About The Author
Will Hill used to work in publishing before leaving to write. He grew up in the north-east of England, an area steeped in vampire mythology, moving from Skegness to Gateshead to Tynemouth. He now spends most of his time in California.
He's now turned his childhood fascination with 'haemophages' (blood-drinkers) into his debut young adult novel, Department 19, a book which has already found devoted fans in our Children's Department.
Department 19 was set up in secret around 150 years ago, following the elimination of Dracula, to protect the people of Britain from supernatural threats. Jamie Carpenter's father was one of their operatives until one terrible night when men in black burst into his house and executed him as a traitor. Since then, life for Jamie has been pretty miserable, but when his mother vanishes, he finds himself recruited by Department 19.
The thrilling combination of action, horror and references to Bram Stoker's Dracula makes this one of the most exciting young adult debuts we've read in years and we're sure you'll love it too. And the good news is that the second in the series,one of the most eagerly awaited second novels, The Rising, is at last about to be published.
Below, Will tell us a bit about how he came up with the terrifying world of Department 19 and the books he loved as a child that inspired him to create it, and also gives us an insight into his all-time favourite books.
Hear Will introduce The Rising.
Questions & Answers
What inspired you to write Department 19?
Everything, to be honest!
Like most of the boys I knew, when I stopped reading children's books I started reading horror - I went straight from Roald Dahl to Stephen King and Clive Barker. I loved, and still love, the power that horror writing has to feed your imagination, and essentially make you scare yourself - the things you can imagine are always worse than anything a writer can describe, and I wanted to do that to a new generation of readers. That sounds cruel now I've written it down, but it's true! I think the things that scare you are just as important as the things that make you laugh, or make you cry - they're all formative experiences. And there's a primal excitement to being scared - it makes you glad to be alive.
The other major inspirations to me were the books and films and comics and TV series that created worlds that are different than ours, but that worked so well you could just accept them as real. I loved Star Wars when I was a teenager, along with Dune, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Sandman, Watchmen, Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, The Invisibles, Indiana Jones, and far too many others to mention! The scale of imagination on display was incredibly intimidating to me, but also incredibly inspiring - Department 19 is my attempt to contribute to that proud tradition.
Department 19 is action-packed, how long did it take you to plan for and write?
I wrote the Prologue and the first three chapters in a complete blitz in 2008 - I think it was about two days of just chaining myself to the keyboard. It felt like if I didn't, then the story was going to drift away, and I didn't want to let that happen - those first few chapters had the genesis of the whole story; what happens to Jamie and his family, the existence of Frankenstein and the Department, and the descendants of Dracula.
After that, I didn't write a word for about three months - I threw myself into research and backstory. I had to read Dracula and Frankenstein again, then write about a million different timelines and mini-biographies, and work out the structure of the Department, and the weapons, and the base, and everything else that I needed to have sorted out before I carried on with the book. Because the central idea of Department 19 is supernatural, I wanted the real world around it to be as convincing as possible, so that readers would hopefully be able to accept the crazier bits of the story if they were taking place in a world they could recognize.
I started writing again in autumn 2008, and I quit my job at the end of the year to focus on the book. It was finished in September 2009, a bit less than a year later, so it was about eighteen months from start to finish...
Department 19 is a classified, top secret government agency - do you think something like it actually exists?
I'd love to think so, although obviously it would be terrifying!
But honestly, who knows - I'm not a big conspiracy theorist, but the British government didn't admit the existence of SIS (MI6 as it used to be known) until 1994, the US government has top secret military bases all over Nevada and California, and most countries have Special Forces units that are completely classified (the SAS, the Navy SEALS, the Australian Commando Regiments) - we'll never know what they really do.
Maybe they are destroying vampires every night while we sleep in our beds...
Readers will know some of the characters in Department 19 including Frankenstein - who is your favourite character in the book?
That's really, really difficult!
Obviously, I have an enormous amount of affection for Jamie - he's my hero, and he carries the whole book on his shoulders. He was also the hardest to write - I wanted him to be a believably normal teenager, with all the flaws that you would expect, all the frustrations and the angst, but also for him to have the potential for greatness, so it would be believable when he does the things he does later in the story. And it was always going to be vital that readers liked him, that they were on his side, otherwise the book would never work.
I also love the vampires, especially Alexandru! He is just pure evil, pure cunning and viciousness - it's fun to write someone so completely amoral and unpredictable, and he's incredibly important to the story. I needed a villain that would be an incredibly powerful force, legendarily powerful even, to make the scale of Jamie's task as big and difficult as I wanted it to be. Although it can be strange sitting at a desk trying to think of something suitably horrible to have him do to someone...
But, I'll be honest - I do have a favourite (well, two of them!). Larissa and Frankenstein just jumped onto the page fully formed, are the most fun to write, and are the characters I fell in love with from the moment I started writing them. Frankenstein's voice came so easily (not surprising, considering I was building on Mary Shelley's amazing novel!) and he just made sense to me straight away. He is so grumpy and curmudgeonly, but his heart is in the right place, and his love for Jamie is completely real. Although there's a past there, including some things that he did, that some readers aren't going to like...
And Larissa, I just loved from minute one. She was never going to be an important part of the story when I was first planning it out, but as soon as she appeared she just demanded a bigger role, then an even bigger one, until she became as important to both Jamie and Department 19 as she is. Although, come to think of it, I'm going to put her through the wringer as well, as the series continues. It seems that I do the worst things to the characters I like the best!
How many books do you have planned for the Department 19 series?
When I was planning it all out in 2008, the original plan was for it to be a trilogy.
But as the whole thing has expanded, as the characters have grown and the world the story takes place in has got wider and wider, I've started to think it might be a little bit longer than I originally thought, maybe at least a fourth book. Although that's going to depend a lot on how readers react to the first one when it comes out next year!
It's strange, but how the whole story ends was one of the first things I worked out. From the very beginning, I knew how it was going to start and how it was going to end - it was everything that happened in between that was a mystery! And to be honest, some of it still is - I think the most fun about being a writer are the moments when something suddenly becomes clear, and
Can you tell us anything about the third book in the series?
I really can't tell you very much, mainly as I'm still writing it :) But I can tell you a couple of little bits and pieces... It forces Department 19 to deal with a threat they've never had to face before. It spends quite a lot of time in the Nevada desert. Its prologue might be the scariest thing I've ever written. A bomb goes off inside the Loop. And by the end, it's all looking pretty bad for our heroes...