Friday, 6 September 2013

Author Interview: Samantha Shannon

Novel: The Bone Season



[Taken from an interview for The Today Show. Reprinted here with permission.]

> When did you begin writing The Bone Season and what inspired the story?

I started writing The Bone Season when I was nineteen years old, shortly after completing an internship at David Godwin Associates (DGA), a literary agency in Seven Dials, a small district in London. While I was there, I had a vivid image of a girl having the same day at work as me, but she happened to be clairvoyant – and The Bone Season was born. I sent the finished book to the same agency in April 2012 and it was bought by Bloomsbury a month later.

> Can you describe The Bone Season and the world of Scion? What inspired you to come up with the idea of clairvoyant powers?

The novel begins in 2059, two hundred years after the day that triggered its events, but 1859 still shapes the world of Scion. The way I handle this in the book is through anachronism. You’ll see gramophones, Victorian clothes and herbal remedies in the same space as oxygen bars, data pads and advanced painkillers. I’ve tried to find a word that fits what I’m doing with the novel in this respect. One of the guys at Bloomsbury suggested ‘penny farthing futurism’, which I love. The idea of clairvoyant powers just came to me while I was working at Seven Dials.

> Some of the themes are quite complex, how did you research the book? How many of the clairvoyant ideas are from historic stories, and how many created by you?

I wanted my clairvoyant society to be a cross-section of historical types of divination, extending to encompass twenty-first century parapsychology. I did quite a bit of reading about classical and Renaissance impressions of augury, soothsaying and so on. After that I moved on to nineteenth century Spiritualism, mainly using The Book on Mediums by Allan Kardec. I also integrated Native American legend for Paige’s gift. Although I did a lot of research, I wanted to put my own spin on each type, hence the Seven Orders classification system. I wanted there to be a sense of inheritance and progression, a coming together of legends and phenomena.

> Why is fantasy/dystopia as a genre growing steadily in popularity? Do you think women authors seem to have a better handle on it currently? How does the fantasy aspect of the book help you to get your ideas across?

I think they're still two distinct genres – dystopia tends to veer more towards science fiction than fantasy – but both crucially allow the reader to escape from reality. Personally I like writing and reading dystopian fiction because it takes its characters to the edge: the edge of sanity, of safety, of survival. They're in extremis, and that allows you to see a side of them that you wouldn't be see if they were in, say, a kitchen sink drama, which is pure realism. Fantasy provides a more luxurious escapism. It can often be as gritty as a dystopia, but instead of being woven from nightmares, it plays with the stuff of dreams.

I don't think female authors necessarily have a better handle on the genres, although it certainly can't be disputed that they're writing most of the 'blockbusters': Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments and so on. Part of the success of these books may be that they boast female characters in leading roles. The vogue for ‘strong heroines’ has transformed the face of fantasy. While it’s great that so many series have female protagonists, the fact that they are still considered noteworthy shows that we need to keep writing them. I’ve never yet been asked why I put ‘strong male characters’ in my book. I think it’s time we stopped being surprised when female-driven books become successful. Paige is ‘strong’ in that she’s relatively independent, a fighter, not defined by her love interest, and driven by the need for freedom, but she has plenty of weaknesses. She’s proud and stubborn, has a knack for
trusting the wrong people, and in many ways, she’s very vulnerable. I try to treat my characters first and foremost as people, not as sexes.

> Do you have any advice for budding authors?

Be open to constructive criticism, don't be afraid to start again, and whatever you do, don't give up at the first hurdle.

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