FantasyInterviewJay KristoffSpeculative fictionYA

At home with Jay Kristoff

Jay Kristoff has such a devoted audience his readers tattoo his characters on their own bodies. Jay writes fantasy, science fiction and YA, and his work repeatedly makes it to the New York Times bestseller list.

Jay's latest book is Empire of the Vampire, the first in a trilogy that our host Astrid has been waiting for since she was 13 and read Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire. 

Jay has appeared on The Garret before to discuss 'The Nevernight Chronicles', and also at a live event with Amie Kaufman, his regular YA writing partner.

At home with Jay Kristoff

TRANSCRIPT

ASTRID: Welcome back to The Garret, Jay.

JAY: Thanks for having me. It's always good to be here.

ASTRID: Now, this is the fourth time you have appeared on The Garret, although twice before you have spoken to me with Amie Kaufman about your Young Adult books.

A little while ago, I picked your brain about The Nevernight Chronicles, and at the end of that, you suggested you were going to write about vampires. And this might come as a shock to listeners of The Garret, but I really, really love vampire literature.

JAY: Okay. What's your fave, number one?

ASTRID: Interview with the Vampire.

JAY: Ah, cool. Me too.

ASTRID: Yeah, yeah. I read that when I was…

JAY: I love it so much.

ASTRID: ... way too young and it has never left me. And I have questions about Interview with the Vampire, but before we go there, you have a phenomenal readership and audience, Jay. I spend my life talking to writers in Australia, and I've been watching not just your profile grow but the love that your readers have for the worlds you build. And I want to start there because most writers can't do that. Most writers don't even make enough money to pay their own rent. So, you clearly…

JAY: Sure. Particularly in Australia. Yeah.

ASTRID: Yeah. And so this is, I mean, it's quite deep... How do you form that bond with your readers so they don't just get excited when you have a new book to be released, but they fight over advance copies and they buy several advance copies or trade them or do whatever they can to get your attention on Instagram so you give them a free one and then they get your quotes or characters tattooed on their bodies? You have a following.

JAY: Yeah. It's wild. I don't have a great answer for that, unfortunately. I think if there was a golden formula that you could follow then a lot of people would be doing that. Well, I try and be genuine, I guess, is the first thing. Social media takes up a lot of your time, and I'm sure if given the option between getting another book from me and getting a reply to a tweet from me, people would hopefully choose the former. So, I've had to cut back a little bit on social recently, but Instagram is the place where I'm most visible and most engaged with readers. I get a lot of comments from readers to that effect that they really appreciate it. I understand why authors don't do it because it is quite time-consuming. The more you put yourself out online, the more you expose yourself, I guess, and some people aren't comfortable with that. Most authors are introverts as a general rule. We spend all our days talking to imaginary people in our head and we don't necessarily like inviting real people in.

But at the same time, it goes back to what you were saying, I am incredibly conscious of the fact that it's really hard to make a living as a creative in Australia. I'm one of the few people lucky enough to do it. I say lucky, I work my arse off. I work harder than anyone I know. But good fortune is definitely a factor in any kind of creative success. And I want my readers to know that I really appreciate them for it. I don't take them for granted. They allow me to do what I do for a living, and what I do for a living is the best job that I've ever had. So, I try and make myself available in some small way just to let them know that they're appreciated, and I think they gravitate to that.

But a lot of it's not me, a lot of it's just the readers themselves. I started to notice it when Godsgrave came out, that Nevernight was forming a community almost around itself and the readers were talking to each other. The Nevernight fandom is quite fanatical. They're the kind of people who do get the words tattooed on their bodies for life. They do shove the book in your face and demand you read it. And that's not something you, as an author, can really control. It's good fortune. It's the right book, finding the right readers at the right time. I was lucky enough to build up that kind of following initially with and it just grew and grew. So, yeah, it's not something you can particularly control. It's not something that there is really a formula for. A lot of people do what I do, and some of them are far more successful at it than I, and others aren't, not for any particular strategy on terms of social media. It's just, there's a great deal about this industry you can't control. It's one of the things you need to come to grips with quite early. The only thing you can really control is the words. Everything else is somewhat in the hands of fate. So, I guess just be prepared to ride those waves of fate when they come. It's not very good advice, unfortunately, but, yeah, it's the only kind I've got.

