Interview with Katya de Beccera: Haunted by the desire to know the truth.

By Louise Sapphira

Valuing the importance of family, whilst also staying true to your beliefs.

Young adult fiction can have as many twists and turns, hopes and tribulations as adult fiction. The category allows the reader to relate with the protagonists and their stories, by drawing attention to our own youth – past or present. Katya de Becerra’s When Ghosts Call Us Home depicts the relationship between Sophia and her older sister Layla. The narrative spirals around an amateur horror film, Vermillion, that they create together whilst living in a Californian mansion, Cashore House. But things change when Layla goes missing from a college campus, several years after the film was made. Sophia is then drawn to return to Cashore House. She not only relives the filming experience she had with her sister but also creates a new adventure, centered around the first film.

When reading When Ghosts Call Us Home, you feel the love Sophia has for Layla but also her frustration towards Layla and how she managed to fall within the traps of Cashore House. Sophia is also unable to escape the horror movie they made together, and the reader can sense the uncertainty she experiences. Katya told me this is partly because Sophia knew the least about the events surrounding her. When I met with Katya we discussed writing young adult fiction. But, also, the crafting process behind When Ghosts Call Us Home.

Katya explained, ‘I don’t think I specifically chose to write young adult fiction, I just felt like the stories that I wanted to write when I first started writing, which was now more than ten years ago…were featuring younger people who were on the cusp of adulthood.’ She added, ‘But I have to say I am diversifying right now.’

About the main considerations when writing young adult fiction, Katya made it clear there is not one answer to this question. She said, ‘I think some stories are just really calling for that younger voice.’ Though, ‘I tend to write older protagonists who maybe come off a little bit too wise for their age, but that’s what I do…It’s not a static area.’ She explained, ‘But I think definitely YA books would have a teenager as a protagonist, that will deal with some kind of teenage issues, or at least they’ll face limitations…because they’re not adults.’ She added, ‘They have family, they have responsibilities in that. And you have to make decisions in your plot, in your writing that feed that. You can’t just have them…doing things that adults do.’

Research and observations are also part of the writing journey. Katya explained, ‘Every story that we write we will subconsciously or consciously draw on the world around us.’ In the context of When Ghosts Call Us Home, Katya said, ‘There is not a lot of autobiographical in that book, and it is a fiction book, but probably there is a lot of me in all my protagonists because they tend to be kind of older beyond their age and their troubles often deal with existential crisis that comes too early.’ She added, ‘But in terms of research [this involved] creating that setting because it’s set in California. I call it Californian Gothic, and I have a family connection to California…I’ve been there, I lived there, and I find it fascinates me as a setting.’ Katya drew from this inspiration and imagined haunted houses ‘hanging over a cliff with its own weird backstory.’ She started thinking of Californian mansions, and what they would ‘look like…built at the turn of the century [Cashore House, the mansion in the book, dates to the early 20th century].’

This setting is almost like a character in the novel and allows Sophia’s voice to evolve. From Sophia’s point of view:
‘It was like the house wanted us all to itself. And so, as Mom and Dad worked to transform the building, the building was, in turn, transforming us.’

However, Cashore House illuminated more than the experience of hauntings. It allowed Sophia to find her own voice. Katya said, ‘I wanted…[Sophia’s voice] to be driven by a lot of anger…the protagonist is fed up. She wants to change.’ She added, ‘I guess what I’m becoming known for is…very determined young women who get stuff done, driven by strong emotions, or rage.’ She added, ‘Another thing…[to] keep in mind, is what’s the emotional core of the book.’ In this novel, ‘the core of the book is the relationship between two sisters.’ She explained, ‘There’s a lot of complexity to that, suppressed or not so suppressed annoyance and anger with each other. But at the bottom of it all is love and the main protagonist wants to save her sister…or she at least wants to know what happened to her.’

To connect with Katya’s writing journey she discussed, ‘I don’t know…[whether] I keep writing the same protagonist over and over again, but they evolve, and I feel like this is just the type of girl, a young girl that maybe I wished I was when I was a teenager.’ She added, ‘Because I was very deeply lost in my own head, and a bit shy, and not very assertive.’ Consequently, Sophia’s motivation ‘was inspired by an amalgamation of experience, of writing and finding the right point of entry into the story, because she was the one most affected by it all and also the one who knows the least.’ She added, while Sophia wants to find her sister, ‘she gets involved in another experience that takes her back to the house where the [first] movie was set, and that experience also involves filming.’ Therefore, ‘The book goes in a spiral, and it repeats things, but in a different light.’ Ultimately, When Ghosts Call Us Home is ‘Sophia’s story…she’s the one…most affected by what happens. And this is her way of resolving it for herself, and making it right for her sister.’

Another element alongside voice and a spiralling plot is the love interest in the novel. Katya said, ‘Sometimes it belongs in the story, like the romantic subplot and sometimes it doesn’t necessarily need to be there, and maybe it shows if writers try to force it.’ With young adult fiction a romantic interest is, ‘like part of our experiences coming of age…I think it’s all about growing up, and maybe for the first time experiencing emotions that [we] wouldn’t know what to do with.’ Katya also supervises PhD and High Degree Research students and said ‘It’s good for me to learn what decisions they’re making and what troubles they’re facing…and how it relates back to literary theory, and what they’re exploring.’ She added, ‘So they have to practice by writing, and they have to read the literature about the process of writing.’

Katya’s next novel, titled They Watch From Below, is currently with her editor. She said, ‘That book is dark academia, [based] around a university campus. It’s a horror about secret societies and cults on campus.’ She added, ‘I always have different projects on the go and I’m hoping to also finish soon my first non-young adult novel…It’s folk horror set on a remote island, that’s all I’m going to say.’ Keep an eye open for future novels by Katya. They will not only spook you but also have you thinking about the relationships that over time stay with us.


Katya De Becerra

More about Katya de Beccera:

fKatya De Becerra

Katya de Becerra was born in Russia, studied in California, lived in Peru, and then stayed in Australia long enough to become a local. She was going to be an Egyptologist when she grew up, but instead, she earned a PhD in Anthropology. She is the author of YA horror-thrillers When Ghosts Call Us HomeWhat The Woods Keep and Oasis



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