1. Hi Soman thank you for taking the time to be interviewed for Teen Librarian. For the first question would you please introduce yourself for the readers?
My pleasure! I’m Soman Chainani, the author of THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD & EVIL series and the writer of the upcoming film adaptations for Universal as well. I’m thrilled to be here at Teen Librarian to give you a little peek behind the scenes of the SGE world. I’m also a massive, massive Anglophile and worked in the British film and TV industry for years before I started work on the series. I’d live in London in a heartbeat if I didn’t have to fly to Los Angeles so often for film work.
2. School for Good & Evil is your first novel, everyone I have spoken to that has read it has been raving about it (in a good way) myself included – how does it feel to have such a rapturous response?
Any temporary ego boost is tempered by how hard I’m working on the second book in the series, called A WORLD WITHOUT PRINCES. Sequels tend to be disappointing, but I’ve always told myself that each book in the SGE series has to be better than the last – and wildly different — or there’s no point writing them. So I’ve been holed up in various rooms and coffee shops, writing like a madman. Even when I was in London for the UK tour, I’d spend half the day at a tea shop in Soho banging my head against the wall on a new chapter.
That said, I’m fully aware of how special and lucky this whole run has been so far. I had a list of goals I wanted to achieve by the end of the series – and they all happened in the first week! I stumbled around for a while, feeling like I was in a dream. Good news can sometimes be as disorienting as bad news. But now I’m happily back to work, abusing myself daily as to why I can’t write faster.
3. I have heard that the movie rights for SfG&E have been purchased – will you be involved in the adaptation?
I’m writing the adaptation for Universal with Malia Scotch Marmo (the writer of Hook). The movie will be very different from the book. For one thing, there’s just too much story in the book to fit into a two-hour movie. For another, a literal adaptation of a book can be quite dreary and repetitive. I’m much more interested in finding a new way to tell the story of Sophie and Agatha, so that the film feels like a new experience, even to lovers of the book.
4. On the surface, the story looks like your typical fairy tale of good and evil but once you get past the cover it challenges ones preconceptions of good and evil – what influences did you have in the writing of the story?
We didn’t have cable when I was young, so all we had was our rickety TV set and VHS tapes of every single Disney animated movie. Until age 8 or so, that was all I pretty much watched. Everything I learned about storytelling, I learned from Disney. When I went to college, though, I became fascinated by the gap between the original tales and these Disney revisions.
As a relentless student of the Grimms’ stories, what I loved about them was how unsafe the characters were. You could very well end up with wedding bells and an Ever After – or you could lose your tongue or be baked into a pie. There was no ‘warmth’ built into the narrator, no expectations of a happy ending. The thrill came from vicariously trying to survive the gingerbread house, the hook-handed captain, or the apple-carrying crone at the door – and relief upon survival. Somewhere in that gap between the Disney stories and the retellings, THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL was born.
In recent years, fairy tale mash-ups, retellings, and revisions have become popular – and for good reason, given how enduring and inspiring the source material is. That said, I had my sights set on something more primal: a new fairy tale, just as unleashed and unhinged as the old, that found the anxieties of today’s children. To acknowledge the past – the alumni of the genre, so to speak – and move on to a new class. As soon as I started thinking in those terms, I knew I wanted to do a school-based novel. I was walking in Regents Park in London before a meeting when I had the first image… a girl in pink and a girl in black falling into the wrong schools… I got so caught up thinking that I missed my appointment entirely.
5. There are some superficial comparisons to Hogwarts Harry Potter, but the School for Good and Evil is a much darker place – has your book faced any challenges yet or is it still too new to have popped up on outraged parents radars yet?
It is a much darker place – Hogwarts you choose to go to. You’re kidnapped to The School for Good and Evil and there’s no return. But encouragingly, I haven’t heard a single complaint about the book’s content. There’s certainly been commentary about its amoral universe and the intensity of what the kids have to face – but the course of the story seems to solve any concerns.
That said, there will be rumbles about Book 2. You’ll see.
6. Have the majority of your fans identified themselves as Evers or Nevers? and how would you describe yourself?
Hmm, good question. It’s been so evenly split! It’s quite amazing, really. Even when I go to schools, by the end, it’s a very clear 50-50.
I can be comically high maintenance (my friends joke Sophie is the real me), so I’d surely be an overachieving Ever and the most regular user of the Groom Room (the medieval spa, which only the top ranked students are allowed to use). That said, Evil’s classes have no boundaries – for sheer entertainment value alone, I can see the allure.
That’s if I had a choice. In the process of writing the book, I realized I wasn’t quite sure which school I would actually end up in– so I created an online assessment to answer that question. At www.schoolforgoodandevil.com, every reader can take a 10-question SGE Entrance Exam to determine whether they’re an Ever or a Never. I wrote all the questions myself and there’s a bank of over 100, so the questions change every time.
I’ve taken it a number of times, trying to be as honest as I can, and I always end up 75% Evil and 25% Good. Those who read the novel will agree that this isn’t a surprising result in the least.
7. Fairy tales were originally dark and bloody tales before they were tamed by the Grimm brothers and Charles Perrault (and later Walt Disney) and had most of the blood and death removed, your story returns to the roots of the tales were bad things happen to the deserving (those deserving of having bad things happen to them) – was this intentional returning to the roots of the stories and removing most of the sugar?
Absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, I just don’t quite understand why children of two hundred years ago could handle these frank and brutal stories of survival and cleverness – while children today must endure the sanitized versions. Frankly, I find the latter far more offensive and damaging. So in the School for Good and Evil, I point out this disparity. Once upon a time, Good and Evil were in pure balance. But now Good wins all the time, is obsessed with beauty, clothes, and superficial romance. The School itself has become Disneyfied and is trying to find its way back.
8. Finally do you have any plans for a sequel either involving Sophie and Agatha or staying with students at the School?
It’s a three-book series, so you’ll see what’s next. As for who’s in it… well that’s the question isn’t it!
Thanks for having me on your wonderful blog. SGE fans can join the jam-packed Facebook page, message me on Twitter at @somanchainani, and keep up with all things Good and Evil on www.schoolforgoodandevil.com.
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