International bestselling author C. J. Daugherty is a former newspaper reporter and crime writer. Her bestselling young adult series Night School (romantic thrillers set in a fictional boarding school called Cimmerian Academy) has been translated into 21 languages, and has been the number 1 best selling young adult novel in Germany, Poland, France, and Israel, topping charts in countries around the world. She writes in her home in the south of England, where she basically lives on coffee.
Hello C.J. I’m very excited to talk with you, especially since I recently devoured the first book in the Night School Series, which was so fast-paced, intriguing and well crafted!
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you start?
I saw a film called All the President’s Men when I was about fourteen, and I decided there and then I wanted to be an investigative reporter. It looked like such an exciting career. And it was. It wasn’t until after I’d worked for a few years as a crime and political reporter that I started thinking about writing novels. Even then, I had several other non-fiction writing jobs, and spent a few years as an editor, before I finally sat down to write Night School.
What genre(s) do you write in? What is it that you love about them?
I write in multiple genres. Night School is a young adult thriller series, The Secret Fire is a paranormal series. But really, all my books are romantic thrillers with a mysteries at their heart. I like writing danger and complex relationships. I make everything as hard as possible for my characters, and then see how they can dig their way out of it. I try to make it all – whatever I’m writing – as real as I can. I want my readers to imagine it’s their world crashing down around them. And their fight for survival.
Can you tell us a little bit about your series Night School and anything else you might be working on?
Night School follows the story of Allie Sheridan, a 16-year-old girl who goes off the rails after her homelife falls apart. When she’s arrested for the third time, her parents send her to Cimmeria Academy, a boarding school filled with the children of politicians and CEOs.
The school has strict rules, and all modern technology is forbidden. Cut off from everyone she knows, Allie finds out she’s not who she thought she was, and that her parents have been lying to her all her life. Things are more complicated and dangerous than she ever imagined, and she has to learn fast if she wants to survive.
My other series, The Secret Fire, follows two main characters – Taylor, a bookish seventeen-year-old English girl who is preparing for Oxford University, and Sacha – a French boy, with nothing to lose. Sacha has a terrible secret. He can’t die – nothing can kill him until his eighteenth birthday, when an ancient family curse even he doesn’t understand says he must die. When the two of them meet, they learn their destinies are entangled. They can save each other, but they have only weeks to unravel a 300-year-old mystery. This is a modern tale of alchemy and demonology, set on the streets of Paris and amid the dreaming spires of Oxford.
What inspires your ideas? How do you come up with them?
I almost always get my ideas from real life. I read newspapers and blogs, and I’m constantly looking for interesting stories that could inspire a book. Night School was inspired by a photo I saw in the paper of The Bullingdon Club, a real secret society at Oxford University. The Secret Fire was inspired by time I spent in Paris. You never know when a story idea will hit you!
Did you always know that you wanted to go the traditional publishing route instead of indie?
No. When I started I just wanted to tell the story – I didn’t really think about who would publish it. I sent my manuscript to three agents, and one of them signed me. I was then picked up by traditional publishers. Night School is published by Little Brown in the UK, and by trad publishers all over the world. However, due to circumstance and fate, the series was dropped by its US publisher after book one. A digital publisher picked up the series, and the ebooks are now published in the US by Bookouture. I self-published the paperbacks there using CreateSpace. Recently, my Spanish publisher was purchased by another publisher, and the new publisher won’t continue the Night School series in Spanish. The book has lots of Spanish language fans, and they begged me to get the last two books in the series out. So, after doing a bit of research, I had Night School 4 translated myself, and I’ve just self-published it in Spanish worldwide. Basically, I’m a hybrid author to a certain extent, and I love the freedom that gives me. It means no publisher controls me. And the unpredictability of international publishing isn’t the end of the story for readers.
Do you need to have a literary agent represent you in the UK?
I’m lucky to be represented by the Madeleine Milburn Agency – which is basically the best agency in London!
All writers are readers so who are some of your favorite authors and why?
I love Cassandra Clare – The Mortal Instruments books are among my absolute favourites. And, like everyone, I love JK Rowling’s books – both her adult books and Harry Potter. I really like Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy – it was quite influential on the writing of Night School. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt, is one of my favourite books, and there’s more than a little of its dangerous atmosphere, I think, in Night School and The Secret Fire.
What are you working on now? Do you outline or write by the seat of your pants?
I’m currently working on a crime novel – although it’s too early in the process to tell much about it. I don’t outline. Instead, I synopsise. I start with a one-page description of the main characters, then expand that out to the plot, and then expand THAT out further and further. When I have a good, solid, six pages of plot sketched out, I will sit down to write chapter one.
What does a typical writing day look like for you/what is your process?
For me, mornings are for admin and editing. I’m usually at my desk by nine with a MASSIVE cup of coffee. I go through my emails, update my social networking pages (I consider social networking the best marketing a writer can do for herself). If I’m doing a giveaway on Facebook, I get that updated. It’s usually noon before I start to write. I write straight through to five, then take a break to walk my dog and get some exercise. Then I’m back to the computer to write until seven. If I’m in the late stages of a novel, I often write again from ten to midnight. I find that to be the best time for intensive writing sprints.
If one of your novels was made into a movie, which would you choose and what actors would you cast to play the three main roles?
Night School was made into a web series last year – you can see it for free on my Youtube channel: NightSchoolBook!
THIS IS VERY EXCITING!!
If it were made into a movie, I would either want the same actors who appeared in the web series OR someone who looks like Lily Collins for Allie, Max Irons for Carter, a young Gaspard Ulliel for Sylvain.
What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned on your writing journey so far?
My number one lesson is to stay calm. There’s something hectic about modern publishing. Something rushed. A sense that you have to be number one RIGHT NOW, and if you’re not, it’s all over. I simply don’t believe that. I think writing is a learning process. I want to get better with each book. And that means constantly learning – constantly honing my craft. I see each novel as a step up from the last. With each step I can see further, write better. I want to write novels for the rest of my life, so I am trying to write the kind of books that build a loyal readership. And that takes time and practice.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers about writing? What about the process of trying to get published?
Read everything you can get your hands on. Not just books, but newspapers, websites, advertisements, blogs – read everything. The more you read, the more you learn. No one ever became a writer who didn’t read. In terms of getting published, listen to what agents tell you – they do understand this business. Don’t send out your manuscript too soon. Have trusted friends read it first, and edit many times, polishing each word, before you send it to agents. But also, look at what your favourite writers do – learn from them. So much in publishing is about luck – finding the right agent, the right publishers. Little mistakes can have big costs. Rushing can also have big costs. Take your time. Play the long game. Don’t give up.
Thank you so much! Where can people find out more about you and your books?