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Interview: YA Author CJ Daugherty

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American-born writer CJ Daugherty is the author of the successful Night School series, the first of which was the #5 bestselling YA debut of 2012.

It tells the story of Allie Sheridan, an angry teenager with a dysfunctional family who is sent to Cimmeria Academy, a secretive boarding school where all is not what it seems. As the mysteries begin to pile up, Allie realises she is a cog in a rather large conspiracy.

The sequel, Night School: Legacy, sees Allie return for her second term at Cimmeria. Not only must she comes to terms with the with the death of her friend but she has to deal with the pressing matter of a love triangle involving her, brooding Carter and suave but flawed Sylvain.

I got a chance to chat with CJ about the new book...

I understand the idea for Night School came to you after seeing that picture of David Cameron and his cronies at the Bullingdon Club?

I started thinking, you have the Bullingdon Club and Skull and Bones for 19-year-olds, what if there was something before that? I don't know if there is, but it would be surprising to me if there weren't. I wanted to write a psychological thriller that was fast-paced and I wanted there to be murder and mayhem. I was working in Westminster, editing websites mostly for the Home Office. And I had this long commute and to amuse myself, I started sketching an outline. I was interested in who the David Camerons and Boris Johnsons were when they were 16.

Oh no, are you telling me Carter is actually Cameron?

(laughs) No, that would ruin it for everyone.

The first book was a big hit. What was the most surprising reaction you got to it?

One of the biggest complaints the first book got was that too many strings were left untied. I sympathise with that, but the problem was it was my first book and I wasn't sure where to end it. They'll have to forgive me (laughs). I was surprised by the rage - lots of people hate cliff-hangers. At first, I was so apologetic. I didn't write and apologise to everybody, but I've learned to make sure that I tie up enough strands to leave people satisfied.

How do you see your heroine, Allie?

I see her as a flawed heroine. You get complaints for her flaws. In the first book there's an attempted date rape and Allie does not report this to the authorities, nor does she do anything other than get a bit cross and refuses to see him anymore. There were reviews that took umbrage with that. The question is: is that my responsibility? I didn't think that character would [go to the authorities].There's nobody she trusts. I may look at it differently over time, but I think my logic was reasonable. I did want it to be nuanced, realistic.

So what can fans expect in Book 2?

In Book One, Allie sees Cimmeria as an outsider. In Book Two, she's inside all of it. She becomes a part of the things she's puzzled over. She gets the answers to the questions. She will find out who Lucinda is, who her mother is, what happened to Christopher...

And romance?

Let's just say the course of true love doesn't run smooth. Allie and Carter are in a difficult position and they're going to have to fight to keep it together. Let's leave it at that. And Allie has issues to settle with Sylvain too. She has to sort out how she feels about him.

I wanted to ask some "how you write" questions. How do you make sure you get the teen voice right?

In terms of researching voice and dialect, I follow people around. I hang out in Starbuck's a lot where I live because they're all private school kids and they're all very affluent. And as an adult, they're all unaware of you, so you can just sit at a table and listen. Trains are good as well for eavesdropping.

What's your tip for being a successful novelist?

Write characters you love and then go where they lead you. Let them breathe on the page.

What was the first thing you ever wrote?

The first thing I ever wrote that was fiction was based on an REM song. I wrote 8 chapters. I'm not going to tell you the title, because I still plan to use it. And it was terrible. It was semi-autobiographical, about a girl who moves from New Orleans to London and is a journalist. Turns out I'm not that interesting and I threw it away!

And while we've got you here, can you give us any insight into Book 3?

Book 3 is where we get into the higher levels of the group itself. That's what Book 3 is about. You find out about the big organisation that Night School's a part of.

Night School: Legacy is out now.