Writer Sharon Gosling started as an entertainment journalist, writing companion books for various television shows and movies and eventually becoming a young adult novelist. She’s no stranger to the world of Penny Dreadful having written two successful Victorian era young adult novels. In this interview, Sharon talks about her work in writing the fan essential The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, the process of making it, her writing process and being on the set of Penny Dreadful.
First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in a very small village in the north of England, surrounded by fells and sheep, with my husband and a cat who likes to surprise me by hiding perfectly unharmed baby rabbits under my bed.
How did you get started as a writer? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I never wanted to be anything but a writer. As a teenager I realized that I needed some way to support myself as I tried to be a novelist, and I hit upon journalism. I started while I was still at school, writing book reviews for a national magazine and doing general articles and interviews for a local magazine in my hometown. Then I did a Literature degree, during which I continued to work for national magazines. When I graduated, I was lucky enough to be given a job as a staff writer on one of them and things slowly grew from there.
You started as an entertainment journalist then ventured into Young Adult Literature with The Diamond Thief and The Ruby Airship. Can you tell us more about The Diamond Thief and The Ruby Airship?
The Diamond Thief is set in London in the 1880s and follows the exploits of Rémy Brunel, a young French trapeze artist who also happens to be the best jewel thief in Europe. Her master brings her to London to steal a famous diamond from the Tower of London, but she finds herself pitted against a determined policeman called Thaddeus Rec. They end up having to work together to thwart a greater threat to the city. The Ruby Airship is the sequel, and I’ve just finished writing the third in the series. It will be out in 2016 and is called The Sapphire Cutlass.
Your books The Diamond Thief and The Ruby Airship are both set during the Victorian era. Did that fact play a role in you getting the gig in writing The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful ? How did this all come about for you?
It might have done, yes – in fact although I haven’t asked Jo Boylett, my editor at Titan Books, whether that’s the case, I’m sure when they were considering writers for the Penny Dreadful book, the fact that I know a bit about that era from research for my own books is one of the things that made them think of me. I have a long association with Titan – in fact, they were the first publishing company I went to work for when I graduated from University although at that time I was writing and editing magazines for them rather than books. All of my non-fiction books have been published by them and in 2014, I worked with two other writers on the art book for The Planet of the Apes films for them – it wasn’t long after I’d finished on that one that they asked me if I’d be interested in taking on the Penny Dreadful book. The series premise was right up my street and so I was very excited by the prospect.
One can presume that writing a completely new and original novel is more daunting compared to writing a feature book about a show based on an already existing idea or story. What are your thoughts on this? Is the writing process harder or easier?
For me at least, writing a companion guide is much easier, by an order of several magnitudes! You aren’t creating anything of your own, after all – it belongs to someone else. All you need to do is present it as best you can for the reader.
Could you describe your general creative process to us? What helps you be more creative?
That’s an interesting question. I’ve never really thought about my creative process in terms of describing it to someone else. When I write fiction, ideas often come to me seemingly out of the blue – often I’ll wake up in the morning and there’s just something new in my head. A couple of times – such as with the YA novel I’m currently working on – I’ve literally dreamed an entire plot. Another younger children’s book I’m working on fell into my head almost fully formed, in the space of about five minutes as my husband and I drove back home from visiting family at Christmas. I saw something out of the car window that caught my attention and just like that, the story was there in my head. I spent the rest of the journey making notes and by the time we got home, it was a whole new book, ready to be written. I guess in those cases, my brain has been collecting bits and pieces of information from all over the place, filing them away because I’ve found them interesting – and then suddenly something will trigger an unconscious process in my mind that makes everything fall into place.
In terms of actual writing process, I always get up early to write as my fiction brain works best first thing. I write between 1,000 and 3,000 words a day – more if I’m in the flow of something. I walk the fells a lot too.
Sharon Gosling's first young adult novel. (a Redbridge Children's Book Award 2014 winner)
What do you do when you hit a road block or writer’s block during your writing process?
I think the only thing you can do is keep writing. It doesn’t matter what comes out, just keep those muscles – the brain – working. Sooner or later whatever it is that’s causing the block will pass. Often I find that what I’ve written in those periods isn’t nearly as bad as I imagined at the time. I’ve also learned through experience that if you’re stuck with something you’re writing – a scene in a novel, for example – it usually means what you’re trying to write either needs to be approached differently or doesn’t need to be written at all.
Who are some of your favorite writers and why? Who or what are some of your influences then and now?
I’ve got many, many authors I adore and admire… Margaret Atwood will always be one. I’ve recently started reading Barbara Kingsolver and I don’t know how I’ve gone so long without her – she’s wonderful. Pam Houston is another. Jean Rhys. Graham Joyce. Meg Rosoff, Eva Ibbotson, Marcus Sedgewick, Patrick Ness, Kevin Brooks – all children’s and YA authors who are just brilliant. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes so Arthur Conan Doyle has to be in there. Terry Pratchett, who will be so greatly missed, was an astonishing talent. Stephen King, always. I’m just about to start reading ‘This Book is Full of Spiders’ by David Wong, which is the sequel to ‘John Dies at the End’, which I loved. Classics-wise – rather shockingly, I never really appreciated Charles Dickens when I was younger, but now I do. Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, too: Jane Eyre is a fine novel of the Gothic tradition. Poetry: Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Philip Larkin. In terms of non-fiction authors, one I find most engrossing is John McPhee. So many! Sorry! Why I like them varies as much as they do as authors – just something in their style and the way they write characters chimes with me, I suppose.
Writers have the weirdest quirks. What do you think is yours?
Hmm. You’d probably be better off asking my husband that question. Chain-drinking tea and carrying on endless conversations with imaginary people in my mind, probably.
Sharon Gosling's follow up to The Diamond Thief
When writing a supplement book like The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful, where do you start? Considering that the story or the show itself is already existing and the audience already know a lot of things about the show, what’s the jump-off point for a writer like you? How does it evolve from there?
Well, a book like this really starts with the editor – I mentioned her before, Jo Boylett. She and I have worked together quite a lot – Jo is very experienced, and she had a very clear, very good, idea of how she wanted the Penny Dreadful book to be. When we started talking about it, the show hadn’t aired – the first season was still filming. We had scripts so we knew it was a wonderful piece of writing, and we knew that we wanted to include aspects of actual history alongside the art and the information about how the episodes came together. Then it was a case of going to the set and asking as many questions as possible. The more questions you ask, the more you build a picture of how it all came together, which, obviously, is what the readers want to know. When I write a companion book like this, I’m very aware that the reader isn’t interested in what I personally have to say at all – what they want to feel is as if they’ve been behind the scenes themselves. The author’s voice should fade into the background as much as possible, so that it just feels as if the people I spoke to behind the scenes are actually just speaking directly to the reader. So hopefully the only places where my ‘voice’ comes through a little are the historical pieces we included to set the scene for this world that we’re entering when we watch Penny Dreadful. I also wanted it to be something that everyone who put such effort into working on the show could be proud of – something that they could show their families and friends that demonstrated just how hard they had worked to put the series together.
Do you have a favorite chapter or part of the book?
I think it’s just all the amazing art. Every department on the show was so generous with their time and their materials – I was very aware that whenever I emailed someone asking for images, it took time out of their already very busy day to find and upload them to me, but everyone was so willing to help. A book like this lives or dies on the imagery, and it’s not always easy to get people to share their work – often because they’re just too busy to find the time. But the crew on Penny Dreadful always made the time. They, and the book’s designer Martin Stiff, are the reason it looks so fabulous.
What do you like the most about Penny Dreadful? Would you say that you related in any way to any of the characters on the show? Who’s your favorite and why?
I love the richness of the world that John Logan has created, the complexity of the story and the way it unfolds. I also love that it pushes the boundaries of television making. Right in the middle of this story, we have ‘Closer Than Sisters’, which is told entirely in flashback, and yet we don’t lose the momentum of the present for a moment. The performances are all extraordinary – Eva Green’s in particular, of course. The séance scene is mesmerizing, as are the scenes inside the Banning clinic. The only way in which I think I relate to any of the characters is that I share Sir Malcolm’s fascination with exploration. I can completely understand his obsession. I don’t think I have a favourite character – they are all too compelling. Although I do really want to know more about Sembene’s past!
Sharon started out as an entertainment journalist, writing companion books for TV shows like Stargate
You spent some time on the set. How does it feel to be around such talents and seeing the process?
