Exclusive: British Nephilim sat down to chat with Cassandra Clare and Holly Black about the Magisterium series

The past few days have been a bit crazy, huh? With all the news about The Mortal Instruments being turned into a TV show and Walker books announcing #LoveMagnus Quote Vote, I haven’t had time to finish writing up this post!

On the 4th October 2014 I got to sit down and have a quick chat with authors of the Magisterium series – Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices) and Holly Black (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and The Spiderwick Chronicles).

I asked on my twitter and this website for your questions and I took the best ones with me to ask the authors before they did an event at the Bath Literature Festival. Check out what they said below:

Me: @hettyeatsbooks asks “who’s idea was it to work together on the book?”

Cassandra Clare: We really had the idea at the same time.

Holly Black: We had been meaning to write something together

CC: We did 3 short stories before we did this so we knew we could write together

HB: And so it was sort of lighting on what we wanted to do

CC: We were together in an airport and I was reading one of the Percy Jackson books and Holly hadn’t had any coffee so she was like a corpse. I was trying to talk to her about it like “these books were fun, great characters, I’d really like to write a middle grade book, like follow a character from age 11 or 12 through up until they become an adult and get to see them through all the stages of their lives and that’s very appealing but I don’t know if I can write that younger voice because I’ve never done it before.”

HB: And I was like (half asleep) “You should do it, sounds good” and as the caffeine rose in my system and said “I’ve written middle grade before and maybe we could do it together.” Middle grade wasn’t the first thing we were thinking about doing together, we were thinking YA before and it was really exciting to think about middle grade because it was really different and it was the kind of project the felt full of excitement and there was something about it as we talking about the idea it just got more and more exciting.

CC: I think that it really gave us both the opertunity to do something different. We’d talked about different YA projects and none of them quite stuck with us, but this one was a really sticky idea. I had remembered an idea that Holly had years previously about a young boy and then book was about his destiny but it wasn’t the destiny you would have suspected and I said “well that’s a really good idea, I hope you write it” but she said “I’m never going to write it, you write it” and I was like “maybe I will” but I have just never got around to writing it so I said “what about that idea” and it turned out to be very sticky, which I mean that every idea we had led to another idea, to another idea, to another idea, so by the time we got off the plane in Atlanta we had the characters figured out, the outline plotted out and the ideas of the school and a lot of the things that took place.”


Me: A friend from work, Gareth, asks “did you disagree on any plot points and if you did how did you resolve them?”

HB: We get asked that a lot and we actually had a pretty easy time and I think its because we have been critic partners for a very long time, we have discussed our books a lot. We did disagree a lot about the magic system.

CC: Yes about how magic was going to work and what we thought would be the cool elements and what the price of the magic would be, because if you have magic then you always get the question well why doesn’t that character use magic for everything, if they can use fire then why don’t they use it to light their stove and heat their coffee and why do use it if they are in danger, so we had to think what the cost of using it was, what makes it not worth using it all the time so you can limit the power and not make them invincible, so we had a lot of discussions about how to limit it so we definitely argued about that.

HB: A lot about that, and a lot about how broke and specific we wanted the magic system we wanted it to be and how intuitive and familiar we wanted it to be and we spent a lot of time talking about it which lead to a lot of one person being like “how about this?” and the other being like “hmmm” until we got it. Our one big disagreement was about a scene when a thing happens and then some mages arrive, and I believe the mages should arrive immediately and Cassie thought there should be some conversation before they arrived. You expect to hear that we fought over something that’s relevant but no it was about when the mages should arrive, sooner or slightly later.

Me: Who won?

HB: She wanted later

CC: And I won, I got later, not as much later as I wanted but I still got later.

HB: I think that it was one of the few times that we couldn’t think of something like a third thing that would satisfy both of us that it had to be sooner or later.


Me: @TMI_holland asks “Cassie, how did you find writing for a younger audience?” and @darlingbudsfans asks “is it more challenging writing for YA or younger audience?”

CC: I did find it different writing for a younger audience, that was my initial concern. I think that the main thing was that kids that are 12 have different concerns than when you are writing about people who are 16 or 17. Obviously romance is not a top priority for them but also they have very different relationships with their families and their siblings, and very different connections to school and community and so you have to reshape the way that you think and cast your mind back to what the most important things were to me when I was that age, and a lot of it was friendship, at that age your friends are really important to you. I think it was important to me with The Mortal Instruments because when I got to writing City of Heavenly Fire, Emma and Julian and big characters and they are only 12 so writing in their POV was made a lot easier by the fact that I had written so much from a 12 year olds POV already that I felt at home and what it was that they are concerned about.


Me: Did you find it harder writing the start, middle or end of a book?

CC: Middle

HB: Well when you look at our books a lot happens in a very short amount of time. But when you sit down to write a book about school you have to write about a longer time. So I think the middle because that was where we had to move time.

