First off, congrats! We really loved The Blackthorn Key. Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea?
Thank you! I’m absolutely thrilled to have won the Cybils.
The idea for The Blackthorn Key actually came during one of those times where I was specifically trying to think up new ideas (which almost never works). It popped into my head that apothecaries were pretty cool: they used potions, and poisons, and secret codes, and this seemed like a really rich base on which I might build a good story.
The initial conception was of an apothecary’s apprentice and a secret people were willing to kill for. All the detail expanded during the research.
What kind of research went into setting a mystery/adventure in 17th-century London?
As much as I could handle! I was in and out of libraries for several weeks before I started to structure the book. In fact, initially, I wasn’t even sure during what era I was going to set it, or if it was going to be historical at all. I settled upon Restoration London fairly quickly, however. It was such a fantastic period: the return of the king after the fall of the Commonwealth; the conflicts, plots, and conspiracies; the level of technology; the liveliness of the city; and so on. Basically, it was too good a time to pass up!
Are you a plotter? Or do you just write and see where the characters go?
Plotter, plotter, plotter. I plot out everything in as much detail as possible before I write a single word. First I work out the overall structure of the book, then I flesh out the individual scenes by detailing everything that has to happen in them.
Of course, changes get made during revisions, and even during the writing process, since it’s not until you see the story on the page that you can really tell whether what you have is working or not. But if I ever try to just write and see where things will go, I only ever end up with a giant mess.
One of our favorite things were the puzzles. Why did you decide to include them?
Mainly because I love puzzles, too! I think they bring a lot of intrigue and mystery to a story. In particular, it seemed like such a natural fit for both the secretive nature of apothecaries and the fascinations of the era.
Part of the research I did, in fact, was specifically about the history of secret codes, what they knew, and what they had yet to discover, so all of that was great material for the book.
If you don’t mind us asking, what are you working on next?
The sequel to The Blackthorn Key! It’s called MARK OF THE PLAGUE, and it’s set three months after the first book, during the height of the Great Plague of London. We’ll rejoin Christopher and Tom during the worst part of this epidemic, where, amidst the fear and desperation, they find themselves embroiled in a new mystery. There’ll be more codes to decipher, more potions to make, and more traps to set—and avoid! Plus, we’ll see some old friends, and meet a new enemy. It’ll be out this year, September 2016.
I’m also working on a new series; a space adventure. I’m pretty excited to see how this one will turn out.
Thank you so much for your time!