A Dark Inheritance: Interview with H. F. Askwith
H. F. Askwith’s debut novel A Dark Inheritance is a twisty thriller, perfect for fans of dark academia. In this interview we chat to the author about her experience writing the book, the themes within it, and her inspirations.
Carys Vickers: Congratulations on publishing your debut novel! Could you tell us a bit about your experience of writing A Dark Inheritance and what you have learned as a first time author?
H. F. Askwith: Thank you so much! It’s been a long journey to get to this stage. I began working on the first seed of this idea when I was studying for my Creative Writing MA at Northumbria University. I’d written manuscripts before then, and not made my dreams of traditional publishing a reality, but the deadlines of the MA helped me to become resilient to the disappointment and keep writing and creating! The opening scene of an early version of this book won a Northern Writers’ Award, and through the New Writing North talent salon, I met my agent, James Wills at Watson, Little, and we worked together for a year on the manuscript before going out on submission. The book sold in 2018 and has been through many, many rewrites in that time while I tried to work out what I wanted it to say and the best plot to do that, with the help of my wonderful editor Naomi Colthurst. I definitely had to learn a lot about structuring plot and developing magic systems. I now plan my novels out in advance, but I didn’t used to, and it created a lot more work for me later on!
CV: Dark Academia has really exploded recently, particularly on BookTok. Can you tell us more about this genre. Were you aware of its popularity while writing A Dark Inheritance?
HFA: TikTok didn’t exist when I was drafting the initial idea for the story back in 2016, and I certainly hadn’t heard of Dark Academia as a name for the sub-genre back then, so I’m excited and it feels like wonderful timing for A Dark Inheritance to emerge into the world! Ultimately, Dark Academia has its roots in classic Gothic literature, and I definitely drew on those influences when I was writing, exploring the aesthetic of sprawling libraries, imposing mansions, encrypted books, and sinister secret societies.
CV: Let’s talk about setting. What is it about the 1920s period that lent itself to this story?
HFA: The 1920s setting is the one thing that has never changed throughout the whole time I was working on this book. I have loved The Great Gatsby since I studied it for A-Level, which was when I felt that I really understood about the many layers that a book can operate on in terms of theme and metaphor. My imagination was really captured by the time period – the Jazz Age is known for its glitz and glamour, and yet they were living in the aftermath of the horrors of World War One… The theme of light and dark is central to the story.
CV: I loved that an important part of the story was set in the Yorkshire landscape – this really added to the misty moody atmosphere, and it’s so rare to read YA set in the North. Is it important that northern settings feature in your writing?
HFA: I grew up in Yorkshire and so the misty moors were an image I enjoyed capturing, as well as having the obvious connections to the Gothic literature canon. I also enjoyed being able to draw a parallel between the modern city of New York and the cobbled streets of England’s ‘Old’ York. Writing the New York setting required a blend of online research and imagination, while writing York was like capturing a familiar walk from memory, and both were equally enjoyable challenges as a writer! My latest work in progress is also set in the North, and I enjoy being able to include small details and bits and pieces that mean something to me personally.
CV: Despite the complex plot, to me, it was Felix’s courage to overcome his anxiety that felt like the driving force of the story. There were very real reasons for him to be afraid, which made it even more encouraging to see him take back control of his life. Why did you make anxiety such a prominent theme?
HFA: This wasn’t an element in the original drafts of the story, but there was a moment during the pandemic when I decided I was ready to write authentically about living with anxiety. I completed a major rewrite where Felix had anxiety and I remember feeling that this was what the book was supposed to be about. A quote from the book which summarises my whole thematic intention is: “It wasn’t that fear stopped existing; it was that hope now lived alongside it.” A Dark Inheritance is a dark story, but ultimately its core message is all about hope. Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience from time to time, especially, during times of change or stressful life events, but if it’s affecting your ability to live the life you want, then it’s okay to ask for help. When I first started experiencing that kind of anxiety, I didn’t know what was happening to me, and it would have been helpful to know that it happened to other people too. Holding on to hope and happiness are key to Felix’s journey, even if anxiety can never be erased completely.
CV: And finally, if you could have your own magical artefact without any of the dark consequences, what would you choose?
HFA: It was intentional and key to the way I set up the magic system that the positive and negative effects are so intrinsically linked… I wouldn’t trust any character who claimed to have detached the two, as there are always consequences to the magic in this world! I absolutely wouldn’t dare to use a single magical artefact from this story.