Interview with Catherine Jinks, author of Evil Genius
Q: The Axis Institute is a "special place for special people." What inspired you to create a school that trains its students for careers in world domination and teaches courses including disguise, forgery, and misinformation?
A: The Axis Institute resulted from a conversation I had several years ago with my brother and my husband. We were looking at my nephew's Professor Gangrene action figure, and my husband said, "What I want to know is where do these baddies get their degrees from?" Then my brother said, "From the University of Evil, where else?"
My brother, who teaches psychology at a university, went on to explain how there would have to be two disciplines of evil -- pure and applied. Pure evil would teach the theoretical side of things, whereas applied evil would cover the practical aspects. Applied evil would get much more funding, but there would be constant complaints from those teachers because pure evil would get all the students.
Q: Cadel Piggott, the novel's protagonist, uses his extensive knowledge of computers and networks to set up a phony company and cause major traffic jams. Would he consider himself to be an "evil genius?"
A: Not at first, no. Cadel doesn't have a moral compass; that's his problem. Thanks to his upbringing, hes very confused about what's right and wrong, especially when these concepts apply to him. Only after he meets Sonja and starts questioning Thaddeus does he begin to understand that there's a different -- and much better -- way of looking at the world.
Q: You studied medieval history at the University of Sydney, an area of expertise that has informed your Pagan Chronicles. How did you approach Evil Genius, a book that is quite technological? Did you know how computers and complex network systems work prior to writing this story?
A: I'm afraid I don't have a very technological brain, and I could only attack the subject matter by using the skills I acquired as a journalist: namely, research, research, and more research. Luckily, I met a genuine computer/mathematical genius last year, and he's been enormously helpful to me as I write Genius Squad, the sequel to Evil Genius.
Q: You wrote your first book, I Wish I Was a Jungle Girl, when you were only ten years old. What was it about putting pen to paper that appealed to you then? What is it about writing that still appeals to you? Do you have any advice for budding young writers?
A: Creating different worlds, whether text based or pictorial, is simply an escape mechanism. It's how you cope if you dont care for the real world very much. Over the years, my motivation hasn't changed: I'm basically trying to become someone else, in another time and place. It's a technique that still works pretty well, and it's not only cheaper than therapyit can be profitable!
I'm not claiming that novel writing is an all-round money spinner. In Australia, for instance, it's very tough for budding young writers -- let alone experienced ones! I suppose my advice would be to read a lot and get some experience in journalism and research (rather than creative writing). Also, try using the Internet to kick off your career. The Internet wasn't around when I was starting out as a writer, but I'm absolutely sure it's the way to get attention now. You just have to use it imaginatively.
Q: You are a journalist as well as an author of picture books, teen fantasy novels, and books for adults. Does your approach change when you write for these different audiences?
A: Up to a point, yes. I write for pretty much every age group there is, and it's always important to keep your audience in mind. I wont use words like inanition or malapropism in a book for eleven-year-olds, though those words are fine in an adult book. I'm also conscious that a younger audience will go with you absolutely anywhere when it comes to way-out ideas, but adults like things to be grounded in reality. Adults will put up with very little incident in a plot, but a young audience won't. Kids have far less patience than adults when it comes to narrative drive. As for picture books, they're a whole different ball game -- they are more closely related to short stories or even poetry than novels.
On the other hand, there are certain elements that remain the same no matter who will be reading the book. The characters must be interesting, and the setting should be entirely believable in the context of the story, whether the tale takes place in twelfth-century Jerusalem or on a spaceship two thousand years in the future. Whatever age group I'm targeting, I always immerse myself thoroughly in the characters and the world in which they live.
Q: When you were working on Evil Genius, did you listen to any artists or songs to help you get in touch with your wicked side?
A: I always use theme music when I'm writing. Oddly enough, for Evil Genius my soundtrack was "The Boys of Summer" by Don Henley. In case that sounds a little daggy (which means uncool here in Oz), let me just point out that I've been listening to Powderfinger, an Aussie band of fairly recent vintage, while working on Genius Squad.
Q: Can you give us any clues as to whats in store for Cadel in Genius Squad?
A: I don't really want to give away any plot twists, but rest assured that Prosper English (alias Thaddeus Roth) will be back, as will Sonja, Gazo, Vadi, Alias, and Niobe. You'll also meet a host of new characters, including a handful of teenage geniuses. These teens aren't really evil, but they're not exactly law abiding citizens, either. And you'll discover how poor Cadel finds his place in the world -- after so much drifting around in a loveless limbo.
Copyright © 2007 Harcourt
Questions written by Roseleigh Navarre