Denika Mead lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She is 16 and has an unrelenting passion for fantasy and dystopian writing. She published her debut novel Royal Orchid, The Death-Hunters, in October 2019 when she was 15. The prequel to Royal Orchid, Into the Flames and the next book in the series The Ghost Warriors, have both been released in 2020. Over the past few years, she has won and been a finalist in several youth writing competitions, including being a two-time finalist in the New Zealand Youth Laureate award 2018. Denika was a finalist in the Best New Talent category for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards in 2020. When she is not writing, imagining dragon adventures, or immersed in her latest reading escapade, you may find her occasionally contemplating NCEA school assessments. She can be found at her website: http://www.denikameadauthor.com. Staff writer Thee Sim Ling interviewed Denika about her books and experience as a teen writer.
What first inspired you to create the fictional world of Ghost Orchid?
The story came to me when I was looking at my penguin bookmark. I began to imagine what kind of world could be inside and the people and creatures who would live in this land. The story evolved from there.
In the Royal Orchid series, there are many intriguing and unique characters. Do you have a personal favourite? If so, who and why?
It’s really hard to choose, but I always like villains in stories so one of my favourites would have to be the magician, Felix. I also like Leor. He’s very caring but has some buried secrets.
What is life like for an author during COVID-19? What has changed, and what has stayed the same?
Because of Covid-19, I have had a lot more time to write which I have enjoyed. However, many of the local markets that I regularly attend to sell my books have been cancelled which has changed the way I have been promoting the series. The Royal Orchid prequel, Into the Flames, was released in April 2020 which coincided with our national lockdown. This meant the book launch needed to be online. The options for buying my books online have also increased.
What is your writing process for your books like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I plot the majority of the novel and once I have an overall idea of the direction of the story, I start writing. If I get stuck, I go back to plotting and work through that particular point.
Being an author of three books and a 16-year-old secondary school student “occasionally contemplating NCEA school assessments”, you must have an incredibly busy life. How do you find time on a typical day to write, and how do you strike a balance between school and writing?
I mostly write first thing in the morning when I wake up. This is when I am the most productive. There are logical times when it makes sense to take a break from writing and fit in some more school work. For example, when I send my manuscript to the editor or proof-reader, it makes sense to put it down for a bit. I wouldn’t say it’s very balanced; I try to make sure the writing outweighs the school work.
What authors or books have the greatest influence on your writing? What are you currently reading right now?
I love fantasy and dystopian novels. Like a lot of people, growing up, I loved Harry Potter. I also adored the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland.
More recently, I’ve been immersed in several book series, including His Dark Materials, The Hunger Games, The Inheritance Cycle, The Way of Kings and the Children of the Furnace series, by New Zealand author, Brin Murray.
What can readers expect from this book? No spoilers!
They are coming of age stories with strong female characters, dragons, an undead
army and a lurking magician. Readers can expect plenty of action and suspense. They are fast paced stories with a focus on finding where you belong.
If you were to describe your novel in three words, which words would you use?
Exciting, action, and adventure.
What are you working on next? Could you share any details with readers?
I just published the third book in the Royal Orchid series in November and am currently working on a new fantasy novel, The Good King and planning the final Royal Orchid novel. I plan to release The Good King first, which will likely be a standalone book, followed by the final Royal Orchid.
Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring young writers like you?
Some advice I would give is to read and share your work with friends and family. Asking for feedback from others is a really good way to improve your writing. Look out for writing competitions you can submit to. Different competitions can challenge your writing and it is also helpful having a deadline to work towards. But most importantly, don’t give up. Believe in yourself and the story you are writing.