Cassandra Clare is currently touring in the UK and after her panel at YALC – read the recap here – she stopped in Chester to chat with author and arts journalist Anna James about The Last Hours. Fans were also able to virtually join the talk and ask questions online. Naturally I watched the live stream, which was over an hour long, and took notes as much as I could. 😉
A word of caution: there will be spoilers for The Last Hours!
- Cassie summed up key things from Chain of Gold.
- When did Cassie know she wanted to write about the kids/this generation of Shadowhunters? Right after she created the family tree that her publisher wanted for Clockwork Princess. But then she realised that it was all wrong because she actually had a completely different idea for these characters.
- She had the most freedom with Cordelia because we don’t know her parents. The other parents are really lovely people so they cannot be bad.
- Cassie talked about Cordelia’s Persian heritage. Cassie was born in Iran, her first language was Farsi but she doesn’t really speak the language. She got her hair cut the day before the event and her hairdresser complained how the London water ruins everyone’s hair. Cassie asked where the lady came from: “I’m Iranian!” Cassie: “I was born in Iran.” The hairdresser’s whole family emerged and everyone was very excited to meet Cassie. They started talking to her in Farsi and but then told her that she baby talked in Farsi. Cassie lived in Iran for the first three years of her life and then she moved to Los Angeles with her parents. Most of her parents’ friends were Persian and they felt connected to the culture. Cassie’s mum was fluent in Farsi and cooked Persian food. She also yelled at Cassie in Farsi. Cassie was interested in Iran’s culture and history. So she talked to a lot of her parents’ friends to give Cordelia a truly Persian heritage.
- The characters are keeping a lot of secrets in this series. How does Cassie keep track of everything? She calls it “progress of information” and she keeps a Google Drive – “Who knows what when?”
- How has Cassie’s writing process changed? Cassie used to be a pantser, now she plots because there are so many characters and details. She has to know what is going to happen. She uses multiple tools like whiteboards, cue cards, post-its. Cassie might show a photo of all her tools in a newsletter. There are 167 scenes in Chain of Thorns.
- Were there any tangles in The Last Hours due to previous books? Cassie wanted James to burn down the house in London but she couldn’t because it featured in The Dark Artifices so James burned down a different house.
- SPOILER for Chain of Thorns: Cassie had to figure figure out why the family tree in Clockwork Princess was wrong so she invented a character called Esme Hardcastle. Esme is working on the family tree and is “clearly a bit unhinged”. She asks the characters terribly personal questions that they answer incorrectly but Esme still writes everything down. “How many children do you plan on having?” “Seventeen, Esme.” So she writes that down and that winds up in her inaccurate family tree. Cassie likes her. Esme wants to be very accurate but her family tree actually ends up very inaccurate.
- Cassie had fun with creating characters that grew up together and have always been friends. The Last Hours also gave a glimpse into Shadowhunters’ lives/the society.
- A side project about Matthew, something that Anna James wants, would be enjoyable because Cassie loves him. We don’t have his POV, which was on purpose. Cassie cannot say anything for sure because we don’t know who survives Chain of Thorns.
- How does she find a different tone for every series? Characters always come first and then the relationships with each other. That sets the tone and mood of a book.
- How does it feel to revisit characters like Tessa and Will? Cassie still loves them although they are different. It’s always a bit bittersweet because of the passage of time.
- Spoiler for Chain of Iron: Cassie read about family dynamics where one parent is an alcoholic. Cordelia and Alastair are formed by their relationship with their father who is very flawed. The death of a parent with whom you’ve had a bad relationship with is often harder. In Elias we also see what could become of Matthew in the future. It’s a very scary mirror for Cordelia and Matthew.
- Women and girls in the books had more agency than in real life back in 1903. A woman’s reputation was still very delicate, though. We saw it with Cordelia and also Grace. Women were only powerful when they were married to powerful men. Anna doesn’t care about reputation and gender roles, but she pays the price for that.
- Cassie had a lot of fun with Edwardian clothes and research. She sometimes shortens the descriptions because “I don’t know how people ever had sex!” In Chain of Thorns Cordelia buys clothes in Paris and compares them to clothes in London.
- For research Cassie used the British Library, the Guidhall Library and went through a lot of maps. There were also photographs and she read diaries. First person accounts were very useful for research.
- Cassie tried to listen to Edwardian music but it’s not her favourite. She still included music in her book like ‘Elsie from Chelsea’. The songs she listened to were not “bangers” but she thought Matthew would like them.
- Is Cassie on the hunt for buildings to include in her books? Usually she picks an area and that’s how she found Matthew’s pink house. After that she had to do more research to see whether she could really use the house in the books. Curzon Street was a sentimental pick because Cassie’s grandfather lived there. She still did research to check if the location fit, though. Walking around the neighbourhood she found this beautiful garden – Mount Street Gardens. She wanted to include it in the books and that’s how it was featured in Chain of Iron. The Helle Ruelle is in Tyler’s Court. Cassie went there when she was in London and wanted to take a photo, but a man was peeing there. The alley is not a lovely place nowadays.
- A period of history that would be fun to write about? All time periods are fun in their own way. Cassie would pick the 1920s in the USA.
