Alison is the author of the upcoming Lady Helen series, a trilogy of historical supernatural adventures set in the Regency. The first book–The Dark Days Club–is due for release in January 2016. Alison is best known for her New York Times bestselling fantasy duololgy EON and EONA, and her ability to dance a mean English contra-dance. She also writes award winning science fiction and crime fiction, and lives with her lovely husband and their machiavellian Jack Russell Terrier in Melbourne, Australia.
I asked Alison a few questions about her new book, The Dark Days Club.
Kristin Centorcelli: Will you tell us a bit about THE DARK DAYS CLUB and what inspired you to write it?
Alison Goodman: The Dark Days Club is the combination of three of my loves: the Regency era, stories with a supernatural bent, and a strong female main character. I call it Pride and Prejudice meets Buffy! It follows the adventures of Lady Helen Wrexhall who is making her curtsey to Queen Charlotte and stepping into Regency society. Little does she know that step will also take her into a dark world of demons and danger! The idea for the book came to me while I was on a tram coming home from a writers’ conference. I had been to a session about researching the Regency, and as I sat on the tram looking out of the window, I began to think about what kind of Regency novel I would like to read now. The answer came in a rush: a mix of everything I loved about Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer together with the excitement and delight of a supernatural adventure. I scrabbled for a pen and paper and by the time I got to my tram stop, I had the outline of The Dark Days Club.
KC: What makes Lady Helen and Lord Carlston such compelling characters? Why do you think readers will root for them?
AG: They are both, in their own ways, characters of integrity who are dealing with some very difficult dilemmas. We meet Lady Helen at a very interesting stage of her life: she is about to step into high society with her whole life already mapped out for her, but she is questioning the narrow path that she is expected to tread. While she is aware of her high rank, she is also fair minded, clever, very curious and a wee bit stubborn when her back is up. Lord Carlston arrives on the scene with a whole load of history and the suspicion that he murdered his wife hanging over him. He has a passionate nature, but all of that emotion has been funneled into this huge duty that has been placed upon his shoulders.
KC: What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?
AG: I did two types of research. Firstly, I hit the books and documentaries—more than forty, all up, about the Regency and associated subjects. Secondly, I did a lot of what’s called immersive research which is experience-based research. I learned how to Regency dance, wore Regency clothes, ate foods that were served at the time, attended a Regency ball, drove around town in a horse-drawn barouche, and visited London to walk along the same streets as Lady Helen does in the book. It is a great way to gather sensory information for vivid world building.
My writing process always starts with research and a lot of planning: scene breakdowns, storyboarding and historical calendars. While I am doing that, I also write and rewrite the first chapter of the book until I am happy with the voice and tone. Then, when plot, research and first chapter are at a point where I feel confident, I start writing in earnest. I also keep researching the historical setting and developing my storyboard as I go along—there is always more to find out, and shifts in the story caused by the interaction of character and plot.
KC: What do you enjoy most about writing for a younger audience?
AG: My readers span in age from 12 years old to over 80 years old, so I really just write for readers of any age who like the same kind of stuff I do: adventure, vivid world building, a bit of the fantastical, and characters caught in life-changing situations. The best part is when someone likes your book so much that it inspires them to write or draw or create something themselves.
KC: Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
AG: All through primary school I wanted to be a writer. I had a small detour into wanting to direct movies in my teenage years, and then I returned to my first love in my twenties and studied professional writing at university.
I’m Australian and live in Melbourne with my husband and my Jack Russell Terrier, Xander, who is named after the Buffy character. I write full-time now, but I used to teach creative writing at a university. I love reading (of course), Regency dancing, on-line clothes shopping, hanging out with friends and going to see movies, particularly the Marvel movies. I have watched Guardians of the Galaxy ten times and will be watching it another ten; I can’t get enough of Rocket and Groot or the clever way it is put together.
KC: What’s one of the first things that you can remember writing?
AG: An epic poem about a wild horse that I wrote in Grade 4.
KC: What authors have influenced you the most?
AG: In terms of The Dark Days Club, I think Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer have influenced me the most, particularly in the way I have created the Regency world of the novel. Other influences have been S.E. Hinton, Thomas Pynchon, Barbara Wersba, Anne McCaffrey, Grace Paley and Diana Gabaldon.
KC: If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
AG: Tunes for a Small Harmonica by Barbara Wersba. When I was a teenager, this book obsessed me. It is set in New York in the mid 1960’s and the main character—J.F. McAllister––is a girl who has decided to “dress like a boy” for the rest of her life. She chain smokes, hides all her raging emotions behind a bad attitude and accidentally falls in love with her boring English teacher, Harold Murth. She is fabulous and said all the things I was feeling at that time in my life. I would love to experience the first-time delight and passion that I felt for Tunes once again.
KC: What are you currently reading?
AG: I am currently reading research for the setting of Book 3 of the Lady Helen series—lots of books about Bath—and also The Waiting Room by Leah Kaminsky, a very beautiful novel about memory and the ghosts one carries within oneself.
KC: What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
AG: Book 2 of the Lady Helen series is already with the publisher and is set to come out next Christmas/New Year, so I am now working on Book 3, which, as I mentioned above, is set in Bath during the winter social season. I am also getting ready to tour the USA with The Dark Days Club from March 22nd to April 1st. I’ll be with a great group of other Penguin RH authors so it should be a hoot! The cities we are going to visit are yet to be confirmed, but as soon as the schedule is finalized I’ll post it on my website (www.darkdaysclub.com) and other social media. I can’t wait!