With the second Maynard Trigg novel out very soon, we touched base with the author, David McNeill, to discuss book one spoilers, and reveal the name of the upcoming sequel. So stick around to the end for the title of book two!
"I think choosing a title is so hard, especially for a sequel. There are so many factors to consider, but we ended up with a title that tells you what the story is about, but similar to book one, it's a little mysterious as well."
This chat is full of spoilers for book one, Maynard Trigg and The Creature Beneath The Veil. Proceed with caution.
Q: How have you been? It feels like a lifetime ago when we sat down.
Good! Busy! turns out writing a sequel is an awful lot of work.
A lot of work...
Q: How has it been, the process? Different than last time?
I guess far more streamlined, but by the nature of being a sequel, the book is a lot longer. So I feel like I've achieved a lot more in a shorter space of time. Aron might disagree, hahah! But it's getting there. I'm really excited to have book two finalised, and we're so, so close now. Only a few tweaks left and then it'll be ready to see the light of day.
People keep asking when it's out, and the answer is soon... very very soon. But we'd rather it be up to our standards than just get it out the door!
Q: Okay, so let's talk book one spoilers, because that's what we're really here for. What's your favourite scene in the book, and why? You can be honest if you can't pick one.
Oh no, okay! I think I'm supposed to say it's like choosing between your favourite child, but every parent does secretly have a favourite...
I really enjoy the scenes with Spiggot and Maynard - there's an authenticity in their friendship that is undercut brilliantly by -
Wait, am I allowed to just spoil the twist?
Q: Go for it, we'll put a big warning at the top.
Okay, well, when you know Spiggot has sold Maynard out to secure The Hand, that friendship is so much more complicated. Because there is some genuine fondness between them, but undercut by the bitter-sweetness of Spiggot lying the whole time.
Plus you can revisit a lot of the scenes with Spiggot, and knowing he's lying and working with Sterling, I spent a lot of time making sure those signs are there in the subtext.
Q: You've very tactfully avoided picking a favourite.
Gun to my head?
I love the scene with Lady Sterling where she gives her villain speech. She talks about people being flowers, and it's just really sinister and was very icky to write.
"Did you know, Maynard, that there is nothing worse than a disloyal friend? A disloyal friend is not truly a friend let alone a person. Empathy, integrity, and reliability make for good friendship, Maynard. But a friend is no friend without loyalty. Without loyalty, those friends are more like flowers. They might be beneficial. Perhaps they make life easier for you. Perhaps, even, they make you happy." - Lady Sterling, Maynard Trigg and The Creature Beneath The Veil
There you go, I picked!
Q: Haha, thank you - on that note, was there a particular inspiration for Lady Sterling. She's well realised as a villain, in that the whole time, right until the last moment when she threatens to execute our heroes - she felt like she believed she was doing the right thing.
That's a huge part of making a convincing villain - but there was no specific person or character I drew on for her. She's a combination of all the politicians and people in power I've met who, through the nature of their position in life, tend toward politics of condescension.
As you said, she believes she's doing the right thing, but maybe more importantly, she believes she knows best because of her status.
So there's something kind of gross about her telling Maynard about friends and loyalty because she's speaking down to him from a position of power. That came naturally in a way, I didn't go out of my way to make her like that.
I also knew I needed a red herring villain, so the dirty, potentially brutal cop-type of Vanderbilt felt like he needed to be balanced against the opposite of that: the sweet, ideologically seductive politician who really just wants to help.
Q: Vanderbilt is really not a bad guy, is he?
He's certainly not a good dude, he drinks on the job and lets his anger at Maynard blind him.
But I agree, he's not a bad dude in the same way Sterling is.
He's actually one of my favourite characters to write - it's so fun getting into his voice and motivations. I'd love to flesh him out in future stories when it makes sense.
Q: Moving on to The Seeker - the otherworldliness of the creature is really what drives the horror around it. There's something cosmic in our lack of understanding of what this creature is. This time when I reread the story, I noticed there's a lot conflicting information and unreliable narration around The Seeker. It makes it really hard to pin down what it is and how it behaves.
Absolutely what I was going for.
The Seeker is really the physical manifestation of the unknown. As you alluded to, there's something elemental about how impossible it is to know anything this monster. What motivates it? Who controls it? Can it be hurt?
Even information we do learn in the story is contradictory. The aside story describes it as this howling bird-like thing, Hogwood talks about it as some kind of ogre-esque bird-demon, meanwhile, in real life, it's a silent, careful killer.
Q: Changing gears, when we last spoke, we discussed that book one deals a lot with isolation and trust. Does book two continue this exploration?
That's a good question - I'm always going to write about those topics, and in this world trust is always going to be a focus for Maynard.
So yes, and no.
It's also a lot more about the next stage of that. I think I ended up writing a little more about connection and trying to forge those meaningful bonds, whereas book one was really about being lied to and taken for a ride.
Q: That's just a function of where you are in your life?
All art sort of reflects where you are when you make it.
Book two is definitely representative of a different part of my life.
When I was starting on The Creature Beneath The Veil I was really trying to find my place in the world. That struggle informed a lot of the themes.
But I'm a little more grounded now, and I've firmed up a lot of moving pieces in my life, so book two is a lot more reflective of that. Without saying too much, that is. It for sure looks forward, and Maynard has to start asking himself some bigger questions about the kind of life he wants to lead.
Q: That makes sense. Is there anything you can tell us about book two?
The blurb hasn't been signed off yet, but we have settled on a title.
Q: What's that process like? I imagine trying to give something you've worked so hard on a title - a unifying identifier - would be really hard.
I think choosing a title is so hard, especially for a sequel. There are so many factors to consider, but we ended up with a title that tells you what the story is about, but similar to book one, it's a little mysterious as well.
The process is a long one, but I'm a list person.
So what I did last time (and this time) is, once we'd finished structural editing, I jotted down a list of potential titles.
You know, Maynard Trigg and The....
A list of ten or twenty, then shopped them around to my friends.
I settled on a title pretty early, and because I'm indecisive, it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I changed my mind again and we settled on the title for book two.
It was my partner, actually, who took one look at the list and went "it should be that one, the title you chose makes no sense" - and she was right. It has the mystery and wants to be read.
Q: Okay, I'll bite. Are you allowed to tell us the title?
Book two is called Maynard Trigg and The City of Whispers.
Q: Oh, very mysterious.
Yeah look, it has a lot of double meaning behind it from the text, same with book one. I think it's really important that the more layers you peel back, the more you start to understand those layers.
It's exciting when people finish book one, close it, read the title again and realise just how much information is loaded and layered in the title.
Hopefully book two does the same.
Q: I'm very excited to find out. Before you go, one final question: what are you most excited about in book two?
I've loved expanding this world and deepening ideas hinted at in book one. From The Crucible to Detectors to The Seeker, these are all big, complex ideas I've loved breathing more life into.
So I'm excited for people to see more of the world, and the characters who live there, and just how Maynard is going to navigate an ever-expanding cast of people who want different things from him.
Q: That and more sky pirates.
And more sky pirates!