Hello, Bryony, and welcome to the blog! For those who don't know, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your upcoming novel, The Weight of Souls?
Hi there. Well, I have two children aged 7 and 4 (a girl named Maisie and a boy named Riley) and a cat who likes to sit on the laptop when I'm working. I live in a village at the edge of the Peak District, a welcome change from London, where I lived (or rather survived) for six years after university. I'm a chocolate and wine loving vegetarian and people who know me are often surprised about how dark my writing is.
Generally I write books about good vs. evil and redemption. My books are embedded in the modern world (or alternative reality versions), but with a supernatural twist. I believe that the more realistic the starting point, the more creepy the supernatural element becomes.
My first book, Angel's Fury, published by Egmont in 2011) was about a girl who suffers from terrible nightmares, who discovers that she has been reincarnated and that all of her lives are being manipulated by a fallen angel who is trying to destroy mankind.
My second book, The Weight of Souls, out in August with Strange Chemistry, is about a teenaged girl who sees ghosts...but if a ghost touched her she has to avenge its death.
I visit schools, festivals and events and love it if people come and say hello...particularly is they have enjoyed my work.
One of the things I really liked about The Weight of Souls was how there was so much more to it than I expected. How difficult was it for you to incorporate all the different ideas?
I like the stories I read to be complex, to make me think over an idea, to be something I come back to and reread from a different lifetime perspective and I try to write books that offer my readers the same experience without hitting them over the head with an 'issue'. The first novel I ever tried to write was a dreadful mish-mash that extended to over 100,000 words, I tried to include way too many themes and ideas. As I have grown as a writer I have learned that it is about selecting a few ideas that work together to form a story and blending them seamlessly. I felt that the character of Taylor was complex enough to hold together several different story strands: bullying, ancient curses, Egyptian gods, a murder mystery, a secret society, they all work together in The Weight of Souls to form one cohesive whole and through Taylor I had no problem incorporating them all.
The hardest thing was where to put the 'backstories'. Originally I had two prologues: 200 years ago (which was the story of Oh-Fa) and five years ago (the story of Taylor's first experience seeing ghosts). I struggled with this, especially as my agent is not a fan of the prologue, and ended up putting them into the main body of the book. It works because I think the opening of The Weight of Souls is strong as it is, but I still wish I had managed to keep some of the content that I had to dump in order to keep the story flowing.
Even as a child in primary school, I never really liked Truth or Dare, mainly because I was worried about the kinds of things that might be asked and where it might go. And it looks like I was right to be wary. Was there something in particular that made you want to write about a secret society? And why Truth or Dare?
Interestingly The Weight of Souls was originally titled 'The Society' because, for me, that was the key part of the book, the heart of the murder mystery and the issues I wanted to explore (bullying, fitting in, crowd mentality).
School is hard (certainly not the best years of life) and sometimes it feels as if there are secret societies all around you: every clique that you cannot enter (because you are not sporty enough, not beautiful enough, not cool enough, not clever enough) and do not understand has its own rules. So I decided that I wanted to write about a clique that literally did have rules, that started off fairly innocent, but that got out of control. I wanted to use the V club as a microcosm of society, to explore power structures and the experiences of people doing things they never otherwise would, just because the crowd, or their social rules, demand it (much as in Angel's Fury I used the Milgram Experiment to explore how people will do terrible things when directed to by an authority figure: 'Ordinary people...can become agents in a terrible destructive process.' - Milgram).
For The Weight of Souls I looked at Freud's Crowd Behaviour Theory (the idea that the moral centre of consciousness - the super-ego - is displaced by the larger crowd, to be replaced by a charismatic crowd leader) and I explored the idea of Deindividuation which argues that in typical crowd situations, factors such as anonymity, group unity and arousal weaken personal controls (e.g. guilt, shame, self-evaluating behaviour) by distancing people from their personal identities and reducing their concern for social evaluation:
'The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.' - Terry Pratchett.
In the V club people do 'what they do':
'Justin nodded. "This game is crazy. Look at what we do. Look at what you're doing. You don't break the rules, you just don't. Plus they've got something on you now."'
'Pete raised his head. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know. I mean, I knew something was way off, but I wasn't sure, and it was V, man, you just do what you do. You know."'
And the reason I chose Truth or Dare was because I wanted a game that easily gets out of control and results in people going further than they ever would because they are goaded to do so. I needed something with a clear rule structure which I could embellish.
Taylor makes a nice change from the standard YA protagonist, and she's also a very real character. Is she based on you or someone you know?