CC: Right, we had to move time. We got very use to writing that go by very quickly because there is an immediate threat and so [in Magisterium] you would always get that “months pass and Call would consider the enormous threat and most of the time not”

HB: We didn’t write that!

CC: But that’s the challenge with stretching time out, it makes things seem less urgent, so it made me have a lot more respect for people who write over these long school years and keep the tension up.

HB: Together we are learning.

CC: We’ve just finished the second book and it’s been the same for us with that too, the beginning is easy, the end is easy but the middle is the difficult part trying to keep the tension up while also giving enough time for Call to continue his process of maturing and for them to spend time at the Magisterium.


Me: Cat from TMI Source asks “One will fail. One will die. And one is already dead.” Is this a prophecy?

CC: Yes it is a prophecy, the Devoured is the one that said that. One of the things about the magic system that we worked out when we were talking about what it would cost you is that if you use too much magic then the element, in this case fire, would take over and you would become the creature of the element, you would no longer be human, you would become the fire. When the characters come across this Devoured and he does have the ability to see the future, and I think that by the end of the book you can tell which one one of them is.


Me: Cat also asked “How difficult was it to turn The Iron Trial into a movie script? Did it make you think differently about the film industry now?”

HB: It was really fun but it was definitely a different way of thinking about a story because it is a highly visual compared to a book. The big turns in a book are usually emotional turns and thinking turns, the moments when you are like “Oh my god, I have figured out this thing” but in a movie they happen outside the characters head, and that in itself is a massive change. I think for me it was challenging switching over my thinking, to thinking about the book entirely outside the characters.

CC: Just to think about what you can pack into a visual image, like at the very beginning of the book Alastair Hunt appears in a cave in South America and we get told he’s climbing up the side of the mountain and that he’s a water mage and he can shape the glacier, we get told the back story of this battle and he suddenly realised he needs to get to this cave and save the hostages, and so what we thought was we need to condense that down into literally 3 seconds image of Alastair arriving on an air element so how do we know all this back story? So that was very difficult and a challenge. I think that having both our books made into films and watching the process and not having any way to effect it does give us a different feeling of how it goes. I also think that writing a screenplay gives us a new respect for those who do adapt screenplays because it is difficult.

HB: There are going to be changes to how we give the information, big changes.


Me: Alice Lovell on WordPress asked will there be any LGBT characters in the Magisterium series?

HB: We’ve had a lot of people ask that and it is really difficult to answer right now with only one book out.

CC: Holly is a lot stricter about spoilers than me. Usually people ask me about what happens in The Dark Artifices and The Last Hours and I’m just like “blah blah blah blah blah” and she’s like “I can’t believe you are giving away all that information!” so where Magisterium is concerned I respect her views of giving away very little, and they are only 12 so relationships are largely further away in the future.

HB: Like you don’t even know all the people that we are going to know by book 3.

CC: Yeah more people get introduced, more people become important, some people we thought were important are not important, it’s one of those questions you want to answer but on balance you probably shouldn’t.


Me: And finally, as we are hoping this will be turned into a film, any fan casts for who you’d like to play the characters?

HB: I have no fan cast for this at all. I’ll be so happy for them to find someone we’ve never seen before for these kids.

CC: I think I’d really like total unknowns to play all the kids because if you knew who they were beforehand its hard to completely see them as the characters, but I think for the adults… our editor believes that Samuel L Jackson should play Master Rufus, he’s good looking so I’ll let him have that one. I think Alastair is pretty hot so maybe Richard Armitage.

HB: That’s way hotter than I thought Alastair was, that changes everything.

CC: I totally thought his body is that hot. So yea, Samuel L Jackson and Richard Armitage, I see this moving, it’s taking shape, I like it! For Master Milagros we’d need an Asian woman who can really kick so ass like Maggie Q or someone. Clearly we’ve never thought about this at all. We’re literally at the point of them asking us about directors but no where near the point about asking us about actors. I say we should make Alastair have some shirtless scenes!

HB: Oh My God, Call would be so upset like “this is awful, put your clothes back on”

CC: Yeah but the good thing about movies is that we can make out that when he’s not with Call he can be sitting at home alone without his shirt on, like when he’s at home working on his car and he can be like “I’m so sad that Call’s not here, I’ll take my shirt off”

Me: You can put it in the scene when he’s calling him and he’s working on his car.

CC: Yes exactly!

HB: I can see what my job is here, SHUT IT DOWN.

Thank you so much Cassie and Holly for letting me ask you a few questions, and also thank you Penguin Random House Children’s Publishers UK for organizing it. It was a lot of fun and hopefully I’ll get to chat to you again in the future πŸ™‚

– Sarah xoxo


1 reply

  1. Haha, now I’m waiting to see Alastair shirtless πŸ˜€
    I wonder how Cassie and Holly plan their books. Maybe the other passengers on their flight saw two women who had a very lively conversation about magic, wizards, elements and then asked themselves, “What is going on here?”

    Great interview, Sarah, and thank you for asking my questions!

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