A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Book Birthday Interview – Zoe Marriott, Author of The Night Itself

The Night Itself, the first novel in acclaimed fantasy writer Zoe Marriott’s new YA urban fantasy series The Name of the Blade, is just two days away from hitting the shelves. In preparation for what is sure to be one of the hottest YA reads of the year (I was lucky enough to read an advance proof, and it’s brilliant), I had a chat with Zoe to find out more about about The Night Itself, why she’s so inspired by Japanese mythology, and just what is so awesome about the Kitsune …
The Night Itself is a modern urban fantasy, which is a big departure from the epic high fantasy and fairy-tales of your previous novels. What was this transition like? 

94716398383448669_MPL1mJZY_cSoooo much fun. it was like finding a whole new playground – a landscape of steel and glass and lights that I could make my own. I’ve always loved to read urban fantasy, and many of my favourite authors write within that tradition. I’ve come up with several urban fantasy ideas during my career and even started to write a few. Sadly, however, my previous agent didn’t really like urban fantasy as a genre and would shoot the ideas down before I could get anywhere with them. One of the first things I did when I was talking with my new agent to see if we were a good match was to mention this idea for an urban fantasy trilogy, and when she reacted with enthusiasm, I knew she was the right agent for me!

The shift to urban fantasy basically gave the chance to change everything *else* about my writing and challenge myself in all kinds of new ways. My high fantasies often take place over really long periods of storytime – years – so I wanted this whole trilogy to unfold over a matter of days. In high fantasy I often focus on small dramas, like the fate of a single country, or group, or even one person, so in the trilogy I raised the stakes to put the fate of the world in danger. My romances are normally slow burning, and in this one I went for love at first sight, full throttle. And I’ve never tried being funny in print before either, so that was scary and amazing.

The Name of the Blade Trilogy is based on Japanese mythology. What is it about Japanese mythology that you love, and where did your passion for it come from?

I’ll be honest; I was a strange kid. Most young girls I knew had posters of the latest boyband on their walls. I had photocopies of illustrations from The Mabinogion and The Reader’s Digest Big Book of Myth and Legends, along with my own drawings of maps of fictional countries and dragons. I’ve always been fascinated with folktales, fairytales, myths and legends. I remember reading a really sad story about a Japanese fox-wife and being enchanted with it when I was very young, and it stayed with me, I think because I’d known nothing about Japanese culture before that. It was unique and different, a tradition that was completely new to me.

laputacastleintheskyShortly afterwards I was lucky enough to come across Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Laputa: Castle in the Sky on TV and… wow, that blew me away. I’d never seen images like this, storytelling like this. Of course, I was only a kid, and it took me a few more years before I could track down the filmmaker’s details and then afford to buy more of his work, but by my early twenties I was a fully carded up manga and anime geek. More than that, I was in love with Japanese culture, how fully the Japanese embraced their own traditions as an everyday part of modern life, the richness and (for me) newness of this whole world of legends and stories that simply had no analogue in Western mythos. So much of the character of traditional Japanese stories is completely unique because their society was isolated for a long period, like its own eco-system. After many years of reading and study, it still feels like a different world just waiting for me to learn it. Maybe it always will. That’s what makes it special.

How long did it take you to go from first draft to finished manuscript? 

Ah, this is a tough one. I had the idea for The Name of the Blade Trilogy in late 2010. But I had another book contracted that I had to write first. So in early 2011 I wrote the first three chapters of The Night Itself (and a synopsis for the whole trilogy) for my agent to take to my publisher – I think that took about three weeks – and then I spent six months finishing that other book. In July I went back to my first three chapters of TNI, found them good, and picked up where I had left off. I finished TNI, revised it and submitted it to my editor by the end of November. So actual writing time was about six months. But then my editor and I spent several months in 2012 completely re-writing the book together because it was, if you can believe it, too fast-paced and too funny. My editor wanted more depth, more world-building, more mythology, more angst. We added a lot of words in that re-write and changed the character of the story a lot. Bearing that in mind, I’d say a year, total.

How would you describe your perfect writing day?

Pic5Up by six-thirty, peppy and full of excitement, to brilliant sunshine. No nasty surprises from the cats or dog waiting for me on the carpet. Coffee consumed, Twitter and emails checked by seven-thirty. Annoying household chores and nice long walk with dog in the sun completed by nine – and straight into the Writing Cave (a tiny boxroom at the front of my house). Scribble furiously in my notebook until one, producing lots and lots of barely legible pages. A healthy lunch and a shorter walk with the dog, followed by a half an hour nap if I fancy one, and back into the study by two-thirty. Write up barely legible scribbles and discover that they transform smoothly and easily into wonderful scene that perfectly does what I need it to. Completely lose track of time and work until evening, caught up in the story. Ah, bliss…

… And how would you describe your actual writing day?