ASTRID: Actually, there is a lot of advice in there. I, as I said, interview a lot of writers, and there are really terrible books published in Australia that do well and really, really wonderful books that no one reads.

JAY: Sure.

ASTRID: So, there is an element of luck and the right time, the right book finds the right…

JAY: Oh, it's an enormous factor. Yeah, it's an enormous factor.

ASTRID: But I'm going to push you a little bit further, and I'm going to use myself as an example. I am a woman of a certain age. I am younger than you, but I am older than probably a lot of your readers. I'm taking a guess there, but nevertheless. I grew up with Interview with the Vampire, right?

JAY: Right.

ASTRID: I was already a deep-seated fan way too young when that 1994 movie came out, right, with Brad Pitt?

JAY: Sure.

ASTRID: I was already in. I was already obsessive. I was 13 at the time. I'd read all the four that had been published. When you made the announcement for Empire of the Vampire, I was scrolling through Twitter and the announcement was an Instagram video that had the soundtrack of Interview with the Vampire, the movie. It was just black. And Instagram, I was in a daze, just scrolling. I heard the opening bars of that movie and-

JAY: Yeah, Elliot Goldenthal.

ASTRID: Yeah.

JAY: It's amazing. I listened to that track, that one track, constantly when I was writing this book.

ASTRID: So that was my HSC study track, so I have that…

JAY: Wow, okay.

ASTRID: ... deeply ingrained into my soul. But my thought as a reader was, ‘Fuck you, Jay Kristoff. Are you daring to go there? Oh my God, you are. Oh my God, I'm clearly going to buy this and read it obsessively’. And I've just embarrassed myself to the audience of The Garret, where I normally sit here talking to Miles Franklin Literary winners or whatever, but I genuinely loved that series. And when I saw that you were even putting yourself in the same realm as Anne Rice, I'm like, I mean…

JAY: ‘How dare you’.

ASTRID: ... how dare you, but I'm going to go there with you.

JAY: ‘Who does this guy think he is?’

ASTRID: But this is my question, how did you prompt that in me? You didn't know I was obsessed with Interview with the Vampire and had it as my HSC study track. And there'll be so many people like that. How do you take something that you obviously love and share it with your readers in a way that they're in with you?

JAY: I mean, I presume it's because I write a particular kind of tone and my work has a particular kind of aesthetic and it is definitely adjacent to Anne Rice's stuff. It's dark, gloomy, moody, gothy, angsty stuff. Anne Rice was a huge influence on me as an author and just growing up discovering that series, that was the beginning of my Goth phase. So, I'm passionate about it. That aesthetic bleeds into all the work that I do. So, I presume I've attracted a readership that's attracted to that same aesthetic. So, when I zoned in on a work that was, for me, at least, incredibly formative, I presume, like you say, I pressed a lot of those same triggers in audience members who grew up with those properties as well. But, yeah, I thank Anne in the back of the book. This book would not exist without her work. There's a couple of writers that I lean on quite heavily for inspiration in both terms of setting and structure but also tone, and Interview is a huge one.

ASTRID: It is a fantastic…

JAY: I guess we're into the same stuff.

ASTRID: I don't know about your taste in music, actually. I'm not there with you. But your taste in literature, I am there 100 per cent. Now, Empire of the Vampire is clearly a very, very new work. It will have been published just before we release this interview. So, our policy on spoilers today is maybe a little bit at the end, but you can listen as much as you like until we give you a warning. Yeah?

JAY: Sure. We'll warn everybody. It's pretty easy to spoil parts of this book. So, yeah, we'll be careful not to release anything before we give a warning.

ASTRID: We'll be very careful. And so, my questions are going to be about genre structure, theme, the images, of course, and where you might go next. But firstly, genre. I clearly love fantasy. I clearly love vampire literature. They tend to be separate.

JAY: Sure.

ASTRID: So, you're a writer. Where do you place this on the genre shelf? But then I'd like to delve into what you've taken from different genres to do something I haven't actually seen before.

JAY: I mean, it's a work of epic fantasy is how I'd classify it. I expect to find it in the fantasy section of the bookstore, sitting next to Nevernight. Empire is very much a spiritual successor to Nevernight, I think. It's grand scale, Mediaeval age, Western European influenced fantasy in the tradition of going back to Tolkien, I guess, if you want to go that far back. It has very little in common with Tolkien, but, yeah, it is an epic fantasy work with goth and horror kind of undertones, I guess, is the best way to describe it.

