Amy Alward: An Exclusive Interview on The Potion Diaries

Amy Alward: An Exclusive Interview on The Potion Diaries

Hi Amy! Sam is a very strong lead character – where did the idea for her come from and what qualities do you love most about her?

Thank you! Sam is the kind of ‘strong’ female lead that I always wanted to write – she may not be able to shoot arrows or win a fist fight (and initially she prefers reading about adventures to living them), but she’s willing to blast past her comfort zone to help her friends – or the Princess of the realm. Don’t get me wrong, I love a Katniss Everdeen-type heroine, but for this book, I wanted to write someone who would be more relatable to me when I was a teen (and I would have died early on in The Hunger Games!). I think there are all different kinds of bravery, and I think that someone who manages to find courage in the face of their worst fears is the bravest kind of all. I love that Sam is much more worried about who she is going to be – rather than who she is going to be with – in the future. She always has alchemy on the brain and it takes a very special guy to break through that barrier.

In your story the princess falls in love with herself and there are several scenes that had us laughing out loud! What do you think it is about her situation that is so effortlessly funny?

The Evelyn scenes were definitely some of my favourite to write. I think there’s always an element of the absurd when it comes to someone falling in love with themselves, but also – like a lot of funny things – it hits close to the bone, what with our modern love of selfies (myself included!). I love that fantasy allows you to take things one step further, so for me, it was a character who fell in love with her reflection, divided herself in two and started planning the wedding!

Why did you decide to write from both Sam and Evelyn’s perspectives? Was one more fun to write than the other?

Like I said before, Evelyn’s scenes were some of the most fun! They just flowed so easily, whereas Sam’s perspective required a lot more in depth research and planning. I decided to write from two perspectives because I wanted to show the increasing danger that Evelyn was in, while giving a bit of a break from the intense adventure of Sam’s point of view. I love the immediacy of the first-person perspective too, as it really enables me to bring the action to the reader and have them experience the pulse-pounding excitement alongside Sam.

Where did the idea to put a heart at the start of Samantha’s chapters and the crown on Evelyn’s come from?

That came from my very clever designers at Simon and Schuster! I love the little touches that they put into the chapter headings to remind readers of the change in point of view. Also, I love the touches on the cover, too. When you read about eluvian ivy, the front cover design suddenly makes a lot more sense… shout out to Jenny Richards, nicandlou and Emma Wells who all had a hand in the design.

Even though it’s a book about love potions, your story is about much more than romance. Did you set out to write characters with other priorities?

Oh, absolutely. When I was a sixteen, I had crushes on boys but finding my one true love was definitely NOT the priority. I was far too obsessed with wondering who I was going to be when I grew up, where I was going to go to university, and how I was going to get the grades I needed to get in to said university (I was way too obsessed with all those things than was healthy, but then again, so were most of my friends). I wanted to write a book for all those teenagers who think they need to have it all figured out, and who are worried that they don’t. Sam is like that.

Who was your favourite character to write aside from Evelyn and Sam?

Definitely Kirsty! She’s a Finder – someone who goes out and hunts down dangerous ingredients for alchemists – and the bad-ass-adventurer, Lara-Croft-in-cargo-pants, take-no-prisoners kind of character that helps push Sam out of her comfort zone. Every scene with her in just flew out of my pen and onto the page.

We can’t help but notice that Zain shares a name with a certain ex-one directioner. Is there a link between them?

Haha, maybe! I actually started writing The Potion Diaries before One Direction were a twinkle in Cheryl Cole’s eye, but when they got big, it was no coincidence that Zayn was my favourite. Him sharing a name with my romantic lead seemed to be a perfect fit!

We love the contrast between a medieval and a modern world in The Potion Diaries. What inspired you to bring the two together? How did you decide which medieval parts to keep and which modern parts?

Ooh, this is a good question as it relates back to what inspired me to write The Potion Diaries in the first place. The story goes that I was on Twitter when one of the people I follow posted a ‘Word of the Day’ tweet, and that word was ‘Philtre: n., a love potion.’ Wanting to know more, I google ‘Philtre’ and found out that it was the old English word for love potion – and I had studied Old English and Medieval Literature at university. It led me to a whole bunch of medieval tales (like Tristan and Isolde) that feature love potions gone wrong. Instantly an idea for a story about a love potion popped into my head, but because I found out about it through Twitter, I wondered if there was a way to combine modern and medieval in a way that hadn’t been done before. The result was The Potion Diaries.

Choosing what to keep came naturally. I wanted a royal family but a princess who was more Kate Middleton than Cinderella. I wanted social media, but I also wanted mythological creatures (like dragons, unicorns and mermaids). Really, I wanted it all, and I hope I made it work!

Your story explores the differences between family run tradition and impersonal corporations. What inspired you to write about that in The Potion Diaries?

This aspect actually came from my real life – I grew up in a traditional, family-run business. My parents own an oriental carpet store in Ottawa, Canada. Although it’s a far cry from alchemy, I took a lot of inspiration from my parents’ business – including how it often involves the entire family and, when a family’s livelihood is dependent on that business’ success, there are a lot of pressures that come with it. But I’ve also worked within large corporations. I can see the tensions between them, but I don’t necessarily think one is inherently better than the other. It’s the same in The Potion Diaries – although Sam sees ZoroAster Corp as the enemy, the corporation itself isn’t inherently ‘evil’. Only the fact that its very existence threatens Sam’s family’s livelihood.

You’ve created a vast and imaginative environment/world for The Potion Diaries. How did you come up with all these exciting ideas for it? Did you have any other ideas that you wanted to include but couldn’t?

