Revenge is a dish best served on a Friday, if you ask me! Today, we're chatting to YA author Emma Brand all about her debut novel, Dial One for Revenge, and what inspired the queer thriller.
Want to hear more from Emma? Read her article with DIVA here!
Hi, Emma! Tell us about your YA debut, Dial One For Revenge (which went straight on my wishlist, by the way!), and what inspired you to write it.
Hi! Thank you so much! Dial One for Revenge was a therapeutic, cathartic writing experience for me to explore what revenge means to people, and how your feelings can change along the way. I wanted to write something that encourages people to explore within their own feelings linked to revenge, grief, as well as healing and hope. It was an emotional process, but I am so excited and privileged that I can share this story. The story explores love, loss, revenge and hope with queer representation, which, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, is so important to me.
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?
Of course! Cassie, who I definitely connect with, is hurt, angry and obsessed with revenge; but underneath is a vulnerable side with complex layers. Cassie’s colleagues and inner circle include Elodie, an on-off situationship with a secret, Cassie’s staff team including Divya, a reliable and loyal doorkeeper and Eli, Cassie’s organised and fierce PA. Perrie, who arrives later in the story is full of hope, optimism and psychic abilities wrapped up in pink hair and tattoos. In some ways I feel traits of each character I identify with, including those not written here, and it was such a joy to bring them to life and share them into the world.
The book features a sapphic romance (yay!). What are your favourite tropes to read and do any make an appearance in this love story?
Sapphic romance is my dream! There are so many tropes I love reading; including enemies to lovers, first loves/soulmates, meet-cute tropes (every time!), strong female characters, found family/friendship to name but a few. I tried to include as many of my favourite tropes as possible, but I also wanted to offer a refreshing perspective and take on the tropes through the world building and character dynamics.
What spurred the theme of revenge when plotting, and how does it grow as a concept/theme throughout the book? Are there any revenge plots in other media that inspired Cassie’s own quest for vengeance?
I’ve always loved the concept of revenge in writing and films/media, but wanted to explore this with a different perspective – to challenge what revenge can look and feel like in your own journey and that this can change. It was something I wish had been around when I was younger to see that revenge may not always be what it seems. Throughout the book, Cassie has a fixed idea of revenge, but through meeting other characters and opening herself up to being vulnerable, this challenges her thought process and enables her to consider other options. Revenge plots I loved and related back to in my writing were Dark Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the songs Demi Lovato's "Sorry Not Sorry" and Taylor Swift’s "Karma". To be honest, anything by Taylor Swift is inspiring!!
The book also explores mental health and grief, something you’re passionate about. Did you use any personal experiences to filter into Cassie’s story?
I definitely drew on some of my own experiences as part of Cassie’s journey, including my own learning arc with revenge/vengeance through experiencing anxiety and depression at a young age. As someone with a history of people-pleasing, it was interesting to write about conflict/anger and notice my responses to see how I could incorporate that into my writing and how I can explore this in future projects.
What initially drew you to the thriller genre, and did you find it easy or difficult to merge those high stakes and darker themes with the YA genre?
I feel the dynamics and interwoven themes within thrillers are so intriguing and exciting! I love to read thrillers where you can’t put the book down, and as a reader you are surprised and drawn in by hooks and twists of a story. I definitely found it difficult at times to connect some of the darker themes, including murder/grief and vengeance alongside relationship and friendship connectors to bring humour into the story, so found scene plotting and bullet journalling very helpful to keep me focussed on the narrative and journey of the book.
Do you think an adult character would respond differently in Cassie’s situation? How did you put yourself into a younger person’s shoes while writing?
When I was writing, I reflected on my own experiences as a teenager, and took inspiration from books/media that I found comforting, including songs/lyrics I connected with and how this could be translated into a young adult perspective. I feel an adult could respond in multiple ways in Cassie’s situation, depending on their relationship with love, life, death, and grief but I feel the core feelings of anger, guilt and self-discovery could weave into an adult’s experience. Perhaps an adult may have more resources and a support network to reach out to as well, but this isn’t always the case and everyone’s experiences are different.
Did you find any challenges while writing this book? How did you overcome them?
I found challenges at times with some of the scene interactions, and phrases and words/imagery I was at times repeating. I spoke with fellow writers and requested constructive feedback which made a huge difference. I also worked with Indie Novella before being published with them on a free writing course, which was amazing, incredibly accessible and I would encourage people to explore what options are out there. There are so many amazing resources often which are free or low cost and worth looking into. I also worked with a proof-reader which was excellent as they were a step removed from the story and highlighted a lots of things I had missed.
What do you hope readers will take from Cassie’s story? What message was most important to you as you wrote it?
The most important message I wanted to convey was that revenge means something unique to each person, and that is OK to move on. It’s OK to forgive yourself without having to forgive the person or people who caused you pain. Revenge is fluid and it doesn’t have to be set in stone. I hope readers can take away from Cassie’s journey arc that she is flawed, as everyone is, but in her journey develops an open heart and mind to what revenge ultimately means to her while staying true to herself.
We’d love a hint about any of your current projects! More queer characters? More thrillers? Anything that might surprise your readers?
I am actually scoping out and plotting a sapphic YA rom-com at the moment, so quite a swerve from the themes of Dial One For Revenge! I can’t wait to write more queer characters and explore other themes I’ve not covered before, with some sapphic angst and queer chaos thrown in for good measure!
Have any shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?
When I was younger, I loved Jacqueline Wilson's books – she wrote so eloquently about mental health, trauma and the impact this had on children and young people. I feel her books really impacted how I wrote, and she is a huge inspiration to me. I also enjoyed TV shows with ensemble casts to see how different stories and relationships inter-connected – such as Buffy and Charmed. Magical realism and elements of the supernatural/fantasy were always genres I turned to and inspired my writing. Black Mirror and Stranger Things, two of my all-time favourite shows, have been inspirational in how they depict friendships and love dynamics alongside darker themes was something I gravitated towards and enjoyed weaving into my writing.
If you could give any advice to authors set to make their debut, what would it be?
Enjoy each moment – embrace every milestone, allow yourself to feel every feeling that comes up and keep going! Your book and your story deserve to be heard, and it will find a home. Community kept me going, whether that was an online or offline community – having peers and friends supporting me pushed me forward when I was struggling. Feedback was also my best friend – hearing others’ perspectives and thoughts gave me refreshing, different takes that I found very helpful. I also loved reading different YA while I was writing and having a supply of hot chocolate helped too! Patience, self-compassion and taking regular breaks were all things that helped me massively.
Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, or games you’re enjoying at the moment? Any recommendations for our audience? Bonus points if it includes sapphics!
There is so much I’m loving at the moment – books-wise I’m reading The Nicest Girl by Sophie Jo (very therapeutic for the people pleaser in me!), which is amazing, and I also recently finished Does Love Always Win? by Diane Billas, which has a very cute f/f storyline. Shows-wise, I am rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was my teenage obsession; I also adore Atypical, Heartstopper, A League of Their Own, Sex Education, Love Victor, Red, White and Royal Blue, and am rediscovering Sugar Rush – very much on a nostalgia high. Black Mirror’s San Junipero episode gets me every time. Movies I’ll always love include Never Been Kissed, If These Walls Could Task 2, Tell It to The Bees, and Imagine Me & You will always be the top of my list - Do Revenge is also a new top tier choice. Bring on the 90s throwbacks!