I have a phone call with Veronica Roth scheduled for 4pm that I have been looking forward to for weeks. Predictably, at 3:50, I discover that the room that has a phone with a proper speaker is being used for a meeting. Gahhh. I manically download Skype, put some money on my account and plant myself in a corridor, glaring at anyone who dares come in my direction.
When technology finally starts cooperating and I get through to Veronica, I immediately relax. She’s not the incredibly intimidating person I imagined in my head, instead she talks to me as though we’re friends, rather than strangers chatting to each other through a kind of crappy Skype connection. She’s incredibly friendly and quick to laugh, the polar opposite of the female characters she writes about.
Veronica Roth is the author of the New York Times best selling Divergent trilogy. At 28, she’s sold millions of copies of her books, seen her work turned into a successful film franchise starring Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet, and has now gone ahead and written a new, highly addictive book, Carve the Mark.
Also, totally NBD or anything, but she wrote Divergent during her final year at University and sold the publishing rights before she graduated. So that’s cool.
Did she ever struggle with people underestimating her because she was so young? “Not in book publishing. I’m not the youngest author to publish a book and they mainly just care about the story, so they’re not all that concerned about your age. Your work has to speak for itself. The only time I encountered it was when the book became a movie.”
Roth sold the rights to Summit Entertainment in 2011, when she was a year out of university. “People would talk down to me… and I couldn’t tell why; is it because I’m young, is it because I’m a woman or because of my demeanour? …At the end of the day, you just keep doing the best work you can and not paying too much attention to people who don’t respect that,” she says.
I ask her about how it felt getting her story made into a film and she laughs, “I didn’t believe it was actually going to happen… it wasn’t until they cast Kate Winslet that I was like ‘Oh! This is really happening!’ I totally lost my mind.” I mean, to be fair, it’s Kate Winslet, who wouldn’t lose their mind? “The idea that so many people have taken something you’ve imagined and they’ve made it their work for however many days or weeks? There’s something really amazing and flattering about that.” she continues. “There were all these grown men building this fake train car? It’s amazing!”
To me, the thing about Roth that makes her talent so unique is that she’s not just creating stories about regular, everyday things, she’s creating entire societies. In her new book, Carve the Mark, she took it one step further and created a whole frickin’ galaxy.
Carve The Mark is set in a galaxy that has a current running through it which gives everyone a unique ‘currentgift’. The two main characters, Akos and Cyra, come from two different countries; Akos’ home is one of peace, while Cyra’s is full of violence. When Akos is taken from his family home on Cyra’s brother’s orders, the two of them form a special bond, discovering they can either survive together or destroy one another.
Cyra is a powerhouse of a character. Her currentgift forces her to live in constant pain, but also means she causes agony to those who touch her. She has spent most of her life in isolation until her brother decides to use her as a weapon against his enemies.
“What’s important is for readers to see characters that feel real and interesting and complicated too,” Roth explains. “One of the most important things to me is to make sure the characters are flawed. There’s a lot of pressure on young women to be perfect and so when you read about a character who makes mistakes and has to deal with the repercussions of them and feels normal and feels human, I think that’s important for young women.”
It takes everything in me to not just openly start applauding at this point. Even down the Skype line, I’m nodding my head so much that I think I crick my neck a bit. But the thing I really want to talk to Roth about, the thought I just couldn’t get out of my head while reading Carve The Mark, is how does one person have such a vivid imagination? “I try to cultivate curiosity as much as possible,” she says. “My mum has this quality, where anyone she talks to, she is interested in knowing more about them and I would love to become more like that.”
Well, now I also want to be more like Veronica Roth’s mum. She sounds awesome.
Roth thinks exercising your imagination is incredibly important for young people: “I think you have to have a vision of what your own life can become, what your world can become. There’s this huge imaginative element to that and you have to be able to see possibilities.”
When she was a 21-year-old writing a book in her winter holidays, she ever imagine her life would lead her here? “I don’t think escapism has to be bad,” she tells me, “I think we talk about it like an ‘Oh, you’re just trying to get away from reality, you should be engaging with reality!’ and that’s true, but you can learn a lot from genre fiction, even if it is helping you to escape a little bit.”
At this point, we get completely side-tracked and start talking about how Harry Potter helped define so much of our moral compasses. We’ve been on the phone for almost half an hour, and I know that my time’s almost up so I ask her the question we ask all the people we interview: if you could give your 13-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
“I think I needed to hear two things. One, is that you should be kind to the people around you. I was kinda mean as a young person and I definitely grew out of that as I got older. But I wasn’t always kind, especially to my female friends. I kinda fell into that trap of being really competitive with other women and not appreciating how great it can be to have a genuine connection with my female friends. Appreciate the ladies in your life. But then, I sometimes needed to hear that it’s okay to let people go if they’re making you feel bad about yourself. You don’t have to be friends with them anymore. Basically, be kind, but you don’t have to let other people make you feel bad.”
Well, s**t. This woman is my new hero.
Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth is out now. Buy your copy here.