Sunday Brunch: A Chat with Authors Courtney Summers and Ashley Shuttleworth


[Note from Frolic: Our resident YA expert Aurora got the chance to chat with authors Courtney Summers and Ashley Shuttleworth and ask them a few questions each! Up first, Courtney Summers.]

Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?

Courtney Summers: people don’t believe they’d join a cult. I wanted to write a novel that challenged this perception and asked readers to empathize with cult victims and survivors, and to potentially see themselves in its pages. 

What character in this novel do you most relate to and why? 

I relate to Lo’s sense of ambition—she has a very clear idea of who she wants to be and what she wants to accomplish in her life and I’m very similar with regards to how I approach my own career.

Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now? 

I don’t think that’s a ‘right now’ thing so much as an ‘all the time’ thing—a novel with a strong voice and deeply realized characters will always find an audience, though I don’t think the characters or the situations they find themselves have to necessarily be unique either—but emotionally resonate and honest.

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from it. 

The Project is about an aspiring young journalist determined to save her sister from a cult.

What’s next for you in the bookish world? 

I’m currently hard at work on my next novel! I can say nothing about it. But I’m really enjoying writing it.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why? 

I couldn’t pick just one—there are some incredible new voices arriving in YA, and I love what they’re bringing to the category: Angeline Boulley, Desmond Hall, Mercedes Helnwein and Racquel Marie.

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?  

It’s not how you write, it’s that you write. Get the words on the page. Everything can be fixed in revision.

Up next, Ashley Shuttleworth!
Aurora: What was your inspiration behind A Dark and Hollow Star?

Ashley Shuttleworth: There’s a lot that inspired the story of A Dark and Hollow Star. From the places I’ve travelled and things I’ve done; all the books I’ve read to my studies at university; the music I listen to; the shows I’ve watched; my love for Greek mythology and Paradise Lost and most obviously I think my fascination with faeries and magic, so much has fuelled what I write that I don’t think I could name one thing. But if I had to pick, I would probably say gaming. Video games have had a huge impact on my life and the way I approach writing/crafting fantasy worlds. For A Dark and Hollow Star in particular, I found the Final Fantasy and Zelda games to be the largest influence, both of them stories with incredibly intricate, immersive worlds that have always appealed to me, and I hope I’ve been able to emulate even a fraction of their mastery in the world I’ve built.

What character in this book do you most relate to and why?

In a way, there’s a part of me that relates to so many of the characters I’ve written that it’s hard to choose between them, especially when it comes to my core 4 characters. I used my reservedness and misfit feelings to form Arlo, my anger and tendency to hide behind sarcasm to build Nausicaä, my tendency to look after loved ones over myself to build Aurelian, and my desire to do and be good to build Vehan. I think, though, that Nausicaä probably comes the closest to the one I most relate to, for many reasons, but largely because her pattern of speech/dialogue is most natural to me. It’s the closest to how I actually speak, for better or worse!  

Why do you feel books with powerful and unique characters like the ones in A Dark and Hollow Star have such a voice right now?

I think it’s because, for such a long time, marginalized people have had to be silent. Out of fear of violent backlash, systemic repression and racism, or simply not having the words to express themselves, just to get by they’ve had to bite our tongues against all their thoughts and feelings, but they’ve still had them all along. And those thoughts and feelings been building, bottled up. Eventually, enough becomes enough, and with more people that are given a platform to speak for themselves and their own, such as the LGBTQ+ community, such as writing books with these “powerful” characters, it gives more further the tools to give voice to their own stories. I think this is only the beginning of what we’ll see in publishing, and I look forward to being able to go into any bookstore and be able to pull a book at random off the shelf, and have just as much likelihood as not that this will be a book with things like queer representation.

Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from it.

A Dark and Hollow Star is an f/f, m/m YA urban fantasy about 4 queer teens who must unite in order to stop a deadly alchemist’s plot against the faerie Courts of Folk. 

Set both in modern day Toronto and Nevada, and told through the perspective of 5 different POVs, the story follows Arlo, Nausicaä, Vehan, and Aurelian as their lives slowly come to intersect, and the fragments of truth each possesses are pieced together to reveal what’s really at the heart of the ritualistic murders plaguing the magical community.

Dark, gritty, and deeply emotional there are a number of content warnings placed in the beginning of this book as well as online (on my website, and on Goodreads), to ensure readers know exactly the topics they can expect will be touched upon in exploring this world. Because just as topics of mental health are important to discuss for adults, so they are for young adults, teens, and children too.

Despite all this, there’s plenty of hope written into this story. And humour, and whimsy, and adventure. It was my aim to write something full of magic and faeries and all the epic things I love about fantasy, with characters of various genders and sexualities living as ordinary lives despite those circumstances. So for all the heavier things going on, readers can still expect the escape that many look to books to find.

What’s next for you in the writing world?

Well, there’s a sequel to A Dark and Hollow Star slated to come out Summer 2022 that I’ve been pretty wrapped up in lately, and a few other projects in the works that I’m hoping to make something of one day soon. I can’t say too much about those, but I will say that I’m quite happy writing both YA and fantasy right now, so that’s where I’ll stay for the time being. And I’m too devoted to writing about fae to branch off from that yet, too.

Who is your current favorite writer? Why?

You’re probably gathering by now that I’m not all that a decisive person, so again I think I have to answer with 2 writers—Madeline Miller (A SONG OF ACHILLES, CIRCE) and Hafsah Faizal (We Hunt the Flame) Both of them because they just write absolutely beautifully. Madeline because everything she writes wholly devastates me and Hafsah because she is a prime example of an author who games and uses that experience to worldbuild with flawless majesty.

There are other authors I deeply admire too, long-established ones in the YA community like Holly Black and Malinda Lo, both who’ve written phenomenal faerie fantasies, and new and upcoming YA authors such as J.Elle (Wings of Ebony), Adrienne Tooley (Sweet & Bitter Magic), Louisa Onomé (Like Home), Liselle Sambury (Blood Like Magic), and Priyanka Taslim (The Love Match).

Any writing advice for aspiring writers?

Honestly, of all the pieces of writing advice out there, I personally feel the most important is to write what you love. A Dark and Hollow Star is YA Urban Fantasy—a genre that is extremely “saturated” these days, and very hard to break into especially as a first-time author. But I didn’t care about that. I wrote the story I wanted to tell, the one that I could put my whole heart into and proudly say I finished even if it didn’t go anywhere. You’ll hear it time and again from authors, because it’s true. You can’t write entirely to a “trend”. Yes, it’s always good to pay attention to certain things and where public interest lies, but above all else if it’s a story you’re excited to write, it’s all the more likely a story an agent or editor will want to read. And the more excited about a story you are the better, because when it comes to reading, you’re going to have to do that a lot. Numerous times. Over and over. Before you get an agent, after you get an agent, and once you get an editor you will have to read what you wrote so many times you’ll be able to recite it by heart in your sleep. It takes all your soul and passion to get a book on the shelves, and you’re really not going to be able to do that without a deep love for what you’ve done. So write what you want to write—and even if it doesn’t go anywhere now, you never know what will happen with it in the future. 

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