports for Channel 4 News), to how sexual coercion is commonplace in politics (I made a report dubbed ‘Sexminster’), to how elites live and operate, as with a series on the modern global superrich. I couldn’t have written this book and expected it to be convincing without that experience.
TQ: Describe Gilded Cage in 140 characters or less.
Vic: In an alternate modern Britain, everyone must perform 10 years’ service to the ruling magical aristocracy. A brother & sister must survive – & make a different world.
TQ: Tell us something about Gilded Cage that is not found in the book description.
Vic: Ooooh. The history goes very deep. There is around 1,200 years of backstory to the world, which is drip-fed in small amounts through the books. I have all sorts of legends and short stories and origin myths and historical tales of derring-do locked up in my head. One theme of the series is the nature of history and who writes it, and these stories from the past become progressively more important as the series progresses.
TQ: What inspired you to write Gilded Cage?
Vic: My day job is in TV. I was producing a BBC series titled The Superrich and Us, filming with billionaires, visiting their houses and exclusive events, like a supercar rally, at a time when there was a lot of talk about ‘the 1%’ and ‘the 99%’. And on my way to work one day, the idea just clicked in my head: What if the 1% didn’t only have unimaginable wealth – what if they also had magic?
In fact, isn’t extreme wealth, in our world, like a kind of magic? It lets these people do things the rest of us simply can’t. I wanted to explore how those people behave: do they do good, or bad? Do they want to change the world – or just enjoy their position of privilege in it?
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Gilded Cage?
Vic: No especial research, because in a way I’ve been researching for it my whole life! The alternate Britain diverges 400 years ago, during the English Civil War, and I did a doctorate on that period. All of the bleak details about life during the slavedays were informed by my career as a news journalist reporting on UK social affairs. The grand houses I describe are inspired by stately homes owned by the National Trust which I’ve been visiting since childhood. After all, they do say ‘write what you know’!
TQ: Please tell us about Gilded Cage's cover.
Vic: I love both my UK and US covers, and I’ve just seen the French one, which has blown my tiny mind! Huge thanks to Jo Thompson (UK) and Dave Stevenson (US) for their wonderful work. All my publishers have seized on the theme of birds! That’s probably to be expected, with the title of this first book, but it’s also a reference to the dynamics of the world – the super-powered Equals, and everyone else. There’s a line where one of the characters enters Kyneston, the aristocratic estate, at night, and hears noises in the forest: “it seemed like everything here was busy hunting everything else: the animals with wings and claws going after the animals with neither.”
TQ: In Gilded Cage who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Vic: Writing Gilded Cage brought an interesting insight: writing characters whose thought processes are a lot like yours (in my case, Silyen), or who are vastly different (eg. Gavar) are both fun and easy. The trickier ones are characters with whom you share qualities, but from whom you differ in important respects. So like Abi, I am bookish, academic and motivated; but she is more methodical, and far more trusting in system and order than I am. So with those characters, you have to watch those fault-lines carefully.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include social issues in Gilded Cage?
Vic: The book is social issues. They were its inspiration. These books could only have been written now, and I’m sure readers will spot plenty more current parallels in book 2, as well!
TQ: Which question about Gilded Cage do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Vic: Some readers have wondered why, given that you can choose when to start your ‘slavedays’, people don’t just put it off forever. In the book I mention that you have to start by age 55 (because otherwise you wouldn’t be much good if you were allocated heavy labour!) But there was a longer explanation that got cut in revisions. One important thing not mentioned in Gilded Cage is that if a parent dies with their days unserved, their child(ren) inherit that debt. This happened to Luke and Abi’s cousin Sean, whose father had a heart attack when Sean was 12. As an only child, Sean inherited the whole of his father’s debt, meaning he’ll have to serve a total of 20 years. (Multiple children would share the debt-days among them.) That’s a massive incentive for any parent to want to do their days while they’re still reasonably young and healthy – just as the Hadley parents do.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Gilded Cage.
Vic: There are two that to me sum up the world of the books – I’ve even had them printed on t-shirts for when I do events!
One is Doc Jackson’s advice to Luke: “There’s no magic more powerful than the human spirit.”
The other is Gavar Jardine’s reflection on the power of his elite kind, the Equals, because magic is like money, “You didn’t need to ask to know who had lots of it.”
TQ: What's next?
Vic: Right now I am working on book 3, Bright Ruin, which releases June 2018. (Book 2, Tarnished City, is out in seven months, in early September.) I’m also directing a major documentary for BBC1 on the first 100 days of the Trump administration. You’ll have to judge for yourself whether/how any of that feeds into the books! And I’m turning over ideas for my post-trilogy books. I have another alternate-now story, this one a standalone, that I desperately want to write!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Vic: Thank you so much for having me, and for loving Gilded Cage!
Dark Gifts 1
Del Rey, February 14, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages
A darkly fantastical debut set in a modern England where magically gifted aristocrats rule, and commoners are doomed to serve—for readers of Victoria Aveyard and Susanna Clarke
NOT ALL ARE FREE.
NOT ALL ARE EQUAL.
NOT ALL WILL BE SAVED.
Our world belongs to the Equals—aristocrats with magical gifts—and all commoners must serve them for ten years.
But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of their noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty—but will her heart pay the price?
A boy dreams of revolution.
Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?
Vic James is a current-affairs TV director who loves stories in all their forms. Her programs for BBC1 have covered the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Britain’s EU referendum. She has twice judged The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. Gilded Cage is her first novel, and an early draft of it won a major online award from Wattpad for most-talked-about fantasy. She has lived in Rome and Tokyo, and currently lives in London.
The Dark Gifts Trilogy 1
Pan, January 26, 2017
Paperback and eBook, 416 pages
A thrilling Orwellian vision of Britain, with a rebellious Hunger Games heart, Gilded Cage is the astonishing debut novel from Vic James, and the first title in her electrifying The Dark Gifts Trilogy.
A modern Britain An age-old cruelty
Britain's magically skilled aristocracy compels all commoners to serve them for ten years - and now it's the Hadleys' turn. Abi Hadley is assigned to England's most ruthless noble family. The secrets she uncovers could win her freedom - or break her heart. Her brother Luke is enslaved in a brutal factory town, where new friends' ideals might cost him everything.
Then while the elite vie for power, a young aristocrat plots to remake the world with his dark gifts. As Britain moves from anger to defiance, all three must take sides. And the consequences of their choices will change everything, forever.