Publication day interview with Sarwat Chadda – author of DEVIL’S KISS

May 7, 2009

May 7, 2009, is a very, very special date. Today marks the publication of our first Greenhouse title. DEVIL’S KISS by Sarwat Chadda publishes today in the UK with Puffin – to be followed by a US edition from Hyperion in September. Seven other countries (France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Indonesia, Holland, Japan) have currently acquired rights in the book, and an audio edition will be coming from Brilliance Audio in due course. Sarwat signed with Greenhouse in Fall 2007, when the agency was still being formed, and he went on to secure virtually simultaneous US and UK deals at auction (with just a weekend in between!) in March 2008. You can find out more about Sarwat and DEVIL’S KISS on the Author section of this site, but now he’s magically dropped in on my blog to tell you the story of this extraordinary year in his life.
Hi Sarwat. You’ve featured a lot on the Greenhouse website over the past year, so it’s great to welcome you in person. You were the Greenhouse’s first-ever client, so tell us – what’s it like to be a Greenhouse author (if I dare ask!)?

Very nice. I was pretty anxious when we first met, having no real idea what to expect. There was a sense that this was going to be an adventure, no matter how it turned out.
I remember speaking to one or two of the other writers as they were joining Greenhouse and there’s a great feeling of solidarity with the other ‘seedlings’ as we’re mostly debut authors all trying to find our way. I love the range of the Greenhouse writers and how different our journeys are turning out to be.

It’s weird to think it’s only been just over a year since it all started. A lot has happened!

The story of how you got your book deals for DEVIL’S KISS is quite exciting. Can you tell us about it – and did you ever think something like this would happen to you?

Never in a million years. It still feels like I’ve won the lottery. I remember working at the first rewrite over Christmas and sending it to you on New Year’s Day. It was when you contacted me the following day saying you’d read it and loved it that I started to hope I had something good. Then there were the crossed fingers when it went out to the publishers, both in the US and the UK.

My wife and I had forced ourselves not to have too high hopes. If we were lucky we could get our carpets replaced and maybe cover our holiday costs. Our best-case scenario was for me to stick at the day job and maybe, just maybe, in five of six years make a gradual move into writing. But I never imagined that I’d become a writer full time.

I had a running joke at work that I’d quit engineering before my fortieth birthday. Can’t believe I actually did that with two weeks to spare.

We all know it’s very hard to get published, so give us some insights into how you got there. Going back in time a bit, when did you start writing, how long did it take you to write DK, find an agent, and get to submission point?

I think one of the things that holds people back from their full potential in writing is that they see it as a hobby that pays. I always saw it as a career change. So I put in as much effort as I could, imagining it as a second job. So I read a lot of those ‘how to’ books, I went on courses and tried to get myself involved and understanding the publishing business. Everyone talks about how you wouldn’t imagine playing a gig just because you’d picked up a guitar. The same applies to writing. Don’t think you can earn a living just because you’ve sat down at your keyboard.

The key issue was that the learning never felt like hard work. It felt like playtime.

The rewrites were endless. Fortunately, I write pretty quickly but still it’s hard having the guts to scrap EVERYTHING you’ve already done and start again. DEVIL’S KISS began in Autumn 2004. Between that version and the one that got the book deals I’d rewritten it maybe three or four times from complete scratch. The last (and biggest rewrite) was once I signed with you. From signing with Greenhouse in November 2007 to getting it to the publishers in March 2008 I tore the entire story apart and not one aspect of it survived, not even the title. But my goodness, it was worth it!

Nothing is wasted. All those words I scrapped over the years meant the ones remaining were the strongest. The stale plots were abandoned so what I had left was red and bloody. For me I think my selling point is the passion I feel for my subject. The writing isn’t that sophisticated. What I aim at is getting my story across as powerfully as possible.

DK is very dark and actually quite violent. Where did the inspiration for the story come from and how did you work out where to draw the line in terms of content, given your teenage readership?

I’ve always loved action stories and gothic horror, so wanted to combine the two. I love Bernard Cornwell and Clive Cussler, but their heroes are the best of the best. You never really feel the hero is ever in mortal danger. I wanted to give my hero a real run for her money and test her to the limit.

The London setting helped immensely. It’s a unique mix of ancient and modern. I used to work in a modern air-conditioned building five minutes away from Temple Church, which was consecrated in the twelfth century. I’ve been out on the streets before dawn, watching the mist roll off the Thames. I love history and the way it creates our present. Writing supernatural horror allows me to take this quite literally. I wanted somewhere very modern and very ancient, like London.

Interestingly, your main protagonist – Billi SanGreal – is a fifteen-year-old girl. Did you find it hard to write from a teen-girl’s perspective?

No, not to begin with. There are issues at fifteen that are relevant to girls and boys. Identity, the idea of becoming an adult and the responsibilities that brings. Rebelling against the normal order of things, like your parents.
I remember what it was like being fifteen, and the decisions I had to make about what sort of person I was going to be. It’s a time for choices and it’s hard to pick the right ones. There are pressures all around, from parents, friends, and teachers, most well-intentioned. Billi’s in the same position, but her choices have life-and-death consequences.

That said, I have been picked up on where I’ve strayed off the female perspective. Fortunately, having female editors and my wife as a first reader helps. Curiously, writing the romantic scenes wasn’t hard. Billi’s consumed with self-doubt. That’s something I identify with.

So you’re publishing in the UK today and in the USA in September. Given your deals were virtually simultaneous, I know you’ve been working with both American and British editors at the same time. What is it like to be a truly tra