This post is sponsored by Bloomsbury.
Fantasy novels in the young adult genre are changing from the entirely white, entirely male cast of characters we used to see — thanks to new authors on the scene like Kesia Lupo. Kesia’s debut title, ‘We Are Blood and Thunder‘, features refreshing and realistic diversity on every single page, not to mention a brilliant new realm, a mystery to unravel, and a massive plot twist that’ll have your head spinning.
Kesia hails from Bristol, and she studied history at Oxford University and creative writing at Bath Spa. In this interview, get to know more about Kesia and her process behind writing one of the most exciting YA fantasy releases of 2019, ‘We Are Blood and Thunder‘.
‘We are Blood and Thunder’ is your debut novel. Have you always wanted to be a writer? Was there someone/thing that inspired you in particular?
The short answer is yes, I’ve always wanted to write – I think largely because I’ve always adored reading and that’s inspired me. I think the more I read, the more my imagination is stoked and fired up, and the more ideas of my own I want to get down on the page.
What made you choose to go into the fantasy genre? What were your favourite fantasy books growing up?
As a child and teenager, I loved fantasy – everything from the ‘Narnia’ series to ‘Lord of the Rings’ to ‘Harry Potter‘ to ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’… I’d read anything. I loved science fiction, horror and the classics, too, but especially fantasy. And I think that’s why I have always written fantasy stories first and foremost: it’s always felt like home to me.
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Signing a book and looking incredibly pleased with myself – thank you @beatricemay for the photo! … I was really nervous about my first author event @uclanuni for publishing MA students but it went really well! Thanks to students and lovely staff for making me feel so welcome. ☺️ #authorlife #yafantasy #yabooks #yabookstagram #fantasybooks #wearebloodandthunder
How did you dream up the fantasy world where the book is set? How were you involved in the creation of the map included at the front of the book?
World-building is extremely important to me – in fact, the world was developed long before the story, in many ways. I had early sketches of the maps and the pantheon of the gods from early on in the process – I find them really helpful in making a fantasy world feel real and tangible in my mind. It was really magical to see a proper artist develop those sketches.
‘We are Blood and Thunder’ is a unique YA novel in that it features characters from all walks of life — different sexualities, different races, different classes. Was it important to you as an author to include and embrace characters’ realistic differences like these?
‘Realistic’ is absolutely right. I wanted this fantasy to feel real, and as such, it was bound to include a diverse cast of characters, just like our own world does. It was important to me that readers would be able to see themselves in the book. Fantasy was once traditionally dominated by white, straight, male characters – I remember feeling uneasy about Lord of the Rings even though I loved it: where were all the girls and women? The genre (particularly the YA bit of it) has totally changed now in that respect, which is wonderful.
We loved reading a YA fantasy novel written by a woman that followed the stories of two women. Do the two female leads, Lena and Constance, share any characteristics with you?
I loved writing both these women and they’re definitely reflective of different parts of my character. The book was written and developed over about five years, starting when I was 23, and at the beginning of that process, I felt very like Lena – questioning and doubtful, trying to figure myself out. But I’m much more of a Constance now, I think. Interestingly, Constance as a narrator only happened later on in the process. Perhaps I had to be older and more confident myself in order to understand her voice.
‘We are Blood and Thunder’ has an amazing plot twist that we never saw coming when we read it. Did this twist come about as you were writing the book, or had you planned it out from the beginning of the writing process?
I came up with the idea for the twist during the very first conversations I had with my editor, Zoe, when the book was about to be acquired. She’s a fantastic editor and has drawn some brilliant ideas out of me – but this was definitely the big one! Without giving anything away, the twist instantly felt very natural to me, like it had been there all along, buried, and I just had to dig it out. I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out. (And I’m glad you didn’t see it coming!)
Your Twitter bio says you also work as a Senior Editor in children’s books. What was it like switching roles and being the author this time?
I loved it! I was nervous to start out, but Zoe set me at ease from the beginning. We shared a vision for the book and worked hard on it together. Writing is so solitary most of the time that it was honestly a pleasure to have someone on my side, working on the text along with me. I hope I do as good a job with my authors as Zoe did with me!
Do you have any advice for people hoping to write their own YA fantasy novel someday?
The best advice I can offer to any aspiring writer is to form a writing habit – write a little bit every day, even if it’s only for five or ten minutes. I write every day in the hour before work, in a cafe – it’s a lovely quiet time for me. And remember, working on your world is really helpful as well as simply getting the words down! Maps, diagrams, lists of names… all of it will come into play.
Get your copy of ‘We Are Blood and Thunder’ in the UK now.