A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I have the pleasure of interviewing Zoë Marriott to celebrate the release of DARKNESS HIDDEN, book two in THE NAME OF THE BLADE trilogy. I read and enjoyed the first book in the series, THE NIGHT ITSELF — a rich urban fantasy set in London. This was Zoë Marriott’s first urban fantasy novel and the beginning of the author’s first series. I’m really looking forward to continuing with the trilogy. Here’s a little more about the books:
THE NIGHT ITSELF
When fifteen year old Mio Yamato furtively sneaks the katana – an ancestral Japanese sword – out of its hiding place in her parent’s attic to help liven up her Christmas party costume, she has no idea of the darkness she is about to unleash on modern day London, or the family secrets that she is going to uncover.
The paralysing paranoia that descends on her before she gets to her friend’s party is her first clue. The vivid and terrifying visions that nearly get her killed are a pretty good warning too.
The giant nine-tailed cat demon that comes after the sword and tries to rip her throat out? Overkill.
Seconds away from becoming kitty-food, Mio is saved by Shinobu, a mysterious warrior boy. But it’s already too late. Mio has ruptured the veil between the mortal realm and the Underworld, and now the gods and monsters of ancient Japan stalk the streets of London, searching for her and the sword.
With the help of her best friend Jack, a fox spirit named Hikaru – and the devoted protection of the betwitchingly familiar Shinobu – Mio attempts to discover the true nature of the sword and its connection to the Yamato family. Because if she doesn’t learn how to control the katana’s incredible powers, she’s in danger of being overwhelmed by them. And if she can’t keep the sword safe from the terrible creatures who want it for their own, she’ll lose not only her own life… but the love of a lifetime.
In the electrifying second volume of Zoë Marriott’s The Name of the Blade Trilogy, Mio, Jack and Shinobu have defeated the terrifying Nekomata against all odds, and brought Jack’s sister home alive.
But Mio is still compelled to protect the katana, her family’s ancestral sword, and now the Underworld has spawned a worse monster – one carrying a devastating plague that sweeps through London like wildfire.
As Mio struggles to protect the city and control the sword’s deadly powers, she realises that this time there is no way she can keep everyone she loves alive… and she must make a terrible sacrifice to save the world.
Kate Ormand: Hi Zoe! Congratulations on the release of DARKNESS HIDDEN! I’m a huge fan of your books, as you know, and I’m LOVING this series. Can you tell us a little about THE NAME OF THE BLADE trilogy and what can be expected from book two?
Zoë Marriott: Hello, lovely Kate – and thank you times two! As for what you can expect… without giving you spoilers but while also being honest, all I can really guarantee is – um, well – emotional devastation? Sorry! Just pack chocolates and tissues for the ride, that’s what I’m saying.
KO: Can you share the opening line of DARKNESS HIDDEN?
ZM: ‘The Kitsune were celebrating.’
KO: And why it is perfect for your book?
ZM: Well, it flings you right back into the action; I really wanted to give readers an opening line (and scene) which would do that, because with the middle book of a trilogy there’s a certain sense of drag coming from everything that’s gone down before. You need to work extra hard to keep things moving fast and not get bogged down with info-dumping. With this line, anyone who’s read The Night Itself can instantly tell that not much time has passed since the events of that book, and hopefully anyone who hasn’t will be intrigued as to what the Kitsune are celebrating about, and how (also possibly what Kitsune are).
KO: How much research did you have to do for this? And what did you particularly enjoy looking into?
ZM: I have to say, after having spent oodles of time painstakingly researching Japanese monsters and myths in order to plot the trilogy out before I even started writing, and then having written the first book and gotten totally embedded in that world, I really thought I had my research down for Darkness Hidden. But no. The plot of this story involves Mio, Shinobu, and the others running about all over London in search of safety, mystical beings, and answers, and I had no idea how much trouble that was going to cause me until I actually had to sit there and write it. After The Night Itself came out someone asked me where in London I lived; since I’ve never lived there, I took that as a huge compliment. But it also set the bar really high for continuing to get it right in this part of the story. Luckily I managed to get a research grant from the Society of Authors that allowed me to stay in London for two days travelling to all my chosen locations, where I took LOTS of photos and made copious amounts of notes. Without that opportunity I’d have been in a huge muddle, plus I had amazing fun doing it. I still ended up with my face glued to Google maps for what felt like days before I finished writing the book, though, and that wasn’t nearly so much fun.
KO: All your past novels have been standalones or companions. How was it continuing a series?
ZM: I’d love to pretend that it was a breeze and came totally naturally, but I think that my agent and editor (who had to listen to me whining continuously and from whom I wrung multiple promises to kill me if I ever mentioned writing a trilogy again) would burst a gut laughing. So, yeah. It was horrible. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted, writing-wise. Plotting is not my strength at the best of times, and I always rely on the fact that if I have a last-minute brainwave about who a character is or how events should play out, I can go back and fix the beginning to match. YOU CANNOT DO THIS WITH A TRILOGY. Okay, I know that’s really obvious to everyone, and I did realise it before I started work, but I had no idea how freaking scary it would be to try to write a book without a safety net that way. Don’t do it, kids. Just say no to trilogies.
