Monday, February 28, 2011

Eleven Up: Interview with Karen Mahoney

Today, we get to meet Karen “Kaz” Mahoney, UK-based author of Iron Witch, available now from Flux.

Karen’s short stories (featuring teen vampire Moth) have appeared in Eternal Kiss
("Falling to Ash") and Kiss Me Deadly ("The Spirit Jar"). In her debut novel, she leaves vamps behind for alchemy, faeries, and some very scary wood elves. Here’s a bit more about Iron Witch:

When she was seven, a horrific fey attack killed Donna Underwood’s father and drove her mother mad. Her own nearly fatal injuries were fixed by alchemy—the iron tattoos branding her hands and arms. Now seventeen, Donna feels like a freak, doomed by the magical heritage that destroyed her parents and any chance she had for a normal life. Only her relationship with her best friend, Navin, is keeping her sane. But when vicious wood elves abduct Navin, Donna is forced to accept her role in the centuries-old war between human alchemists and these darkest outcasts of Faerie. Assisted by Xan, a gorgeous guy with faery blood running through his veins and secrets of his own, Donna races to save Navin—even if it means betraying everything her parents fought to the death to protect.

I loved the alchemical elements of TIW. How much of that is based on fact and how much is pure invention?

First of all, thanks for having me! I've loved being part of the Elevensies, so it's nice to pay a visit to you guys as you prepare for the end of the world. ;)

Regarding the alchemy, a lot of it is based on fact; for example, the description of an alchemist’s laboratory is a combination of many different actual sources. I took all my favourite bits and sort of mixed them together. There were also such a thing as alchemical Orders (in my world there are four, with Donna in the Order of the Dragon), but I made up the names for mine and went my own way with it. I did a lot of research, and sometimes I’d see a cool term and then invent my own ‘thing’ around it. Like with the game, alchemical chess. I just thought that sounded cool, but I couldn’t find much information so I’ve made up what I think it should be… We’ll see more of that in the third book of the trilogy.

I saw that you used to work in an occult book store. How did you end up there and what were the clients like?

Well, I found that job in a bit of a magical way (I like to think). I was out of work and money was really tight; I’d been spending my days walking the streets of London, trying to find shops that were advertising for staff in their windows. I got a bit turned around in these little cobbled alleyways – it was winter, so the early evening was dark and a big misty – and I honestly ended up finding the bookstore by chance. They had a sign up in their window, and wanted a member of staff who had a particular knowledge of Tarot (which I had, having read the cards since I was fifteen or sixteen) I applied for the job, had an interview days later and started immediately.

The clients were… interesting. Ha! Great question. All sorts of people frequent that store; from business people to alternative free spirits. The place sells everything from hardcore antiquarian occult texts to the regular ‘new age’ paraphernalia, like candles and incense. It’s also located in the heart of TheatreLand, so there are quite a few celebrity clients. I’ve seen everyone from Sienna Miller to Rupert Everett to Nicholas Cage. My lips are sealed as to what they bought! ;)

What was the biggest challenge in the process of writing TIW? Did your characters ever surprise you?

The biggest challenge was finishing! The Iron Witch was the first novel I ever actually finished – not for the want of trying. I just couldn’t see a project through. When I wrote the entire first draft of the book in 6 weeks, I knew I’d finally broken through that ‘block.’

You live in the UK, but TIW is set in the US. What inspired that choice? Which city most inspired Ironbridge? 

I’ve just always been really interested in US popular culture; my favourite TV shows are American (well, apart from Doctor Who), and to be honest I’ve always wanted to live in the US. Specifically, in the city I love: Boston. That’s where a lot of the inspiration for Ironbridge came from.

Do you see any of yourself in your heroine Donna? And just how many pairs of gloves does she own? 

Hee! I am cracking up. Yeah, she has a lot of pairs of gloves to hide those tattoos. Maybe as many as a dozen, though she tends to stick to her favourite two or three pairs. ;) I think, if I see anything of myself in Donna, it’s the part of her that is intensely loyal to the people she loves. The Iron Witch ultimately asks the question: How far would you go to protect the people you care about? I’d got pretty far, and that’s something that (I hope) comes out loud and clear through Donna’s actions.

What would you like readers to take away from reading TIW and Donna's journey?

