Saturday, November 15, 2014

0 Zoe Marriott, author of THE NAME OF THE BLADE, on writing since the age of eight

Author Question: What is your favorite thing about THE NAME OF THE BLADE?

It's a toss up, really. I adore the Kitsune - those are shapeshifting foxes from Japanese myth who can live for thousands of years and also shoot lightning out of their tails. They're reluctant allies of my protagonist, Mio, and I loved writing about them, their strange fascination with humans, their knotty, snarky politics, and their amazing underground kingdom in the spirit realm. However, there's also a moment in the book which I had to fight quite hard with my editors to keep, in which the heroine grows four inches in about thirty seconds and her pants split, revealing her Hello Kitty underwear. I wanted to show that you can like cute pink underwear and also be incredibly kick-ass. And I did eventually win, and the Hello Kitty underwear stayed. So I'm really fond of that, too.

What was your inspiration for writing THE NAME OF THE BLADE?

The first spark of an idea came from a poem called The Bedpost by Robert Graves. It's about a legendary warrior who is enchanted by a vengeful witch and turned into a post of wood. The post ends up becoming the end of a bed, and the warrior's only hope of escaping from the spell is to whisper stories to the young lady who sleeps in the bed, to try and get her to fall in love with him. Only the poem ends with the warrior still trapped, which I found extremely unsatisfying! I thought 'Someone needs to give that story a better ending!' And then promptly decided the someone should be me.
However, the idea for my version of the tale - in which a katana belonging to a British-born-Japanese teenager living in contemporary London contains the spirit of an ancient warrior boy, whom she accidentally frees after taking the sword without her parent's permission to wear to a costume party - evolved due to all the research into Japanese folklore I'd done for my previous book Shadows on the Moon. I didn't really get the opportunity to use many mythical or folkloric elements in that book, and I was dying to. Once I had connected the poem with Japanese mythology in my head, the idea for the whole trilogy exploded in my head.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

Normally, I have a list of difficult scenes as long as my arm, and they do tend to be the ones I'm most proud of. THE NAME OF THE BLADE was different. It was what a lot of writers call a 'gift' book, which means it really does feel as if someone has given you a lovely present of this story which unwraps itself in your head as you start to write. So, for me, the most difficult scene was the last section of the book - the final battle where the heroine and her friends go to confront a nine-tailed nekomata to save London - because I was so in the zone that I wrote for nearly eight hours straight and finished the book in one go. I write everything longhand for the first draft, and by the time I'd finished I was in agony. My hand actually swelled up and I had to apply ice. This, by the way, was how I triggered a Repetitive Stress Injury that continues to cause me pain today. However, I still feel so happy and proud of that scene, that I feel as if it was totally worth it!

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

I think this is a difficult one for a writer to answer. Readers often see completely different things in my work than I do. However, I know which stories influenced and inspired me to write THE NAME OF THE BLADE - my first urban fantasy - so probably the best I can do is to list those: The War For the Oaks by Emma Bull, Diana Wynne Jones' urban fantasies including Archer's Goon, The Demon's Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan. Holly Black's Tithe books, and Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series.

How long did you work on THE NAME OF THE BLADE?

An astonishingly short time, for me - about four months. Before that, my record was six months, but my average was more like a year.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

It highlighted something that I already sort of knew about myself, which is that plot is my main weakness as a writer. I love so many aspects of writing, but keeping a sprawling, multi-viewpoint, multi-volume story with three complete plot arcs and too many character arcs to count under control? I hated it. I'm the kind of writer who creates lovingly detailed synopses before beginning work and then completely ignores them. I always have to go back and make drastic changes to the beginning of my books so that they match the endings. Guess what? If the beginning is already published, you can't do that! By book #3 (which is now in edits) I had tied myself into a pretzel trying to keep everything working together and under control. So my lesson is that if I want to write a series or trilogy in the future, I need to make sure each piece is self-contained rather than full of ongoing storylines, for the sake of my own sanity.

What do you hope readers will take away from THE NAME OF THE BLADE?

Well, one of my main aims in writing this trilogy was to create a piece of urban fantasy which was as diverse as possible, which was shaped and informed by that diversity, but without ever being ABOUT diversity. The cast of this book is made up entirely of people of colour. My heroine is British-born-Japanese. Her best friend (who is a viewpoint character in later installments) is mixed race, and is a lesbian. There is a genderfluid, bisexual character (also a viewpoint character in later books). Other genderfluid characters show up later on. But the story is not in any way about the status of any of the characters, nor is it about their so-called 'issues'. It's just about a realistically diverse group of young Londoners having amazing, scary adventures, falling in love and kicking a lot of ass. So hopefully young readers from all backgrounds and living all kinds of lives will take away a message that stories can and should include them, and people different from them too, without exoticising or singling differences out. Everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in fiction, and everyone has stories which deserve to be told. That's a message I'd like to disseminate as widely as possible.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

