Last December I reviewed Genevieve Cogman’s debut novel The Invisible Library and I adored it with all my heart. It was such an incredibly fun read and also: Librarian Spies; there wasn’t a chance I wasn’t at least going to like the book. Yet I truly loved it and Cogman has set the bar high in terms of 2015 debuts. The book is officially published tomorrow and to celebrate, today I bring you an interview with Genevieve Cogman, in which we learn more about the Library, about what Cogman’s Librarian name would be, and where Irene and Kai might go in the future. I hope you enjoy the interview and don’t forget to go and pick up your own copy of The Invisible Library, available at a bookseller near you from tomorrow onwards.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Genevieve Cogman?
I’m a classifications specialist – that is, I work with what are called “classifications” and “terminologies”, which are used to code and record medical data. (Look up ICD-10 and SNOMED CT if you’re curious.) My day job is for the Health & Social Care Information Centre. I live in the north of England and wrap up warm in winter. I spend way too much time on the internet.
You’ve worked as a freelance writer for several role-playing game companies. How has writing in shared sandboxes influenced your writing in your own world?
I think it’s helped me improve my worldbuilding and my ability to work with other people. It’s also important to be able to look at what you’ve got to work with, and find positive ways to expand it, or ways to exploit inconsistencies, rather than try to cover them up (which never works). If the background you’ve already got, or established, results in something which is out of place or inconsistent, then it’s useful to be able to find a way to actually turn that into a positive plot point in itself. Not “this country doesn’t have an army, oops” but “this country doesn’t have an army, why doesn’t it have an army?”
How would you introduce people to the world of the Invisible Library?
Think of it as a widely differing number of alternate worlds, with a single library that may connect to all of them. Imagine a group of Librarians, whose job is to collect unique books from all these different worlds in order to keep them stable between ultimate chaos at one end and ultimate order at the other end. Throw in narrative tropes, dragons, and people who would like to conquer the universe. Mix well, sit back, and drink.
The Invisble Library is being pitched as “Dr. Who with librarian spies”, but going by some of the Librarians’ names there are a lot of different influences in the book. Who are some of the authors that inspired your writing?
I’d definitely have to point at Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Barbara Hambly, Kage Baker, Edmund Crispin, Lois McMaster Bujold, and far too many others. I’d also note my enthusiasm for graphic novels and for manga. And I’m a sucker for a good action scene.
And speaking of Librarian names. Librarians choose their name based on stories or characters that have great significance to them. What would your Librarian name be?
I’d pick Blakeney. I’d be a demned elusive book-liberator.
The places and times Irene and Kai might be visiting next are seemingly limitless, providing writing has been discovered in it. What era or location would you love to have them visit in future books?
So many options. I’d like to have them visit a Tsarist Russia where magic is a part of daily life. I’d like to send them to Revolutionary Paris. Or maybe a variant of Imperial China (where Irene can attempt to improve her Judge Dee collection). I’d like to have them visit a society where the Roman Empire never fell, though I’m not sure whether to make it Byzantine, or to have history take an alternate route a bit earlier. And I’d like some hijinks involving witchcraft and airship manufactories in the Channel Islands. And more!
What’s next for you? Are you still hard at work on book two? Are you having a launch for The Invisible Library?
I’m working on books 2 and 3 at the moment – book 2 is in the editing stage, book 3 is still in first draft. So far my plans for a launch party are mostly along the lines of “drinks with my friends at a local pub”, unless events really surprise me.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
I also enjoy patchwork, quilting, knitting, and beading, and I have a large collection of roleplaying game sourcebooks. And beside the regular books, I follow a number of webcomics and comics. There aren’t enough hours in the day.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I’m looking forward to the next books by Ben Aaronovitch, Naomi Novik, and Scott Lynch, though I’m not sure how far in the future they are.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
Mostly alphabetically, but I do have a few particular areas where particular authors are grouped, or where books on a particular subject are grouped. (All the Sherlock Holmes pastiches and homages get shelved together, for instance…)
Bio: Genevieve Cogman is a freelance author, who has written for several role-playing game companies. Her work includes GURPS Vorkosigan and contributions to the In Nomine role-playing game line for Steve Jackson Games, contributions to Exalted 2nd Edition and other contributions to the Exalted and Orpheus lines for White Wolf Publishing, Hearts, Swords and Flowers: The Art of Shoujo for Magnum Opus, and contributions to the Dresden Files RPG for Evil Hat Productions. She currently works for the NHS in England as a clinical classifications specialist.