Merciless, satirical and terrifyingly addictive, Joelle Wellington’s debut YA thriller, Their Vicious Games, is an all-consuming read that’s just as horrifying in its fiction as it is in its ‘real world’ parallels. We couldn’t get enough of this artfully written story, so we’re thrilled to have had the chance to talk to Joelle all about Their Vicious Games to celebrate its release.
Hi Joelle! I’m thrilled to be able to talk to you today about your utterly superb debut novel, Their Vicious Games. For readers just learning about it, how would you best describe it to them?
I would describe Their Vicious Games as a YA thriller with a satirical edge about a young Black woman who has lost the opportunity to go to her college of choice (or any college really) and to get that opportunity back, she enters a deadly competition that she is extremely under-prepared for. It really delves into the intersections of class, race, and gender, and explores the concept of feminine rage.
The moment it was announced, Their Vicious Games and its terrifyingly fascinating premise found its way to the top of my TBR. How and when did the inspiration for this story come to you?
This was during 2020, so peak pandemic, and a lot of reckoning was happening for predominantly white institutions, especially the ones I frequented growing up. Around that same time, I was rewatching my favourite seasons of the Bachelor, and saw Ready or Not, for the first time, and I suddenly had this idea to write about beauty standards and feminine rage and the way that white institutions love to exploit BIPOC, but particularly Black women.
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Their Vicious Games is one of the most riveting and all-consuming books I’ve read so far in 2023. Reading it was a total rollercoaster from beginning to end but was your experience writing it like?
My experience writing it was very methodical, because I’m a very methodical writer. I am a big believer in outlining and it’s very rare that I stray from my outline. I like to know my ending. The funny part is that the ending is what changed the most from my original outline, and I think it’s for the better.
Can you tell us a little about what the journey from inspiration to publication has been like for you?
It has been incredible. I have had the best team at my side, always there to answer questions and guide me through this process. I wouldn’t say it was painless—learning how to edit a book with an editor was a learning curve and a 20 page edit letter is always shocking—but it has been incredible, a very marked contrast to when I flopped on sub with the first book I went out with, in late 2019, early 2020.
There are countless stand-out scenes in Their Vicious Games, with images that will undoubtedly stick in my mind for a long time to come. Were there any scenes that stick out to you as being particularly enjoyable or challenging to write?
The two scenes that I enjoyed writing the most were the confrontation between Adina and Penthesilea, and the Simon Says scene. For the confrontation, I just really loved finally being able to talk about Penthesilea’s motivations. I got to really dig deep and figure out who she was in real-time as I wrote that, and when I was done, I just really loved the character I’d created. The Simon Says scene is absolutely wild, and I just love that. It’s absurd, and that’s the whole point, and I’m glad that it’s absurd.
Finally, are you currently working on any projects and if so, is there anything you can share with us?
A few months back, I turned in my second YA—not sure how much I can share about that other than it’s a speculative thriller/horror-comedy that gets very meta—and I’m working on my first Adult novel, which is the most genre I’ve ever gotten, a space fantasy.