- Cassie was having a lot of fun writing Lucie because Lucie is also a writer. Cassie cannot remember if she wanted to include a writer in The Last Hours or if Lucie had been a writer right from the start.
- The Beautiful Cassandra was set in the 1700s although twelve-year-old Cassie didn’t really know anything about the time. Characters kissed and then Cassie killed the male protagonist. Her friends, who also read the book, were upset so Cassie wrote more. Fictional Cassandra had a lot of boyfriends: bandits, pirates, dukes, princes. Young Cassie put all her friends in her book. SPOILER for Chain of Thorns: Lucie and Cordelia have a fight, which was painful for Cassie to write, and then Lucie writes The Wicked Queen Cordelia where Cordelia is put into the dungeons.
- Chain of Thorns is finished and off being copyedited. It’s revealed that Belial is Tessa’s father and there is a big scandal.
- Sword Catcher is coming in September 2023. It’s something completely new and invented with royal intrigued and crime, ill-advised romances, sexy business. Cassie is excited for people to read it.
- The Wicked Powers doesn’t have a set date yet. Cassie knows what happens in it, what happens to Dru, Ty and Kit. It wraps ups the Shadowhunters storylines. It’s intended to be the last series.
- How do you decide on the names of your books? They are a phrase or a piece of poetry Cassie really loves. Lady Midnight is the title of a song. The Last Hours are from Great Expectations. The titles can come from anywhere, it really varies.
- What would Cassie like to take off her bucket list this year? Skydiving! Cassie would like to jump out of an airplane.
- Cassie doesn’t have a favourite book that she’s written, maybe Clockwork Angel because the historical setting was a challenge.
- If the characters from The Last Hours visited Paris today, where would they go? This was a difficult question because Cassie only knows Paris in 1903. The characters would probably also enjoy a lot of the things that were in Paris back then and still exist today. Maybe the gay neighbourhood.
- Tip for aspiring writers: Read out of your comfort zone!
- Cassie wanted her LGBTQ readers to feel included in The Last Hours because LGBTQ people did exist in 1903. It was illegal to be gay back then, but it wasn’t explicitly illegal to be lesbian. There was a gay community in London but they would also go to Paris because being gay wasn’t illegal in France.
- Cassie loved this question because it was so simple: “Matthew happiness when?” “We all ship Matthew with happiness.” Cassie pointed out that nobody is ever happy in book 2. Matthew is a complicated character and he is attempting to solve his drinking problem in the wrong way.
- How does money work in the Shadowhunters world? World religions and also smaller ones tithe to Shadowhunters. Nephilim don’t print their own money. They probably work with certain banks and in Idris they also pay with gold. You also get paid depending on your position (head of an Institute, Consul, etc.).
- Cassie’s favourite authors are Ben Aranonovitch (Rivers of London), Ben Macintyre (he writes spy novels), Samantha Shannon (Priory of the Orange Tree), Holly Black and Leigh Bardugo (not very objective according to Cassie 😉 ). Cassie has recently read Mary Stuart.
- Her favourite childhood books: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Chronicles of Prydain, Howl’s Moving Castle and all the other books by Diana Wynne Jones, Interview with the Vampire. Cassie read all the time when she was a kid, she wishes she had the time again. She “blasted through everything.”
- What does Cassie’s ideal writing day look like? Usually friends like Holly and Kelly Link come over. Cassie also needs to have a cat on the table so there’s some wrestling involved and she has to have bubble tea.
- How does co-writing work? Everyone found Cassie’s and Holly’s way to write weird. They had one computer dedicated to Magisterium and they both worked on it together, pushing the computer back and forth. There was no separation. It was very peaceful and they only ever fought over one sentence.
- Will we see more of Will and Jem? Not as they were in The Infernal Devices and it’s okay to miss them because their relationship is so different now.
- If you could bring one character back to life who would it be? “Why would I do that?” The deaths are woven into the stories for a reason. They were painful to write but bringing characters back would undo the story.
- Cassie also loved chatting about Sword Catcher. Kellian and Connor, the Crown Prince, have a complicated relationship although they grow up together and are close. Kellian knows it’s his job to die for Connor. Lin is the other main character, a physician, and she belongs to the Ashkar. The Ashkar are based on the historical Jewish people. Cassie always wanted to base a magic system on Jewish magic because she is Jewish. Ashkar physicians are the best in the world. Lin has to go to the palace to heal Kel and that’s how she finds out that a Sword Catcher exists. Kel is approached by a crime lord called Ragpicker King: “If you spy on the palace for me, I’ll get you out of being the Sword Catcher.” Kel can’t being himself to do it, though, because he grew up there.
- Would you include time travel in your books? No, it would introduce very complicated problems.
- How do you feel about the Shadowhunter world approaching its end? It’s sad and Cassie could go on forever and she wouldn’t mind. But she also thinks “there’s something meaningful about bringing it to a close. I never want to say never. I feel like The Wicked Powers is the last trilogy, we’ll see.” She missed the Shadowhunters world when she was writing Sword Catcher. We as readers still have time and will see what happens.
If you share or translate the recap, please make sure give TMI Source credit by linking back to this article.
Chain of Thorns will be published on January 31, 2023!