KO: You’re a fantasy writer with novels set in entirely new worlds. How was it writing an urban fantasy set in ours? What did you find most difficult switching to an existing world where you don’t get to make the rules?
ZM: Oh my gosh, I loved that part! That was one of the best, best, best things about writing this book and is probably in the top three reasons why (despite the aforementioned problems with writing a series) I adore this story so much. I never realised how much fun it is to start out with the world already there for you, with an established reality that everyone can buy into effortlessly. Because with that in place, it’s so much easier to create a quality of strangeness, of horror, or outright wonder. If I see a unicorn in an enchanted forest, it’s cool. If I see it cantering down the high street and taking a left past Burger King, it’s probably going to make me faint. There were challenges too, like trying to find a ‘voice’ that allowed my protagonist Mio to be who she is – a snarky, modern fifteen-year-old – while also adequately expressing all this magic and epic romance and apocalyptic fear that’s exploding all around her, but really, that was just part of the enjoyment of it for me. I love urban fantasy. I will definitely be writing it again.
KO: Let’s touch on the new cover designs. The illustrative style and the neon pink of the original cover was beautiful. But the new designs are SO incredible and capture the story perfectly. How did you feel when you first saw them? And, I think I know the answer to this, but which of the two designs do you like best?
ZM: Yep, you caught me – I love the new covers best. I may love them more than, like, breathing. The original design for The Night Itself is gorgeous and will always have a special place in my heart, but the new ones made me cry when I saw them; they look like snapshots taken directly from my imagination. Those are my babies that I dreamed up in my head, right there on the front of the book, looking all badass and swordy. I cannot say enough admiring things about Maria Soler Canton, the art director who came up with the concepts and listened to everything I said about the way the characters should be depicted, or Larry Rostant, the photographer who made it happen.
KO: There are so many amazing characters in YA. Other than her buddies in the series, which other book characters could you see Mio making friends with?
ZM: I think she’d get on a treat with the cast of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. I can just see Mio, Jack, Isabelle and Clary with their heads together, giggling and exchanging tips on how to kick ass with maximum style. Also, Magnus might propose to Hikaru on first sight (that’s my headcannon, and I’m sticking to it, sorry Malec shippers).
KO: What’s next for you?
ZM: I’m currently working on edits for the final book of the series, which will be titled FRAIL MORTAL HEART. After that, it’s back to high fantasy for a little while, with a companion novel to SHADOWS ON THE MOON. It’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in the Moonlit Lands, where a determined Beauty enters the enchanted forest determined to hunt the Beast down and kill him…
KO: And to wrap up, can we end with a quote from DARKNESS HIDDEN?
ZM: Oh wow, so many spoilers. Lemme see…
‘Her eyes went far away, drifting past me as if she was seeing something else, something in her own head. “She told you I could turn into a monster, didn’t she? It’s going to happen again. Just like before. Me and the Nekomata all alone, together, in the dark – only this time it’s inside me … and I can never ever get away…” She put her hands over her face.
My eyes swam with tears, turning her into a blur. I moved around the breakfast bar towards her, hand outstretched. “Rachel.”
Shinobu caught my shoulder and jerked me back as the katana let out a furious buzz of energy against my back. I staggered and clutched at the end of the countertop for balance. The tears trickled down my cheeks, clearing my vision.
One of Rachel’s hands still covered her eyes. Her other arm was fully extended, hand fisted in midair – on the air where my face had been one second before. Curving obsidian claws protruded grotesquely from the ends of her delicate fingers.’
YA novelist Zoë Marriott lives on the bleak and windy East coast of Britain, in a house crowded with books, cats, and an eccentric sprocker named Finn (also known as the Devil Hound). Her folk and fairytale inspired fantasy novels are critically acclaimed and have been nominated for many awards, even winning a few, including a USBBY Outstanding International Book listing for The Swan Kingdom and a Junior Library Guild Selection and the prestigious Sasakawa Prize for Shadows on the Moon. In July 2013 The Night Itself, the start of an epic new urban fantasy trilogy, will be unleashed onto the world in a tide of Kitsune, Kami and katanas. Zoë is proudly represented by Nancy Miles of the Miles Stott Children’s Literacy Agency.
KATE ORMAND is a YA writer represented by Isabel Atherton at Creative Authors Ltd. She lives in the UK with her family, her partner, and a cocker spaniel called Freddie. She recently graduated from university with a first class BA (Hons) degree in Fine Art Painting. It was during this course that Kate discovered her love of reading YA books, prompting her to try a new creative angle and experiment with writing. Kate also writes children’s picture books under the name Kate Louise.