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Aislinn O’Loughlin is a bit of a writing prodigy; first published at fifteen, she went on to publish several more books by the time she was nineteen. She took a break to move to Toronto and live a life, and now she is back with her YA debut, Big Bad Me.
Big Bad Me follows Evie Wilder, a perfectly normal girl. Except she has just found out that she’s a werewolf! You know, normal teenage problems! With her mom missing, she and her sister Kate go into hiding and find themselves in the middle of a supernatural mystery! Hilarious, heartwarming and so, so entertaining, we couldn’t wait to chat to Aislinn about her inspiration for the story.
Big Bad Me is packed with monsters, action, wit, and a lot of heart. It focuses on the relationships between the characters, especially Evie and Kate, the two protagonists who are also sisters. How did you capture the strong sibling bond with such authenticity and life?
Thank you! I’m so happy that readers seem to love the sibling dynamics in Big Bad Me. I’m lucky enough to have three wonderful siblings (two sisters and a brother) and, as the third child of four, I definitely drew on my experience as both an older and younger sibling – especially that feeling of being fiercely devoted to each other, without always seeing eye-to-eye. In Evie and Kate’s case, I take that to the extreme. They’re best friends, as well as adopted sisters, but they’re also kind of the main each other’s antagonists in each other’s stories (quite a feat, given all the evil monsters lurking around in this story). Both girls are constantly lying to and tricking each other in a bid to keep the other one safe. It’s not the healthiest dynamic, but it is a love-filled one – and seeing the story through both their eyes means we understand that. We get to see how exhausted Kate is, trying to to handle everything by herself – from searching for their missing Mom to battling monsters along in a dark alleyway (something that would be much easier if she let her monster sister help). Whereas Evie’s sneaking around behind Kate’s back, trying to master her wolfy side and train as a monster hunter so she can be there defend to
Kate – whether Kate likes it or not. I think it’s actually a very typical oldest/youngest dynamic: Kate’s feeling the pressure as the the
smart, responsible big sister. Whereas little sister Evie, just wishes people would stop coddling her long enough to let her try things her way occasionally. But they’d both burn the world down for each other.
The book is jam-packed with everything a paranormal lover could want: werewolves, vampires, mystery and reminders of all our favourites from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Teen Wolf to Scooby Doo! The energy of the story jumps off the page and keeps the reader enthralled to the very last page. Where did you come up with the idea, and how did you keep the momentum going throughout the book?
Ooh, I love those references. The main inspiration for Big Bad Me actually did come from binge-watching a bunch of Buffy The Vampire Slayer while I was sick. I had a big crush on Oz, the laidback werewolf guitarist, so it was all very wolf-centric viewing. Then I dozed off on the sofa and dreamt that I was a werewolf, and my family had known but hidden it from me until I was too strong to be controlled. In my dream I had to leave town to protect them, and it was really sad but I woke up with all these questions like: how my family could have hidden it so long?
What were they doing that wasn’t working? And what was it like for them living with a werewolf? I toyed with the idea for years before finally writing it, and it’s obviously a very different story than the one I dreamt. But when you know that seed of the idea, I think you can
still see it in the story. You also mentioned Scooby Doo as a comparison, which makes me really happy. I loved Scooby growing up – and I actually did watch loads of Scooby Doo with my kids while I was writing Big Bad Me. I even nicknamed Evie “Scrappy” at one point, after Scrappy Doo, but I don’t think all those references wound up getting chopped in editing. My first drafts are always me just letting rip and having fun with my characters and my story –then I chop back until I find the core of the story I want to tell the reader, but I do try to keep the sense of fun, I think that helps draw readers in when you can tell the writer had fun with a story.
I think the momentum is also helped by the fact that Evie is such an irrepressibly energetic character. She’s a werewolf, so I gave her a bit of an “excitable puppy” vibe: she’s impulsive and impatient and always wants to be doing something, whether that’s power-training, cracking jokes and flirting, or jumping out the window to try to battle the other monsters by herself. She’s constantly on the go, which keeps the rest of the characters on her toes – particularly Kate, who is always trying to stay one step of Evie to keep her out of danger. Evie’s probably exhausting to live with, but she’s a lot of fun to write (and read, I hope)!
Is there a book you’re always recommending to readers?
