04 avr. 2022Zoe Perrenoud: “A lot of adults read YA novels to escape”
A visit to the Centre Pompidou in Metz inspired author Zoe Perrenoud to write and publish Bloodlender, the first young adult novel of a trilogy. She talks about her homage to The Secret Garden and how it isn’t just young adults who love YA novels.
This gripping novel centres around Sophie, a 16-year-old schoolgirl growing up in Vichy who is haunted by her father’s murder. When and how did the idea for this novel come to you?
I first had the idea when I visited an exhibition about gardens at the Centre Pompidou in Metz, France. They had a documentary about the gardens of Bomarzo in Italy, owned by a noble Italian who lost his wife. He made this garden full of statues that were really impressive, but also some of them quite terrifying, to reflect the darker side of life.
I wanted to write about this man who made this garden for his wife. But I wanted to find something set in the present day. And then I took inspiration from The Secret Garden, a girl who loses her parents, is sent to a big manor, where there’s a boy who is sick and a secret garden. It's kind of an homage to The Secret Garden because I like that story. I tied the two together.
The Gardens of Bomarzo, Italy, which served as inspiration for the novel.
There was interest from agents but the book is self-published. What made you choose this path?
I got quite a lot of tentative interest from agents. They liked the idea but didn’t know how to market it or they wanted me to make changes, which I did. I was pregnant with my first child at the time. It took two years and resulted in a much better book. But then when I got back in touch, the person who'd requested the changes didn't like all of them and she wanted some of the stuff changed back. I tried other agents. I gave birth again. It got to the point where I thought, right, I just need to get this book out because if I don't, I’m not going to write the next one. And one of my favourite sayings I've come across on the internet is what's your best book? My next one!
Bloodlender is part of a trilogy. Presumably, this also influenced your decision?
I received an offer from a small press to publish it. But they wanted to change the ending, perhaps to align more with reader or market expectations. I was ready to consider that, but it didn't work with what I'd planned next, with book two. And so I thought, I'm gonna fight for my story and publish it myself. I'm a part of a lot of Facebook groups that focus on self-publishing. And so I knew I could find the resources I needed to make it work.
The story is set in Vichy and you use some French words in the text. What was thinking behind that?
I've read several books that do this in different languages. And I think that if you use it very carefully, people will get what the meaning of the word is even if they don't really know it. So I use French for terms of endearment. I use some swear words in English, but I find sometimes it's easier for me to get away with a French swear word that I think works better than an English one. I think what do I need to use for maximum impact? I'm also aware that it's aimed at young adults and I feel like if I'm writing this word in French, I can get away with it. I have a couple of F bombs in there. But really specific moments where I felt like nothing else would do. And I think if I'm going to set it in France, I want it to have a bit of a French flavour.
Vichy, the setting, is one of the largest spa towns in France, whose founding dates back to Gallo-Roman times. Why did you set your story here?
My Mum ran a bed and breakfast near Vichy for six years. That’s why I chose it. The house that she had wasn’t like a manor house, it was around 150 years old, and had a huge garden. It was a short but really nice chapter in the life of the family and I kind of wanted to reference that in a way. Book two is going to be set in Switzerland, so I will use more of my background there.
Did the historical context and water element of Vichy play a role?
Yes, the water element is very important. The water wasn’t in the first draft. I felt I wasn't using the surrounding settings enough in my initial version, and so when it came time to rewrite it, and focus more on the magic side of things, I decided to use what is there and that’s the water and it worked out.
Perrenoud’s first YA novel, Bloodlender, is pictured next to a themed cake from Bakes by Elena, from the book launch in March 2022.
There is also a very strong Celtic or Gaul tradition mythology woven into the story. What was it that you found so vivid about these legends?
I wanted to understand where the magic comes from. In Bloodlender, the Gods gave this magical gift which they were only able to give once to their followers to help them fight off the Roman invasion. But there weren’t enough of them and they've not been able to multiply, having been hunted down throughout history. The mythology comes from the idea that the Gods have kept themselves in existence by having this group of followers that depend on control of their powers. They're bound to worship them if they want to carry on with their magic. I want to explore that more in books two and three.
Nature plays a pivotal role in the story. Is there a particular message that you wanted to convey through the book?
I suppose you could say that with the example of the garden and Rodolph influencing the plants to suit his needs, when you go too far, nature turns on you. It's a delicate balance of using what's there to help yourself thrive without taking too much. The whole science versus magic thing is also going to play a big part in book two.
How buoyant is the young adult market in this genre?
It's saturated. There's so much which is basically what the agents told me but contrary to them, I don't believe that it's impossible to find your audience. Funnily enough, most of my readers are not young adults. I think a lot of adults read YA novels to escape. They like the themes, the larger-than-life ideas, the escapism.
What is it that appeals to you about this market?
It’s a genre I enjoy and I think when you're a teenager, everything's possible. You haven't set your life on a certain track yet. You haven't got married, had children, found a job, you don’t necessarily know what you want to do in life. It's a difficult moment. Your body's changing, you're learning lots of things, you have exams, you're being asked to make these really big decisions about the rest of your life. I think it's a moment when a lot can happen.
Bloodlender was published in March 2022. Are you planning any promotional events?
I’m taking part in two discussion panels for Luxcon, a three-day convention for sci-fi and fantasy. One is about horror in children’s and YA fiction, the other is the current trend of killing off characters in books and films and whether you’re gaining or losing readers because of it. I will also have a table at the convention and I’ll do a reading.
Bloodlender can be purchased from Amazon in paperback or Kindle format. Zoe Perrenoud is a dual British-Swiss national who has been living and working in Luxembourg since 2012. She is author, painter, foodie and dancer. See her at Luxcon from 8-10 April.