An interview with Genevieve Cogman
Today I have the pleasure to speak with Genevieve Cogman, author of the fantastic and imaginative The Invisible Library. Genevieve has been kind enough to answer some questions about herself and her book, as well as contribute to our How Stories Connect Us section.
The Invisible Library was Genevieve's debut novel, released in January this year to great reviews. It's an imaginative and exciting adventure set against the backdrop of the Library. The Library is a secret organisation that straddles diverse universes and realities, its sole purpose to collect and preserve books unique to that realm for future prosperity. We follow the exploits of Irene, a collector, spy and renaissance women for the Library, as she is given the order to safeguard an uncommon book from a pseudo-London, inhabited by vampires, werewolves, Fae and its own version of Sherlock Holmes. Assisting her is Kai, trainee librarian and a man with his own secrets. As you can expect things don't go as planned. Death, danger and chaos soon ensue.
You can also read a review of The Invisible Library here on our site.
Can you tell us a little about Genevieve Cogman?
I'm a classifications specialist in the NHS who lives in the north of England. My hobbies include patchwork, knitting, and beadwork, role-playing games, and reading far too much. I have a serious lack of self-control when visiting bookshops and craft stores. I am also lazy and like to sleep in at weekends.
When did you decide to become a writer?
There wasn't really a single moment of decision. When I was in my teens, I was daydreaming complicated private stories – usually with myself as the heroine. In my early twenties, I was writing filk and fanfiction, and playing online and offline role-playing games, including text-based ones, which included a lot of character description. Then later I got some freelance work doing role-playing game writing, and also wrote a whole lot of fanfiction, not to mention two other attempted complete novels… Actually getting a manuscript accepted by an agent and then by a publisher, that was the surprise and the break in the pattern.
What was your inspiration behind The Invisible Library?
One of the ideas behind the story was the idea that people were trying to save works of fiction from alternate realities, and that different realities had different versions of the works of fiction. When people are trying to stock fictional libraries, they often do it with vitally important works of fact – histories, geographies, biology, science, even philosophy and theology. I wanted my heroines and heroes to be hunting purely for fiction, and to have a reason for doing so.
What do you think makes a good story?
This is not a question for which I have a good answer. One argument is that a good story is what the reader wants to read – but then, different readers look for and enjoy different things. I have friends who enjoy complex historical family drama novels, which are not particularly my thing, and equally I enjoy science fiction or fantasy novels which they would find boring. I may have a better answer to this one when I have more experience.
(If I ever do find the answer, I will rule the multiverse… er, write a best-seller so convincing that everyone will buy it and love it.)
What type of research do you do for your story?
If I intend to have the characters visit a particular location, then I'd read up on that location. This includes online research, and visits to the local bookshop and library. One benefit to writing about alternate worlds and histories (and magic) is that I don't have to be completely accurate on such things as, say, the layout of the British Museum, or the state of pseudo-Victorian-era politics in Vale's world. But there's a difference between being “not completely accurate” and writing something which would feel wrong. I don't want to throw the reader out of the story by having them run into something which feels outright inappropriate.
(And yes, I do reread my Sherlock Holmes stories when I want to get Vale's manner of speech correct.)
What question would you like to be asked? Be it what's your favourite curry to What's your favourite library? Actually, that's a good one, do you have a favourite library?
No favourite library, though I remember quite a number very fondly, especially my school library. But questions, hm. I suppose you could ask me what my favourite musical is?
The current answer would be Elisabeth, by Levay/Kunze. I'm particularly fond of the Takarazuka productions (my favourite is the Cosmos one in 1998-99), though I also love the German-language versions. (I have yet to hear or see it in other languages.) And my favourite song is Die Schatten werden länger.
And for those intrigued enough, you can check out Die Schatten werden länger from the link below,
And now for a little insight into the books and story that captivate Genevieve.
How Stories Connect Us questions
Which book do you own that puts a smile on your face and makes you happy just by holding it in your hand?
Quite a lot, to be honest, but one of my favourite comfort reads is A Point of Honor by Dorothy Heydt.
Which book or series do you read that makes you feel nostalgic, remembering the period in your life you first read it?
The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. I was 7 when I first read The Lord of the Rings, and even younger when I had The Hobbit read to me as a bedtime story. I enjoy them for other things as well these days when I reread them, but there's also that little part of me which remembers the first time I was ever introduced to them. “Come not between the Nazgul and his prey…”
I would like to say I am genuinely impressed Genevieve read the LOTR's at the age of 7, a hat tip to her.
Which book or series do you read that makes your blood pump and your palms sweaty?
To be honest, none. It's not how I respond to them.
Which book or series do you think you could implant one of your own characters into? And would you want them to thrive and integrate, or would you want them to burn it all down?
I regret to say that most of the time my characters would be more interested in looking through the libraries than being ethically constructive or destructive. Perhaps they should visit Simon Green's Nightside setting – I'm sure Irene would like to get hooked into the rare books trade there.
Is there a particular author that leaves you thinking: “One day I would like to be able to write just like that?”
Lots of them. Ben Aaronovitch, Barbara Hambly, Barry Hughart, John M Ford… Honestly, I have a huge list of authors whom I admire, often in different ways or for different things in their writing. Though perhaps I should be saying, “I would like to write as well as that” rather than “I would like to write just like that”. I don't want necessarily to be “the next X”: I would like to hope that people will like my writing for its own style. Eventually.
A big thank to Genevieve for taking the time to speak with Fantasy Book Review. We look forward to reviewing the next in The Invisible Library series.
Genevieve Cogman books reviewed
The Invisible Library
Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she's posted to an ...
The Masked City
Librarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he's been kidnapped by the fae faction and the rep...
The Burning Page
When it's your job to save the day - where do you start? Librarian spy Irene has standards to maintain, especially while on probation. And absconding from a mission via...
The Lost Plot
In a 1920s-esque America, Prohibition is in force, fedoras, flapper dresses and tommy guns are in fashion, and intrigue is afoot. Intrepid Librarians Irene and Kai find the...