We caught up with author C. B. Lyall, whose novel The Virus of Beauty poses some interesting questions about power dynamics in our image-conscious society.

The way someone looks directly influencing their level of power is intriguing and echoes the media’s obsession with image. How did you come up with this idea?

In this case, inspiration was pretty much everywhere. The obsession with image stares back at you through large faces on billboards, adverts on T.V. and across social media. I simply let my imagination have some fun with it. Let’s face it, in our society if you’re perceived to be attractive, you’re more likely to be listened to and your opinions sought after, that is power. So, the fantastical world of The Virus of Beauty is full of powerful witches and wizards. Naturally their obsession with looks reflects their own concepts of power, specifically the uglier the witch the more powerful she is.

And if you’re a society of all-powerful witches who are proud of their hideousness and the magical ability it represents, what could be worse than a virus that robs witches of their power and makes them drop-dead gorgeous? Similarly, who else would be behind such a twisted plot to strip witches of their strength, but power-greedy wizards who want to maintain the patriarchy? Thus, my world was born. 

I do believe there’s more to people than whether or not they’re attractive, or what gender they are, and we certainly shouldn’t be distributing power based on gender or beauty. 

What inspired you to make a teenage boy your protagonist?

As the mother of three young men I thought the best way to show the growth of the protagonist was through the eyes of a teenage boy. Wilf is thrust into a confusing world with new rules just like my sons experience during our frequent international moves from the UK to USA, Belgium, India and Hong Kong.

The realities of gender inequality actively shape your story. Do you feel we have made any positive progress in recent years?

While some progress has been made, I think we still have a long way to go. When I started writing The Virus of Beauty images of the suffragette movement and women’s issues came to mind. In the beginning of my story the wizards control all the power and they want to keep it. In doing this, they want the witches to remain in a subservient role. But a group of renegade witches seize control of Mathowytch to put an end to this. Negotiations between the wizards and witches stall and the wizards decide to develop the virus to keep the witches in the place. This throws the balance of power totally out-of-whack and threatens the world they live in. 

Why is fantasy such a good vehicle to address these issues?

Doesn’t everyone deserve a little magic in their lives? I love that fantasy lets an author build worlds and complex characters within action driven adventures. I believe a good story should leave readers with food for thought. I mean, Fairy Tales have always been used as a vehicle to express moral lessons. In The Virus of Beauty, I wanted to create a world where everyday gender inequalities were at the forefront of a world-ending conflict. I hope the voices of Wilf, Katryna and Myra leave readers reflecting on the comparisons between the story’s conflicts and current events. 

Pitch us The Virus of Beauty! What will tempt a reader into your world?

If you like complicated characters, broom-flying powerful witches, a world of magic, conflict, a little bit of plaque and teenage love then The Virus of Beauty is the experience for you. Be warned once you enter this world, you may find it difficult to leave.

C. B. Lyall grew up in Stockton-on-Tees, England. Since then, she has lived in India, Belgium, Hong Kong and the USA. She currently resides in the Hudson Valley, north of New York, with her husband. She has three adult sons and a grandson. She is currently working on the second book in the Wilf Gilvary Series.