YA Author Interview: Kester ‘Kit’ Grant

Pen Friends ~ If you haven’t heard of International Author, Kester ‘Kit’ Grant, you will soon. Her debut, A Court of Miracles, will come out in 2018 and has already received a lot of praise and anticipation! Kit’s a gem to know (we met after we both won PitchWars 2016) and her words get under your skin within the first page. If you love supporting debut authors, be sure to add her book to your Goodreads!

Kit GrantSP: Hi Kit! Thanks for joining us. First, can you please tell us a bit of who are you and how long have you have been writing? 

I’m Kester Grant but everyone calls me Kit, I am to quote my bio, a British-Mauritian author and nomad. I started writing seriously a few years ago, then put it on hold, and came back to it in 2016 when I drafted my Les Mis meets Jungle Book fantasy YA mash-up.  

SP: Congrats on your debut, A Court of Miracles, that was sold in a major 3-Book deal to Knopf Children’s/Random House! That’s so exciting! (It comes out fall 2018. Add to goodreads here.) We know its a cross between Les Mis and the Jungle book– but how did this idea come about?

I am a gigantic classical literature nerd, so I was driven by a lifetime of frustration at how Hugo created this awesome character: Eponine, and then “fridged” her. Eponine is Thenardier’s daughter, an associate of their gang and a self-educated literate thief. She’s capable of great bravery – she stands up to her physically abusive father and her murderous boyfriend, and takes a bullet for the man she loves (that man- Marius, is a complete idiot, but that’s a rant for another day.)

What happened in the moment of conception was – I had just watched the new Jungle Book movie and the two things fused in my head I saw the story, or at least its shape, as clear as day.

Jungle Book has a vulnerable young child (Mowgli) living in a community of dangerous beasts – which is the similar to Cosette’s childhood story arc – when she is fostered by the criminal Thenardiers.  Instantly my mind reimagined Kiplings jungle clans into a vast (human) criminal underworld ruled by their own complex laws.

In Hugo’s Les Mis Cosette and Eponine are little children who live under the roof of the criminal Thenardier. Valjean pays Thenardier for the right to take Eponine away. I was haunted by how this should have effected Eponine, who sees her foster sister bought by a stranger for money – what would you assume had happened – we’re talking of an era in which child prostitution was common. What would you feel towards your father knowing that he was capable of selling a child to a stranger?

I had a vision my Eponine hanging off a building at night in the rain, checking window after window, an impossible task, freezing, and exhausted, and starving, but driven by the obsessive need to find the adoptive sister that was taken from her. Haunted by what she believed happened to her. I saw Eponine and I knew her perfectly in that one vision. Looking back it feels like the story was always there waiting for me, I just needed to realise it.

I often feel like that, as if there’s a song singing and I just need to hear the tune and get it down on paper. Or I’m an archaeologist, I need to dig up the bones, the story knows its own shape, I’m the one uncovering inch by painful inch and surmising how the skeleton actually looks. In that moment the scales fell from my eyes in a moment and I saw Eponine and knew every part of her, I put pen to paper and made notes – the ideas flowed so quickly that it was a nightmare keeping up, I still think there’s stuff I missed.

SP: You won Pitch Wars in 2016 (mentored 2017) which helped catapult you past the querying gates and secure an amazing agent! What was your life writing life like pre-Pitch Wars? How long did it take you to write A Court of Miracles? 

I was one of those idiots who would say ‘one day’ I’ll write a book. I had one earlier stab at writing a novel but I never finished it or even got to editing stage so I don’t count it as a completed book, it was more of a rough draft! I hadn’t written in at least a year when I got the itch to write again. When I sat down to think of what to write the idea for Court of Miracles exploded in my brain. I was out of practise and a complete novice, I knew nothing about even completing a draft or editing, had no idea what crutch words or plot was about.

I heard about Pitch Wars six weeks before the deadline for entry, and I hadn’t started writing ACOM yet,  I thought it would be good motivation to finish a draft of the book. I wrote hard and fast for six weeks and managed by some minor miracle to get into the competition with the book!

SP: What has your publishing journey been like so far? Can you tell us what it felt like to be on submission to editors?

I really believe that Pitch Wars fast tracked my agenting/publishing path. My mentors essentially edited the book with me over two months and the agent showcase gives a lot of hype around the competition. I feel extremely lucky to have been selected to take part in it!

I signed with Josh Adams of Adams literary within 10 days of pitch wars and we went on submission a week after that and had a book deal at auction in the USA and UK in two weeks. Josh is incredible at what he does! He managed to get a multi-publisher auction over the book a week before Christmas – which is unheard of. It was all a blur for me, the hectic schedule of pitch wars coupled with agent offers, and submissions was a non-stop roller coaster of emotions. It all happened so fast that it left me both grateful and exhausted.