Gosh, this is going to make me sound a little sad and obsessed. But here goes. I decided I wanted to be a published writer at the age of eight. I finished my first manuscript (a romantic comedy) at age sixteen. That, and the two further romantic novels I wrote in college, were all summarily rejected (thank heavens!) too, before I realised, aged eighteen, that what I really wanted to write was YA fantasy instead. I completed my first YA novel when I was twenty - it was called BLOOD MAGIC - and that was rejected by every publisher in the UK and two in Australia, too, for good measure. However, an editor at one of the publishing houses that rejected me got in touch, personally, to tell me that he had really liked the manuscript, and that I had a lot of potential. He asked me to send my next book to him when it was finished, and then went on to stay in touch with me for the following year, encouraging me and offering me advice while I wrote it.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?
Not really! I'm pretty sure that if I ever honestly believe I have figured out the key to writing a novel I'll drop dead the next day. Every novel is different, and so they all have different locks to figure out how to pick. However, the moment when I realised that I needed to be writing fantasy for young people was a huge Eureka! moment. I was reading In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce (still my writing hero) at the time, and it felt like being hit with a bolt of lightning. I've never changed my mind about that decision, either, so it was a pretty significant moment for me!

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

This is something which tends to evolve and change a lot, depending on the book, on my mood, on where in the book I am and how well it's going. Usually I try to be in my Writing Cave (which is a tiny box-room in my house) by nine or ten and I'll write through, with a short break for a snack and coffee mid-day, until three or four in the afternoon. I do listen to music. In fact, I usually have a couple of different playlists specifically created for each book, as well as generic playlists called 'Sad' or 'Fight'. I write everything longhand first (I am a stationery addict, and own over fifty blank notebooks at any one time) in bursts of forty minutes to an hour, to try and be kind to my hand and its RSI. After each burst of scribbling I type up and revise my handwritten notes, then go back to scribbling again. An ideal day produces somewhere upwards of two thousand words. However, if I'm feeling blocked or stuck or I need to work something out, I'll often make a change - go hang out in a coffeeshop with my notebook and pencil, or sometimes take a train journey somewhere, since something about train journeys seems to set my creative brain off like nothing else. And sometimes if I have a burst of inspiration I'll type directly into my manuscript and then print it out to revise it later. Being flexible is a good idea. Any routine that becomes too essential can turn into a roadblock later on.

What are you working on now?

We're still revising the final book of THE NAME OF THE BLADE trilogy, but aside from that, my current work in progress is a companion novel to Shadows on the Moon, set in a faerytale version of Japan called the Moonlit Lands. Just as Shadows on the Moon was a revisionist retelling of Cinderella, the new book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, in which I attempt to reconcile the traditional ideas about that story - that it's about seeing past appearances and falling in love with a person's true, inner self - with the actual events of the tale, which seem to offer a different message about male power and patriarchy. In my version, Beauty is an ordinary village girl who takes to the dark forest to hunt down the beast that attacked her father, in order to save his life. She intends to kill it and free her people from the spell that has held them prisoner for a hundred years. But the beast is harder to find than she expected, and the dark forest holds secrets and spirits far more dangerous than she could ever have imagined.


The Name of the Blade
by Zoe Marriott
Released 11/11/2014

Ancient Japanese gods and monsters are unleashed on modern-day London in this first book of an epic trilogy from acclaimed fantasy writer Zoƫ Marriott.

When Mio sneaks the family's katana -- a priceless ancestral sword -- from her parents' attic, she just wants to spice up a costume. But the katana is much more than a dusty antique. Awakening the power within the sword unleashes a terrible, ancient evil onto the streets of unsuspecting London. But it also releases Shinobu, a fearless warrior boy, from the depths of time. He helps to protect Mio -- and steals her heart. With creatures straight out of Japanese myths stalking her and her friends, Mio realizes that if she cannot keep the sword safe and learn to control its legendary powers, she will lose not only her own life . . . but the love of a lifetime.

Purchase The Name of the Blade at Amazon
Purchase The Name of the Blade at IndieBound
View The Name of the Blade on Goodreads


Zoe Marriot is the author of YA fantasies The Swan Kingdom, Daughter of the Flames, Shadows on the Moon, and FrostFire, and the upcoming first in the urban fantasy The Name of the Blade trilogy, The Night Itself (Walker Books, Candlewick Press).

Zoe's known that she's wanted to be a writer since she finished reading her first book; 'The Magic Faraway Tree' by Enid Blyton. She was about eight, but she's never changed my mind in all the years since then.

She got her first publishing contract when she was twenty-two, but had to wait until she was twenty-four to see that book published (it was The Swan Kingdom).

She lives in a little house in a town by the sea, with my two rescued cats, one called Hero after a Shakespearian character and one Echo after a nymph from a Greek myth. She also has a springer/cocker spaniel called Finbar (otherwise known as The Devil Hound). You can find out more about her on her website.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you! :)