Books, interviews, Writing

Meet the author: C.J. Daugherty – NIGHT SCHOOL

I’m so excited to welcome YA author C.J. Daugherty to the blog today. I’m a huge fan of her thriller series NIGHT SCHOOL. C.J. talks to me about the series, the inspiration behind it and her journey to publication as well as sharing writing tips so check it out!

Night-School

The series is set in modern times in the world of the super rich, in whose midst Allie Sheridan finds herself when she is sent to Cimmeria Academy, an exclusive boarding school in the south of England. It’s a seductive place, filled with beautiful young people who have never flown on a commercial airliner in their lives because their parents always send the family jet. These teens were raised by nannies who spoke four languages, and they do all their shopping on London’s Bond Street and Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

But Allie, who values truth above everything, soon learns that their beautiful world is laced with deception. And danger.

When she discovers that their world is really her world too, she knows she’s trapped. Now all she wants is to get out alive.

1.What was your inspiration behind writing the Night School series? 

The series was inspired by a photo I saw in the newspaper. It was a group of young men in tuxedos standing in front of a grand old building. The headline above the story said “The Bullingdon Club: A Secret Society at Oxford University”. I was, like… Wait. There are secret societies at Oxford University?? In real life?? 
 
Included in the photo were Prime Minister David Cameron and  London Mayor Boris Johnson. In fact, everyone in the photo went on to become either a cabinet minister or a Lord Chief Justice, the head of a major financial institution or CEO of a multi-national corporation. Nobody in that photo is worth less than half a billion pounds now. And I just got to thinking, what if those guys met at Eton? What if it wasn’t just a coincidence that not one person ever known to be in the Bullingdon Club made it to middle management and fizzled out? What if it was a plan? What if no one in the Bullingdon Club is allowed to fail?
 
And what is it like to be them?
 
That was the start.

2. The Night School series is set at a boarding school in the English countryside. What inspired you to write a boarding school story and why do you think they seem to have such universal appeal?

I was drawn to boarding schools because such places are a fantasy setting for me, and for most readers. I grew up in Texas; my high school was a modern, windowless building across from a fast food restaurant. Boarding schools have TURRETS. And horses. Occasionally peacocks. To me, the idea of being educated at a boarding school is as extraordinary as growing up in a castle and calling your grandmother ‘Her Majesty’. But most of the country’s leaders — in all political parties — went to these fantastical schools. And our future leaders are probably there now. So if I wanted to write about this group, I needed to set my book in their natural habitat.

3. Did you set out to write a series and what have been the challenges in doing so? How any books are you planning to write?

I just set out to write a book. I had no plan or higher purpose. When I was writing Night School, it genuinely never occurred to me that it might someday be published. I just wrote it for fun. Thus, when I reached page 400 and was nowhere near the end, it came as some surprise to me that I appeared to be writing a series.

It was only when I completed the book that I began to look at it as a viable project. And only after I was signed by the Madeleine Milburn Agency did I allow myself to consider that anyone would want to read more than one of my books. Night School was sold to publishers as a two-book deal, and then I worked with my editors to sketch out how long the series should be and the general story arc for the later books. We decided it would be 5 books altogether, and now that I’ve finished writing the first draft of the fourth book, I think we chose the right number.

night school legacy cj daugherty
4. I think every writer loves to hear a how-I-got-published story, can you please tell us yours?

Mine is weirdly short. I wrote the book for fun, and it was only when it was finished that it struck me that it wasn’t actually terrible. I sent it to some trusted friends for feedback. They all thought I should try to get it published. So I edited it again based on their suggestions then began researching agents. I came up with a list of 12 agents I was interested in approaching. I queried two agencies at once. I’d planned to query three but I ran out of printer ink. One of the agents I sent it to was Madeleine Milburn. She phoned me the next day and asked for a full manuscript. The day after that — which happened to be my birthday — she signed me. She already had a publisher in mind for the book but first she had me work with her in-house editor to polish the manuscript. The book, as written then, was paranormal. She warned me that publishers weren’t buying ANY paranormal, and that publishers would probably want me to edit it so it had no vampires or witches. Sure enough, we sent it to Atom/Little Brown on exclusive, and they agreed to sign me on the condition that I revise the book so it was not paranormal. I was getting the same feedback from publishers in Europe and the US. The paranormal elements didn’t appear until the last 100 pages, so the last quarter of the book needed to be rewritten, along with all my plans for the series. After having a good cry, I did the revision and I had to admit the book was better that way. I just got rid of the literal vampires and replaced them with the metaphoric kind — bankers and politicians. Atom signed me based on that revision.

After that it was a whirlwind. Madeleine took the book to Frankfurt and I think we signed deals for 15 languages at the fair, others came later. So far, the series has been translated into 21 languages. I think we made the right decision about the vampires.
 
