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04 March 2020

Q&A with Matt Killeen *AD - Gifted

I have read Orphan Monster Spy about three times, and it's a book I love. Sarah is so fierce and the book is so vicious. I was lucky enough to do a Q&A back when the first book was published so when I was offered the chance to do another I jumped at it! I love seeing how writing processes and expectations change, and I think it's fascinating to hear about the research process behind historical novels.

Devil Darling Spy is just as good as Orphan Monster Spy, it packs a punch and isn't afraid of being brutal in its execution.

Q&A with Matt Killeen

Q&A with Matt Killeen

Can you describe Devil Darling Spy in five words?
Thrilling. Gripping. Treacherous. Horrifying. Emotional

What was the biggest challenge of writing a sequel to Orphan Monster Spy?
Doing something the same, but different. These are opposing drives. Sarah has to grow but be as compelling a character as before. She has… fans, I guess. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Then the story has to be more exciting, yet as emotionally authentic. Oh, and all in six months, when the last book took five years. I utterly failed to do the latter, by the way. Don’t get me wrong, these were all excellent and rewarding problems to have. But if you are in any way fragile, if you doubt yourself the tiniest amount, and I do, it seems like a mountain to climb.

The second challenge was choosing to set a book in Central Africa, where the research is difficult to come by and in French. The risk of screwing it up in a really offensive way kept me up at night.

What was the most interesting thing that you found while you were researching book two?
I wasn’t much interested in the Fall of France, Dunkirk or the Battle of Britain, which were the big events of 1940. There were plenty of books and films about those things already and I didn’t think there was many new things to say. But at the same time I had just read The Kaiser's Holocaust by David Olusoga & Casper W Erichsen, which discusses the extermination of the Herero and Nama peoples by Imperial Germany at the start of the 20th century and knew I had to reflect it somehow. It wasn’t just the pre-echoes of the Holocaust that I saw in the book, but the reality of the whole Imperialist framework that just tutted about the atrocity, as it had the horrors of the Congo Free State before it.

I suddenly “got” empire and colonialism in a way I hadn’t before.

I would burst into rooms carrying the book, demanding everyone listen to me, the way Sarah does with Red Rubber in Devil Darling Spy. One of my intentions behind the books, and my school talks, is to try to make the moral complexity of the war obvious – and colonialism is inextricably linked to that. To who we think we are. And man, right now the UK needs to understand its part in both the war and the empire. Too many people think it’s something to be proud of, as opposed to the darkest stain on our nation’s character.

What was your favourite thing about writing a sequel to Orphan Monster Spy?
It was great to move Sarah’s story forward and to discover things that even I hadn’t realised yet. But in many ways she’s never out of my head so I knew most of the secrets. The best bit? Getting it done. I know that sounds awful – like asking my four year old what his favourite bit of school was – but I suffered a bit with this one and I felt like I was letting everyone down.

Pressing send on the first draft and getting a positive response from my editors was a major moment. I was having real imposter syndrome.

The more nice things people said about Orphan Monster Spy, the more impossible the task of following it seemed to be. I have at least followed it and not entirely embarrassed myself, to my satisfaction at least.

Are you a planner or a pantser? Has your planning/pantsing changed since Orphan Monster Spy?
I am a plotter-cusp-pantser… I have a beginning and an end and a few tentpole moments that I have to get to, but I then write the rest chronologically. This allows the characters to do things I wasn’t expecting, to say different things – I make no apologies for the fact that they’re in charge really – and for the opportunity to explore something that just occurs along the way. Inevitably I end up adding whole scenes and bits and pieces after the first draft, but I don’t like it!

I blitzed the chronological write of Devil Darling Spy in just 45 days, after spending far too long freaking out and doing research, but there were some super-vague issues to fix. In the end I was gratified that the whole Japanese embassy scene grew from a dog-walking spark – when something clarifies in the woods walking the doggie – and it wrote itself fairly quickly, with whole sections of Sarah’s back story coming to life.

What was the biggest surprise about your debut year?
There is zero preparation you can do for being published in this way. When the book was announced, veteran authors dropped me emails offering some good advice and a shoulder to cry on if necessary. It’s a whole set of new issues, challenges and opportunities. Plenty of traps for the depressed and doubtful.

At the same time there were lots of lovely things – the Costa shortlist was wonderful and meeting the young teenagers whose world you’ve changed by dumping your weird little story on them – but almost everything was a surprise.

Finally, what are you working on now? What can we expect from you in the future?
Sarah will return, but publishing being publishing, I don’t know exactly when yet. I’m kicking around some ideas and researching some stuff pretty hard.

I’ve been writing about Soviet combat medics on the eastern front in WW2 – usually young women who were considered combatants so were bandaging the wounded while being shot at – and working on an idea about the Nazi movement in the US before WW2 and their summer camp programmes. Yes, Nazi summer camp.

In many ways the biggest challenge is leaving Sarah behind for a bit. She’s pushy. She doesn’t like thoughts that don’t involve her.

Devil Darling Spy by Matt Killeen Blog Tour banner

And that wraps up my Q&A with the wonderful Matt Killeen! I hope you enjoyed it and are now even more excited to read Orphan Monster Spy and Devil Darling Spy. I promise you, they are amazing. And the covers are gorgeous shiny foil which looks amazing glittering away on your shelf.

Have you read Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen?


  1. What an excellent interview! I have a copy of the first book in the series but have yet to read it! Hopefully I will soon!

  2. I always enjoy reading these kinda posts, it's so interesting to hear more from the author. I especially liked the 'biggest surprise' question - it must be so amazing to meet those who read the book and it changed their world in some way. Thanks for sharing, fab post Cora! <3 xx

    Bexa |

  3. Loved this interview! Brilliant questions.

  4. What a great opportunity! Great questions! Thank you for sharing this interview

  5. This was so interesting to read, especially how it was mostly about being a sequel. I can't even comprehend how challenging it must be to write something equally as good/ better with fan expectations and make it similar enough for fans to enjoy but not so similar that it's boring. Loved the planner or pantser question too, it's really interesting learning how different people approach things x


  6. Love learning different author's writing processes! This was great!


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