I’ve spent quite a lot of time on TV sets and I love it. There’s a very specific creative energy that cocoons a set – I think it’s the fact that there are so many artistic people all working together towards one purpose. Making a television show is exhausting – long hours over long months. I was there about a week before wrap on the first season and despite the fact that everyone had been working flat out for so long, the energy on the Penny Dreadful set was phenomenal. There was a very definite sense of excitement and passion which I think comes from the fact that they all knew they were making something wonderful. There was a real sense of happy camaraderie, which was lovely to see. On the final day of my visit they had the crew screening of the first episode, which they very kindly invited me to watch with them. That was very special, because it was the first time that any of the crew was seeing it in its entirety as a finished piece of work. That was a great experience for me.
What was it like to meet and interview Eva Green?
Sadly I never actually met Eva face-to-face. When I first arrived at the studio, John Logan very kindly took me on a tour of the sets. That morning they were filming the extraordinary possession scene in the episode of the same name. So Eva was there, and I watched the set up, which was fascinating, but it’s not a good idea to interrupt an actor when they’re preparing for such a difficult scene. Some actors find it very distracting to talk about the process of creating a character while they’re still filming it, which I can completely understand – and obviously Ms. Green is so busy that she is almost always filming. So what I did was I boiled down my questions into a short series that I thought would get at the essence of what she felt about playing Vanessa and working on Penny Dreadful and she very kindly found time to answer them via email. I am very grateful to her that she did because I think the book would have been sorely lacking without her input.
You mentioned that you felt bad that you couldn’t fit everything in it. If so, what’s one thing you wish you were able to include in the final book?
I was mainly that we had so much beautiful art that we couldn’t fit in. Also, I spoke to a lot of behind the scenes people that were fascinating to talk to from a purely production logistics point of view – Wendy Ellerker, for example, the show’s financial controller, who was really interesting. But because we had so much to cover, I just couldn’t find a way of fitting that in with the style and content of the rest of the book. The same goes for the make-up artist responsible for all the background artists, Niamh O’Loan. The level of detail that went into the look of every person in a shot, even those who were way in the background of a crowd scene, was extraordinary, and talking to her was great. But in the end, I just had to leave some pieces out, or cut some short when I would have liked to have been able to include more.
Sharon is no stranger to writing companion books. Her Battlestar Galactica companion book is another fan essential.
What’s your favorite Gothic novel and why? And, more generally speaking, what’s your favorite book?
I think Frankenstein has to be at the top of my list for Gothic novels, not only because of the story it tells but also for how it came to be and who wrote it. Mary Shelley – what a mind that woman had, and at so young an age!
I honestly don’t think I can choose a favourite book…
How does it feel to know that Penny Dreadful has some really passionate fans that had already pre-ordered the book?
I’m not at all surprised that Penny Dreadful has a passionate following – it deserves to, it’s a truly wonderful series. To those fans that who pre-ordered the book, all I can say is thank you, and I really hope you enjoy it!
Do you have any personal projects that you’re working on at the moment?
I’ve just finished The Sapphire Cutlass, as I mentioned, and I’ve got two other fiction books to work on as well – a YA Scandi-noir murder mystery and a younger children’s book. I’m also making preparatory notes for a series of adult detective novels set in a village a lot like the one I live in now.
Sharon also wrote a companion book for the two latest Planet of the Apes movies for Titan Books
Any last words for your fans who enjoy your work and to those Penny Dreadful fans who bought The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful?
If I have fans, then I am both astonished and humbled! All I can say is a very big thank you. I appreciate anyone taking the time to read anything I’ve written, and I hope you find something enjoyable in it.
And finally… Do you have anything motivational to say to writers or students first starting out?
I often say that writing is both very easy and very hard. It’s very easy because all you have to do is sit down at a keyboard and start. But it’s also very hard, because all you have to do is sit down at a keyboard and start. No one else can do it for you. You have to write. Write every day, even if it’s only a paragraph, even if it’s only a sentence. Make it a habit. Make it part of your day. And read – read a lot, very widely. Keep a notebook with you and never throw any idea away. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was, ‘Don’t be the writer you want to be, be the writer you are right now. Everything else will follow’. All you have to do to be a writer is write. But you have to write. So go ahead and start.
You can buy The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful HERE. The Penny Dreadful Special Edition Series for Dracula, Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray are available HERE. Sharon Gosling’s The Diamond Thief, The Ruby Airship and her other books are available on Amazon and Kindle. Follow Sharon and her adventures on Twitter.
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