Photo of author Kat Delacorte

‘I couldn’t say I liked girls’: Kat Delacorte on writing With Fire in Their Blood

The author of one of the year's biggest YA books on life in Venice, her love of Stephen King, and growing up in the remote town that fuelled her imagination.

Sarah McKenna

Kat Delacorte’s With Fire in Their Blood is a seductive contemporary fantasy with a romantic spin – as Delacorte herself puts it, her debut novel is “gothic, sexy, and action-packed”. It follows Lilly, a teenage girl who relocates with her father from the US to the isolated Italian town of Castello, where two rival mafia clans burn witches at the stake. Lilly becomes entangled in a love-square involving the rebellious Liza, the sensitive Christian, and brooding Nico, who all have secrets to hide.

The story draws on Delacorte’s own experiences moving to a remote Italian town aged 11. “There was so much beautiful dark, old architecture,” she explains, “and I started to imagine 'What else could be going on here?'” Despite being welcomed into the small community, there was part of herself the young Delacorte felt unable to share: “I couldn't say that I liked girls. It was a very confusing experience, and I feel I spent my childhood trying not to make myself ‘other’ on purpose because I was afraid of rejection.” It was an experience that also helped inspire her protagonist, who Delacorte says “feels much more comfortable about who she is. That's something I wish I had at her age.” 

What is it about fantasy books that you love?

I write fantasy books because I think they're so freeing – you get a chance to really step out of your life. My book is contemporary fantasy, but especially with second-world fantasy, I think people love it so much because you are completely lost in a different reality. None of the things that matter in your reality need to matter in that one, so you can be whoever you want to be.

Tell us about an unlikely influence on your debut book

When I was younger I wanted to be a screenwriter, so I consumed a lot of media about how to write screenplays, including the three-act structure: what has to happen in Act One to grab the viewer's attention and how the peaks of narrative work. Then of course, I didn't pursue screenwriting professionally, and I didn’t use that knowledge for a while. But when it came time to really polish the draft of my debut and make sure that the narrative and the pacing worked, that screenplay structure had been ingrained in my brain. It was a really useful tool.

As a child you also relocated from the US to Italy. Did living in such a remote location fuel your imagination?

Yes! I moved to Italy when I was 11 with my family. [We wondered,] "Are there any secrets in this small town?" At that age, me and friends wanted to pretend that we were special and could change the world, and we were like, "Okay, what if we were magic?"

Love triangles are very common in art, but you have created a love square for your characters. Tell us about that. 

My protagonist, Lilly, is bisexual, and she's very comfortable with her sexuality. So my aim with the love square was to tap into the complex experience of teenage emotions where you don’t always know exactly what you want and you’re still discovering who you are. And then, as happens in small towns, everyone is interconnected and knows about each other’s dark secrets. So you get a really interesting backdrop for romantic entanglements and jealousies playing out. 

Is there something you’d like your readers to take away from the book? 

What I tried to represent in this book was my experience growing up. Italy is gorgeous and amazing, but I also think people definitely romanticise, you know, the idea of going to a villa on vacation and eating lots of pasta. So I wanted to try to show a more authentic view of life here. And a lot of the characters in the book come to the realisation that there is a world outside of their town, and they are trying to figure out how to not be trapped by their circumstances and how to accept themselves, which I hope is a relatable journey for readers.

Author Kate Delacorte. Photo Desiree Adams for Penguin

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

I think just trying to strike a balance between being really fun and gothic and dramatic and romantic – capturing all of these glamorous Italian bits and pieces – while also staying true to the experience of living in Italy, which isn’t always glamorous, and trying to place value in both of those things.

Were you an avid reader growing up? 

I was a very avid reader; my parents had to ration books out for me because I read in English for the most part, and it was really hard to get English books at the time in Italy. This was pre-Amazon delivering to the world, so when we left for Italy we checked two suitcases in on the plane, and we brought mostly books. My parents would hide them and give me one a month to read!

Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times (and why)

I love Stephen King, so a book I have read and re-read is The Body, which is what the movie Stand By Me is based on. It was the first adult-oriented book that I ever read, and it had a huge impact on me. I felt like there was something in the prose and storytelling that was completely different than anything I'd experienced before. I remember exactly where I was sitting when I discovered that one of the main characters had died, and this ache just opened up in my chest. I’d never felt anything like that before. And I was like, “Oh, my God, this is what you can do with a story.”

Which writer do you most admire?

I love the way Gillian Flynn and Elena Ferrante write women. They're not afraid to have them be so raw and honest and even to make you feel uncomfortable while you’re reading because you’re delving so deep into this woman’s wants and desperations. They write about women who are deeply flawed and I really admire that – I find it very inspirational.

What is your ideal writing scenario?

I like writing in the mornings, because I tend to overthink things less that way. I find having a good routine is really important to me too, because otherwise I get nothing done. I’m fortunate to live in Venice, which is very community-minded, so when I'm stuck I just go for a walk and chat with people who ask how your day is and how work is going. You can exchange all this joy and support and energy with other people, and I find that so refreshing for writing. 

If I didn’t become an author, I would be…

A platform diver. I was really good at swimming and diving as a young kid. For some reason, my parents did not push me into that route, and there are times when I think, "Why am I not a platform diver? I would have been nailing it!" All that talent gone to waste.

Photo at top: Desiree Adams for Penguin

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