If, like me, you didn’t know that Blackwell’s had a podcast, their latest episode is a great one to start with – a recording of a sold-out event featuring two stellar fantasy authors, Garth Nix and RF Kuang. Nineties kids like myself might recognise Nix as the author behind Sabriel and its sequels, as well as many other books including the Keys to the Kingdom series, while Kuang is more of a newcomer (“two years old in author years, just learning to talk”, as she pointed out at one point in the evening) with her debut trilogy that began with The Poppy War.
The event began with a reading from each of the authors. Nix read the prologue of his latest novel, Angel Mage, a Three Musketeers-influenced story with dashing heroes and heroines who mix swordplay and magic in equal measures. Kuang, who didn’t want to bring the mood down by reading from any of the many death scenes in The Dragon Republic, book two in her series, read from an early chapter in The Poppy War – a tense, awkwardly funny scene where the protagonist is preparing for an incredibly intense exam, going through an anti-cheating screening that involves a strip-search and cavity check.
Both authors were affable and relaxed, and clearly enjoyed each others’ work immensely (Kuang admitted that she “almost died” when she found out that Nix had read her novels). They dug deep into the difference between YA and adult novels, Nix sharing a story about how he’d been repeatedly asked about the new content in ‘the adult edition of Sabriel’ and having to gently let expectant readers down with the revelation that, in fact, it was the marketing department’s decision to list the book as ‘adult’ in the US. They discussed worldbuilding, both having based their fantasy worlds on real-world settings and historical periods – Angel Mage is set in an alternate France, while The Dragon Republic deals with the war between “not-China and not-Japan”. The conversation dwelt on character building, writing processes, and what stories are coming next (Kuang had to stop herself several times from giving away the ending of the final book in her series, while Nix described his upcoming novel The Left-handed Booksellers of London, pointing out that, unusually, he’s finished this one well in advance of the deadline).
After Nix and Kuang’s initial discussion, the floor opened for audience questions, which allowed them to delve even deeper into the matter of worldbuilding (in particular, the need for a world to feel lived-in), their favourite characters, and how they move past a tricky point in their writing when they get stuck. The evening rounded off with an angel pendant giveaway from Nix, who also snapped a quick selfie with the audience, before he and Kuang moved to a spot under Blackwell’s reading tree to meet readers and sign books. The event kept up the high standard of Blackwell’s author events, with an inspirational insight into the worlds and work of two brilliant authors – so, if you’re kicking yourself for not getting a ticket, be sure to listen to the podcast.