WELCOME to the Mansion of the Macabre. In the spirit of Halloween, we have a fantastic interview with Amy McCaw the author of the brilliant book Mina and the Undead. This is a fantastic YA read that has found many a fan since it was published in April 2021 by UCLan Publishing. If you like a good old scare and an intelligent read this is definitely the book for your Halloween treat. We hope this interview will inspire you to purchase a copy so check it out below and try to visit the author's website HERE.Readers of your book (Mina and the Undead) can expect a paranormal thriller. What else can they expect to find in the book?
Mina and the Undead definitely draws influences from different genres. At its heart, it’s a story about two estranged sisters who rebuild their relationship in unsettling circumstances. The book is set in New Orleans, so there are plenty of local myths and creepy settings. There’s also quite a bit of murder…
How would 17-year-old Mina (the main character in the book) describe herself?
That’s an interesting question! She’d probably describe herself as a lover of all things spooky, from serial killer stories and horror movies to graveyards and haunted locations. Mina has a difficult relationship with her family, and at the beginning she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere. She’s insatiably curious and can’t let something go if she thinks a wrong has been committed.
How do you process and use the ideas you have in the development and writing of this book?
I got most of my initial ideas from visiting New Orleans in 2012. I knew I wanted to include the local myths and amazing locations that I learned about during my visit. It was then a case of figuring out my plot, characters and the time period I would set it in. The story really came together when I figured out that the book would be set in the 90s. That gave me a whole decade of pop culture to draw on and set into motion a lot of plot points that have a 90s feel.
I tend to record ideas on a mind map initially. At first, it’s just a messy sprawl of thoughts. I then start organising the ideas that fit together into groups. Once I have enough elements of the story, I start plotting using bullet points. As soon as I’m too excited to put off writing any longer, I know it’s time to plunge into drafting.
Did any of the characters take you on a journey that you were not expecting?
Definitely! From very early on, I had an idea of the basic plot and I knew who all of the characters were. As I started writing, I realised that some characters had the potential to be red herrings, some would be wrapped up in the murder mystery, some would help Mina and some would get in her way. Some of those characters definitely surprised me and felt like they were taking on a life of their own.
How did you decide on the setting for the book?
From the moment I visited New Orleans, I knew I’d set a book there. This book was always set in New Orleans because it is so steeped in the city’s myths and locations. Mina is a Yorkshire girl (like me) who is fascinated with the city.
Is there anything that didn't make the final cut in the book? What was this and how did you work through the edits?
The main plot and structure of the book is quite similar to my early drafts. I had a clear sense of where it was going and future edits were about tightening and shaping the plot. The main scenes I’ve lost along the way weren’t particularly noteworthy, and that’s why I cut them. If they didn’t develop characters or move the plot on, they had to go. Sometimes, I need to write my way through a scene that I know will get cut, but I need it at the time to help me figure something out.
I tend to keep notes of future edits I want to make as I write. I do this in the comments on a Word document and I start lists of ideas and things I need to improve. On each round of edits, I work through these lists quite methodically, tackling one big thing at a time.
I understand that you love travelling. What is the most inspiring place you have visited and why?
I love visiting places with a rich history – that’s one of the things that drew me to New Orleans. Some of my favourite locations are castles, movie filming locations, catacombs and bookshops, so I enjoy places that have these features. Cities I would visit over and over again include New Orleans, Paris, Orlando, Los Angeles, Edinburgh and Lisbon.
I love reading books that scare me. What does your reading diet consist of?
I read mostly YA books, often with elements of horror, thrillers or mysteries. I also enjoy contemporary and historical YA when I’m in the right mood. I read some adult books (mostly horror and thrillers), Middle Grade, Manga and graphic novels too. I have very varied reading tastes, but I tend to gravitate towards spooky subjects.
What do you think is the most important element to get right when writing a YA horror book?
There are so many elements of YA horror, and my favourite books do different things really well.
I think atmosphere is really important. If you read books by authors like Kat Ellis and Dawn Kurtagich, their books simmer with a creepy atmosphere that builds to chilling scares.
I also think characters shouldn’t be neglected in horror. My favourite horror titles, like IT by Stephen King, have characters that you will cheer for and weep over.
Do you think films or books have particularly shaped your writing and the ideas within this book?
I’m definitely influenced by things I’ve read and watched. A lot of people describe Mina and the Undead as a love story to horror, and that’s definitely what I was going for. I found it really useful to know the tropes of YA mysteries and horror, so I could have fun leaning into them or turning them on their heads. I’ve been particularly influenced by 90s slasher movies, vampire movies and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.