Leila Rasheed is the author of the at Somerton trilogy. The first book in the series, “Cinders and Sapphires” was published Jan. 22. The following is a complete transcript of Leila’s interview with Cracking the Cover.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always written, but when I was a child I wanted to be an archaeologist like Indiana Jones. I didn’t know ordinary people like me could be writers, so I never really thought about being one until I realized much, much later that 1) I wrote all the time and 2) nothing except writing made me happy.
Why do you write for young readers?
It wasn’t a choice so much as a discovery that that was where my writing fit. I have always been interested in children’s books and children’s reading (and YA, though we didn’t have that when I were a lass J). Some of the things I love about writing for young readers: the challenge. ‘Adult’ writers can get away with writing in their own voice to a mirror reflection of themselves. Where’s the fun in that? When you’re writing to a child you really have to *think* about what you’re writing. The response. Children and teenagers respond to books with such love and passion. They are the most exciting audience imaginable. The competition. Stunning books are being written today for younger readers. I just read Torn by Cat Clarke for example, wow. There is nothing more stimulating to a writer than being surrounded by really good books that you can learn from.
Where did the idea for Cinders and Sapphires come from?
The initial idea came from Emily Meehan at Hyperion.
Did you always plan it as the first book in a series? How many books will there be?
There will be three books, and yes, it was planned as a trilogy.
There are so many characters and intersecting story lines. How did you keep them all straight while writing?
I made a table in Word where I wrote down all the names of the characters at one side and then wrote down in each column what they were doing each day plus how they were feeling, anything that was feeding the plot. It took a fair amount of planning. Cinders and Sapphires is the longest book I’ve ever written, so it was a challenge, but I enjoyed the process so much.
Cinders and Sapphires is being pegged as something for fans of “Downton Abbey.” Are you a fan of the series?
Yes, I am, though I haven’t watched Season 3 on purpose – I don’t want to get too distracted by the 20s since Somerton is a decade earlier. I think it is brilliantly done. Proof: my husband likes only those films which involve space ships. Yet he sat and watched the whole series with me. At the start of Episode 1 he was sneering a bit, by the end of the episode he was like; ‘Let’s watch episode 2 RIGHT NOW’ (we had it on DVD). Mind you he was the same with Love Actually so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. If anyone out there wants to make Downton In Space you will have at least one very enthusiastic viewer.
I think because it is so far removed from most people’s everyday life. Everything feels larger than life. And it’s nostalgia, a desire to go back to a time when things were simpler. Of course, it wasn’t that simple back then. Far from it. And most of us would have been tweenys or stable boys, not the Duke of Westminster or Lady Mary. But it’s fun to daydream.
What’s more fun — writing about the “good” characters or the ones that are “up to no good”?
I think the key thing is conflict. If the character is conflicted, if they are a complex character with a lot going on, that makes them fun to write whether they’re good or bad.
How does the finished product compare to what you initially imagined?
You mean the cover, etc? I think it looks great! I was interested that they changed the title for the UK edition (to Secrets and Sapphires).
Why do you think readers like your books?
Well, I have skimmed some of the reviews around the internet, and I am really touched and moved by the lovely comments. Really. If anyone reading this made a lovely comment, I APPRECIATE IT J Someone said ‘excellent writing’ and a lot of people have said it was a lot of fun.
Hmm, now I am thinking that I sound very British and reserved, and I should try to go on more about why people like my books. But then I am British and reserved. Sorry! J
What are you working on now?
Book 2 of the Somerton series. Very exciting. Much snoggage. A middle grade novel for Working Partners, for a series I write under the name Ellie Boswell. And a novel of my very own, supernatural suspense for middle grade.
Looking back, how has your writing evolved?
Someone once said to me that as a writer, there are times when you’re getting better and you know you are, and that feels great. But there are also times when your writing plateaus. You learn, but while you assimilate your knowledge you feel as if you’re not getting any better. Then you get depressed. But actually you ARE getting better, you just need time to absorb the new things you’ve learned before moving onward and upward. I think this is very true. A couple of years ago I thought that I was not writing any better than when I was sixteen. But I went back and looked at the writing I did when I was sixteen, and I have got better. Much better. I’ve learned so much more about structure and plot and arc, in particular.
Is there a book from your own youth that still resonates with you?
There are so many. But since we’re talking YA historical romance, I would like to especially mention Devil Water by Anya Seton. I have no idea if teenagers today would enjoy it, but I loved it when I was about 14.