The second book in the trilogy - ASH MISTRY AND THE CITY OF DEATH - is released in the US on 29th October (just in time for Halloween, folks - great creepy read for those who don't like candy!) but those of us in the United Kingdom already know how the trilogy ends because ASH MISTRY AND THE WORLD OF DARKNESS was released here on 4th July (this is where I do a taunting dance of smug satisfaction to the US Inkpot readers - but don't worry, it'll be out Stateside next year).
|UK cover for Book 1|
An accident at the dig site sees Ash infected with a splinter from the aastra of Kali, the dread goddess of death. He becomes her servant, the perfect agent of death, just as the world needs him. For Lord Savage has dark plans for the world, plans that involve demons and demon kings, past lives and deadly futures ...
In this interview, my questions are in bold and Sarwat's answers are in italics.
I was at the UK book launch for ASH MISTRY AND THE CITY OF DEATH where you spoke about how the lack of Asian superhero characters and your love of Hindu mythology were both big inspirations for the ASH MISTRY TRILOGY. Did you have a lightbulb moment when you worked out how to combine those two elements or was it a process of evolution?
I have my old notes so I can see the evolution of the idea from some generic supernatural detective story to something based on Indian mythology. Then, the more I thought about the Indian setting, the more it just seemed RIGHT. There was an insane amount of material. You have the terrain which covered the Himalayas to the desert to ancient cities filled with temples to cyber-cities of the 21st century. There was unbelievable wealth and extreme poverty and the conflict between an amazingly structured and traditional society trying to play catch-up to become a superpower.
The levels of conflict and contrast were so extreme, it was perfect.
What ended up in the trilogy is just a fraction of the brainstorm that happened at the beginning.
Interestingly, the Asian protagonist came a little later, and I'll be honest, I did have my concerns about the appeal of an ethnic hero and if it would end up being side-lined because people might think an Asian writing about an Asian set in Asia might end up having niche appeal. Then I realised life was too short worrying about such things and just went for it.
|US cover for Book 2|
When I wrote DEVIL'S KISS I wasn't part of the publishing world and didn't know what YA was. So when I wrote my first book I just had the idea that the heroine, Billi SanGreal, needed to be 15 based on parental and physical needs. That's the age where you decide what sort of adult you'll be and the age when the scales fall from your eyes regarding your parents. You start to see their flaws and, at one level, cannot forgive them for not being perfect. Plus Billi's a highly trained warrior, so needed to be that much older so that it seemed believable she could kick ass so hard without having supernatural powers.
Those were the issues I wanted to bring out in my first series. It was what it was. The whole YA thing came up well after it had been written.
The ASH MISTRY TRILOGY wouldn't work that same way as my hero needed to be basically a bit crap. That seemed to work for someone younger. But he inhabits the same world as Billi SanGreal, so there was going to be a certain level of horror. And let's face it, it's called THE WORLD OF DARKNESS for a reason.
Finally, regarding the issues with what is YA and MG, I really don't care. It's just another form of age-banding which, frankly, was a stupid idea in the first place.
To paraphrase Doctor Who, I think a thousand reader advocates just punched the air and said "YES!". [/grin]
Without going into spoilers, you really explore the different elements of Ash's character in ASH MISTRY AND THE WORLD OF DARKNESS. Do you find that your characters are shaped by their choices and events as you write them or do you map out your characters in advance so their characteristics shape how they approach events?
Oh, it has to be both. I do believe in plotting and do plot quite detailed outlines but am always happy to go off piste if something better comes up. Ash evolved over several drafts and with help from my editors. The ending of the series was about enlightenment, what Ash realises about the nature of life and was heavily influenced by my mother's passing. None of that existed when I first set out on writing the story. The strain of mysticism just grew and Ash along with it. In the end all my stories have had some religious aspect and that spills into the books whether I plan it or not.
The past lives were an interesting way of exploring Ash. What is immortal about humanity? Do we have fundamental, unchangeable values?
Who's your favourite character in the books and why?
Ash, obviously! Firstly, he gave me all of history to play around with. Plus it was great fun watching him develop. It's been a great journey.
Close second (very close) is Parvati. She made a perfect foil to Ash and there was an interesting twist with her being half-human, half-demon and not sure which side to be on and not having either side trust her. One of the unexpected plot twists was her rise. I never expected that!
The villain of the trilogy - Alexander Savage - would make my top 5 Evil Git List. Just when you think he won't stoop any lower, he finds new despicable depths to plumb. What makes a good villain?
Belief. The villain must believe in his cause. This is something I worked on in all my villains. They all, very sincerely, believe they are making the world a better place. They just need to get rid of the undesirable elements. The best way to view the villain is as someone who could have been the hero but had just one flaw too many.
That's why the relationship between Savage and Ash is quite close. Savage sees a lot of himself in Ash and he's not wrong. It's just that Ash has restraint. He's able to control his darker elements. Savage surrendered to them long ago.
|US cover Book 1|
What are your top 3 tips for anyone out there looking at incorporating mythology or religious elements into their fiction?
I really believe in research. I've read too many books where the writer just didn't know what they were talking about. Sadly it's still an issue with children's and YA fiction. It's lazy and insults the reader. Firstly, if you are going to deviate from the standard text, do it because you choose to, not because you didn't know.
Secondly, only work on something you love. That applies to everything in writing. Try your best to ignore the market.
Lastly, develop a thick skin. Someone, especially if you're dealing with religion, will take offence. Ignore them.
Great advice and thank you so much for taking the time to stop by!
In the United Kingdom, the entire ASH MISTRY TRILOGY comprising:
- ASH MISTRY AND THE SAVAGE FORTRESS
- ASH MISTRY AND THE CITY OF DEATH
- ASH MISTRY AND THE WORLD OF DARKNESS
In the United States, ASH MISTRY AND THE SAVAGE FORTRESS is available to buy and ASH MISTRY AND THE CITY OF DEATH is available to order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all good bookstores.
|Sarwat Chadda and Book 1!|