5. Do you think there are any particular challenges in writing for a YA audience? The series has some dark moments, did you have to tone anything down for the age-group?

My main challenges were keeping the plot constantly moving. Pace is everything. Pace is oxygen. Basically, writing a YA book is a bit like designing a roller coaster. You have to make sure the plummet from the top is fast enough and exciting enough that the riders will forgive you the slow-ish process of getting up there in the first place. And you need loopty-loops. I had to learn to keep those coming. And to make the loops unpredictable.
Am I overworking this metaphor?

The dark moments were never an issue, and I’d intentionally made the violence as real as I could. Sometimes my kissing scenes were considered a little too steamy. Publishers are much more squeamish about sex than stabbing, in my experience. And swearing. Most of my swearing was carefully excised.

6. Your books are action-packed, do you have any tips for writing thrillers and keeping the reader hooked?

As a writer, if I’m getting bored my readers are going to be bored. So when I’m writing and I feel bogged down in a wordy section I know it’s time for something to happen. A fight, an intrusion, a sense of instability… You can’t spend too much time world-building — but you MUST world-build or it all feels too shallow. So I incorporate my world-building into other things — the main character getting into trouble, or sneaking around in the dark, getting busted — these are all good places to hide descriptions, sounds and backstory.

For me, though, the key was always the characters. My books are very character-driven, and the vast majority of the feedback I get from readers is about Allie, Carter and Sylvain. Because I love these characters, I think my readers love them, too. They’re hooked on the story because I’m hooked. Right now I’m waiting for edit notes, so I’m not writing and I’m itchy. I miss my characters! And readers tell me they feel the same way between books.

NIGHT-SCHOOL-Fracture
 
7. The main character in the series Allie suffers from anxiety and has dealt with panic attacks, which to me was quite unusual for a thriller heroine, how did you develop her character and decide to portray this?

I always wanted Allie’s situation to feel real. I’d created a traumatic background for her — a beloved brother running away without a trace, a family meltdown, emotional abandonment by her parents. This would be awful for a real teenager. It would be emotionally damaging. I needed to give her scars. As someone who grew up in a home that was particularly thoroughly broken, I know a thing or two about teen trauma and how it manifests. So I gave her scars I recognised — panic attacks, a touch of OCD, and anxiety. I get rather a lot of emails from people who say they counted things when they were young — footsteps, breaths, passing cars — as Allie does. And too many young people have written to say they have panic attacks. I hate to see such young people dealing with so much stress. But this is real life.

8. As well as action, the series also has a romantic thread and you have created two swoon-worthy boys who Allie is torn between. How do you handle readers choosing a team and do you take note of their preference or have you planned out who she will chose, if either? (I keep changing my mind between them!)

I am constantly lobbied by Team Carter and Team Sylvain. They have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Most fan emails end with the sender signalling their allegiance to one side or the other. At the end of Book 1, everyone was thoroughly Team Carter but then I threw them a curve ball in Book 2 and now they are evenly divided.

When I sat down to write the book, I intentionally devised flawed male love interests. Allie is damaged — she is not going to be attracted to good guys. She was always going to want the bad boys. But I couldn’t make them both inherently bad — I just wouldn’t do that to her. So they are just flawed. Sylvain is spoiled and used to getting everything he wants. Carter is possessive and controlling. As the story goes along they both learn and grow but you can’t rewrite the past — they’ve done the things they’ve done and they all must live with that.

It does really throw some readers — who have been sold perfect warlocks, perfect vampires and perfect angels all their lives — to find themselves liking anti-heroes. Some really rebel at seeing a main character choose a love interest who is not a traditional Prince Charming.

It’s been interesting for me to see Night School fans evolve with the story; starting to look beyond the surface to the human beings behind the handsome faces. Deciding what’s forgiveable. They see the complicated reasons why Allie makes the choices she does, and begin to pick out elements of each boy that could make him ‘better’ for her. “He really gets her” or “He really loves her”. Rather than “He is perfect”.
I created male love interests who weren’t perfect because boys aren’t perfect. Nobody is perfect. And love doesn’t care if you’re perfect or not — that’s the very best thing about love.

Sometimes, though, girls tell me: “Neither of the boys deserves her.” Then I am at my happiest. Because that is what I am trying to get across. These things: Your boyfriend doesn’t define you. Sometimes the girl is the hero. Real love isn’t like love in fairy tales. But it can all be amazing anyway. And you will survive.
C.J. Daugherty
Thanks for talking to me C.J! And please do check out the NIGHT SCHOOL series, you’ll be hooked! You can follow C.J. on Twitter HERE and check out her website HERE.

Victoria

xoxo
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