Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Q+A with Bryony Pearce

Author of The Weight of Souls.


How did you come up with the idea of Taylor’s power of marking souls?

I wanted to write a ghost story with a difference, so I came up with the idea that Taylor should be forced to avenge the death of any ghost that touched her. Then I hit a stumbling block, what could an otherwise ordinary teenage girl really do to avenge a death?

I could have her be a ‘chosen one’ and go around kicking butt, like Buffy, but that would probably get her in trouble with the law and inevitably lead to injuries and the increased likelihood of her getting shot, stabbed etc. So I dismissed that idea.

I could have taken her down the ‘Nancy Drew’ route to solve the crimes and pass the information onto the police. But the problem with that was that she would have to provide incontrovertible evidence, which often wouldn’t exist, she couldn’t go to the police with ‘the ghost of the murder victim told me whodunnit’ and as I couldn’t be sure that human law would always find the criminal guilty, it wasn’t a foolproof way of avenging a death.

So I had to find a way for Taylor to punish these murderers, without endangering her too much and without needing to involve human law.

The origin of the curse was always going to be the Egyptian god Anubis, so I decided to go one step further and make him the agency of vengeance as well. Taylor simply had to find the killer and indicate to Anubis that this was the individual to be taken away. As Anubis was the judge of the underworld (the book title The Weight of Souls references his role in weighing the soul of the deceased to see if it was heavier or lighter than a feather) he would be an infallible judge of each killer (no ‘getting off on a technicality’).

I had to find a way for Anubis to take the killers away. That was how I came up with the Darkness: a physical manifestation of Anubis in the real world. Finally, I needed to find a way for Taylor tell the Darkness who it had to take. That was where the Mark came in. Once it has been activated by the touch of a ghost it wakens the Darkness. As the Mark darkens, the Darkness comes nearer until it arrives to take away the bearer of the Mark. The catch is, if Taylor still hasn’t found the killer by the time the Darkness arrives, it’ll take whoever is wearing it – in this case, Taylor herself.

Did you do much research into tomb raiding? What’s your favourite tale?

As a teenager I was really interested in archaeology and Egyptology and obviously the story of the curse of Tutankhamen was a real inspiration for the dig on which Taylor’s ancestor becomes cursed.

Underneath the supernatural, Weight of Souls deals with the topic of peer pressure; why did you choose to focus on that aspect of growing up?

To me, it is a very personal subject.

The idea of ‘fitting in’ and what people will do in order to do it has always fascinated me; from the girl who I had befriended when no-one else would, who swiftly turned on me when it became clear that I was not as popular as she had thought and that picking on me might get her ‘in’ with a cooler crowd, to the group who attacked me on a bus (discussed in my Dear Teen Me letter), to the classroom environment where even the teacher succumbed to peer pressure (discussed on The Banned Books tour in September).

So, I was bullied as a child and some of the worst incidents were attacks by groups who, as individuals, came across as perfectly nice. I have therefore always been interested in the notion that man, in a group, can so easily lose his moral centre and be led to do things he would not otherwise. In my first book, Angel’s Fury, I looked at Nazi Germany and did research into Milgram’s fascinating Obedience to Authority experiment (Yale 1961) and in The Weight of Souls I have The V Club, an extreme social clique with serious peer pressure involvement. I looked at deindividuation theory and used what I found to create an environment in which these teenagers could, quite believably, behave like total monsters and not see themselves in that way.

It’s an observation that I have been making about the world since I was young, and it is something that makes me sad. I hope that I am giving my own children the strength to be individuals and I hope that through my writing I am making a few others think about how important it is to listen to your heart and not the crowd.

Taylor’s quite reliant on her Oyster card; is it important that your characters live in the real world?

Yes, definitely. I believe that the more real the world building is, the more creepy the paranormal elements become.

If Weight of Souls was adapted, who would you want to cast in the leading roles?

I have a whole blog post about that called ‘Movie Maker’ which is out on the 4th August over on Serendipity Reviews.

What do you love about joining the Strange Chemistry team?

It’s like a family. I was made to feel very welcome, I received flowers on my birthday, all the authors talk on email, Facebook and Twitter, we support each other with marketing ideas and comment on each other’s book covers, it really doesn’t feel like being with a faceless publisher, it feels like being with people who really care.

Read any amazing books lately?

My current favourite remains Tom Pollock’s The City’s Son. I am so looking forward to the sequel, which comes out just in time for my holiday!

What do you do when you’re not slaving away behind a keyboard?

I’m a mum with two small children, so I’m basically cooking, cleaning, entertaining, chauffeuring, bathing etc. I also love to read and if I can I like to watch films. I do love the odd cinema trip and I am really enjoying my new hobby – karate. I’m about to grade for my yellow belt.

Anything you’ve found online recently that you’d like to share?

A great blog post about what it is really like to be a new author over on Terrible Minds. It is completely 100% true!

For more information on Bryony Pearce or her work, please do visit her website www.bryonypearce.co.uk, like her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter @BryonyPearce.

Make sure you pay close attention to the blog tour and you could win some goodies. Check out the details on Bryony's blog.

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