Having already released the first two books of a trilogy, YA author Chris Russell is already making a name for himself in the world of literature. The first in the series, Songs About A Girl, was released last year and introduces the fictional boy band, Fire&Lights. The books are perfect for any music fan and the trilogy’s popularity is rapidly growing ahead of the final book next year. We talked to Chris about his book series, his own band The Lightyears and attending YALC.
How did the trilogy Songs About A Girl come about?
A few years back, I picked up a freelance job ghostwriting for a One Direction fan-site in Australia. I was spending every day trawling through 1D gossip on the web, and pretty soon, I developed a genuine obsession with the band (Harry in particular 😀). On top of that, I was interacting directly with teenage fans, and it gave me a real insight into the intoxicating power of fandom. I woke up one day and thought: there’s a novel in this.
For those that haven’t heard about your books, what can people expect from them?
Romance, pop music, fangirling, obsession, heartbreak and mystery.
Who designs the artwork for your books?
My publisher, Hodder Children’s, have in-house designers who are in charge of the covers. Alison Padley created the first one, and Sarah Baldwin designed the second. They’ve done an absolutely stunning job – and the holofoil glints in the light! Perfect.
The second instalment of this series, Songs About Us, was published last month, what has the feedback been like so far?
I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the reaction to Songs About Us. It’s pretty nerve-racking to release a sequel because your existing readers have expectations, but people have been so lovely and enthusiastic about the book, I couldn’t really ask for more. Also, my involvement with the Zoella & Friends Book Club has brought me a fair few new readers, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. (I found out the other day that one of them is planning to get a Songs About a Girl tattoo! How exciting.)
Is there anything you can tell us about your new book which won’t give spoilers for those that haven’t started reading the series yet?
In book two, you get a much deeper insight into the private lives of the various members of my fictional boy band, Fire&Lights. There’s lots going on behind-the-scenes that the fans don’t get to see, but as Charlie develops close friendships with all four boys, you start to get a glimpse into what makes them tick – their insecurities and anxieties, and the problems they face going through adolescence in the celebrity spotlight.
Would people understand the storyline of Songs About Us without having read Songs About A Girl?
I would definitely recommend reading Songs About a Girl first! The trilogy has quite a complex plot, with multiple twists and turns, and it would be tricky to follow if you skipped the first novel. More importantly, the opening of book two is chock-full of book one spoilers!!
Did you find the sequel easier to write?
In a sense, yes – I already had the foundation of book one (the characters, the settings, the action) to build on. But at the same time, no. Every book is a struggle… that never changes! Mind you, this is part of the mysterious and wonderful craft of being an author, and you have to embrace it.
Have you started work on the final book and when is this due to be released?
I have indeed! Songs About a Boy will be published next summer, and you can pre-order it here: http://amzn.to/2xsd866 (**Don’t read the book three blurb until you’ve finished Songs About Us, though – it contains spoilers!)
Your recent flight from Croatia was delayed, you must have been concerned you would not make YALC, how did the day turn out?
I was a little, yes! But it all worked out OK in the end. I had such a fantastic day at YALC – I hung out with some fab authors, signed autographs for an hour and a half and had one of my panels upstaged by Benedict Cumberbatch (#cumbercrashed, I call it).
You’re also a musician, can you tell us about your band The Lightyears?
I started the band with my best friend, George, when we were thirteen. We saw Bon Jovi perform at Wembley Stadium and went: “that looks like a lark – shall we give it a go?!”. Needless to say, we never made it anywhere near as big as Bon Jovi, but we have been lucky enough to tour all over the world and share a stage with members of Queen and The Who… and we’ve even played at Wembley Stadium a few times, just as we dreamed we would when we were kids. Plus, George and I are still BFFs. We were best men at each other’s weddings, and I’m godfather to his second son. It’s a lifelong bromance, basically.
What were your fellow band members’ reaction to you getting a book deal?
They were really supportive. I mean, they think it’s hilarious that I’m obsessed with One Direction, but over time they’ve become accustomed to my fangirl tendencies 😀. We had a gig in Portugal recently, and they came across my book in the airport WHSmith – I think they were pretty impressed!
Do you think you have more recognition as a musician or an author?
These days, I spend more time on writing than music, but my two careers are very closely intertwined. Touring the world with The Lightyears gave me something to write about – it gave me a story – and without the band, it’s possible I would never have become a novelist in the first place. I guess I’m more recognised now for my novels than for the band, but in a sense, they’re two sides of the same coin.
Do you visit schools as an author, musician or do you combine both?
Primarily as an author, but I always take my guitar! As I say, music is an essential part of my story, and it always features in my school events.
Will all your future book releases have a link to music?
It depends. I’m sure some will, but over the course of my career, I’m bound to write some books that don’t necessarily have a musical angle. That said, it’s been a real hoot bringing Fire&Lights to life – you can find them on Twitter under the username @fireandlights.
Can you tell us about the #StageToPage book tour?
I’m super excited about this! I’ll be touring the UK with a handful of other musical authors – Sophia Bennett, Sheena Wilkinson, Rhian Ivory and Eleanor Wood – visiting bookshops and schools and talking about the links between music and writing. We’re hitting London, Bournemouth, Liverpool, Oxford and various other places… there are more details on my website, chrisrussellwrites.com.
Do you have any plans to do your own book tour, if not, for those that would like a signed copy is there anywhere they could get hold of one?
I’ve got various school events coming up over the next few months, and I’ll be signing books at all of those. I do also pop into branches of Waterstones and Foyles now and again to sign whatever stock they have – so keep an eye out in the shops!
If your books were to be made into films, would you like to have a say on the casting?
I think every author would! But from what I can gather, authors don’t tend to have much of a say on these things (certainly not a final say). In any case, I suspect a professional movie casting agent would do a better job than me! 😀
Fire&Lights are the fictional band in your novels and you’ve written a few of their songs, do you have plans to release them any time soon?
I certainly do! I’ve recorded the main song from book one, Dance With You, with some musician friends of mine – featuring four separate male vocals, just like in the fictional band. It’s lots of fun and will be released VERY soon. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed (@chrisrusselluk) for updates…
What are your plans for the rest of this year?
Writing Songs About a Boy, mainly. Plus the band has gigs in France and Cape Town coming up, which I’m very excited about. Beyond that, I also need to start planning book life beyond Songs About a Girl. It’ll be very strange, and a little bittersweet, to leave Charlie & Co. behind! It sounds a bit soppy, but I’ve become rather attached to them…
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