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.
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??
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.