Gareth Ward opens up to Denika Mead

Gareth Ward answers questions from Denika Mead (a 14-year-old home-schooled student from Wellington). The Traitor and the Thief by Gareth Ward was a favourite of the books she read this year.

You have had so many interesting jobs. Which of your former jobs do you think most helped with your writing?
I have taken something useful from all of my jobs. I think I learned much from my short time in the Marines about the mindset of the military. As a police officer you meet many people in highly emotional states, angry, sad, grieving, and deal with a lot of death so again this has all fed my writing. And, of course, my love of magic is present in my writing, too.

What author’s work do you enjoy reading?
I totally loved the Harry Potter series. More recently I’ve been reading Jonathan Stroud and especially like the Lockwood & Co series. When my son was younger I read all of the Cherub series by Robert Muchamore, and they were at least part of the inspiration for The Traitor and the Thief.

How much time do you spend writing and what part of the day do you do it?
I don’t have a fixed writing schedule, but I tend to write best in the mornings. I try and write for four hours or so, but will do more if the day permits. When I’m working on a first draft, I try and do 500 words every day. I don’t care, at that stage, whether the writing is brilliant or rubbish, because I’m going to go back and re-work it many times.

Can you describe how you approached the interesting character development of Velvet?
When creating characters, it’s not done in isolation, they are created to serve a purpose and therefore I consider the other characters as I create them. Velvet is “sporty” as an opposite to Zonda, she is from a privileged background as an opposite to Sin. She is mean and a bully and creates conflict, and stories progress through conflict. It’s hard to not create stereotypical characters. To try and make Velvet more unique, I decided that, although she seems to be a bully, many of the things she does are because her mother has ordered her to do so, to test the mettle of the COG candidates.

When I read the book I suspected many people of being the traitor, but when I learnt who the traitor was it was a big shock to me. How did you set this up so the reader would suspect some people and not the actual traitor?
A great question, although somewhat hard to answer without spoilers. I tried to make a number of the characters act in suspicious circumstances. I planted false clues, and one real clue, which I hoped was so subtle the readers would miss it, but then later on realise that it was indeed there. The hard part is not making other characters act suspiciously, it’s making their actions seem justified and reasonable later on.

If you were going buy a present for Noir and one for Sin what would they be?
Brilliant question. I would buy Noir an exceptionally nice pack of playing cards, probably with skulls or something darkly gothic on them. I would buy Sin flowers. People hardly ever buy flowers for boys. Having lived a hard and dangerous life, I feel the changed Sin, as he is at the end of the novel, would appreciate their fragile beauty.

If you were able to meet Eldritch and ask him one question what would it be?
What scares him?  (We find out at least one thing he is frightened of in the sequel.)

How is your experience of writing the second book in the series different from the first?
I was more constrained when writing the sequel, because the world and characters now exist and I have to be true to them. The characters are now real from word one, as opposed to the first book, when they were still forming their personality as I wrote.

I learned much about my writing from having my first book edited and feel that I am a much better writer now. The lessons I learned I have applied to the second book.

There is a tendency to want to duplicate scenes from the first book in the sequel. This does happen a couple of times in the sequel, but it was done deliberately with ironic intent.

With all the foreshadowing you did with the Fixer throughout the novel, what do you think the overall consequences would be if you hadn’t put him in at the end?
The Fixer is a great character. I feel, because he was such a presence throughout the story, he would have felt unresolved had he not made an appearance. I can’t honestly remember if it was my idea, my mentor’s idea, or my editor’s idea to have him at the end, which goes to show it is important to get feedback and advice on your writing, as even as the author you don’t hold all the answers.

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