Douglas R. Cobb gets a chance to chat with author Catherine Jinks about where she lives and all of her various books. You can check out his reviews of Living Hell and The Reformed Vampire Support Group here at the site.
Douglas R. Cobb: Cathy, before I ask you specific questions about your novels, I like to ask you to please talk a little about New South Wales, where you live with your husband and daughter. I’m unfamiliar with this region, and I’m guessing many of our readers also are, and would like to know how large it is, the sorts of animals that live there, what life is like there, and anything else you might like to mention about New South Wales.
Catherine Jinks: New South Wales is actually a very big state with a great variety of terrain, from the semi-tropical beaches on the north coast to the alpine region in the south (where Australia’s highest mountain is) to the desert in the west, so there’s a huge range of plants and animals to choose from. I live in a place called the Blue Mountains, which are more like blue hills; most of this area is a huge national park that lies just outside Sydney, and it’s a tourist destination because it’s VERY beautiful. The climate up here is more like England, with the odd dusting of snow in winter, although it’s also the most bushfire-prone spot on the planet because of the eucalypt forests. The birdlife here is very special, with all kinds of parrots and parakeets, as well as possums, wallabies, echidnas, quolls (which are like marsupial wild cats), various big lizards and snakes, of course – you can’t get away from snakes in Australia.
I like living in this particular region because it’s quieter and cheaper than Sydney (where I used to live), and because the air is so clean. There’s also a train line to Sydney, so if I’ve got cabin fever I can always take a trip to the Big Smoke.
Now, I’ll ask you a few questions about your latest YA novel currently out just this month in the United States, Living Hell. The spaceship Plexus is supposed to be the comforting, safe habitat of over a thousand people who are headed for a planet to colonize and give the human race a second chance. However, an immense wave of radiation the Plexus can’t entirely evade changes it into a living entity, and it starts to behave as if the humans are unwelcome invaders, bacteria that needs to be destroyed.
This is your first SF novel, though some of your other books have elements of science and futuristic themes to them. What are some of your influences, or SF novels you’ve enjoyed reading?
Actually, ‘Living Hell’ isn’t my first SF book – it’s the first one to be published in America. I’ve written two other SF books for teenagers – Eye to Eye and The Future Trap, both of which are now out of print. (As a matter of fact, Eye to Eye won the Children’s Book of the Year award over here back in the ’90s.)
As far as influences go, Living Hell was probably influenced more by films like “Alien” than any particular books, though I was a big reader of science fiction when I was young, and was especially fond of Asimov’s robot and Foundation books.
I found myself comparing Plexus in my mind to the spaceship AI HAL from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Plexus takes the idea of a spaceship turning hostile to an entirely different level. Could you please tell our readers some of the ways the ship changes, and what happens to a robot dog that one of Cheney’s friends makes?
Spoiler alert! Well, the ship becomes an organism and everything run by the ship’s central computer system becomes part of that organism. But self-contained machines (like the robot dog) become organisms in their own right.
Many of the people aboard Plexus don’t make it to the end of the book alive. What are a couple of the things that Cheney and his friends do to evade Plexus’s best efforts to do them in?
Spoiler alert again! To avoid the ship’s immune system, Cheney and the others disconnect their communication devices, which link them to the ship’s central computer. They also do a lot of hiding and running – not to mention arming themselves with a molotov cocktail and a samurai sword!
I hope to read more SF from you in the future, but now I’ll ask you some questions about the other book of yours I reviewed for this site, The Reformed Vampire Support Group. How are Nina and the other vampires in the support group different from vampires, say, in Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight novel, or Ann Rice’s Interview with a Vampire?
Since I haven’t read either of these books I’m not ABSOLUTELY sure, though the whole point of The Reformed Vampire Support Group is to debunk the myth. I’m an enthusiastic debunker. Reality is never as glamorous or as romantic as people like to think it is, and going through life in a fantasy world is downright dangerous. Also, I get annoyed with characters who have ‘special powers’. (Who cares what happens to them if they’re strong and beautiful and cool?) So I liked the idea of writing about ‘real’ vampires, who are essentially disabled by a chronic illness and have to cope as best they can.
When someone in Nina’s group is murdered, they all realize that their own lives are also in danger, and their usually selfish behavior has to be somewhat put aside. They all have to work together to discover whom is behind the murder, so they can stop the same fate from happening to them. Why does a Catholic priest help them out, and who else does she travel with on their search to find the killer?
Various churches throughout the world are renowned for their charity work and for helping out the disadvantaged, so I thought it would be appropriate (and funny) to have a Catholic priest facilitating the support group meetings. As for the composition of the group itself, I wanted to have a nice range of people involved – especially the kind of people who don’t normally have much representation in teen lit. So as well as having the hip young ex-guitarist I have an elderly former nun with bad hips, and a middle-aged male doctor with a mustache.
There are many interesting, humorous, and colorful characters in The Reformed Vampire Support Group. One of the most interesting, to me, was a werewolf Nina and her friends encounter in their search, who becomes one of their new friends. Under what circumstances does Nina meet the werewolf?
Nina and her friends end up rescuing the werewolf – whose name is Reuben – from an illegal werewolf-fighting ring. (Reuben will be a prominent character in the upcoming sequel, The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group.)
Next, I have some questions I’d like to ask you about Evil Genius and Genius Squad.
How did you first get the idea to base a novel and a series on an evil boy genius? Where did you get the name Cadel Pigott? Are any of the characters in these books based on anyone you’ve known?
