Kill Your Darlings by CJ Daugherty

Head back to school this September with the latest instalment of the UK’s most gripping boarding school series. Perfect for readers aged 13 and upwards Codename Firefly is a thrilling teen crime novel that tackles subjects including mental health and politics while also being an engaging and compelling read that teens will devour.

When Gray Langtree, the daughter of the UK Prime Minister, is moved to an elite boarding school for her own protection, she thinks she’ll finally be safe from both the press and the assassins who tried to kill her mother. 

But Cimmeria Academy is no ordinary school. It allows no computers or phones. Its students are an odd mixture of the gifted, the tough and the privileged. And then there’s the secretive Night School, which only a select few students are invited to, and whose activities other students are forbidden even to watch.   

Gray has a hard learning curve in front of her discovering who she can be friends with and who is not to be trusted. When the school grounds are broken into one night,  Gray starts having panic attacks and the school begins to feel like a very dangerous place indeed.

Dylan, a mysterious American student, seems to know more than he should – but he’s always there when Gray needs him. Can she trust him? Can she trust anyone? As winter closes in and darkness falls, Gray will have to think fast.

The hunters are coming…

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Kill Your Darlings by CJ Daugherty

I never killed anyone I really cared about until the second draft of my second book.

I had killed before, of course. In Night School, my first novel, I killed one person. A girl. A minor character. Someone who wasn’t terribly nice to my main character.

It was upsetting but, let’s be honest. No one missed Ruth. I’ve never received one message from a reader asking why I killed her. They were fine with the crime.

After that, you might think murder would get easier, but it didn’t. I still think long and hard about every death I write. It is never a simple decision, whether or not to kill.

In fact, I have problems with books in which lots of characters die one by one over 40 chapters. That kind of volume of homicide rarely seems realistic to me. I have lived in towns with high murder rates in my time, but none had killing fields as bloody as the ones you find in some popular crime novels. And I know from personal experience, if anyone killed that many people in real life the crackdown would be quick and overwhelming. The city involved would be crawling with police. When was the last time something like that happened where you live?

When a dozen people die in a crime novel, I find it so unbelievable that I gradually start to zone out. I rarely finish those books.

This also happens with murderous TV series and films. “Find a better plot and stop using murder as your only weapon,” I grumble as I change the channels.

When I was plotting my second novel, I’d always planned to end with one major character, beloved by all, being attacked and nearly killed. Big drama and suspense. The character would survive and our hearts would be warmed by this at the very end.

This was the plan until my husband read the first draft and scrawled one note on the page: “Character X has to die.”

I usually listen to his advice but this time I shrugged it off. I’d killed someone in book 1. I couldn’t do the same thing in book 2. It was unimaginative.

Then my editor read the draft. Her note was carefully composed in margins of the manuscript, highlighted in yellow. It read: “You have to kill her.”

Still, I argued. With fiery passion I defended this character’s life. Not to mention her importance to my future plot. My editor listened patiently. When I’d worn myself out, she said, “Just try it. See how it works.”

The next day, with great reluctance, I sat down to kill. I re-wrote the same scene at the end of Night School Legacy, only now the beloved character didn’t make it through.

This was unlike my first murder. By comparison, that one was a misdemeanour homicide. This murder was personal. The victim was a major character – one I loved. I enjoyed spending time with her. She felt like someone I genuinely knew. I actually wept while I wrote her death.

The only problem was…. It worked.

The book was more exciting this way. More exhilarating. The stakes were much higher. The losses were greater. The pain, deeper. She had to stay dead.

When the book came out, the reaction was immediate. My email box and Twitterfeed were barraged with wounded messages from fans asking how I could do this to the character they loved. How could I be so cruel? I was asked one question over and over: “Why?”

From this I learned a valuable lesson. Too many murders can rob readers of their empathy. They don’t feel much when 10 characters die. But murder one character they care about, and they feel that pain. It’s more real.

I’ve used this throughout my career. I kill only occasionally, and when I do, I make sure it has impact. In my latest book, Codename Firefly, I went back and forth about killing a character I really liked. I knew it would have huge impact. It would be a real shock to readers, right at the end. But I also didn’t want to depress people in the middle of a pandemic. I wasn’t sure that sort of shock was what people wanted.

What did I decide in the end?

You’ll have to read the book to find out, I’m afraid.

So, my advice is this. Kill your darlings, yes. But do it carefully. And beware the consequences.

 

image004A former crime reporter and accidental civil servant, C.J. Daugherty began writing the Night School series while working as a communications consultant for the Home Office. The young adult series was published by Little Brown and went on to sell over a million and a half copies worldwide. A web series inspired by the books clocked up well over a million views. In 2020, the books were optioned for television. She later wrote The Echo Killing series, published by St Martin’s Press, and co-wrote the fantasy series, The Secret Fire, with French author Carina Rosenfeld.

While working as a civil servant, she had meetings at Number 10 Downing Street, and saw people disappearing through a small door leading to a staircase heading below ground level. This visit became the inspiration for Number 10.  FYI: She still doesn’t know if there are tunnels below Number 10. But she hopes there are.

Her books have been translated into 24 languages and been bestsellers in multiple countries. She lives with her husband, the BAFTA nominated filmmaker, Jack Jewers.  @CJ_Daugherty

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