Author Spotlight: Kat Dunn (MONSTROUS DESIGN)
Kat Dunn grew up in London and has lived in Japan, Australia and France.
She has a BA in Japanese from SOAS and an MA in English from Warwick. She’s written about mental health for Mind and The Guardian, and worked as a translator for Japanese television.
Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, and Dangerous Remedy is her first novel.
Welcome to the Hive, Kat Dunn. Let’s start with the basics: dazzle us with an elevator pitch! Why should readers check out Monstrous Design?
Necromancy, stabbing, gay yearning, duels, fake weddings, betrayal and love triangles in regency London & revolutionary Paris.
What my editor made me put on the back of the book:
1794, London: where luxury and squalor rub shoulders and men of science conspire to raise the dead and make monsters.
From the glamorous excesses of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens to the city’s seedy underbelly, Camille continues her search for Olympe de l’Aubespine – the girl born of magic and mayhem.
But with half the battalion trapped in Paris and a new enemy lying in wait in London, time is running out. Camille must decide how much she’s willing to risk. To get what you want, how far is too far?
Pesky editors! You had us at gay yearning.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
I write wherever, whenever I can. This means my process is just whatever I can manage at that moment. I like writing to music – nothing with words as it distracts me. Film scores or other tonally appropriate things for when I’m drafting, editing I just need some sort of background noise. I like writing in cafes for the same reason. My books all start life as google docs where I dump in all sorts of ideas as they come to me, then when I have enough pieces I start to organise them into something plot-shaped, and try to fill in the gaps.
Speaking of worlds, Monstrous Design and Dangerous Remedy are set in 18th century London and Paris. Could you tell us what about this time period or location inspired you?
I wanted to write specifically about the end of a revolution – what happens when the initial battle is won, and you’re left with the complex practicality of creating a new world. All the ways that could go wrong, and throw up impossible dilemmas. I chose the French revolution because it’s a time period I knew a fair bit about anyway, and I have a close family connection to France. That era was also a huge scientific turning point, with discoveries in electricity, gases, lighter than air technology and astronomy all making huge advances. So there was so much exciting stuff going on to draw from.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy/sci-fi influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
My all time favourite, and a big influence on me as a writer growing up, is Diana Wynne Jones [YAAAS]. I discovered her books in my local library as a kid and have hunted down everything she ever wrote (there was quite a lot!) in the years since. I love the quiet humanity of her books, the grandness of SFF jumbled up against what it is to be human in an everyday way.
“Quiet humanity” is quite possibly the best description for her books I’ve ever heard…
I’m hugely inspired by a lot of my contemporaries, and I would love to work with any and all of them! Tasha Suri is an incredible author writing fantasy inspired by Mughal India. Ava Reid’s The Wolf and the Woodsman and Shelly Parker Chan’s She Who Became the Sun are two debuts that blew me away this year and hugely inspired me to develop further as a writer.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Frankly, on those days I just don’t write. It’s not great, and I spent about ten years stuck in perpetual writers’ block, getting almost nothing done. Since then, I’ve tried to limit my expectations. I never sit down planning to write 2,3, 5 or 10k words. That’s just setting myself up to fail. I usually aim for 500. Or 200. Or 100. Whatever doesn’t feel intimidating. Then usually, once I’ve got through the initial awfulness, I get into the flow of a scene and I’ve written a lot more than I planned. Then some days I just scrape to my tiny goal and close the laptop. One foot forward is one more than before.
Monstrous Design is described as being a sequel to Dangerous Remedy but can also be read as a standalone; was this intentional, or did it happen organically?
It wasn’t intentional, but I think it was an inevitable part of trying to write a satisfying middle book to a series. I wanted the story to stand on its own as an enjoyable read, while moving everything on from the first book and setting up the third. While you can read Monstrous Design on its own, I think the most fun I had was getting to develop the characters in response to all that had happened in Dangerous Remedy – so I’d recommend reading them both if you have time.
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray?
I was quite involved, though ultimately the responsibility for and decisions over the cover lay with my publisher. They definitely took on my feedback, and we finessed the cover a lot to get to something we both loved. I didn’t really have any specific cover visuals in mind, but I loved that the decadent, dark atmosphere came through.
Can you tell us a bit more about your characters? Do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing?
I think my favourite type of character to write will always be the snarky, self-deprecating depressed one – much like Al in Dangerous Remedy. There’s just too much opportunity for fun dialogue, and a shovelful of angst.
In general, I think I like to write characters wrestling with their own flaws, the gap between who they want to be and who they are. In Dangerous Remedy and Monstrous Design I got to spend time digging into this with my two narrators, Camille and her girlfriend Ada.
I find myself writing aspects of my own struggles into all my characters, like taking a fragment of my brain and blowing it out into a full character and using that space to explore the issue. Not that all my characters are dealing with ‘issues’, but more that I think that spark of truth from my experience helps make them feel more alive on the page.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Sleep? Honestly… I really don’t know. I don’t write every day, so I have a fair amount of days where I’m off doing my day job or seeing friends.
My dream for a whole day off from all of life and my commitments would be to be in the south of France, walking through a forest or maybe climbing around the caves above the Dordogne river. Swimming in the river later, and a drink after on an overlooking terrace.
But now that I’ve opened this up to fantasy travel, I’d also take a day back in Japan, in a city, just eating and shopping and mooching around with no real purpose. Spending time in a way that lets my brain stretch, and creating room for new ideas.
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
I’m half Welsh, so I must dutifully answer: dragon. That or a large leek.
Pictures some kind of half-leek-half-dragon monstrosity flitting around the Beacons…
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
This is such a tricky question, because as an author who has been on the other end of these sorts of recommendations it always stings to hear yourself called obscure or underappreciated.
So I’ll go for someone long dead: Wilkie Collins and The Woman in White. It’s hardly obscure or underappreciated, but when you’re so focused on new books coming out it’s easy to miss old books. That, or M.R. James’ Collected Ghost Stories. Again, not obscure or underappreciated, but not so often talked about on Twitter.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress? Do you have any upcoming projects which you can share?
Dangerous Remedy and Monstrous Design are books one and two in a trilogy, so my next project is book 3! The gang’s all back in Paris, and things are looking bleak. A tenuous alliance with an old enemy might be the key to defeating the Duc – or destroying the Battalion for good.
I can’t share too much more than that! But it has a tentative title and I’ve seen cover mock ups. Hold on for 2022!
Are you planning anything fun to celebrate the release of Monstrous Design on June 10th? Do you have any upcoming virtual events our readers may be interested in?
If the weather is good I’ll see friends, but covid restrictions mean any proper launch activities are still off the table.
I’ve got a few virtual things lined up – but I don’t think anything’s been announced yet! I’ll share details of events and book 3 on Twitter and Instagram over at @KatAliceDunn.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
Really, all I want readers of Monstrous Design to do is have fun. But if queer folk feel a little seen, a little more like they belong in history – having adventures as well as experiencing trauma – then I’d feel honoured.
While working on the books, I thought a lot about principles in conflict with pragmatism, about political fence sitting (only comfortable for those with a decent seat), and the struggle to make meaningful choices that are truly our own. I thought about what it is to be family to someone, both blood and chosen, and the obligations we feel to people who keep us tied to the past in good and bad ways.
Once I’ve finished writing a book, it’s not really mine any more. It’s all yours.
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Monstrous Design is out today, June 1oth, in hard-back from Head of Zeus.
Good luck with the release Kat – pob lwc!