Salamandra is a girl growing up on a strange, gothic island. Abandoned by her parents, and unwanted by the local witch, she’s sent to the orphanage. Sal doesn’t really know how to fit in, or be a regular girl.
It doesn’t help that she isn’t a regular girl, having been blessed– or perhaps cursed–with the ability to do magic. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have much idea how her magic works, or what its limits might be.
She also has some demons to deal with – the ones in her head, put there by her parents, the ones in her old house, also put there by her parents, and the ones in her life who wear pretty smiles but have daggers in their eyes. Surviving on Hopeless is going to be a challenge.
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Olivia with YA: Tom, Nimue, welcome to the YA Lit Mag! I have eagerly been awaiting the release of PERSONAL DEMONS, the first graphic novel in the gothic-horror HOPELESS, MAINE series, for several years. How did Salamandra and the isolated island of Hopeless, Maine exert themselves to say, “Tell my story”?
Tom Brown: Considering the things that I read, and watched, and loved as a kid it was natural, if not inevitable that Hopeless, Maine would happen. Also, I grew up in Maine. I’ve had the rest of the setting and some of the characters for a long time, but Salamandra came to me as a gift, during a difficult time. She just turned up. I have no sense that I made Salamandra up. I was just the lucky creator she picked.
Nimue Brown: By the time I got involved, the island and some of the main characters were already in existence. I feel like I’ve just played out the things that were inevitable from what Tom had already created. Although I did add more people, and I did have to come up with most of the explanations. Tom draws things, I try and make them make sense.
YA: If a new reader were coming to Sal’s world, to what sort of stories would you compare it?
TB/NB: While it’s not especially like anything else, if you like the folks who influence us, you’ll probably like us. Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard book, Harry Potter, Ursula Le Guinn’s Earthsea stories, any Miyazaki film. We’re a bit Addams Family, too. Salamandra and Wednesday Addams would probably get along.
YA: This year many exciting and new stories coming to the YA world have a tinge of horror, like Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake, or a steampunk quality such as Innocent Darkness by Suzanne Lazear. What do you think is drawing today’s young readers back to the Victorian gothic tales like PERSONAL DEMONS?
TB/NB: So much content for young readers in the twentieth century was cutesy and sanitised. The dancing ponies, singing rainbows, happy unicorns. Tales of ‘mild peril’ where somewhere might stub a toe. Did we mention the singing animals? I think for a long time people (or should that be publishers and Disney?) assumed that kids can only cope with fluffy, safe, inoffensive things. Only the world isn’t fluffy and safe, and young readers are a lot more grown up than past trends maybe gave them credit for. J K Rowling established beyond any shadow of a doubt that young readers like something a bit more gritty and challenging. This has to be a good thing. Dark is a lot more real, and in the darker stories, the lights shine that much more brightly through the contrast.
YA: How has collaborating on this project been for you two? What inspirations have you each brought to Sal’s story and her world that might not have been there if it were just one of you heading the creative helm?
NB: I would never have thought of any of this without the inspiration of Tom’s artwork and ideas. I fill in the gaps, I think.
TB: I read one of Nimue’s novels that she was serialising online, fell in love with the writing and knew I wanted her to be the one to write Hopeless. Big story arcs are not my strong point, I made up the fiddly bits, Nimue gave the story its spine. Otherwise, there would be lots of fiddly bits and no story.
NB: As for the experience of collaborating, we started on opposite sides of the Atlantic. One of the more dramatic consequences of the project is that we’re now married!
YA: There are several other people in Salamandra’s life, but among them are many cruel or apathetic adults… and one seriously creepy little girl. What struggles are worse for Sal, in your opinion: the daily grind of the overcrowded orphanage, or dealing with magic, demons, and her own sordid past?
TB/NB: It’s the day to day stuff she struggles with. The strange, occult issues she has grown up with are a challenge, but they are familiar. Anything you grow up with seems normal, so for Sal the demons are more how some of us might feel about annoying siblings, while the mysteries of other children, and the incomprehensible world of more ‘regular’ adults gives her a lot of headaches.
YA: PERSONAL DEMONS is your first collaborated work to see bookstore shelves! What can you tell our readers about your combined road to publication?
NB: Well, we started out with a story about a grownup Sal, and then Tom discovered ‘the power of the cute’ so I wrote a couple of back stories featuring a young Sal. Resulting in Personal Demons, and Inheritance.
We did start looking at publishers, but for various reasons opted to go the webcomic route while the book was being created. It helped to keep us focused and to build an audience, and it taught us a lot. We always fancied Archaia as a publisher – we have friends there, and they have the coolest graphic novels, and it turned out they felt equally keen on us, so here we are!
It will have taken about 3 years to go from that first webcomic page to the print version, which is a scary amount of time. Had we known when we started, we might have been put off, but fortunately, we had no idea! Still, we’ve learned a lot along the way.
YA: I’m fascinated with how authors decide on book titles. Sometimes a title sticks from rough draft to published novel; sometime the author works with their agent or editor to find the perfect title. What’s HOPELESS, MAINE: PERSONAL DEMONS’ story?
TB: Originally it was called ‘New England Gothic’. Then I decided that ‘Hopeless’ would look really good on a film poster. And then Archaia added in the ‘Maine’ bit, which will probably make us easier to find.
NB: Titles for individual comics are a nightmare. Frankly, if I don’t start out knowing what a thing is called, I’m stuffed. ‘Personal Demons’ was just obvious to me from the outset, I like the multiple meanings.