Our Friend is Here! An Interview with K. Ancrum, Author of Darling – On Writing Fiction for Teens, Diverse Ensemble Casts, & Retelling a Beloved Classic

Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.

Pride Month is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where during the month of June, queer authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being queer, queer books, and their experiences of being a queer reader. Find the introduction post for Pride Month at The Quiet Pond here.

The book we are about to discuss today is—and I do not say this lightly—a masterpiece. It’s a marvelous thing of one-night escapades and nail-biting tension culminating in a horrifying twist; tender and thrilling and hilarious in equal measures. 2021 has been a year of years so far, and it’s truly a testament to the book’s staying power that I still vividly remember the adventure I went on while reading it. I rarely am this certain that a book will make my personal ‘best of year’ list this early on, but goodness, friends, if there’s any story that deserves a spot in 2021, it’s Darling. I am so, so honored and delighted to be welcoming K. Ancrum to the Pond today to discuss her absolutely unforgettable YA thriller retelling of Peter Pan!

Today, Kayla joins us as a bespectacled Dikdik deer with the most elegant winged eyeliner! I am so thrilled to be able to share our discussion with you today, friends; it was such a joy to be able to peek behind the scenes of one of my favorite reads of the year so far, and I’m excited to be bringing you along! Kayla has so much insight about the appeal of fiction written for teens, and getting to listen to her talk about the themes behind the original Peter Pan and her process of rewriting the classic was such a treat. I hope you enjoy our little chat today, friends—and if you haven’t picked up the book yet, that this post will do more than enough to convince you to start planning on it. 😉

Darling by K. Ancrum

A teen girl finds herself lost on a dangerous adventure in this YA thriller by the acclaimed author of The Wicker King and The Weight of the Stars—reimagining Peter Pan for today’s world.

On Wendy Darling’s first night in Chicago, a boy called Peter appears at her window. He’s dizzying, captivating, beautiful—so she agrees to join him for a night on the town. Wendy thinks they’re heading to a party, but instead they’re soon running in the city’s underground. She makes friends—a punk girl named Tinkerbelle and the lost boys Peter watches over. And she makes enemies—the terrifying Detective Hook, and maybe Peter himself, as his sinister secrets start coming to light. Can Wendy find the courage to survive this night—and make sure everyone else does, too?

Goodreads | Indiebound | Bookshop (affiliate) | Amazon | Book Depository
Cover Art by Thereis Studio

Author Interview: K. Ancrum

Skye: Hello Kayla! Thank you so much for joining us today here at the Pond! For anyone just now discovering your work, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Kayla: Hi! I’m a youngish YA author and I tend to like to write thrillers! My first book THE WICKER KING, a M/M bi thriller was written when I was in college and my second THE WEIGHT OF THE STARS a W/W romance shortly after graduation. My writing tends towards heavy dialogue and minimalist description, with poetic gesture alongside tongue in cheek comedy. My favorite themes to write about are found family, processing trauma, growing up and the line of demarcation between childhood and adulthood.

Skye: Where did the spark that grew into Darling come from? What kept you coming back to the story again and again throughout the writing process?

Kayla: My writing process is extremely organized because, unfortunately, I don’t have the discipline to wander away from my work and return to it at will. I’ve spoken about my ADHD a considerable amount and it’s directly related to this. I decided to plot Darling out back in 2013. When it sold, I just returned to my original plot and skeleton outlined each chapter then wrote it exactly to my outline, almost like writing an academic paper. Its not a particularly glamorous or creative answer to this question, I know. But its an honest one. I do all of my creativity before a single word of the manuscript is written, then when I’m writing I’m just going through the motions.

Skye: I’m really fascinated by the ways in which Darling is in conversation with the original Peter Pan story as a modern thriller, because it reads both as an indictment of and a love letter to the fable at the same time. Can you tell us more about the book’s (or your own) relationship to the classic text?

Kayla: The first time I read Peter Pan I was around ten years old. I was going through that phase a lot of kids do, where they’re capable of inhaling a truly monstrous amount of books in a week. It wasn’t even the only book I’d read that day. I remember sandwiching the classic between R. L. Stine’s Say Cheese and Die, and one of the Nancy Drew books where she gets locked in a house and has to kick her way free in 1950s dress shoes. So, in comparison, I found Peter Pan almost underwhelming.  

2002 was the age of Lemony Snicket, Rowling, Nix and Eoin Colfer. It was a miracle that I picked up a classic like that in the first place, and even more of a miracle that it was available on a classroom bookshelf. Children’s literature was in a whiplash shift and educators were starting to push Where the Red Fern Grows and The Yearling to the back of their shelves and pushing Artemis Fowl and Holes to the front. 

Compared to those books, the story of a children with a dog nanny who fly to a mysterious world and meet some mermaids and wild boys, fight pirates and then make it safely home was… basic. I pushed the book back on the shelf when I was finished and grabbed Nancy Drew, turning my back on the concept. 

The next time Peter Pan and I met was in college. One of my friends introduced me to the Gutenberg Project and its online archive of free books, when I announced that I wasn’t interested in purchasing yet another expensive text from the university book store, and their copy of Peter Pan caught my eye. 

