Krystal Sutherland is the New York Times bestselling author of House of Hollow, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares and Our Chemical Hearts, which was adapted into a film by Amazon Studios. Her books have been published in more than 20 countries and nominated for the Carnegie Medal and YA Book Prize, among others.
Krystal grew up in Townsville in the far north of Australia. She has also lived in Amsterdam and Hong Kong, and currently calls London home. You can find her on Instagram @km_sutherland
Photograph by Lisa Fahey Photography
The Invocations (Hot Key Books)
Look out for themes of patriarchy, magic and curses in Krystal Sutherland's suspenseful The Invocations, a contemporary feminist novel with a gothic edge. Here, Krystal tells ReadingZone how the ruins of Roman baths helped inspire the story, and why writing House of Hollow and The Invocations felt like 'coming home' to her.
Review: The Invocations keeps readers on the edge of their seats with compelling leads combined with unexpected plot twists.
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Q&A with Krystal Sutherland
"House of Hollow and The Invocations are books of my soul, the kind of thing
I would have read as an angsty teenager."
1. What have been your key author moments, since Our Chemical Hearts was published in 2015?
I hosted a socially distanced film screening on a friend's rooftop in the summer of 2020 when the movie came out. It wasn't exactly the glamorous Hollywood premiere I had dreamed of when I was on the film set the year before, but we had fun with it. We rolled out a red carpet and asked our guests (I think we were only allowed to gather in groups of 10? Maybe 15?) to dress up. It was a warm summer night in London and we projected the movie onto a screen hung with fairy lights. It was so special!
Then I found out I was a New York Times bestselling author the following year, in a beer garden, the first week that pubs and restaurants opened for outdoor dining after a long, hard, lonely winter. It was almost closing time when I got the call from my editor. I was speechless. All of my friends screamed and we ordered the only bottle of champagne (actually I think it was prosecco) they had behind the bar to celebrate. Truly a life milestone!
2. Your earlier novels including Our Chemical Hearts and A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares are very different from your more recent novels, House of Hollow and now The Invocations. Why this shift in direction?
It feels like more of a homecoming than a shift in direction. House of Hollow and The Invocations are books of my soul, the kind of thing I would have read as an angsty teenager - and also the kind of (unpublished) manuscripts I was writing before I wrote Our Chemical Hearts. If anything, my contemporary books are the odd ones out and I'm finally getting back to my roots.
3. Can you tell us what happens in The Invocations, a supernatural serial killer thriller? What were the greatest challenges in writing the novel?
The Invocations is a gothic thriller about a supernatural serial killer loose on the streets of London - and the three teenage girls who team up to stop the murders, before they're next on the list.
In terms of challenges, it's the first time I've written from multiple POVs, which was tricky to keep track of, especially when you're trying to build toward the climax of the book. How do you give everyone a meaty story and a satisfying conclusion while still moving the plot forward in a propulsive way?
"When I visited the ruins of the Roman baths, I was captivated by the 'curse tablets'
that had been unearthed there."
4. What inspired the story and the idea of reclaiming witchcraft as both power and protection for women?
I first had the idea for the magic system when I was on tour in Bath for the release of Our Chemical Hearts in 2016, so it's been percolating for a long time. When I visited the ruins of the Roman baths, I was captivated by the 'curse tablets' that had been unearthed there - hundreds of little pieces of lead rolled up and tossed into the water, each inscribed with a curse. They were often mundane - cursing the person who'd stolen someone's sandals, for instance - but I loved the idea that magic was such a part of everyday life in ancient Rome. I took that idea - curses written on lead by specialist cursewriters - and ran with it.
I think witches and their persecution are a natural vector for exploring feminist rage, so it made sense from the outset. I wanted to explore power: who has it, who wants it, who tries to take it away from others. Witches have long been a symbol of female power - and their burnings a symbol of male fear of that power. The balance was already there, in-built.
5. How did you set the rules for magic in The Invocations? Why can only women wield magic, and why do you make the price of magic so high?
I think the best magic systems are those where there is a price to pay. It makes magic more interesting, if there's a sacrifice to be made in order to access it. I wanted to explore the question of how far women would go to claim some power for themselves, just to feel safe walking home alone at night.
It felt important that only women have the opportunity to wield magic in this world, as witchcraft has historically so often been coded female and as something to be feared.
6. How did the three women at the heart of The Invocations - Jude, Zara and Emer - develop? After a tricky start to their friendship, how do they end up working so well together?
I had Jude in my head first, this swashbuckling, larger than life heiress who'd once led a charmed life, but had accidentally cursed herself. Emer came next - her first chapter in the book started as a short story that I wrote while I was living with my husband on the Stanford campus. He was a grad student there, but I wasn't, and living on a university campus when you're not studying there can make you feel like a ghost. I drifted around, attending some lectures, eating in dining halls, kind of purposeless. Zara came last, this brilliant girl determined to break the rules of death to speak to her sister one last time.
I think they end up working so well together because - although they're incredibly different - they're all lonely outsiders looking for their place in the world. Ultimately, they find what they're looking for in each other.
7. Did any high profile family help inspire the influential and patriarchal Wolf family in the novel?
Let's just say I watch a lot of Succession for inspiration.
"London has always felt incredibly magical to me, the kind of place where witches and demons
might truly exist, tucked away down dark cobbled lanes."
8. The novel is set in London; why did you choose this setting?
I live in London, so it made sense from an authenticity perspective to set the book somewhere where I could go to each of the locations mentioned, walk the paths my characters walk. Coming from rural Australia, London has always felt incredibly magical to me, the kind of place where witches and demons might truly exist, tucked away down dark cobbled lanes.
A favourite spot is Hampstead Heath, a huge, ancient greenspace with ponds and woodlands - it's mentioned in House of Hollow and The Invocations. It's not far from my house and I try to walk there once or twice a week. It's a great source of inspiration.
9. Where else have you enjoyed travelling to, and that has helped inspire an idea for a novel? What are your writing currently?
As I mentioned above, I had the idea for The Invocations in Bath, while I was on tour for the release of Our Chemical Hearts, when I came across the display of curse tablets at the Roman Baths - little pieces of lead inscribed with curses by a cursewriter. Magic was an everyday part of life in ancient Rome and if someone wronged you, it was only natural for you to go to your local cursewriter and put a curse on them. That sparked the idea for a magic system and I started dreaming up The Invocations on the train back to London that afternoon.
I have just had a baby, so I'm taking a break from writing at the moment and considering what I want to work on next - but I very much feel like I've found my writing home with House of Hollow and The Invocations.
10. What was your top YA read in 2023? Anything you're looking forward to reading in 2024?