SP: How has working on book 2 & 3 been going? How is writing with deadlines different than writing before agents for you?

Well, publishing can be incredibly slow and then everything happens all at once. I’ve not found it too different to write to a deadline so far, I still have the same process for my book 2 & 3 and haven’t felt any unprecedented stress over them, but my editor will see a far rougher version of the sequels since there’s no pitch wars and agent between us this time, but they are pretty used to that. Also I have at time found myself halting in my sequels because I need to know what my editor thinks of book 1’s events, big changes to book 1 will echo into the sequels, so I’ve had to put them down at times and wait and see how large or small the changes to book 1 will be.

SP: What are some books that have inspired you along the way/as a child? 

I once won a prize for reading every book in the school library, so this is a bad question for me. The books that inspired ACOM in particular are the classics of the Victorian age – Dickens, Hugo, Dumas, Kipling, Emily Bronte, Mary Shelley. My entire writing voice and career goals are heavily inspired by my hero Terry Pratchett, and his amazing Discworld series. The influence of his complex fantasy cities, criminal societies and dry sense of humour are clear to read in my own work. But ACOM was also influenced by a swathe of non-book influences also, my passion for history – and in  particular French history; David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises – a movie about human sex trafficking which was the first time i was introduced to the issue as a teenager, that film marked me deeply. As did the musical Wicked, which was one of the best portrayals of complex female relationships that I’ve ever seen in life, it’s the true antithesis of Hugo’s entire lack of relationship between his two female characters.

SP: Many YA books today are in first person. So what’s your preference? 1st POV forever? Or mix it up? 

I actually hate first person, but I wrote ACOM in it because I read somewhere that it was the best acceptable style for YA – I was a newbie when starting and believed anything I heard/read. I regret it deeply –  I mostly read adult genre fiction and its all 3rd person, so that’s what comes naturally to me. It was painful not being able to write scenes from other characters POV’s if my mc wasn’t around. My newest secret project is in 3rd person and I’m infinitely gladder for it.

SP: What’s your take on CPs, writing groups, editing others work, and the larger writing community? 

Hmmm, that’s a difficult one. I think you need to find your close friends, and you don’t actually need more than 2/3 who are at the same “stage” as you, as in have the same level of commitment and professionalism, are honest CP’s. It also helps to connect with ppl querying/agenting/publishing alongside you so you are going into the trenches with at least one comrade at arms.

Don’t overcommit though. my experience has been that the busier you get, the less time you have, and I suffer from constantly over committing and wanting to help and then feeling guilty for not being able to.

I’ve also had mixed experiences with large writing groups in and writing related spaces on social media – I wish someone had told me before I started out so I’ll tell you instead! “stick to your small squad of friends, keep your head down and write your books.”

SP: Greatest writing tip you’ve heard up until now? 

Eurgh? I don’t know??

SP: You’re a bit of a world traveler and global girl–so where is your dream writing retreat location? (Optional!)

I’ve lived in tropical countries my whole life and I loathe the heat. My lifelong dream is to live in Scotland, in an ancient house by a loch, where I own chickens and those dreadfully attractive hairy Scottish cows, and several dogs – mostly boxers and bulldogs, and cats, and I drive a Landover defender and wander around in wellington boots – and in this ideal world I also own a flat in Edinburgh, where we come down when we need to see civilisation. #livethedream

SP: Animal tribes & writer confession–You are the proud owner of dogs and cats, yeah? So do any animals ever make it in your books? (optional!)

Lolz – we-ell not in ACOM, because everyone is starving in the book and historically the people of Paris were given to eating their pets when famine hit (legitimate historical fact). But all the human characters are analogs of Kipling’s jungle book characters so they have very animalistic traits. My MC for example Eponine “Nina” Thenardier, is known as the Black Cat of the thieves guild, and she is the analog for Bagheera. Nina tends to have a lot of cat-like mannerisms as well.

Nor come to think of it, are there any animals in my next project either! Bizarre since I’m such an animal nut. But my books tend to be very high on deadly jeopardy and no-one would have time for animals. – I now feel like I should add a dog to my current secret project.

But to make up for it I am planning a middle grade book animal fantasy book in the vein of Watership Down/ Redwall – and I’m so excited to start the research – hours of animal documentaries and reading, I literally can’t wait!

SP: Amazing, Kit. Thanks for all these answers. Lastly, where can we learn more about YOU and your books?

You can find me lurking at  www.kestergrant.com

SP: Thanks again. We wish you every success!

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Nova, Signing Off

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