Kids’ Book Review Development Editor Jo Burnell was delighted to get the chance to chat with New Zealand author Rachael Craw about her debut novel Spark: Death by Design, the first book in a gripping new sci-fi triology.
Although Spark is your first published novel, you have clearly been writing for a very long time to produce such a complex, three-dimensional story. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?
I started writing Spark 5.5 years ago. Prior to this, I had never attempted writing with publication in mind. I’ve always loved words, the shape, sound and texture of them and the thrill of putting them together just so. I’ve kept journals all my life, written screes of cringe-worthy poetry during my teen angst and must confess that I still dabble. I acted in amateur theatre and wrote plays for amateur productions and even some short films and a feature length screenplay for my own entertainment. Dialogue! I love dialogue! Scriptwriting gave me the gratification of story-telling without the complication of laborious description.
I never attempted a novel because I feared I lacked the inner fortitude to see it through (euphemism for lazy and impatient) but I underestimated the obsession that comes when an idea takes hold of you. Once I got writing Spark I was hungry to learn and desperate to be good. I wanted to be good more than I wanted to be published. I sought the best advice and criticism I could find. Barbara Else (The Warrior Queen, Tales of Fontania) did my first manuscript assessments and Chris Else (On River Road, Gith) mentored me. Their encouragement, insight and honesty played a big part in helping me find my way on the life-long road of learning the craft. I also have a rather brilliant editor, Nicola Robinson at Walker Books Australia, with a sharp eye and fine instincts.
Have you always written science fiction? What other genres have you dabbled in?
I’m not sure I could have even guessed that I would write something remotely sci-fi-ish, though Spark is probably a marginal fit for the genre what with the lack of space, aliens, parallel universes or even futuristic technology. I have always been drawn to hero-stories from mythology (I was a classical studies major), fairytales and modern comic-book superheroes. I would love to try my hand at magical realism. Perhaps genetic-engineering is my magic-equivalent.
Evie, Kitty and Jamie are complex, believable characters. Even bit part characters throb with unique personality. What techniques do you use to create such characters with such depth?
Crumbs … do I have a technique? I experiment, rewrite, experiment and rewrite on and on in the eternal quest for perfection. I guess dialogue is a big part of my characterisation process – always looking for an authentic voice. I suppose having an interest in acting has given me concern for the motivation of my characters. I definitely ask myself: what does this character want? Are their words/actions/reactions true?
The premise for Spark is so complex and believable. How did the concept germinate? Did you study genetic engineering?
I had the dream which is now the prologue of the novel. In the dream I was running through a forest at night with incredible speed, reflexes and stamina. Then I was gripped with terrible urgency and I knew (in the inexplicable way that you do in dreams) that someone was in great danger out there in the dark, somebody wanted to kill them and I had to get there first to protect them.
When I woke I knew I had the seed of the story I had been praying for (literally, right before going to sleep!) and I began to ask questions: Where did I get my speed and reflexes from? How did I sense there was someone in danger? Why was I gripped with the need to protect them? Why did somebody want to kill them? Why wasn’t I afraid for myself?
It didn’t feel like magic, it felt like being a superhero, like chemical-x or a radioactive spider bite, gamma-rays or some kind of weird science.
When it came to giving credibility to the premise I approached it like a gigantic game of Balderdash (old school game where you flip open a dictionary, pick an obscure word and everybody has a minute to come up with a believable definition). I use to clean up because I had a knack for coming up with the most convoluted answers. But yes, I spent a bit of time on Google looking up topics like DNA, brainwaves and what not, and I had clever friends explain things about physics to me using very small words.
There are more twists and turns in Spark than a multi-level maze. How did you keep track of all the subplots, character twists and timing of events?
You’ll be horrified to know that it was even more complicated before it went to print. I cut two characters (her dad and another potential love interest for Evie named Gabe – he gets a sneaky mention in my short-story Kill Switch. Gabe’s so yummy he should probably get his own story). Many of the twists and turns in Spark happened along the way, taking me by surprise. Sometimes I would get mixed up over the timing of events and my editor would say, ‘hey, shouldn’t that say three days ago not two?’ then we’d have an argument and I would be wrong. Mostly, I would create ghastly problems for my characters and then lie awake at night with no clue how to solve them.
The last 5.5 years has taught me to trust the process. There’s always a solution (even if it means cutting a perfectly good ridiculously-attractive fine arts graduate with dark hair, eyes like the ocean, and a swoon-worthy Irish accent)
Even though Spark is more than 450 pages long, it’s a fast, pacey read. The only problem I had was that it ended far too soon. Will we have to wait long for Stray (Book 2) and Shield (Book 3)?
Stray will be out in 2015, you’ll get to see Evie go through orientation at the Affinity Project compound where she’s tested her limits physically, mentally and emotionally. Poor thing. Shield will hit the shelves in 2016.
Born and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand, Rachael Craw's experience as a high-school English teacher has given her a natural inclination for young adult literature. Spark: Death by Design, published by Walker Books Australia, is her debut novel and the first book in a sci-fi triology. Visit Rachael's website and Facebook page for the latest updates on her writing and other news.