ASTRID: Well said. So, I was thinking about, I guess, the foundational text of vampire literature in the Western canon, I guess, is Bram Stoker's Dracula.

JAY: Dracula, sure.

ASTRID: That is very much set in our world with vampires. And a lot of the recent stuff with vampires, True Blood, et cetera, is our world with vampires. And so is Interview with the Vampire – that is very clearly our world with these immortal beings. You have done something different. You have essentially a second world fantasy. You have created an entirely new world, as many fantasy series do. It's a new world that I'd never seen. But it also feels, as a fantasy reader and as a vampire literature reader, I can go in there and almost recognise it, like it feels familiar, but entirely new at the same time. I'm not explaining this correctly, but I haven't seen a vampire fantasy before that is not schlock.

JAY: Oh, good. I'm glad it's not schlocky. Yeah. I mean, I guess in terms of aesthetics, I guess it's been influenced by more horror and goth aesthetics. But structurally, it is a work of fantasy. It's a big, grand realm with multiple kingdoms. There's multiple politics that have shaped the history of the realm. In that sense, it'll be very familiar to epic fantasy readers. It's your typical Westeros-y type setting. There's been power struggles. There's a particular dynastic power that has managed to successfully seize control of the country, and the country is experiencing the fallout of 600 years of conquest by this one colonial power.

Then all of a sudden you throw in this environmental calamity where the sun's stopped shining as brightly in the sky. There's all the real world environmental effects that would result from a catastrophe like that. I had to consult a bunch of different scientists to figure out what the long-term... The sun hasn't been shining as brightly for 27 years by the time we join the story. I had to figure out what the long-term effects on a world would actually be, and it turns out the changes are quite radical. So even without the vampire apocalypse, it's still a pretty miserable place to live. It's dark, it's gloomy, nothing really grows anymore. It's constantly cold. The winters are freezing. It's a really dangerous world in and of itself.

But then you throw the idea that vampires, who traditionally burn in the sunlight, have figured out that they can withstand sunlight now, they don't have to hide in the shadows anymore, and so they start rising up around this country and slowly taking it over. Yeah. It's a little bit of both. It's horror, it's goth, it's epic fantasy. It was a lot of fun to spitball the world, drawing on historical events but also delving into the realm of the imagination and trying to figure out what a world would look like 30 years after this catastrophe happened. It was a really cool exercise in world building.

ASTRID: Very enjoyable to read as well. Now, let's talk about structure. Now, no spoilers in the next thing I'm going to say, but essentially our hero, Gabriel de León, is imprisoned and he is forced to tell the story of his life to his captor. Now, of course, that is a homage to Interview with the Vampire where, of course, Louis is telling his story to Daniel in one night, voluntarily.

JAY: Sure.

ASTRID: It also did have elements of Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, which is a beautiful fantasy epic. But I'm more interested in what does that let you do as a writer? Because there are multiple timelines that you flick through and can go between from paragraph to paragraph sometimes depending on how the hero is feeling, and that strikes me as being technically difficult to plot and write but a brilliant experience for the reader.

JAY: Yeah, it was really tough. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan is another good comp. That's this very similar kind of story. It's this paragon who is awaiting execution and telling his life story as well. Yeah. In terms of structure, it's easily the most difficult book that I've written. There were points where I thought that I couldn't write it. It was just too much. And there were a couple of moments where I seriously thought about putting an email to my editor and telling him I'd made a horrible mistake.

But, yeah, in terms of what it allows you to do as an author, first of all, it can keep the audience in suspense. You build up to a certain point and a revelation and then Gabriel changes his mind and decides he doesn't want to talk about this anymore because it's too painful or it's too... He is playing a game with his captors in some sense. He's being interviewed by a vampire and he's spent his entire life fighting them. He loathes them.

There's a kind of constant repartee between him and his captor, and sometimes he just decides that he wants to fuck with this guy. And so, he changes the subject, or he will get asked a direct question that leads a reader down a certain path of thought, but Gabriel will refuse to answer it. So it sparks that thought in your mind, but you don't get given a satisfactory resolution for another couple of hundred pages. You're only being told one person's side of the story, so the question in your mind constantly, I hope, is, ‘Is this guy telling the whole truth?’ He obviously hates these people he's talking to, so why would he be completely honest about what he's saying?

