We are continuing along the space theme this week, this time focussing on Kate Ling.
I have long been a fan of Kate Ling’s work. Her trilogy, the Ventura saga, explore space through mental health problems, new planets, sentient coral, passionate romances, chronic illnesses, post-apocalyptic Wales and the adventure of escaping the life you were born into. Her main characters, Seren and Bea, are both complex girls who know what they want in life, and hang anyone gets in their way — which makes sense, given they are related.
The third book The Truth of Different Skies, which is also technically a prequel to the previous two, was released earlier this year and I thought it was a great time to ask Kate some questions and give you guys the opportunity to win shiny new copies of all three books.
If you’re going to YALC this weekend, come join Kate’s workshop at 3pm on Friday workshop “Written in the Stars”, which will explore her love of space in fun and creative ways.
What inspired the Ventura Saga?
I’ve always enjoyed writing love stories, and I feel like you do a better job writing what you enjoy. So these books were always going to be about love. The sci-fi setting came from my love of all things sci-fi, and my enthusiasm for space and science in general (all of my top five movies are sci-fi). But I’ve also always been kind-of obsessed with the real SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) program, and what would happen if they do actually make a discovery. How would humanity possibly make a journey that would take centuries? And that’s when I started thinking about what it would be like to be born in the middle of a mission like that; to be born to die, all without leaving the ship. Wouldn’t that be depressing? So I think the idea of Seren struggling with her mental health was common sense, and also addressing the fact that we ALL struggle with our mental health at some time in one way or another was something I cared about. This is when it seemed like everything was coming together, particularly when I began to contrast the passion and heat of first love with the cold and dark of space, and the restriction and sterility of the Ventura regime.
What was the process of designing not only the Ventura but the way of life on board like? Is there anything about the Ventura that didn’t make it to the page that you can share?
Great question! It ended up being more complicated than I originally anticipated, that’s for sure. It came into my head quite organically at first but, once I had my publishing deal and a great editor, she pointed out any little inconsistencies or things I hadn’t explained properly. This meant I had to go back to the drawing board and draw maps (I did cross sections, floor plans, the works – and it turns out I’m a terrible cartographer, despite being married to a geography teacher!). Then I had to do some sums – working out numbers, population graphs, drawing diagrams – basically thinking my way logically through the breeding program, the work assignments, all the things that would make the system onboard work. I enlisted the help of a physics teacher I know with a couple of technicalities but I’m not sure I ever got my head round them (artificial gravity being one example!). One thing that never made it to the page was the economic system on board. It was actually a student at the school I work in who helped me figure this out, but in the end my editor felt we didn’t need it.
Who has been your favourite character to write: Seren or Bea? Which other character would you love to write a POV from?
Hey, another great question! I loved writing Seren because she’s so cynical and brutally honest – she always says what she thinks – and yet at the same time so sensitive and vulnerable. As I said before, her mental health issues are something dear to my heart, and also something I have experience of, so she was a character I felt I needed to write.
But I also love Bea. She’s Seren’s great grandmother, and in many ways they’re similar. Ultimately their stories are mirror images of each other, but they’re both just looking for a way out of the lives they’re trapped in. What I love about Bea is that she has so many obstacles but she doesn’t let any of them stop her. She suffers from an invisible illness, which is again something I have personal experience of and really wanted to write about. Both of my heroines are raw and real and flawed and they don’t always do what’s right – just like real people. I missed Seren so much when I first started writing from Bea’s perspective – but then, in a way, I felt like Bea came to life even more so for me.
One character I would love to write from the POV of is Ezra, a major character in my first and second books. He just has this great, sarcastic, dry wit and his voice was always so vivid to me. He also revealed himself, as much to my surprise as anyone’s, to have hidden depths and be far more complex than he first appeared. Those are the best kinds of characters.
Was The Truth Of Different Skies always planned to be the third book?
I always knew I would write this part of the story. What’s strange is that one of the first starting points when The Loneliness of Distant Beings was first coming together in my mind, was those one-way missions to Mars they were recruiting for. I heard about them on the news and found myself wondering who would ever sign up for such a thing – going off into the unknown, into space, and never returning. I had even written the beginning of a first draft from that perspective before, suddenly and unbidden, Seren popped into my mind – a girl born right in the middle of a several hundred year mission she hadn’t signed up to and would never see the end of. Maybe it just felt right to start the journey with her, in the middle, with no context, in order to feel the way she does about it. But seeing it through the eyes of a recruit was something I always knew I would do. One reviewer recently mentioned the fact that, while quite a lot of books are set on space missions, relatively few address the recruitment stage, and it felt fresh and exciting when I was writing it, so I hope that comes across.
