About The Author
Lauren Owen is twenty-eight-years old and grew up in the grounds of an old country house in Yorkshire. Her first attempts at writing as a teenager were Harry Potter fan fictions. She is an Oxford graduate, holds an MA in Victorian Literature, is completing a PhD on Gothic writing and fan culture, and is the recipient of the Curtis Brown Prize for best writer on the UEA creative writing programme.
The Quick is her first novel. A gothic feast described by Hilary Mantel as a 'sly and glittering addition to the literature of the macabre', it is set in Victorian England and centres around a brother and sister whose fates become intertwined with the mysterious Aegolius Club, a society of the richest, most ambitious men in England, who harbour a horrifying secret which they will stop at nothing to preserve.
We talked to Lauren about the writers who have influenced her, the pain and pleasure of killing off her characters and how she kept tabs on hermulti-stranded plot and huge cast of characters.
Author image © Urszula Soltys
Questions & Answers
What inspired you to write this book, was it born directly out of your MA studies in Victorian literature?
The MA was definitely a big part in it - it was a fantastic opportunity to concentrate on nineteenth century literature in depth, to look at Victorian literary developments like the spread of popular journalism, increased mass literacy. But I had been interested in the era for many years before starting the MA course. Many of the writers I enjoyed growing up were from the Victorian period. I think that readers who enjoy Wilkie Collins, Charlotte Bronte, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde will be able to see their influence on The Quick.
You're doing a PhD on gothic writing. How has the recent explosion of novels about witches, vampires and such impacted on the landscape of such studies?
I think that people are more open to serious criticism and discussion of supernatural stories than they might have been in the past. It's not uncommon now to read scholarly essays on works like Twilight and True Blood.
Was it a help or a burden having been so immersed in gothic literature through your studies?
Definitely a help. Studying the development of gothic literature gave me a new appreciation for the genre. The gothic mode has some wonderful, bizarre, ingenious works to offer. I also quite enjoy the fact that it's a persistent presence in British literature since before 1800, and yet is still regarded as something of a literary 'guilty secret'. Some critics of the Romantic poets, for instance, have downplayed the Romantic movement's connection to the gothic.
Your description of the sad life of the club members reminded me of Tennyson's Tithonus, who ended up yearning for death. Do you think the lure of immortality is simply irresistible despite its obvious costs?
I can sympathize with Mould, who sees immortality as an opportunity to read and learn without the restriction of time. I think it's probably human nature to cling to life whilst at the same time being ill-equipped to deal with immortality - maybe what we really want is for death to still be a possibility, just indefinitely postponed (along with age and ill-health). Tithonus' fate is interesting because his blessing of immortality becomes a curse - immortality is used as a punishment in some gothic stories, like the penny dreadful Varney the Vampyre.
Which parts did you most enjoy writing? And which were the hardest to write?
I really enjoyed writing Porlock's chapter, and the scenes with James and Charlotte as children. I also loved writing Liza, especially her meeting with Shadwell. I found Mould's chapters a challenge simply because there was a lot of background which I needed to force myself to leave out - details of how he got fired as a tutor, for instance.
How painful was it to kill off characters you'd presumably come to know and love?
In the first draft it was fine - I didn't know them as well at that point. I got more attached in the redrafting process, once the deaths were already written in. It's an odd sensation, being sad because you killed a fictional character - if it hurts you know it's working, you're maybe doing something right.
How did you keep track of the many strands of the novel? Did you know everyone's fate at the outset?
I had a detailed plan, also chapter notes and a timeline - but I was constantly rewriting the map. I knew more or less what everyone's fate was, but there were surprises. For instance I didn't expect Emily Richter to return after chapter one, but she stayed, and I liked her so much that I kept her in.
There's quite a lot of gore. Was it enjoyable to write?
I found it necessary to write. I think I would have struggled to write this story without discussing violence and its emotional cost.
You've packed a lot of themes into the novel, including sibling relationships, the experience of gay men in Victorian London, poverty and privilege, and so on. Did you ever feel torn between your main storyline and the other issues?
I think that the book's storyline and themes complimented each other - they share a lot of common ground, some of the book's more fantastic elements are parallels of real-world situations.
The ending is sufficiently open to allow for a sequel. Do you have plans for a follow-up?
Yes, I am writing a sequel at the moment. The book as it stands was originally half of a longer work. Once I started developing and rewriting my first draft, I realized that it would have to be two novels in order for it to be comprehensible, so I cut the original work in half. The sequel to The Quick will be based on the rest of my original material.
The book would make a great movie. Are there any plans for a screen version and what do you think would be the main challenges?
No plans at the moment - I would be intrigued to see a film version though! I think the fact that the book has quite a complex plot might be a challenge - also the amount of explication and backstory.