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Five questions with Genevieve Cogman

On the blog this week is author Genevieve Cogman, whose Invisible Library series centres around the eternal struggle between the forces of chaos and order, represented respectively by the Fae and the Dragons. The fifth and latest instalment, The Mortal Word, continues librarian protagonist Irene’s story.  We caught up with Genevieve to talk about keeping a multi-book series fresh, the perils of research and how unlikely skill sets can save the day!

Instead of physical prowess, Irene uses her formidable linguistic knowledge as a weapon. Does the fantasy genre need more protagonists (especially female ones) who use the skills of their profession instead of ditching them to become ‘kick ass’ warriors?

I have no objection to ‘kick ass warriors’, but I also enjoy seeing characters – both male and female – using their professional skills to help resolve the plot. In Barbara Hambly’s Darwath series, the female protagonist does train with a sword, but it’s her skills as a trained historian and researcher that are vital to the plot’s resolution. Michaela Roessner’s The Stars Dispose and The Stars Compel are a fantasy about a (male) cook in Medici Italy, and his skills are a crucial part of the story. In recent Doctor Who (10th Doctor), his current companion Donna points out the holes in a company’s records due to her own experience in working as a temp, identifying a crucial lead. I think there’s something very satisfying in seeing a character use their own personal areas of expertise to handle a situation.

What are the challenges involved in writing an ongoing series? How do you keep things fresh?

I’m trying to keep things fresh – for myself, and for my readers – by having different challenges in each book. Whether it’s a book-retrieval, or a rescue mission, or an investigation into a conspiracy, or an attempt to stop political manipulation, or a murder mystery . . . While I appreciate that readers do often want ‘more of the same’, having nothing but the same would be boring, both for me and for them. Being able to visit different settings (in time and space) does help.

All of your books feature historical periods, which you bring very vividly to life. How much research goes into recreating these settings? Is this part of the joy of having multiple worlds to explore?

I’m very glad that the descriptions work! I do research the locations and time periods where I’m setting the books, though that can be a trap in itself; sometimes I write myself into a corner because I’m trying to get it ‘right’, which may be accurate research but spoils the story. I have to remind myself that these are alternate worlds, and a bit of divergence from our reality is acceptable, as long as I can come up with a plausible reason for it. My research can include guide books, reference books, online sources, and viewing relevant television and movies. Sometimes the “feel” of a period, or a genre, is as important as the historical accuracy.

To those who have yet to pick up The Invisible Library, why should they do so? And to those of us eagerly awaiting the next instalment, what can we expect from The Mortal Word?

If you want a story about librarians, dragons, Sherlock Holmes (or a close avatar), mysteries, plotting, and cyborg alligators, pick up The Invisible Library and I hope you’ll be entertained. And if you want a murder mystery at a peace conference in 1890s Paris, with everyone’s cunning schemes colliding with each other and possible war on the horizon, and the heroine’s life, love, parents and sanity at stake, then try The Mortal Word. And I hope you’ll like it.

Genevieve Cogman is the author of the Invisible Library series. She has an MSC in Statistics with Medical Applications and works as a classifications specialist, and lives in the north of England. She has also previously worked as a freelance roleplaying game writer.

Her hobbies include patchwork, beading, knitting, gaming, and sleeping in at weekends.

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