While the first two books are set in space, The Truth Of Different Skies is mostly set in Wales and Spain. What made you choose these two countries?
Seren was always linked to Wales (her name means ‘star’ in Welsh) so I knew I would give her origins there, but I also feel like it’s a place that doesn’t get written about as often as it should. The Ventura was built and owned by a Spanish company so I always felt La Verdad (the space facility where they discovered the signal and from which they recruit for the mission) should be based there. The behind-the-scenes reasons for these settings are that I am married to a Welshman and so have spent a lot of time there, and that I live in Spain. I love both places and loved reading a lot about what their futures might look like, as well as extrapolating my own theories. I loved taking what I know and love about their landscapes and societies now and turning them into something new. I have taken the very road trip in the book several times so I knew it was something I could really make lift off the page, in terms of the sights and sounds and sensations of that journey.
I always like to ask writers if their characters look like anyone famous (or just a random face from Pinterest). Do any of your characters have famous faces, or people you’d hope would play them in a movie?
I get asked this a lot and the truth is I’ve never quite found anyone to match the faces I have in my head. I like to think that’s because the perfect people are as yet undiscovered! They would have to be pretty young (and therefore probably unknown) but I feel so sure that my books would make awesome movies that I hope I live to see the day that they do. In an ideal world scenario, I’d love Andrea Arnold to make it – she’s such an exciting director.
What I do tend to borrow from a little is real life. A fair few of my characters share certain characteristics with people I know, or have known. My husband gets mad when he spots his own physical traits in my love interests, but I always point out he should feel flattered to be my muse. Taylor Swift had Harry Styles, and I have him.
One thing I love about the Ventura saga is that there’s always something you as the author hold back until late in the book (when usually I tweet at you going !?!?!?!?!). Does the twist come early in the writing for you, or as you go?
I adore good twists in books I read and films I watch, so I always hope to come up with a great one myself. The truth is that with those moments in all three books, I only came up with them as I went. Weirdly they seemed to be brought about by the characters themselves in a way. In each case I began writing and seeing the way the characters interact and it suddenly became clear that they were heading towards surprising everybody, by doing this interesting, unpredictable thing. That sounds hokey I know, but it’s true.
Will we see more from the Ventura saga? What are you working on at the moment?
So many people have asked me now whether I will write more Ventura books and the truth is I do have ideas for several more, so we’ll see. I hadn’t planned to. I feel there’s a completeness to the trilogy – a symmetry – but there’s also so many new directions that would be interesting to explore within the world of it, so I wouldn’t rule it out completely.
At the moment I am working on something new and I was about to say completely different, but then I realized that wasn’t quite the case. Love stories, or at least emotive stories about human beings, are always at the forefront of what I do, but I do tend to slide into sci-fi settings, or at least somewhat other-worldly contexts, and I think that is set to continue.
What has been the biggest influence on your life as a writer?
Well, I guess other writers that I read and love are what influence me to a certain extent. The close-up, voicey, first person narrative style that I have was really influenced by reading Kerouac and Salinger and Bret Easton Ellis as a young teen. The more contemporary and YA writers that I read continue to help me improve my own structuring and plotting and inspire me.
The TV and movies that I love (always dark in tone, often sci-fi) also feed into my writing, which I always feel is very filmic. Battlestar Galactica has a lot to answer for in giving me the atmosphere of Ventura!
But mostly it’s life that lends me its beauty. I’ve been lucky enough to travel widely. I’ve lived in Australia, Africa, Latin America and now continental Europe. I’ve left everything and everyone I know behind several times to journey into the unknown… and I think you can see that influence strongly in the themes I choose to write about.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m still recovering from how much I loved Melinda Salisbury’s STATE OF SORROW and Alice Oseman’s I Was Born For This, so I’ve been on a break from YA for a month or so. I just finished The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, which I thought was just staggering in its scale and skill, and The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, which was truly a tour a de force.
What book are you most looking forward to in 2018?
I’m already anticipating Rainbow Rowell’s Wayward Son (even though it’s still a couple of years away!) because I loved Carry On more than words can say. But a book we should all be looking forward to in 2018 is The Light Between Us by Katie Khan. I’m lucky enough to be reading it right now, as I got it on Net Galley, and it is just as gripping and surprising and unpredictable as her first (Hold Back the Stars). I love Katie’s books because they’re right up my alley – human and moving and complex contemporary within an inventive sci-fi context.
You can read my reviews of each of Kate’s books here.
And now! Time for a giveaway! Enter HERE.
I will draw a winner at 9pm on Thursday the 26th of July, and if the winner is going to YALC I will hand them their copies at Kate’s workshop on the Friday. Else I can pop them in the post (in which case it will be UK only).