Up by seven-fifteen, bleary-eyed, with headache and stiff neck. Day cloudy and grey. Both cats have vomited on the stairs, cleverly placing the second lot so that I step in it trying to avoid the first one. Since I’ve started the day with cleaning, just carry on and get everything done before bothering with coffee, which makes me feel both fearsomely efficient and as grumpy as a celibate badger in mating season. Gulp coffee, burn tongue, check Twitter, fly into frenzy over misogynistic/homophobic/racist link or feature on BBC Breakfast and spend half an hour ranting to everyone online. Finally stomp from house with dog in tow and mutter under my breath during entire walk, scaring all the other dog-walkers. Have to spend ten minutes towelling mud off dog when we arrive back. Into Writing Cave by ten-thirty. Groan. Check Twitter. Clutch head. Cross things out emphatically. Check emails. Groan more. Reply to some emails. Check Twitter. Mess around with work that I did the day before. Keep working until three, desperately trying to accomplish something. Finally give up because eyes are threatening to pack their things and move out of skull. Order a pizza. Take dog for another long, stompy walk. Sit in bath with comfort book until disturbingly prune-y.

What would be TNI’s theme song?

It has two, actually! The first one is the main theme from the Satoshi Kon film Paprika (composed by Susumu Hirasawa). The other is Never Let Me Go by Florence and the Machine.

TNI has some wonderful settings inspired by Japanese mythology. Which was your favourite to write?

43980533830555410_wLilrzvK_fThe Court of the Kitsune, definitely! I had such a hard time figuring out how that world should be. My instincts were telling me that it would be a mistake to go with a purely traditional interpretation of the spirit realm. I needed it to have some connection to the modern world, to the magical London that my heroine had discovered. But I knew the foxes needed to live somewhere breathtakingly beautiful, lush and green. When I figured out where their home would be, and how it would look, I was so overjoyed, I nearly missed my stop on the train. Too busy scribbling in my notebook!

TNI is also full of incredible creatures from Japanese mythology. Can you give us a few hints at what creatures we might encounter in the next two books?

That would be so spoilery, I can’t even. And I haven’t written the final book yet, so I’ve got a whole list that I’m hoping to squeeze in there, but who knows what will make the final cut? Suffice it to say that there are lots of spooky new monsters and intriguing mythological figures still to meet.

If you could be any creature from Japanese mythology, which would you choose?

It’s predictable, I know, but I would definitely be a Kitsune. They can shapeshift and chose their own appearance in both human and fox form, they’re immortal, and they can shoot lightning out of their tails. So handy.

What advice would you give to people who are writing urban fantasy? 

If you’re writing in the modern world, try to reflect the reality of the modern world – not the homogeneous commercially approved version. Include fully rounded, nuanced portrayals of characters who might be excluded or marginalised (for no good reason, but that’s another story) in traditional high fantasy. If your book is set in a modern metropolitan area, for example, and your entire main cast is white, straight, cisgendered and able-bodied, you are straining my credulity a bit, because that’s just not the make-up you’d find if you went to most large cities and walked the streets. I’d love to read a bit more urban fantasy in which the heroine isn’t that archetypal, slender, pretty-but-she-doesn’t-know, good-at-English-bad-at-Maths white girl. I’d love to see the mythology and magic of a few more cultures respectfully explored instead of the same old vampires, angels, demons, werewolves and elves from Western culture. There’s a whole world of possibilities out there in the twenty-first century! The very best urban fantasy writers right now (Kelley Armstrong, Sarah Rees Brennan, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Tom Pollock, Karen Mahoney) embrace that, and their work is all the richer and better for it. That’s the example we should all seek to follow.

NewAuthorPic2Zoë Marriott 
YA novels: THE SWAN KINGDOM (Walker, March 2007), DAUGHTER OF THE FLAMES (Walker, March 2008), SHADOWS ON THE MOON (Walker, July 2011), FROSTFIRE (Walker, July 2012), THE NIGHT ITSELF (Walker, July 2013), DARKNESS HIDDEN (Walker, 2014)

IMG_9772Natasha Ngan
YA novels: THE ELITES (Hot Key, September 2013), THE MEMORY KEEPERS (Hot Key, Autumn 2014)

About Natasha Ngan

NYT Bestselling author of Girls of Paper and Fire, published by Little Brown

4 comments on “Book Birthday Interview – Zoe Marriott, Author of The Night Itself

  1. kateormand
    July 2, 2013

    Great interview, Zoe and Natasha! So excited for this book!

  2. natashanganauthor
    July 2, 2013

    It is SO good Kate, magical and whimsical and pretty terrifying too!

  3. emmapass
    July 2, 2013

    Fantastic interview – thanks, Zoe and Natasha! Can’t wait for TNI to come out… And I totally want to go and re-watch Laputa now (best. Film. Ever.)!

  4. Rose Mannering
    July 7, 2013

    This is a great interview 🙂 and the book sounds so exciting!

Comments are closed.


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