But also structuring it in the split timeline.

For those who are unaware, Gabe is basically telling a story. He's telling two stories, one when he's 15 years old and he's first indoctrinated into this religious order that he becomes a hero of, and the second story that he is telling is set 16 years later, he's a much older man and he's risen to fame and then fallen out the other side. He's undergone a really dramatic fall in his life, and he's become bitter and jaded. He's lost all faith in the world and in himself. So you get this contrast between a young idealistic, starry-eyed Gabe and old bitter, twisted, jaded Gabe. And the constant question is how did the latter spring from the former? They're almost two completely different people.

As an author, you get to set up that questioning and hopefully keep the reader on tenterhooks in terms of when they're going to learn the truth. You get to tease revelation in one storyline but not give it until the second storyline, which is set 16 years later. So, there's a lot of cool tricks that you can have fun with. But putting it together, it was a really challenging book to write. It felt like I had gone up a weight grade in the gym. That's the way I describe it to my author friends. Like, you go to the gym every day and you're doing your 20 kilo curls and you're doing your reps and it's not a big drama. And you put on five more kilos on that bar and, all of a sudden, it's like you've never lifted a bar in your life. You're in agony after two or three curls. It was like that.

Empire was a much harder book than I'd ever done structurally. It was a much longer book than I've ever written. I couldn't have written this book five years ago, I don't think. I just wouldn't have had the writer chops for it. So, it's the combination of everything I've learned over the last 10 years. But when I got to the end of it and actually managed to finish it, it was also incredibly rewarding. I think it's the best thing I've ever written by a country mile. So that was a cool feeling the day I actually got to the end because I didn't think I would.

ASTRID: I'm so glad you did. That's an excellent analogy with the weight training at the gym. I have read all of your works and I'm clearly a big reader. I can read fast. And I found myself not wanting to read at my usual speed in Empire of the Vampire because I knew you were going to give me little hints and tricks in the multiple timelines and I wanted to try to find them. It was an interesting experience as a reader as well not just to read through to get the plot point, but to try to analyse what you were doing. And in addition to the two timelines that you outlined, plus the present where the captor and captive talking, there are flashbacks, and they just happen to his childhood, to the storyline of who I have been calling fictional Astrid. Because my name is also Astrid, and I've never read, Jay, a book with my name in it with a proper character called Astrid.

JAY: Really? Wow. That's amazing. Okay. I mean, it's a French name, so it suits the setting.

ASTRID: Yeah. Look, occasionally, you find a minor character. But anyway, I was projecting the whole damn time, and this is clearly a sidetrack, but you bastard, that was really painful.

JAY: Apologies.

ASTRID: But now another question about structure. All right. So, we've mentioned fantasy and epic fantasy a lot, and you've already written a lot of trilogies. Trilogies are a thing in fantasy. They don't have to be. Book series don't have to come in three parts. But my question to you is will you stick with the trilogy structure? And if so, why? Because firstly, I want to read more, but also, for example, Anne Rice did a whole lot of weird things with her structure in The Vampire Chronicles, but it is possible to broaden this world. And I guess I wanted to throw down a challenge of why are you sticking to this rule, if you are?

JAY: Yeah. It's planned as a trilogy. I guess traditionally Western storytelling leans towards the three-act structure. Empire is a book built in the three-act structure, but, I mean, there's multiple timelines, so there's essentially six acts running in pairs. So, yeah, a trilogy serves the same function in a broader sense across the series. Book two is essentially your act two of your meta-plot. Book twos, a lot of authors have trouble with book twos. I tend to have more fun with book two than anything else. Book two is where you can turn the world on its head and break everything that you thought was real. You take away the rock that the heroes were setting their back against, whatever that might be.

So, yeah, I think the series will follow the trilogy structure. It's an epic hero's journey in terms of each individual book but also in terms of the meta arc of the story. The novel, the setting certainly has the potential to go broader than that, and who knows what will happen in a few years time when I'm working on book three? I might have a cool idea to make it continue, or I might have another cool idea to do in the setting. But at the moment, I'm focused on book two, making that as good as it can be.

Book twos can be a bit of a pitfall. I tend to enjoy writing them, but it's easy to make them feel somewhat redundant. It's difficult in the sense that you can't ultimately resolve the plot because there has to be a book three. So, you can't have any finality in a book two, but at the same time, you need to make it compelling enough for readers to pick up book three. So, book two is a little bit of a juggling act. But, yes, at the moment it's planned to be a trilogy, and we'll see what happens after that.

ASTRID: Some of the themes that you go into are relatively obvious for a book that includes vampires, time and mortality, but I also really enjoyed the way you explore books and writing and the idea of someone telling a story. This did come through in The Nevernight Chronicles as well, and it's very clearly present in Empire of the Vampire. You continually have characters or references to books, to reading, who tells their story and why they would bother, and if it's interesting or not. You have a merch stall for book lovers with quotes about people who love books and reading. I guess I wanted to ask why you choose to bring that into your stories? I mean, clearly, your fans are here for it, clearly, people who read your works love books, but it's just an interesting homage to the idea of literature.

JAY: Yeah. I mean, one of the themes of Empire is immortality. And for those of us who live in the real world, books are the only immortality that we will ever know. If you're an artist, if you create art, then the idea that your art will outlive you is omnipresent in your mind and what kind of legacy you will leave as a creator. It's a weird and arrogant question to pose to yourself, I guess, but how will people remember you after you've disappeared? But I mean, I am a person who has always loved reading. I found the person that I was in the act of reading. My best friends in the world are people that like the same kind of books that I like. My oldest friend in the world is a guy that I bumped into in the hallway in high school reading a copy of Lord of the Rings. I said, ‘Hey, cool book’, and we started talking, and we've been friends for 40 years.

So, I guess, yeah, I want to convey my gratitude to the art of it, I guess, the beauty of it, the idea that no matter how ugly and dark life can become, it's as easy as opening up a cover to step into someplace better. I like the idea that rereading a book that you love is going back and visiting an old friend. It can provoke memories of who you were when you first discovered those characters, and your perception of them has changed because you have changed. But at the same time, it's almost like going back in time. You're visiting a past version of yourself as well as these characters that you love. I mean, it sounds cheesy to say, but books are as close to magic as I think we have in the real life. They're an extraordinary vehicle to convey emotion and story and theme, but also capturing ourselves in a moment in time in them. They are a weird kind of immortality. It seemed a pretty natural segue, given the monsters that I was writing about, to put a positive spin on immortality as well, I guess.

ASTRID: So well said. Talk to me about the images.

JAY: The illustrations, yeah, that was a lot of fun. I worked with an artist. Her name is Bon Orthwick. She started out as a fan artist. She was just in the fan art community, and she did an illustration for Nevernight probably about three years ago, I guess. I've still got it hanging on the wall of my study, actually. She's got a really unique style. Her style is unlike anything that you see out there. It's not at all derivative. Her artist tag is Monolime. You can look at a Monolime image and know immediately that it's her.

So when the idea occurred to me... I always try and do something a little different in my books. I'm a bit of a wanker in that sense. I want my book to stand out on the shelf. In Illuminae, we did a whole bunch of graphic and typographical elements in there to convey the story. In the Nevernight series, I played around with typography to convey Mia's teleportation. The type would teleport around or would shift around the page when she was shifting around the space that she was in. And in this book, I wanted to include a visual element as well. The thought struck me that the chronicler who is recording Gabriel's story is also an artiste, and he just sketches the story as Gabriel describes it to him. It did a couple of things. It was, first of all, a constant reminder of the presence of the chronicler, that he is in this room and he is recording the story. Gabe and he shoot barbs at each other back and forth over the telling of the story. But also, those illustrations help to remind you that you are witnessing a record of history. But also, they're evocative of the space, they're one person's impression of the world. And Bonnie did some incredibly beautiful artwork for it. You probably haven't seen all of it because you wouldn't have a finished copy yet. I got my finished copies the other day. The work she did is just stunning.

Weirdly enough, she's Australian as well. I had no idea when I hired her for the job. She lives just down the road from me. It's quite strange. We catch up together at the pub. It's just bizarre. This confluence of events led me to working with someone who was literally 20 minutes drive down. But, yeah, she's an incredibly talented lady. She brought a lot to the novel. It wasn't like I would just brief her on what to draw. She would bounce thoughts back and forth to me. So, it was a really quite collaborative process in that sense. And she brought a lot of her own cool ideas and her own aesthetic to the work. So, yeah, it was incredibly rewarding to work with her.

ASTRID: You are right, I haven't got a physical copy of the book yet. I got a PDF. The first couple of images are in there and then the rest are blank pages. And so I haven't seen everything. A few moments ago, you referred to the fan art community. Now, the internet is a big place and fan art has its own niche on the internet. Are you referring to your own fan art community? And when I say your own, I mean from Nevernight.

JAY: Well, in a broader sense, there is an entire fan art community, but Nevernight did get an extraordinary amount of fan art, yeah. I think that was part of what helped make it a successful series. Long after it came out, people were constantly being bombarded with images of Mia. There's something about Mia's aesthetic that just drew people into her and made people draw her. The walls of my study are covered in fan art that I've been sent by readers over the years, and some of it's just stunning. But, yeah, when I was thinking about getting an illustrator on board, I wanted to tap someone from the Nevernight fan art community because there are incredibly talented people there. But I also liked the idea of giving a young and up-and-comer a shot, to put faith in someone who hasn't really had an opportunity to get their foot in the door yet and make a name for themselves. I was really happy to do that.

ASTRID: Absolutely. I didn't mean to ask a leading question then. I guess I was referring back to earlier in our interview when we were talking about your connection with the audience. I mean, to have a community of people who come together online and share images of characters and scenes that you have dreamt up and published is a really extraordinary thing. It is common in the …

JAY: It's amazing.

ASTRID: ... international fantasy and sci-fi community, but I don't really see it that much or to this extent in Australia.

JAY: The cover process is interesting because I used to be a designer. That's what I did for a living back in my day job days. I was a graphic designer and an art director. So oftentimes my publishers will involve me in the cover design process. I'm quite fortunate in that sense that most authors don't get a say at all. They get an email saying, ‘Here's your cover. We hope you like it. Because if you don't, it's still your cover’. But most of my publishers trust me enough to at least be involved in that sense. The Lifelike cover was originally just the cover of the ARC. And I said, ‘That's a really cool idea. Why don't we do that for the real book?’ They took it back into a meeting and came back and said, ‘Yeah, we'll give it a shot’.

Allen & Unwin are the publishers for my YA stuff in Australia, and they're amazing that way. They're not afraid to try different things. And I guess they trust me, which is a really cool thing to have that. Because I've been working with them for six or seven years, they know I'm speaking from at least some kind of experience. I'm not just an author who's being precious about their work. I actually was trained in this stuff and worked in the field for almost 15 years. I'm not just talking smoke. But, yeah, it's really cool to be involved in that level because most authors aren't lucky enough to get that.

ASTRID: Jay, we are in the end part of the interview, and I'm going to ask a question that might veer as close to spoilers. This is a little bit of a warning for anyone who's listening. If you don't like anything that comes close to spoilers, you can turn off now and come back when you've read the book. Empire of the Vampire is a big book, 750 pages or so. There are elements, Easter eggs, homage to other vampire books, and there is so much that is just new and this world and these characters that you have created. How much did Lestat de Lioncourt from Interview with the Vampire influence Gabriel de León?

JAY: Not much. I mean, Lestat…

ASTRID: Because when I saw the name, I'm like, ‘Really?’

JAY: Yeah. No, look, I got Gabe's name from the singer of my old band.

ASTRID: Oh, really? It's…

JAY: It's nothing that deep, I'm afraid. Yeah.

ASTRID: So here I'm like…

JAY: Yeah. I …

ASTRID: ... Lestat de Lioncourt.

JAY: ‘What is he saying? What does he mean by that?’

ASTRID: Gabriel de León.

JAY: No, it was nothing that deep.

ASTRID: And Lestat's mother is Gabrielle. Anyway, I went too deep.

JAY: Yeah. No, you did. There wasn't that much thought put into it. Originally, Gabe's name was Etienne, which I took from Ladyhawke, but I thought that might be a little bit difficult to remember, so I changed it to Gabe. I wanted there to be a shortening of it so that people who knew him well could give a shortening to convey familiarity. But, I mean, Lestat's a great narrator. Particularly in the later parts of the Chronicles, you do wonder how truthful he is being. Louis gives one version of events and he gives a completely contrary version of events. I am playing in the same sandbox in that sense. You wonder what truth's being emitted and what lies are being told. But Lestat, I mean, Lestat is a horrible fucking narcissist. I don't think Gabe is quite as narcissistic as Lestat. Gabe is a little more Australian, I guess, in his sensibilities. He's a little more self-deprecating, I guess. I hope, anyway.

ASTRID: He is quite down-to-earth.

JAY: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I wanted the book to feel like a conversation you could overhear at the pub. I wanted it to have that kind of... Even though you're in a fantastical world being told a fantastical story, I wanted to keep the tone quite matter-of-fact, and an air of credibility to it. But, yeah, I mean, Lestat is an unapologetic monster, and I think Gabriel is a man searching for redemption. So I think character-wise, they're quite different. But Gabe is a character who struggles with what he is, and Lestat is a character who embraces and adores what he is for the most part. So, yeah, I think they're quite different.

ASTRID: You just prompted a new question. As you just mentioned, Louis narrates Interview with the Vampire and then Lestat takes over as the narrator for most of the other books. Will Gabe be the narrator in books two or three? Or is that too much of a giveaway?

JAY: There are two narrators in book two.

ASTRID: Oh, interesting. Looking forward to that.

JAY: Yeah. There's a second narrator. So, there's another character who has also fallen into the clutches of the people who have Gabe, and it reaches a point where Gabe can't keep telling the story. He's not present for some of it. The interviewer has to go and talk to this second interviewee. And there you begin to get a sense that you haven't been told all the truth, that Gabriel's looking at the events of these books through his own eyes and his own perceptions and his own baggage. And the other character who is giving their account of what happens comes at it from a completely different POV. So that's when I really started to have fun with the idea of, ‘Okay, what has been withheld? What has been completely lied about? And what is the truth?’ So, yeah, that's one of the fun elements of book two that I'm getting into right now. ‘What is truth?’ is a big question in book two.

ASTRID: For those listening in the middle of that explanation, Jay got a very sneaky smile, and I like to think we got a little bit close to some kind of spoiler. Alrighty. I adore Empire of the Vampire, Jay. I think that's come through now. But I don't find many people who are willing to go deep into fantasy and vampire literature in Australia and do it so damn well. So thank you. Having said that, this is not your only book that is being released this year. Your trilogy written with Amie Kaufman comes to a conclusion in November this year, Aurora's End. Looking forward to that one too. Final question, how on earth do you manage, God, the toll, the emotional toll of releasing two books in, what, three months?

JAY: Yeah. I mean, back in 2019, I released three books in one year. I will never do that again. That was a terrible idea. It's a lot of work that's not actually writing and it does take a lot out of you. So, yeah, I mean, having two books releasing quite close together, it's not as such a big deal anymore. When you're working on them simultaneously going through edits, going through copy edits, it can get quite draining. But now we're at the pointy end. All our work is done. It's just promo left. In terms of the writing process, I've found it actually quite valuable to work on multiple projects at once, because when you get stuck on one, you can switch to the other. And also tonally, they're quite different. Empire is a very dark heavy book.

ASTRID: For adults.

JAY: Having something a little lighter, a little more comedic in tone to switch to, it was actually a bit of a relief. I was finishing up Empire when we went into our second lockdown in Melbourne last year during COVID, and you couldn't travel 5kms from your house, you couldn't see any of your friends. Everyone was living in this bubble of isolation. The world felt like an incredibly dark place. I think that bled into the work a lot. So having somewhere else to go to was actually really... It was beneficial, I guess, an extension. It's fun to work with another author as well. You have two brains working on the same problem. So two heads are better than one in that sense. So, yeah, in terms of workload, it's a lot, but the more you do it, the better you get at managing it. And now we're at the pointy end. We only have the promo to do. So it's not as heavy as it was.

But, yeah, last year was a really busy year. The year before that was just insane. And that was when there were those couple of moments I talked about, I wasn't going to be sure that I would finish Empire. I think that was probably because I put myself under a lot of pressure. I learned a lesson there. I won't ever bring out three books in the one year again. But, yeah, having multiple projects on the go at once for me, it really helps sometimes, if only for the fact that, yeah, if you get stuck on one, you can work on the second. And your subconscious brain will keep problem-solving on the first, even when you're not actively thinking about it. So, yeah, that helps me. It doesn't work for everybody, but I've found it's a good way to work for me.

ASTRID: That is great advice. Jay, thank you again for talking to me on The Garret. But more importantly, thank you for writing Empire of the Vampire. I fucking loved it.

JAY: Oh, good. I'm really glad you enjoyed it. Thank you so much.