I get most of my names out of a baby-name book that I have sitting on my desk and ‘Cadel’ seemed like a good one because it means ‘battle’ in Welsh – and Cadel’s life is one big battle. As for Piggott, it’s the name of the author of an illustrated poem that I have hanging on my wall – it just seemed right, somehow.
The idea of having an evil boy genius came about when I first saw Elijah Wood in ‘Lord of the Rings’ and thought: ‘Imagine if you looked that ANGELIC and were actually a nasty little monster!”
Why does Cadel, in Evil Genius, become fascinated by Sidney’s transportation system? And, could you please tell our readers how Cadel becomes a student at the Axis Institute, and what sort of classes he takes there? Also, who is Thaddeus Roth?
Hackers with mathematical tendencies traditionally love complicated systems that they can fiddle with and I thought that messing with a traffic grid would be nice and dramatic.
Thaddeus Roth starts out as Cadel’s psychologist, but quickly becomes his guru and then his greatest enemy – it’s a complicated relationship, that one! It’s Thaddeus who persuades Cadel to enroll at the Axis Institute, which is a kind of University of Evil, designed to train up master criminals. Cadel ends up doing courses like Embezzlement, Fraud, Disguise and Infiltration (computer hacking).
Who does Cadel come to believe is his real father, and what does he learn about the people who he thought were his parents?
I can’t really answer that, because the whole issue of Cadel’s ‘real’ father is a complex one that isn’t truly resolved until the last book – which hasn’t been published in the U.S. yet. I can say, however, that the Piggotts aren’t his real parents!
Who us Il Primo, and why does Cadel develop a friendship with this person via his computer? What does Cadel call himself, and why,when he writes to Il Primo?
Double spoiler alert! Sonja is Il Primo and she’s the second most important motivating force in Cadel’s life – when he meets her, he realizes that his view of the world has been seriously flawed by his upbringing. As for what Cadel calls himself – I’ve completely forgotten! (I tend to keep everything about the book I’m writing in my head, but when I’ve finished the series, it all trickles out again.) [Note: He calls himself “Stormer”]
I really didn’t think there was any possibility you could continue Cadel’s story after what happens to him and the Axis Institute by the conclusion of Evil Genius, but to me, at any rate, Genius Squad is at least as good as the first book, and might be even better. I was glad to see that his friendship with Il Primo is continued, and that the people who care the most for him give him the opportunity to break away from his past.
That’s not so easy to do, though, as Cadel finds out. First, he’s at a sort of half-way, or safe, house, one that’s not-so-safe. What does he try to do through the help of the new friends he meets there (and a couple from the first novel), and using a computer he’s supplied? What is the hidden agenda of the people who operate the house?
Genius Squad is ostensibly trying to bring down an evil corporation – but of course it’s not really that simple. (It never is, with my Genius books.) Because no matter how hard he tries, Cadel can never get away from Thaddeus Roth’s looming shadow.
Thaddeus Roth is again an important character in Genius Squad. I won’t ask you to reveal a revelation he tells Cadel, though feel free to, if you want to–but, what causes Cadel to become disillusioned with Roth by the end of the novel?
The relationship between Thaddeus and Cadel is the driving force behind the entire series. Though the books are full of twists and technology, they’re basically about Cadel’s struggle to separate himself from Thaddeus and Thaddeus’s influence. As he grows up, Cadel begins to realise that Thaddeus has a strangely blinkered (and hugely dangerous) view of the world – and that he was responsible for the death of Cadel’s own mother.
Though I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading your other novels, one series I read about at your website looked like it’d be definitely a series I’d like to check out and maybe review in the coming months (really, that goes for your books for adults, and your novels in general, as well). It’s made up of the novels in your Allie’s Ghost Hunters series.
I hate to limit any audience for children’s or YA novels by bringing up age ranges, because the best children’s and YA literature is timeless, and can be enjoyed by anyone. Just look at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for two examples out of many that come to mind–or, Roald Dahl’s books. But, could you please tell our readers the age range this series is primarily directed at, and also how many books are currently in it, and what they’re about?
Allie’s Ghost Hunters consists of four books: Eglantine, Eustace, Eloise and Elysium. They’re written for the 9-to-12-year age group and they’re about a girl called Alethea and her friends who live in Sydney and end up running into ghosts all the time. Eglantine is about a ghost who keeps writing things on the walls of one room in Allie’s new house – and her family’s attempts to exorcise it with feng shui and paranormal investigators and so forth. Eustace is about the ghost she encounters on a school camp; Eloise is about the ghost of a dead baby haunting a friend’s house and Elysium is about a holiday trip to an infamously haunted set of caves (which are real caves that are located not far from where I live). I enjoyed writing these books because of the kind of research I had to do – which included talking to a real-life paranormal investigator.
There are many more questions I’d like to ask you, but maybe I can save some of them for a future interview. But, I’d like to just ask you when the third novel of your Genius series, The Genius Wars, will be out in the USA, and also what, if anything, you’re writing now?
The Genius Wars will be published in the USA this fall – late September, I believe. As for what I’m writing now – well, I’m just finishing a kind of fantasy novel for middle-grade readers before I start on a new teen novel that isn’t a sequel to anything; I don’t know if you’d call it science fiction or fantasy or what, because it’s a pretty weird idea!
Thanks, Cathy, for doing this interview with me! I had a great time doing the interview with you, and I hope that I and this site have done at least a small part in getting the word out that your novels are some of the best children’s and YA literature out there today. I and the entire staff here wish you even more success in the coming years, and I hope reviews of your works will grace the pages here again in the future!
Photo of Catherine by Peter Dockrill cropped for use.