How would you describe The Crimson Shard in a tweet (140 characters)?
Two teenagers meet magic, time travel, trompe l’oeil trickery, art forgery, thievery & bodysnatching in the dark streets of Georgian London.
Where did the idea for The Blackhope Enigma and The Crimson Shard come from?
Both were conceived as ‘What If?’ questions. A) What if you could walk around a labyrinth, saying the right password, and be transported into a Renaissance painting so that you could walk around and see everything up close? B) What if you could walk through a super-realistic trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) mural of a doorway and enter the colourful, but very dark, world of 18th century London? Both the Renaissance and Georgian London fascinate me and I knew I wanted to write about them in my stories.
How did the characters of Sunni and Blaise come to you?
I think they are both based on aspects of myself. I was obsessed with becoming an artist when I was a teenager and hung out with other kids who were, too. We spent all our free time in the art classroom and dreamed about going to art school. My agent suggested making Blaise an American and I’m glad she did. I really got to know him then and it was easy to write a bit about the experience of being a foreigner fitting in to a new country, since I went through this myself. Sunni’s insecurity about her artistic abilities is something I, like many artists, have also experienced at times, so I could write with some authority about her feelings.
You really get to the nitty gritty details of life in the city in 18th century, did this make for some interesting research?
Definitely! When I decided to write about this period, I did a research trip to London and wandered around the back streets of the City of London and Spitalfields. People see the City as a place of businessmen and skyscrapers, but it has many fascinating churches and historical buildings tucked away in its narrow lanes. I also obtained some excellent books from the Museum of London and checked out its great collections of objects from the city’s history. These resources kicked things off nicely and as I worked on the book, I learned more from newspaper articles, historical bloggers and trips to several 18th century houses.
What inspired you to take the step from illustrating children’s books to writing teen fiction? What were the greatest challenges you faced?
When I began experimenting with writing my own stories, I thought they would end up as picture books that I would illustrate, but the ideas I wanted to work with were too complex for young children and I wrote far too many words. I hadn’t really read much fiction for children at that point, but I had stories that I thought might appeal to young teenagers and ‘tweens’. I didn’t really know what I was doing, not having written a long story before, but I forged ahead and had a great deal of advice from my agent. There were some moments where the challenge seemed insurmountable, especially when I had to do my first rewrite of the manuscript, but I was determined to get the book right. I muddled my way through and then did more revision to the second draft. Each version got stronger and I learned more about the writing craft. The challenges never go away, just as they never go away for artists either, but the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment is immense.
Art is such an integral element in The Crimson Shard, who is your favourite artist and what is your favourite work of art?
That’s such a tough question! I could answer it differently every day. So, for today, I’ll say that if I could have any painting for my own wall at home it would be Vermeer’s The Art of Painting for its gorgeous textures, light and detailing.
What do you think of the cover designs?
I could not be happier with the cover designs. In fact, I get a thrill every time I look at them. A design studio called The Parish in London designed them and I think they completely captured the feel of the books. I am also really happy that I was able to contribute some ideas for elements on the covers and that the designers used one of my illustrations on each book (the labyrinth on The Blackhope Enigma and the carved bone shard silhouette on The Crimson Shard).
If you had room on your shelf for only 3 books, what would they be?
At least two of them would probably be volumes of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and stories, unless I could get them in one complete collection. Assuming that I could, my other two choices would be Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
Apart from The Crimson Shard, what is your top teen fiction recommendation from 2011?
I am going to recommend Wonderstruck, the new book by author-illustrator Brian Selznick. He wrote the wonderful The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which featured hundreds of his beautiful black and white illustrations juxtaposed with the text. It won the Caldecott Medal in the USA, which is one of the highest accolades for an illustrator, and Wonderstruck, which also cleverly combines text and images, is being tipped for prominent awards, too. I love the way Selznick weaves together the stories of two children in different time periods and creates absolute magic.
Do you have any hints for what we can expect from the next book?
I can guarantee that it will feature art, magic, history, mystery and a bit of romance!
I'd like to say a huge thank you to Teresa for her fascinating answers and also to Templar Publishing for both sending me The Crimson Shard and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. If you like the sound of The Crimson Shard then you are in luck because Templar Publishing have also given me a copy of the book for a giveaway which you can enter here - and I strongly suggest that you do!
For more on Teresa Flavin, check out her website and Twitter!