Recently, we were lucky enough to talk to author Vanessa Len about her debut novel, Only A Monster.
We became utterly addicted to this book the moment we picked it up, so we were thrilled when we were given the opportunity to interview Vanessa.
We are so excited to share the interview with you here …. and to share our love of this book with you!
We also have signed book plates available with any purchase of the book!
Joan Chang-Hunt has no idea she’s part monster until she’s thrust into a battle between the boy she has a crush on and one of the most ruthless monster families of London. A brilliantly compelling YA fantasy from a dazzling new Australian talent.
Don’t forget the rule. No one can know what you are. What we are. You must never tell anyone about monsters.
Only a monster would kill a hero. Right?
Every family has its secrets, but the summer Joan Chang-Hunt goes to stay with her Gran in London, she learns hers is bigger than most. The Hunts are one of twelve families in London with terrifying, hidden powers.
Joan is half-monster. And what’s more, her summer crush Nick isn’t just a cute boy – he’s hiding a secret as well; a secret that places Joan in terrible danger.
When the monsters of London are attacked, Joan is forced on the run with the ruthless Aaron Oliver, heir to a monster family who are sworn enemies of her own. Joan is drawn deeper into a world that simmers with hostilities, alliances and secrets. And her rare and dangerous power means she’s being hunted. She’ll have to embrace her own monstrousness if she is to save herself, and her family. Because in this story . . .
. . . she is not the hero.
with Vanessa Len
I found this novel to be exceptional and quite unlike anything I have read before!
Where did your inspiration for Only A Monster come from?
Thank you so much! When I was growing up, the heroes of stories didn’t often look and sound like me, but the ‘bad guys’ sometimes did. I really wanted to write a book about what it feels like when the hero of the story isn’t necessarily on your side; what it feels like to be the ‘monster’ of the book.
Time travel is an exciting and interesting concept, what made you choose to pair it with the ethics of taking time from other people?
I’d known from the beginning that I wanted to write about a monster fighting a hero, but then I needed to figure out what a ‘monster’ was in this world. Before I’d started writing the book, I made a big list of all the things I loved most in stories, and one of those things was time travel! So I had the idea of putting those two elements together – time travel and monsters – to create creatures that could steal time from the human lifespan, and then use that to travel in time.
What kind of research did you have to do when writing this book?
I was lucky enough to be able to visit the book’s setting in London, just before the pandemic. I went to a hedge maze at Hampton Court Palace, explored the ruins of Holland House, and found the watermen’s stairs where the characters rendezvous in the book. It was a lot of fun to visit places that I’d only ever seen on Google Street View. They’d been so alive in my imagination, that it was a bit like walking around inside my own head!
How long did it take you to write Only A Monster?
It took about four years to write the manuscript, but I had spent a long time before that developing the world, characters, and relationships.
Was there anything you found particularly challenging when writing this story?
This is my first book, so there was a lot to figure out! At first, I was googling things like: ‘how do you make a character?’; and ‘what is a scene?’; and ‘what happens next in my book?’ (Sadly didn’t Google didn’t tell me that last one!)
It was a steep learning curve, but I really love learning new things, so I enjoyed that aspect of it.
The hardest section of the book by far was the opening. There’s a point quite early on where Joan learns that her co-worker and crush, Nick, is actually a monster slayer. I knew almost everything that happened after that point, but to make that moment work, I had to set up a lot in a short amount of time about Joan, her family, monsters, and their powers. I did about 20 drafts – all very different – trying to get all of the elements in, while also keeping the opening as page-turny as possible.
I still remember the moment when I finally got it all working!
And then I gave it to my critique partner, and she said: “It’s working, but it breaks the next scene.” And she was right – the next part of the book had gone flat because I’d set up some wrong promises. I had to start from scratch to rewrite the opening again.
My motto is that there’s always a solution when it comes to writing problems, but I did start to wonder if that were true for my opening! (It was – I did find a solution in the end!)
Did you have a favourite character or scene that you enjoyed writing?
I really enjoyed writing the first scene where Joan intentionally uses her powers , guided by another monster. I felt very immersed as I was writing it – I could see and hear everything that happened.
I loved the morally grey aspects of this book and it made me think about what I would do if I had this power. So I have to ask… if you could travel through time at the expense of other people, would you?
That’s hilarious! I would love to be able to time travel – if I had a super power, that would be it. But I think I would have to say no if the expense were human life haha.
This was a brilliant and thoroughly entertaining debut novel. Was this always the first story you wanted to tell?
Thank you! I don’t know that I always wanted to write this story, but when I came up with the idea, I knew that it was a story I wanted to tell. And it really surprised me – I’d only written adult short stories previously, and this premise demanded a plot-based, fast-paced story with action scenes. It was a real departure from anything I’d written before!
What made you want to be a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I’ve always written for myself, and always worked with words – I started out as a copywriter, and then an educational editor.
I loved the idea of writing a novel and publishing it, but it was like loving the idea being an astronaut! I didn’t think that was something that people could actually do.
But then I saw some of my friends publish books, and I thought ‘hey, maybe I’ll have a go!’ Sometimes, I think, you just need to see a model of someone else doing something to think maybe you could do that too.
What is your writing process? Do you need to stick to a strict schedule, or do you write when inspiration strikes?
I write best in the morning, and best when I have a schedule, but I enjoy it the most when inspiration strikes as well!
What books have you loved recently?
I’ve been reading a lot of ARCs recently – books that haven’t been published yet. One that I really enjoyed Deep in Providence by Riss M Nielson. It’s about three girls who turn to dangerous magic after losing a friend in a car accident. The character work is so deep and moving that you feel like the characters are your friends by the end of the book.
I also recently read A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske which I hugely enjoyed! It’s about a gentleman in Edwardian London who stumbles upon a hidden magical world, and almost immediately has a deadly curse cast upon him! Highly recommended!
Do you have any future projects in the works that you can tell us about?
I’m busy working on the sequel to Only a Monster, and I’m really excited to be back in this world! It’s been so much fun to delve deeper into the characters, and to pay off what I’d set up in book 1.
Is there anything you would like to say to your readers?
I would just like to say thank you so much for reading! This is my first novel, and this whole experience has been an exciting whirlwind!
And thank you, Claire, for asking such great questions!