I have been championing Will Hill's Department 19 ever since I first read it last year and now that it is finally released it is great to see that there are so many people who feel the same way about it as I do. I was therefore really flattered when I was asked if I would be interested in having Will write an article for The Book Zone as part of his Department 19 blog tour:
Even though Department 19 has only been out for a few days, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to talk to quite a few people who read it early. It’s a nerve-wracking thing, to be honest – even with people who have been kind enough to Tweet or email nice things about the book, talking to them in person is still a different beast. I’m always worried that they’re suddenly going to point at me, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-style, and start doing that weird screeching thing, exposing me as a fraud and a phony.
Thankfully, that hasn’t happened. Yet.
One of the nicest things that I’ve been able to find out through talking to people is who their favourite characters are. I’ve had people tell me almost every character in the book, from the boy who spends most of it in a coma to Alexandru, the utterly, amorally evil vampire villain. But there are a few names that come up more often than the others, and it’s been very gratifying that those names are also my favourites. One of them, which I won’t disclose here, is perhaps unsurprising.
The other is Larissa, the teenage vampire girl. And that did surprise me. It surprised me that other people like her, and it made me extremely happy, because she’s my favourite, and because she was never originally intended to be a major character in Department 19.
In my original plan for the novel, she had a specific purpose to serve – she was to be a living demonstration to Jamie of just how dangerous the world he find himself dragged into really is. And I won’t spoil how, but she definitely, really does. When the chapter in question was done, I moved on, and that should have been the end of her.
But it wasn’t. As I kept writing, my mind kept drifting back to her, languishing in the cells in the basement of the Department 19 base, and I kept thinking of ways I could bring her back, just for fun. Because I liked her. Even though she was a vampire and a slightly evil badass who almost killed my hero, I still really liked her.
I’ve gone on at length elsewhere about my love for Buffy The Vampire Slayer, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say, I think it’s one of the best two or three TV programmes of all time, and not just because it’s funny, and scary, and painfully, horrible real despite its fantasy setting. I loved it because of Buffy herself; an absolutely three-dimensional teenage girl, who spent much of the entire run lamenting how much slaying interfered with her dating schedule and wishing she could afford better shoes. Joss Whedon, the genius who devised Buffy, once said that his inspiration “came from seeing too many blondes walking into dark alleyways and being killed. I wanted, just once, for her to fight back when the monster attacked and kick his ass.”
I’m with him. Women in horror fiction have historically had a tough time of it, mostly restricted to the equally boring roles of eye candy and victim. There have been exceptions; Clarice Starling in The Silence Of The Lambs (which is absolutely a horror, both the novel and the brilliant film that was adapted from it), Carrie White in Carrie, Kirsty in The Hellbound Heart. But not many.
Larissa was born at least partly out of my desire to not fall into this trap. Quietly, but insistently, she started to suggest herself to me; her backstory got fleshed out without my really having noticed I was doing it, her motivations became clearer, and more upsetting, and the vampire girl became a girl who was a vampire; a very important distinction, to my mind at least. She became the dark mirror to Jamie, in many ways. Someone as damaged and frightened as him, haunted by events in her past that she had not asked for, nor been able to prevent, attempting to be something that she believed was expected of her, while inside she was merely trying to stay afloat.
After a few weeks I gave in. I tore up most of the plan for Department 19, and allowed her to take her place in the middle of it, where I realised she belonged. She worked her way into my head, and refused to leave, and I became so fond of her that I stopped wanting her to.
I’ve been so very pleased to discover that other people feel as strongly about her as I do. Thanks to her I now get asked one question more than any other, a question I never anticipated when I was writing the book; is there any hope for Jamie and Larissa?
For that, I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait and see. But you might want to cross your fingers for them.
Huge thanks to Will for this great post. Larissa is a fantastic character, although if I am to be brutally honest I'm not bothered about whether there is any hope for Jamie and Larissa - I just want to read more about her ripping out people's throats and gorging on their blood.