Thank you! So many of the ideas for the world of The Potion Diaries come from real life, and that’s why I travel – to continue to learn about the world, and the vast, diverse mythologies that exist. I have so many ideas that I couldn’t include, but don’t worry – that’s why there’s more than one book in the series!

Using social media in a fantasy world is such a fun idea! Was it a challenge to bring the two together?

The biggest challenge was making it a plausible idea that they would have social media in the age of magic, but then, why not? Even if we had magic, I believe that Facebook (or, in my world, Connect) would exist. Teens would still be teens. I believe that even at Hogwarts 2016, there would be Snapchat!

What aspect of the potion diaries world do you wish existed? (We’d like to place an order for a unicorn).

How great would a pet unicorn be? But the aspect of The Potion Diaries that I most wish existed is Transporting. Even if it would be really expensive for an ordinary person like me (someone without any magic, sigh), it would be amazing to know I could travel anywhere in the blink of an eye.

What do you think it is about potions that fascinates us as readers?

I’ve thought quite a lot about this, and I think that because potions have the ability to manipulate us and change us (to fall in love, to tell the truth, to change our appearance), they are inherently terrifying – and fascinating. The line between potion and poison is so thin. But also potions are healing. They can cure diseases and illnesses. Sometimes, I think medicines are the closest thing we have to magic in our own world.

Would you ever make a love potion?

No, I don’t think so. I would MUCH rather be single that know I had to manipulate someone into falling in love with me. Only someone in a really desperate situation should resort to a love potion… and even then, it’s only going to have terrible consequences 😉

What other potion do you wish you could make?

I’d love to make Felix Felicis from the Harry Potter series – who wouldn’t want a bit of liquid luck?

What do you think would be your biggest strength if you took part in a wilde hunt?

Probably my research skills! I love hunting down obscure myths and legends in old medieval or anglo saxon texts – so I’d probably be a helpful person to have in the background, tracing the source of the next ingredient.

What was your favourite scene from the book?

I have two favourite scenes! My favourite Evelyn scene is the one where she starts planning her wedding with herself. It really made me giggle.

My favourite Samantha scene is when she and Zain are trapped on a mountainside, and when they come across a terrifying creature, she manages to figure out the way to save them.

The cover is gorgeous! Did you have an idea of how it should look in your mind while writing?

I’m so glad you love it too! It’s absolutely perfect for the book. Funnily enough, as I was writing, I always pictured it with a bottle on the front – but I love how the designers at Simon & Schuster managed to make it look modern as well as magical. Actually, a little secret: did you know that the bottle was inspired by Taylor Swift’s jumper? She wore a glittery Love Potion top and we fell in love with that idea!

Why do you think your story appeals to younger readers in particular?

I think younger readers love to get swept up in an adventure. Romance is a part of the story, but it doesn’t dominate – this is more about a young person finding their place in the world, and I think that’s a story that appeals to everyone.

Is there a message that you’d like readers to take from the book?

I hope they take away that you don’t have to have everything figured out by the time you’re 16 – or 18 – or 30 – or ever for that matter! If you follow your heart and passions, life will never be boring.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, at what age would you want to speak to yourself and what advice would you give?

I’d go back to when I was 16 and tell myself to relax – and not worry so much about my grades and to focus on what I was passionate about. I was very wound up as a student and tried to be good at everything, and in the end it was what I was doing in my spare time (writing) that ended up being my calling.

Are there any people or authors who particularly inspire you to write?

I was so lucky to have parents who never forced me down a path to a ‘safe’ career and who encouraged me to follow my dreams. They took a lot of risks to open their own business, and they inspire me every day.

Zoe (Sugg) also inspires me. I’ve never met someone who works as hard as she does: she’s blazing a path to success that no one has walked before, inspiring young people (especially young women) and spreading her passion for books and writing at every opportunity. I hope to inspire teens as much as she does one day.


Quickfire Round…

What was your favourite book as a teenager?

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Who is your favourite author?

J. K. Rowling

What is your favourite book of all time?

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

What is your favourite book that you’ve read recently?

Way Down Dark by James Smythe

Who is your favourite character from a book?

Hermione Granger

Is there a book that you wish you wrote?

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

What is your favourite book to film adaptation?

The Princess Bride

Which character from a book would you have as your best friend?

Penny Porter, from Girl Online

Which character from a book would have as your boyfriend?

Rhysand, from A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas

What do you love about reading?

Getting the opportunity to live (if just for a few hours) in another world

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

The ability to do my job anywhere in the world

eBooks or paper books?

eBooks

Proudest moment?

Receiving the first copy of my first book, The Oathbreaker’s Shadow

Favourite place in the world?

Kaikoura, New Zealand

City, countryside or beach?

City

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Astronaut

What was your favourite subject at school?

History

Cats or dogs?

Dogs

What makes you happy?

Airplane tickets

Favourite song at the moment?

“Hasta el Almanecer” Nicky Jam

Favourite text/tweet you’ve received recently?

A baby photo from my best friend J

Favourite photograph?

My current FB profile pic: me with a ‘giant’ version of The Potion Diaries on the Salt Flats in Bolivia

Favourite item of clothing?

My tiger-striped Havaianas

Favourite quote of all time?

“Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” – G. K. Chesterton

What motto do you live your life by?

“All our dreams can come true – if we have the courage to pursue them” – Walt Disney

Favourite place to read?

In a hammock

Favourite place to write?

On the road

Handwrite or type?

Handwrite