From the first three pages I knew that something about it was a bit… strange.  I began reading it in earnest, in the university café before class began, intending to save the rest for later. I read all the way through class and didn’t move until I was finished. Then I stood up, closed my laptop and went to go draft the outline of what was to eventually become Darling

Within the pages of Peter and Wendy (1911) is a roiling knotted snarl of analysis that’s too tempting not to pick at:  Peter Pan is a story about innocence and cruelty, violence and tenderness, alienation and community, freedom and safety, the old and the young, the pure and the tainted, premature death and glimmering immortality. And within all of it echoes a singular question: What is ethical? What is just?

The world of this IP needs the original analysis Barrie placed behind it to truly have impact. Yes, the excitement of running out into the night to chase a magic boy seems to be enough. To be in a family of children with no bedtime, to settle into a bed of leaves underneath the stars, to chat with mermaids and fight with pirates and live to die another day feels like enough, but only the adaptions that have understood that those features only exist to further a more complex narrative have survived the test of time. 

DARLING is a mirror held up to a masterpiece.

Skye: I devoured Darling earlier in January, and to this day it still lives rent-free in my mind. The way the story builds a mounting sense of dread that crescendos towards the (well-signposted, but still terrifying!) reveal was so masterfully done. How do you go about crafting such tense narrative threads in your books?

Kayla: I plot it!

Skye: Darling has a really lovable and diverse core cast of characters, from Wendy to Tink to a few characters introduced later on in the book (Fyodor 😭). Of this entire cast, who would you say was your favorite character to write?

Kayla: I LOVE Fyodor. For those of you who haven’t read DARLING yet, Fyodor is an original character who winds up being Wendy’s Love Interest. As DARLING is my first book with a heterosexual love story at its center, I spent a lot of time thinking about what features I wanted to portray as my ideal het-male hero. I landed on gentleness, considerateness, patience and insistence upon consent. Fyodor is a Russian American asexual biromantic incredibly flirty boy with firm opinions on what he thinks is right and I adore him.

Skye: Let’s talk about the queerness in the book! I loved how queerness permeates the world of Darling, from the sweet sapphic relationship between Tink and Ominotago (‘Tigerlily’) to an honestly brilliant makeover scene set behind the stage of a bona-fide drag queen show. You’ve also briefly discussed before on Twitter how queerness in YA is often framed through the lens of discovery rather than established relationships, which has really stuck with me! Can you tell us more about the queer rep in the book, and how you went about weaving in different identities and orientations?

Kayla: As a rule I tend to create ensemble casts that remind me of the teens I was friends with growing up. I live in a big city and went to an artsy high school so my environment was incredibly diverse. My main friend group was: a second generation Indian guy, a childhood immigrant Russian boy, a Puerto Rican-Indian girl, a white girl, a second generation Italian girl and a mixed black and white girl. Most of us were some variation of LGBT and all of us were really comfortable with ourselves and our cultural identities. It’s less that I go into writing my books being like “Okay I need to make these token representational characters” and more that I like to create social groups as culturally rich as the ones in which I have always existed. 

Much like the original book Peter and Wendy, DARLING has an extremely large amount of characters.

Skye: Okay zooming out into your writing career and looking forward to the future a little: what’s your wildest pie-in-the-sky writing dream?

Kayla: I would love to sell a series! I have done standalone novels and while I enjoy the freedom of getting to hop demi-genres, doing a series would be a lot of fun I think! It would also be really cool to get a film made from one of my standalone books. Mostly just to have a score made. The idea of getting to listen to someone’s orchestral interpretation of my work is transcendent.

Skye: Closing on a sunny note! What is something—big or small—that’s been bringing you joy lately, despite everything else currently going on?

Kayla: I have been learning to make breads! I learned how to make focaccia over quarantine and have been branching out to olive oil breads and hoagie rolls. I can’t eat bread myself, but I love to bake it for my partner. I think it’s lovely to create something that can be consumed and as an artist it really keeps my creative spirit alive to share my craft with the people I love.

About the Author

K. Ancrum is the author of  the award winning thriller THE WICKER KING, a lesbian romance THE WEIGHT OF THE STARS and the upcoming Peter Pan thriller DARLING. K. is a Chicago native passionate about diversity and representation in young adult fiction. She currently writes most of her work in the lush gardens of the Chicago Art Institute.

Photography: Jasmine Denise 2018

Find her at: Website | Twitter | Instagram

3 thoughts on “Our Friend is Here! An Interview with K. Ancrum, Author of Darling – On Writing Fiction for Teens, Diverse Ensemble Casts, & Retelling a Beloved Classic

  1. What an awesome interview! I just got my copy of Darling a few days ago and now I’m even more excited to start it! So glad K. Ancrum visited the pond 🥰

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Darling sounds fascinating! I’ve actually never read the original Peter Pan, but from this interview, it sounds like K.’s take one the tale adds a moral and societal richness missing in the versions I’ve encountered so far.

    Liked by 1 person

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