Blog Tour: The Reluctant Vampire Queen by Jo Simmons review + interview
We're delighted to join the tour celebrating the release of The Reluctant Vampire Queen by Jo Simmons. This is a vampire book like no other! I laughed the whole way through, craved mini battenbergs the entire time I was reading it, and will never look at sheep the same way!
The Reluctant Vampire Queen introduces Mo, a proud feminist, vegetarian, democracy advocate, potential politician and mini battenberg enthusiast. For those not familiar with mini battenbergs, they are miniature cakes covered in a layer of marzipan. When we meet Mo first, she doesn't appear to have time for anything apart from her studies, her best friend Lou and Mr Kipling's tastiest treats.
Mo and Lou experience all the typical teen trials including embarrassing parents and being terrorised by local bullies. But Mo is entirely focused on 'The Plan' she has devised for future success and won't be sidetracked by anything, not even romance. That all changes when a vampire called Bogdan decides she is 'The Chosen One' and pronounces her the next Vampire Queen.
As her world turns upside down (and many worms are turned inside out), Mo has some important and life-changing choices to make. Her decisions will have far-reaching consequences. Can Mo stay true to herself and make a positive impact as a prominent ruler in the world of the undead? Is it possible to juggle being a teenage girl with the demands of being a queen? And will Mo manage to remain human throughout the whole process? You'll have to read the book to find out! I loved all the dialogue and often found myself laughing out loud at the exchanges, especially where Bogdan was concerned. Despite all the humour and the many surreal aspects, it explores important issues such as consent, bullying, the pressures of school and the challenges of friendship. Best suited to age 12 and upwards, this is a fun summer read that's full of surprises! Author Jo Simmons is a former subeditor, a freelance journalist and a veteran of funny fiction. She started writing for children when her two boys were young and hungry for daft and silly stories to make bedtime more fun. I Swapped My Brother on the Internet was shortlisted for the Lollies Book Awards 2020 and was translated into several languages. Jo lives in Brighton with her family and a small, scruffy dog who leaves hair absolutely everywhere! The Reluctant Vampire Queen is her first novel for teenagers. It was a pleasure to speak to Jo about her teen debut and you can read our chat below...
Although you’ve written many acclaimed and popular books for younger readers, this is your first for teenagers. What (if anything) did you find most challenging about writing for a different audience?
The length. The Reluctant Vampire Queen is over 70,000 words long. My previous books were around 25,000, so it was more complex and demanded more ‘stuff’ in it. I also wanted to respect Mo’s teen experience, and all the conflict and pressures that teen life involves, while very much not being a teen anymore. Admittedly, most teens don’t get picked out to be a vampire ruler, but they do tend to experience friendship, relationship and school pressures, and my challenge was to be faithful and compassionate to that.
Vampires and comedy don’t usually go together. How did you get the idea for a funny vampire-themed book?
That’s the joy of vampires though. Everyone knows the myth which leaves me, the writer, free to mess about with it – in this case make it funny, while also not downplaying how terrifying and violent vampires can be. Funny vampires have been done, though, most notably with What We Do in the Shadows. I loved both the film and the TV series.
There are powerful messages about the importance of consent, believing in yourself and standing up to bullies. Was this something you set out to do from the start?
Kind of. I always called this my feminist vampire book, when I was working on it. I wanted Mo to be very principled, very driven for a successful and serious life but to show how this puts her in line for some bullying. I also wanted to explore the price Mo’s been paying as she pursues her focused plan for her future. She has neglected her emotional life. When the hot vampire familiar Luca shows up and when her relationship with her best friend flounders, she has to act on a more emotional, instinctive level and discover who she really is, behind all the great grades and school prizes. Some of the other issues, such as around consent, were woven in later.
Was there always going to be romance or did that element develop along with the story?
There was always going to be romance. Mo beginning to have feelings for Luca is the start of her growing up, becoming a more spontaneous, emotive person in the here and now, rather than someone rigidly sticking to a plan for future success. It’s her coming of age. It was so much fun to write. I’ve never written romance before – loved it!
Can we expect further adventures of Mo and co. and can you hint at what might happen next?
There are going to be two more books. I’m just finishing off the first draft of the sequel. Expect life chucking more curve balls at Mo and her discovering the sometimes scary, sometimes infuriating reality of being Vampire Queen.
The name Mo sounds a lot like Jo. Are there any other similarities between you and the main character?
Oh god, I hadn’t thought of that! Ha! You got me! Some similarities, yes. I wasn’t as smart and principled as she is, and had no idea what I wanted to do when I was older. I once burst into tears after watching LA Law, a show in the 1980s about high-flying LA lawyers, because I knew I could never do what they did but felt I should be able to! Like her, though, I was focused on work like her, keeping my head down until I could leave school (I went to quite a rough rural comprehensive) and not very successful with boys.
I loved all the snappy and hilarious dialogue in this book! When you’re writing, do you have all the witty quips and one-liners included the first draft or do you add more in later drafts? And do you ever find yourself laughing at your own jokes?
A lot of those gags bubble up organically and are in there from the get-go. I love writing dialogue and the chats between Mo and Bogdan in particular really happened spontaneously. That said, in subsequent drafts, I’m always looking for how to funny-it up. Mo’s mum in particular and her – I think – amusing/cringeful need to over-share about her own relationship with Mo’s dad came in on the second draft. And yes, I do find myself laughing at my own jokes. Is that terrible? Haha!
What are your own favourite vampire books and films?
What We Do in the Shadows, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Let the Right One In (original Swedish version please), True Blood (a TV series) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a film starring a very camp Gary Oldman and a terrible Keanu Reeves. I haven’t yet read, but will, John Polidori’s The Vampyre, which he wrote in 1819 (kind of nicking the idea off Byron). It pretty much started off this whole cultural fascination with creatures of the night. Weirdly, I have never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I hear it’s really good! Thanks so much for answering my questions, Jo and congratulations on your wonderful new book! Really looking forward to reading the rest of the series. I love all the films and TV shows Jo mentions except A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Polidori's The Vampyre; I'm not familiar with these but will have to check them out!
The Reluctant Vampire Queen was published by Hot Key Books on 7th July 2022. Thanks so much to Hot Key Books and Kaleidoscopic Tours for our advance copy and for inviting us on this tour. All opinions expressed are our own. Don't forget to visit the other tour stops on Instagram to learn more about this book: