Interview with Genevieve Cogman (THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY)
Genevieve Cogman started on Tolkien and Sherlock Holmes at an early age, and has never looked back. But on a perhaps more prosaic note, she has an MSc in Statistics with Medical Applications and has wielded this in an assortment of jobs: clinical coder, data analyst and classifications specialist. Although The Invisible Library is her debut novel, she has also previously worked as a freelance roleplaying game writer. She is also the author of The Masked City and The Burning Page, both in The Invisible Library series. Genevieve Cogman’s hobbies include patchwork, beading, knitting and gaming, and she lives in the north of England.
Welcome back to the Fantasy Hive, Genevieve!
Since we last spoke, you’ve made the exciting announcement that you have a new trilogy in the works. What can you tell us about it?
The basic concept is “the Scarlet Pimpernel, but with vampires”. The premise:
In Revolutionary France, the aristocrats are vampires – and they face the guillotine. However, the Scarlet Pimpernel, a disguised British noble, is determined to rescue them. These predators are being offered sanctuary by their aristocratic British kin, but at great cost to London’s ordinary people. Then an English maid discovers the only power that could stop them. Assuming she survives...
The first book in the trilogy is titled SCARLET. I’m afraid I can’t really go into more detail, yet . . .
Was it something of a shock to the system to start writing a new world? Or a refreshing change?
A bit of both, to be honest. After eight books, it’s good to have a change from Irene and compatriots, and a completely different story to tell. But on the other hand, the protagonist is very different from Irene! Different character, different speech patterns, different internal voice, different reflexes in the event of trouble, and the same for the other new characters. Not to mention all the research – both non-fictional and fictional (yes, including the original Pimpernel books) – which I’ve been doing. At least it’s given me a convenient response to “what do you want for Christmas/birthday?” requests from family members – “Books about the French Revolution, please.”
Fans of the Invisible Library series can rest assured though – you’re not quite done with Irene, Kai, and Co. What can we expect from Book 8, The Untold Story?
Those people who’ve read Book 7, The Dark Archive, will be pleased to hear that Irene is directly following up on some questions which the book raised. For those who haven’t . . . Irene starts the story on a mission to get a new signatory to the Fae-dragon peace treaty, which is rudely interrupted by Lord Silver and by gunfire (in separate directions). She shortly discovers that apparently worlds are going missing . . . and that the situation may have something to do with her own past history. Kai, Vale, and Catherine all have parts to play in Irene’s quest into the truth behind the Library.
You’ve talked in the past about the inspiration for the Invisible Library laying in the idea of saving works of fiction from alternate realities. What sparked this idea? Do you, like many book lovers, have nightmares of the Library of Alexandria?
Oh, absolutely – but there have been other examples of stories being pruned from history, either from accident (as with the Library of Alexandria), or casual attrition (things being forgotten), or cases of deliberate censorship, where rulers not only rewrite history, but also do their best to ensure that fiction is removed as well. Fiction, after all, gives people ideas . . .
I also read and enjoyed Kage Baker’s Company series, where the mysterious Company’s operatives steal items which would otherwise have been destroyed following natural disasters, and conceal them for future discovery. (At least, that’s the Company’s official story – things are rather more complicated than that behind the scenes.) I loved those books, and I’m sure that they (among others) had an effect on my writing.
With your series now spanning eight books, did you always set out to create such a long-spanning series?
Not when I started, no. I just had one book, and the idea that there could be more. (And maybe there will be even more in the future, who knows?) The series grew in chunks rather than being planned out as a cohesive whole, though I did have some specific long-tern plans for particular characters and background details.
Do you have advice for any authors out there looking to write a series?
Everyone has their own style of plotting and writing. I’d suggest that prospective writers work with what they personally do well. On a smaller scale, I’d note that it’s always a good idea to keep your options open for further on in the series, assuming it’s not a plot-required detail. Putting in too many specific details early on may cut off potential plot options later – though it does all depend on the situation and on your style of writing.
There’s also the question of what a publisher actually wants to buy from you. You may have a glorious idea for a potentially unlimited series of books about your protagonist/setting – but the publisher may only want 3 books in the current contract. In that case, you may need to be prepared to trim plot arcs and provide reasonable plot conclusions for the end of the book or books for which you’re contracted.
Finally, I’d mention the issue of increasing scale of plot. Once you’ve reached a certain level of plot scale (my hometown is endangered! My country is endangered! The world is endangered!) it becomes very hard to turn the focus back down to a lower level again. Once your protagonist’s got to the level of saving the world, readers may not be so interested in a book where she saves a twelve-person holiday camp. This can to some extent be counterweighed by making the protagonist’s personal stakes more urgent (my mother’s at the endangered holiday camp!) but it’s still something which must be borne in mind.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews being inspired by the likes of Terry Pratchett; was Lords and Ladies the sole source of inspiration for your Fae, or were there other works thrown in the mix also?
I’ve borrowed from traditional folklore to some extent; also from Michael Moorcock’s Melniboneans, and from the Avatars and Godwalkers in the Unknown Armies TTRPG. (There are probably some other sources as well which I won’t remember till after I’ve submitted this interview. Sorry!)
For a bit of fun, a question we’ve started throwing at visiting authors – which fantastical creature (not dragons Genevieve!) would you ride into battle and why?
I think I’ll go for a giant demonic Crimson Bat. (I’ve been catching up on my Runequest TTRPG reading recently, and that’s the preferred mount of the Red Goddess, patron deity of the Lunar Empire. Big, dangerous, scary, and a safe distance away from enemies.)
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
I’d like them to have enjoyed the story.
I mean, yes, I want them to think about the moral issues faced by the protagonists, I want them to expand their knowledge of literature, and I want them to visit and support their own libraries. But ultimately . . . I’d like them to be able to escape into the book for a while, to find something in it which makes them happy, and maybe to bring that back with them when the story’s over.
Thank you so much for joining us today Genevieve!
The Untold Story is due for release December 2021.