I was recently given the opportunity to do a face-to-face interview with Victor Defnas, author of the new YA fantasy, Lightbringer. The book follows fiery protagonist Lucy, as she comes to terms with a new identity that puts her at the heart of an apocalyptical war between Heaven and Hell. I met Victor in a cosy Devon coffee shop, and asked him all the questions I was dying to ask after reading his debut novel.
Hi Victor, thanks for agreeing to meet with me.
The pleasure is all mine.
So, I suppose we should start at the beginning. What first inspired you to write Lightbringer?
Well, I’ve always been interested in philosophy and religion, so I just started with one question: what would it be if the Devil was human and they didn’t realise? So then I asked, how would this be believable, how would it not be obvious as the plot twist? Why don’t they know they’re the Devil, how did they end up on Earth to begin with, how would you make them a more likable figure than the Devil from Christian mythology, whilst still maintaining the characteristics Satan has? So the plot really wrote itself from there just from one initial question.
Tell me about Lucy, your protagonist.
She’s probably the most interesting character I’ve ever written. Writing someone who is fundamentally evil was quite a challenge, especially in keeping her relatable but morally ambiguous. She’s rather arrogant and comes to the conclusion she is a living god by the end of the book, which was a lot of fun. In my last book I had six different POV characters, so it was nice just having one to focus on and actually go fully in depth with her habits and a fairly nuanced backstory.
Did you start writing with a clear idea of who Lucy would be, or did she end up just writing herself?
She was originally supposed to be much more optimistic, and have this much more wondrous outlook on life, where everything was new and she was amazed by everything. But when I started writing her she started going really sarcastic, but I think it works given the nature of her character. But she still finds a lot of mundane things interesting in the world. She’s still quite dry though and carrying a lot of the negative energy from her past life with her that comes out more intensively later on.
There’s clearly a lot of historical and religious references throughout the story. What sort of background do you have that allowed you to write about these topics in such detail?
Well I’m actually a historian by training, to an extent. I did both my undergraduate degree and my Master’s degree in history, where I focused on the Ku Klux Klan, which primarily viewed itself as a religious organisation. That got me interested in the Bible and how different people have interpreted it, how different groups have exploited it for their own ends. So my historical and philosophical interests have always been entwined.
Arguably, this subject matter could be considered controversial. Were you conscious of how certain people might react to that?
Yes, but it’s not as bad as a lot of other mainstream literature out there. I’ve started rereading Northern Lights, from the Golden Compass trilogy recently, and that’s a lot more blasphemous than anything I’ve done, as it makes the Catholic Church and organised religion itself the antagonist, and bearing in mind primary aged kids read these. My book doesn’t really take a side, it’s not pro-Lucifer, or necessarily anti-Heaven- they’re left deliberately ambiguous and you can take away from it what you will.
So you wanted the characters to be morally ambiguous?
Yeah, even angels themselves aren’t perfect. Lucifer in religious canon was God’s favourite angel, and was the most perfect being before being corrupted by evil. Everyone has the capacity for good and evil, but in my book they’re not really taken as objective concepts, so none of my characters are truly bad. My main antagonist, reacts to the world due to the way he sees it. On the other hand no character is truly good, and all are inevitably self-serving.
Although, there is Rosh. I consider him one of the purer characters?
Yeah, but he’s still helping the Devil, and is still blinded by love to an extent.
Just on the subject of characters, I thought that having footnotes in the story was a really original idea – I’ve never seen that done in YA fiction before. Can you tell us anything about the mysterious character of S who writes these?
There’s probably just enough in the book if you read really closely to take a guess at who this is. It’s been interesting hearing some people’s fan theories on it, although none of them have been right so far. I do like to think it’s a book where you have to pay attention to certain details. There’s one line in particular that’s easy to miss, but it completely changes the plot and tone of the whole book if you think about the implications of it and makes it a lot darker and a lot more cynical.
God is noticeably absent from the book, but I felt there was something omnipresent about that. Do you have plans to introduce God properly as a character?
There’s also an absence of Jesus being mentioned too, which was deliberate. The TV show Supernatural does the same. One of the characters in the book is actually supposed to be God, but it’s up to the reader to decide who.
Any hints?[Laughs] No. Well, there’s a few characters whose names are never given, or that we don’t know much about, who have the potential to be God. So I think this presents a degree of optimism in the book, that God is there interacting in the world, despite Lucy thinking God has abandoned her.
How curious, because as a reader I felt the closest thing to God in the book was Zophiel, who Lucy meets briefly. There was something ethereal about her, more so than the other angels.
Zophiel? I mean gender pronouns don’t apply to God so they could manifest in any form, so yeah it could be a woman. But I have no plans for future books to have God feature prominently.
I found your representation of Heaven and Hell really interesting. I liked that for a lot of Humans, they didn’t gain entry to either in death.
Yeah, I included reincarnation instead of the traditional Judeo-Christian narrative. Souls in my book get recycled unless they’re particularly good or evil and subsequently go to Heaven or Hell, and it’s quite hard to break that cycle.
Hell in particular was captivating. I’d never seen it portrayed in that way before – with much of the horror and gore being an illusion to appease the so-called “good guys”.
Yeah, the fire and brimstone side that Lucy sees when she arrives is all revealed to be false, but it’s Heaven trying to implement this dystopian vision of Hell that we have. That’s how Hell has developed in this world, evil people doing evil things, with no real consequences or restrictions, so it’s a sort of Mad Max society with the occasional demonic incursion.
So, we’re all dying to know, are there plans for a sequel?
One’s been in the works for a while. Editing Lightbringer to a publishable point has taken most of my efforts. I attempted to do NaNoWriMo for the sequel, which wasn’t a huge success [chuckles] but I’m still hoping to do a first draft fairly swiftly. Might be called Nightbringer, if that’s not too lazy. But there’s definitely a future potentially with the characters I created.
A big thank you to Victor for agreeing to be interviewed. You can follow his writing experiences and updates on his Twitter: https://twitter.com/Victor_Defnas