I am one of those writers whose main characters pretty much pop into their heads fully formed. Taylor has been sitting grumpily in the back of my head for some time now, yelling at me and growing in clarity over time. She is not based on anyone I know (although her experiences being bullied are very much drawn from my own school experience). Several of the secondary characters, however, are amalgamations of people I know.
Justin's character undergoes a lot of development, from someone unlikeable to someone the reader sees as more complex, and who I actually came to love. Did that change in his character come naturally, or were there challenges along the way?
Like Taylor, I knew Justin and his story pretty well. I knew that he came into the school late and needed to fit in. That he was cool and attractive enough to lead the 'cool clique', but that he secretly fancied Taylor. However, like many young boys who are only just starting to discover girls, he goes about expressing his interest in the wrong way - trying to get her to notice him by picking on her. This leads the rest of the cool kids to follow his lead. By the time he and Taylor are teens Taylor hates him, he is trapped in the V club (with its scary lifetime membership) and stuck with a girlfriends who is more interested in her own lifestyle than their relationship.
I liked Justin and was a bit sorry to make him unlikeable at the start of the book, but the book is told from Taylor's perspective, so it is her own view of him that colours the reader's. As she finds out more about the real Justin, her view changes and so the reader's is able to change too.
What was your favourite scene to write?
I love so much of it, but the part I enjoyed writing the most was the moment when Taylor realises that Justin has been murdered. That was the scene that had been playing in my head for months, screaming at me that it needed a book to go in. It was great to finally get it on paper and out of my brain!
Finally, can you tell us anything about what you're working on at the moment?
I am currently working on a book about a boy who can jump from one universe to another, based on Homer's Odyssey and multi-universe theory; there are cannibals, killer machines, crazy priests, mad gods and much more. As usual it is on the dark side and deals with good and evil, redemption and freedom.
Side note: *stares* 'Cannibals, killer machines, crazy priests, mad gods and much more'. That book is obviously meant for me.
Rules of the V Club:
TRUTH OR DARE
Choosing the challengee:
- Club meets once a week unless there are exceptions such as new members coming in.
- No talking about the club outside the club.
- To get into the club you have to be proposed by another member, seconded and you must complete the dare set by the club master. Then you are in, but have no right to set challenges until you complete another round.
- Each time you complete a dare, you have the right to set the next challenge.
Either the challenger can choose the challenged (you cannot choose the same person more than twice in a row) or, if there is no preference, the challenger spins a wheel to select the challenged.
- Dares have to be witnessed by at least three other members (where possible) and video recorded.
- Dares can be anything, but at least three other members have to agree that they are achievable. You cannot set an impossible dare. If you set an impossible dare you are forbidden from setting another dare for three rounds, even if you complete your own challenge.
- A member has the right to turn down a dare up to three times in a row, after that they have to complete a challenge, or they are barred from the club.
Challengees have the right to double dare - send it back to the challenger. However, they have to 'double up' - make the challenge doubly difficult (that has to be gauged by three other members). If the challenger does not choose to accept the double dare he or she will then lose their chance to be challenger for that week. Furthermore, anyone else in the club has the chance to accept the double dare. They will then accrue points.
Points can be accrued through completing double dares - these can be saved up and used at any time. Points enable you to either:
- Force someone to give you a truth
- Make someone do something for you outside the environs of the club - e.g. complete a homework assignment
If the challenge does not want to do the dare, they may ask for a truth instead.
The truth about your personality:
- Or a truth may be set instead of a dare.
- If a truth is asked for the challenge MUST enter the confessional.
- A truth is not just a question and answer.
The confessional explores concepts such as:
- How brave/cowardly are you - facing your worst fears. Challengers may put other things in the confessional with you. You must remain inside for ten minutes with e.g. spiders, mice, cockroaches etc.
- How nice are you? You have the chance to swap your place in the confessional with your 'best friend' - do you do it?
- How much pain can you stand? You have to put your hand through a hole in the confessional wall. You may be burned, iced, cut etc. This is a three minute challenge.
If you are asked a question you MUST tell the truth. This truth must be verifiable.
Verifying the truth:
Barring from the club:
- At least one other member should be able to verify that you are not telling the truth.
- If this is not possible but the answer is found to be a lie of misdirection at any later time - because the truth is immutable - the challenge will be 'sent to Coventry' (for a period to be determined by a vote) - see barring from the club.
- No-one is permitted to talk about the club or its challenges. Anyone barred from the club or who doesn't get into the club is not permitted to talk about the club - if this happens they will be 'sent to Coventry' - total social death.
- Often hounded out of school.
If you want to know more about Bryony Pearce, you can find her here: