Students from South Sahali Elementary in Kamloops had some pretty interesting questions for Kevin Sands about his novel The Blackthorn Key.
SSE: What gave you the idea to write this book?
KS: It occurred to me that apothecaries were pretty cool: they used potions, and poisons, and secret codes, and so on. So I thought that background, combined with a secret people were willing to kill for, would make for a really good story.
SSE: How did you do the research for your book?
KS: A lot of time in and out of libraries. Most of my research came from books, though I found some things online as well. Each of the Blackthorn Key adventures takes about five weeks of full-time research.
SSE: Can you tell us about the process you go through for publishing your books?
KS: The Blackthorn Key was my first book published, so it was a longer process. After I’d written the manuscript, I queried agents, which is a fancy way of saying I sent a bunch of people I didn’t know some emails asking if they’d be interested in reading my book and representing me. Once I had an agent, he submitted my manuscript to a number of editors at different publishing houses. Several of them liked it, and I ended up selling it to Aladdin (Simon & Schuster).
After that, the process has been the same. Write the manuscript, then an editor suggests any changes needed. You rewrite what you need to, then once the “final” manuscript is done, it goes to a copy editor, who checks for factual errors or things that don’t make sense. After that, the book is laid out and goes to a proofreader, who checks the final version for typos. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, there’s the cover design, and marketing, and so on. All in all, it this process usually takes anywhere from 1-2 years. A long time!
SSE: Why did you choose to write your book in that era?
KS: I ended up choosing 1660s London because it had so many cool elements to it: the return of the king to his throne; the conflicts, plots, and conspiracies; the level of technology; the liveliness of the city; and so on. Basically, it was too good a time to pass up!
SSE: When did you start to write novels or stories?
KS: In January 2009. I wrote three other manuscripts (all of which were terrible) before I started on The Blackthorn Key. I sold that in September 2014, so it took more than five years of writing before I sold my first book.
SSE: What inspired you to create the different characters? Were the characters inspired by people you know?
KS: The characters all came from my imagination. I never base characters on people I know—I don’t want to get sued!
SSE: Does this book tie into your life in any way?
KS: I wouldn’t say there’s any direct connection to my life, except that I wrote The Blackthorn Key the way I did because adventures like that are my favourite kind of books.
SSE: Is writing your only career now?
KS: Yes. Since selling The Blackthorn Key, I’ve become a full-time writer. It’s tough, sometimes, but it’s the most fun career I’ve ever had.
SSE: When you wrote this book did you have it all planned out before you wrote the book or did you think of it as you were writing?
KS: Planned out, completely. I plot everything in as much detail as possible before I write a single word. Changes get made during revisions, of course, but if I ever try to just start writing and see where things will go, I end up with a giant mess. I don’t know how people do that—though there are many successful writers who have!
SSE: Did you come up with the codes on your own?
KS: Yes. Some of the codes are based on real symbols and ciphers; the symbols in chapter 20, for example, were used by real alchemists. Others, like the puzzle cube, were my own invention.
SSE: Where did you go to research the recipes?
KS: There are a few really old books by apothecaries and herbalists from Christopher’s time that we have today, so some of the recipes came from those. Others, like the smoke bomb, I’ve known how to make for a while. (Just don’t ask me how I know.)
-Melisa Hunter, Teacher-Librarian at South Sahali Elementary and friends