That’s a good question… I suppose, keeping in mind that I’m writing primarily for teenagers, I want readers to take away the feeling that they can be strong – even when they don’t think they really are. Strength isn’t just about having iron tattoos that give you magically enhanced physical strength. Real strength comes from a deeper place, and we can all tap into that.

Without pressing you for spoilers, what can we expect from THE WOOD QUEEN (the sequel to TIW)? What other projects are you working on?

The Wood Queen is the middle book of a trilogy (finishing up with The Stone Demon, which we’ve now sold to Flux based on a very rough outline), but I’m working hard to make it not just be a set-up for the final book. A lot happens in Book 2: Donna has to face up to the consequences of her actions in TIW – and there are very real, life-changing consequences – but she also has a new battle to fight. Whereas The Iron Witch focuses on her quest to save her best friend, Navin, The Wood Queen focuses on her quest to save her mother. You’ll find out a lot more about the different alchemical Orders, as well as the truth behind what really happened to Donna when she was injured and her father was killed in the Ironwood, ten years ago.

Hmm… I hope that wasn’t too spoilery! I love talking about what’s coming up next. :)

There’s a short story coming out in September/October in Wicked Pretty Things, an anthology of urban faerie stories. There are some amazing authors included, and I can’t wait for the full list to be made public! My story is called ‘The Lost Boy’ and focuses on Xan, my half-fey character from The Iron Witch, set from his POV a year before he meets Donna in that novel. I’m also working on a Sekrit Project (I love saying that!), but I will exclusively (ha!) tell you that it’s a middle-grade project. I have no idea if it will go anywhere or if it will actually be any good, but it’s a lot of fun. I need to set it aside to work on edits for The Wood Queen, but I don’t really want to… I keep promising my agent an adult urban fantasy, but I’m enjoying writing for children way too much right now.

I read about TIW's road to publication on Chuck Sambuchino's blog. What has the journey been like since making the deal? 

Long. And Slow. Seriously, I keep saying this, but no matter how well prepared you think you are for how long things take in publishing, I can guarantee that things will take even longer! You have to be patient while waiting for each stage to happen. Also, keeping on writing is important – just to keep you occupied and to keep working on your craft. Since getting my book deal I’ve written two other completely different YA novels (apart from the sequel, I mean). One we are trying to sell now, the other is sort of waiting its turn. Honestly, if none of these projects ever see the light of day, that time isn’t wasted because I know I’m a better writer for having completed them.

Can you tell us a bit about your typical writing day? Where do you go for inspiration?

I can’t tell you a typical writing day because no day is typical for me. I am all over the place in my life and work, and I am the Queen of Procrastination. Things change all the time, and my ‘routine’ changes weekly. Or daily. At the moment, I seem to be working late each day. Sort of starting at 2pm and working through to about 11pm, six days per week.

Inspiration, for me, comes from so many sources – but one of the biggest is folklore and mythology.

And finally, since we are the Apocalypsies and the end is nigh, please answer one or all of the following questions: 

What do you consider your best zombie-fighting skill?

Well, I’d never win any awards for running – I wouldn’t get far. So I’d have to stay and fight. I have a pretty good kick on me, thanks to self-defence classes taken years ago, so I could try some Buffy-style ass-kicking (literally).

What would you put in your Armageddon emergency kit?

Chocolate. And green tea & coffee.

Which books, DVDs, or CDs would you keep in your bunker for those long post-apocalyptic nights?
A copy of Jane Eyre, Frenchman’s Creek, all of my books by Jonathan Carroll, my Kindle (love!), the all-important Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVD boxset, and ‘Thirteen Tales of Love and Revenge’ by The Pierces.

How did I know The Pierces would make it in there? Thank you, Karen!

Make sure to check out Karen's blog and follow her on Twitter.


  1. I love love love the cover! I hope to have it on my shelf soon!

  2. Great interview, Kaz! Love the alchemy aspect. *writing note to self: buy this book* Congrats on the trilogy, too.

  3. Also love the cover! The book sounds amazing!

  4. Hey, Kaz! So much fun to see you over here at the edge of the end of the world. Write The Wood Queen and The Stone Demon quickly, please. :-)

  5. Sounds wonderful. Can't wait to see it on the shelves.