Lots! I have young kids who are voracious readers, and I’m obviously a book-lover myself, so I have so many stories to gush about depending on what you like. And, I’m sorry, but I really can’t just keep it to one – I tried, but I get too excited when I love a book so, here we got: For younger readers who want something funny, I’ll practically throw a Louie Stowell or Sarah Todd Taylor book at them. Or maybe Clemintine Florentine by Nathasha Harrison, Small! by Hannah Moffatt, or The Last Firefox by Lee Newbery. All of those had my kids roaring with laughter at bedtime! For a slightly older readers, Lesley Parr’s books – The Valley of Lost Secrets and When the War Came Home – are so touching and clever. The Frost Fair: The Miraculous Sweetmakers by Natasha Hasting is a brilliant new release that tugged at my heart strings much harder than I expected, but is also SO fun and sweet. The Chestnut Roaster by Eve McDonnell is a brilliant, magical mystery that will keep readers guessing! And if you want a book with spooky winter vibes, Fledging and Wren by Lucy Hope are two very different but equally brilliant and beautifully written reads.
And then there’s my YA Thriller obsession – anything by Kat Ellis, Cynthia Murphy, Kathryn Foxfield or Gina Blaxill is a must-buy for me! I’m also a huge Amy McCaw fangirl, her Mina and The Undead/Mina and The Slayers books are totally Scream-meets-Buffy, so I’d recommend for anyone who enjoyed Big Bad Me and wants more vampires. Also, Sixteen Souls by Rosie Talbot for cosy, creepy queer vibes that feel like a big hug. The Girl With No Soul by Morgan Owen is beautiful and heart-achingly romantic! And The Secrets Act by Alison Weatherby is a brilliant, code-cracking historical mystery set in Bletchley Park during World War 2 – I keep suggesting it for readers who have finished Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike books and are looking for a slightly older read. It’s wonderful!
Phew, sorry! That’s a lot of books – doesn’t even scratch the surface really, but I need to stop. Basically, I am either the best or worse person to recommend a book because if have a lot of favourites and I will try to convince you to buy them all!
What are you currently reading? Are you enjoying it?
I’m really lucky to have been gifted an advance review copy of A Game Of Life or Death by Triona Campbell – it’s out in February and is a tense, techy thriller that absolutely rips along. Think Black Mirror meets Ready Player One but Irish, with badass STEM girls. I’m huge fan! Another book that’s captured my Black Mirror loving heart is Naomi Gibson’s Game Over Girl, a thriller centred around in a virtual reality game where secrets are hidden and nothing is as it seems. I love Naomi Gibson’s last book, Every Line of You, and I’ve read snippets of this one, but I’m desperate to dive into the full story and see how it all comes together!
Is there a book you think deserves to be more widely read?
Yes! Lots, but I’ll keep it short. Julia Tuff’s Hexed and Twice Hexed are brilliant, funny feminist fantasy about a girl who discovers she is a witch, as are all the women in her family. And she’s dealing with her new witchy powers and some awful toxic masculinity at school at the same time, it’s such a creative and fun world to visit. The Eternal Return of Clara Hart by Louise Finch also deals with toxic masculinity, and much more, in a really creative way – throwing the main character into a time loop so he’s forced to relieve the same tragic day over and over, until he understands his role in the death of his classmate, Clara. And Run For Your Life by Jane Mitchell, a sort of coming of age story set in a direct provision camp in Ireland. A must-read!
What’s the most important thing someone needs to write well?
Read! Lots, and everything. You can study craft and technique, and learn a lot from writing classes, but honestly the more you read the more you internalise what makes a good story. More importantly, you learn what kind of stories you really love – and you do need to love what you’re writing, because you’re probably going to spend a long time editing the heck out of it once you’re done drafting. There are always times you’ll want to throw your who story out the window, so it’s important to be really invested in it!
Are you currently working on anything or is that all hush-hush?
I am, and it is I’m afraid. But what I can say is it’s a bit different to Big Bad Me but very fun. It’s taken me a while to find my main character’s voice, but I’ve finally cracked it and I think this character is going to be amazing to spend time with for the next while. She’s not like anyone I’ve written before. I hope readers get to meet her some day!
Big Bad Me is available here, and we highly recommend it!