Venom by Bex Hogan: High stakes on the high seas
The tale of a pirate girl sailing the high seas and protecting a group of islands from her evil assassin father has won a Cambridgeshire author a three-book deal – and she has just brought out the second in the trilogy.
Bex Hogan spent years learning the hard way how to become a novelist and had seven rejected manuscripts under her belt before striking gold with her young adult novel, Viper.
Her follow up, Venom, is launched this month, and is set to be just as popular, but the author is sad she won’t get to enjoy her planned publicity events and launch party because of the coronavirus lockdown.
Bex said: “I was so looking forward to my launch and even had non-alcoholic cocktails planned based on the book, it was going to be so good. But there’s not a lot we can do.
“Every single event I had planned has been cancelled. I was going to do a tour of schools, festivals, speaking events, a book signing in London, so it was slightly devastating.
“I’m lucky this is book two so I already have a lovely group of people who enjoyed book one and want to read my new novel and celebrate with me. I’m thinking of holding a Twitter party for the launch instead.”
The story centres on 17-year-old Marianne who is fated to one day become the Viper, defender of the Twelve Isles. But the reigning Viper stands in her way. Corrupt and merciless, he prowls the seas in his warship, killing anyone who gets in his way. He’s the most dangerous man on the ocean – and he’s her father.
Bex, who lives in St Ives with her husband and two daughters, brought out the first in the trilogy last year. Venom carries on three months after the events of the first book.
Bex says: “Marianne is the daughter of the Viper, who is the king’s personal assassin on Eastern Islands.
“Originally the Viper and his crew were supposed to protect the people of the isles as much as work for the king, but over the years that has changed and this particular Viper, Marianne’s father, is corrupt and cruel and he is doing whatever suits him as opposed to helping anybody.
“Marianne on the other hand is not a killer, she is more of a healer and she has to keep that side of herself hidden while she decides whether to follow in her father’s footsteps and become the heir to the Viper, or whether she wants to stand up to her father and try to protect the isles, like she is supposed to.”
The story is set across 12 islands in a fantasy world split between six Eastern Isles and six Western Isles – they were at war 200 years ago and have not been friendly since.
Bex, who comes from Cornwall, says she gained inspiration for her fantasy setting from childhood holidays on the Isles of Scilly.
“If you have ever been to the Scilly Isles they all have this unique sense of identity and they are all different, which is what I wanted the islands to have in my book.
“The Isles of Scilly have Briar, which is the one most exposed to the Atlantic and is wild and battered and bleak. Right next door you have Tresco, which is like a tropical island and I thought that was a fascinating idea for my own setting.
“So my books have the First Isle, which is the biggest island where the king lives and is where all the industry happens and the money is, and then you have the other islands which have particular qualities that make them stand out from the others; they have their own microclimates, one is always surrounded by mists, one is just rock where lots of mining happened.
“I wanted readers to know by the surroundings which island they are on.
“The world-building part of writing this series was great fun. At the moment I’m doing edits on book three and am exploring a couple of new islands in the west, so I’m getting to do it all again, losing myself in the detail of them. Getting down to the nitty gritty is fun.
“It would be really organised to have a pin board for each island, but I’m a messy scrawl-in-a-notebook kind of writer. At my desk I have a pile of notebooks. I jot down my ideas. I’m terrible at drawing but I like to doodle plants and create the flora and fauna for the island that have medicinal properties.
“I’m from Cornwall so I also drew a lot from growing up on the coastlines and the sea.
“I don’t sail, though. I’m actually quite afraid of the water. Marianne is too, which makes the ship more of a prison for her because she can’t escape onto the sea.
“I had to do some research on ships and boats because it’s not my thing. I’m more of a potter on the beach and pick up shells kind of person. I might go in the sea up to my ankles but no more, the water is too intimidating to me.”
The idea that started the series actually came to Bex in a vivid dream.
“I’m one of those people who has annoyingly real dreams and I dreamt of the initiation scene in book one completely out of context. I didn’t know who anyone was or what was happening really, but when I woke up I just needed to know who the people were, what had happened to get them to this point and what was going to happen next. In fact the scene I dreamt is in the book exactly as I dreamt it.
“It was one of those moments where you wake up and think, well, I need to write that down.”
However, this was not her first book idea. Bex had already completed seven manuscripts before this series was accepted for publication.
She says: “I stopped counting the rejections, but it was in the hundreds. I kept going because I just knew it was something I wanted.
“I was a stay-at-home mum, so I was fortunate I could just keep writing. I had lots of ideas and I could learn a lot from every manuscript I wrote. You slowly get a few more encouraging comments from agents as the rejections come in. I did have moments when I thought, ‘oh gosh, maybe I should just give up’. But I knew there wasn’t a time limit on it, so that helped and I knew I was learning and getting better with each book.”
Bex says the secret to staying on track was to start a new book while she was sending out the previous one for consideration by literary agents.
“So, when the rejections inevitably came in I had already moved on psychologically because I had a new project. That kept me going – just looking forward all the time.”
Completely self-taught, Bex explains she couldn’t afford to do a creative writing course when she started out. “Courses are brilliant but are not essential,” she says. “They might make your journey a bit quicker I suppose.”
Instead she spent her time lost in the kinds of books she likes to write. “I have always loved fantasy, watching it, reading it, absorbing it.
“My earliest memory of books is of mum reading Grimms’ Fairy Tales to me. I love escaping into other worlds with different rules. I love legitimately day dreaming and calling it work.”
Now already writing her third book, Bex says she runs all her ideas past her mum, who is an English teacher, and her eldest daughter. “She is a huge young adult and fantasy reader,” says Bex. “She is a really fast reader and reads my pile of books first before I get the chance. I bounce my ideas off her. She is actually writing her own book now, she is so talented.”
Viper and Venom are out now, published by Hachette.
More by this authorAlex Spencer