To celebrate the release of her twisty new YA novel, House of Hollow, we caught up with Our Chemical Hearts author, Krystal Sutherland, to chat all things writing inspirations, dream movie casting and the difference between writing horror and contemporary novels.
Make sure to stick around until the end of our interview with Krystal to find out how you can win a limited proof copy of House of Hollow.
Congratulations on the release of your new YA novel, House of Hollow! For readers not yet familiar with it, how would you describe its premise?
House of Hollow is the story of three strange sisters – the Hollow sisters – who went through a mysterious and traumatic event when they were children. They disappeared for a month and then came back with no memory of where they had been or what had happened to them. They also came back slightly different – their hair and eyes changed colour, missing baby teeth grew back and they each had a small hook-shaped cut at the base of their throats.
Ten years later, the youngest sister, Iris, is trying to finish high school and live a normal life – something that is difficult to do in the shadow of her older sisters, both of whom are famous, glamourous and wild. Then the eldest sister, Grey, goes missing again and Iris and her middle sister, Vivi, have to confront and unravel the mystery of what happened to them as children so they can find and save their sister. It’s a story with glamourous catwalk models, clues hidden in walls and ceilings, doorways that lead to unexpected places, and a character with a terrible secret.
What were your biggest inspirations behind the story of House of Hollow?
It’s a scrapbook of different ideas that eventually merged together. The first spark came to me when I was out hiking with my sister and I thought, “What if I turned around right now and she was just gone?” If there was no sound, no struggle, no one else around – it was such a horrifying thought.
The story really started to percolate after I visited Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka and saw “ghost doors” scattered around the forest – ruins where every part of a structure had fallen away except the doorframe. They felt at once inviting and dangerous, like fairy circles. I wanted to walk through one, but found myself afraid that if I did I might end up somewhere… else. Those two elements really drew me in and I started to build the story and characters and world around them.
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Your first two novels were contemporaries. What inspired you to make such a dramatic genre change with House of Hollow?
I’ve always read and written about the supernatural; I actually wrote three unpublished manuscripts before Chemical Hearts, which were all fantasy and/or thrillers. I’ve never enjoyed creating anything as much as I did House of Hollow, because it’s the kind of book I’ve been trying to write for a decade: lush, dark, eerie. After publishing two books, I finally felt like I was good enough as a writer – that I had the necessary toolkit – to do the story justice. It felt like coming home.
Each of the Hollow sisters are such unique characters but which sister do you see yourself in the most?
I suppose I’m most like Iris, who’s quiet and studious and keeps her head down. Vivi and Grey were a lot more fun to write, though! They’re dream girls, you know? They’re the women I wanted to be when I was growing up. Vivi is rough and wild and heavily tattooed. Honestly, she’s borderline feral, a ball of walking chaos. Grey is the opposite: the height of glamour and the embodiment of control. I think Grey is the most morally grey (and appropriately named) character in the book, so that was a fun writing challenge.
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There are some brilliantly gruesome and creepy moments throughout the book. I can imagine the process of writing this book must have been pretty different from your contemporaries?
I felt very vulnerable when I began writing House of Hollow. It was 2018, so the Chemical Hearts movie was still a distant dream and I felt like my momentum had stalled. I’d worked for ages on a different manuscript that I didn’t like and my agent didn’t like. I felt kind of shoehorned into writing contemporary YA forever because that was my “brand” – but what I’d always loved to read and write was fantasy and thriller. It was a real moment of soul searching.
Ultimately, I decided that the only way I could spend two years working on another book was if I wrote something I really wanted to read. I had to write a book for me. So that’s what I did. It was kind of terrifying. It felt like writing my debut all over again, because I wasn’t even sure if any publisher would buy it – but it’s paid off. House of Hollow is the book I’m proudest of, the one I’m most excited to share. The reaction to it from early readers has been thrilling to see.
Your debut novel, Our Chemical Hearts, was made into a movie last year. If House of Hollow got the same treatment, who would be your dream casting for the Hollow sisters?
Usually I don’t fancast because I don’t have a strong preference – but this time I need Anya Taylor-Joy to play Iris!
Are you currently working on anything new and if so, can you give us any clues as to what we can expect from your next story?
I’m working on the draft of my fourth novel for young adults at the moment, another folk horror book about three teenage girls with links to the occult. It’s a lot of fun!
Want to dive into House of Hollow asap? Simply follow the instructions in the tweet below for your chance to win a proof copy.
Get your copy of House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland here.