I am thrilled to welcome Zoë Marriott, author of several YA novels including the wonderful Shadows on the Moon, one of my favorite books of the year! You can read my review here. Welcome Zoë!
Me: Tell us about Shadows on the Moon.
ZM: Firstly, thank you so much for inviting me to take part in the MCBC! I'm very excited about it!
Shadows on the Moon is a retelling - or maybe it's more accurate to say reimagining - of the classic fairytale Cinderella, set in my version of a fairytale Japan. It's mostly based on the answers I came up with when I asked myself how anyone human *could* be as passive, sweet, patient and apparently without ambition or anger as Cinderella is supposed to be, after everything the character is put through. And I decided that no one human could, which made me wonder just what was going on under that sweet, passive facade. The book deals with revenge, and betrayal, and love, and most of all illusions, both the ones other people have about us, and the ones we have about ourselves. Shadows is also a sort of love letter from me to Japanese culture.
Me: Shadows on the Moon is such a wonderfully written and beautiful story. Where did you get the idea for it?
ZM: Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it. The idea for Shadows on the Moon came to me in three parts, actually. That's the way most story ideas work for me - they're made up of a bunch of different inspirations that come together to form something greater than the sum of the parts.
The first was a result of doing creative workshops in schools with young people. My first book, The Swan Kingdom, is based primarily on the Hans Christian Anderson story The Wild Swans, and so one of the exercises I did with the kids was to show them how to 'retell' fairytales themselves by deconstructing and digging down to find the interesting, hidden parts. I'd ask for suggestions as to which fairytale I should use as an example, and when the hands shot up the first one was always Cinderella. It drove me slightly mad, because I've long thought of Cinderella as a wimp - and what's more, a heroine who is rewarded for her passivity and wimpiness. So for my own satisfaction I'd turn the story on its head for my young writers, saying 'what if Cinderella isn't a romance story? What if it's about Cinderella using the Prince? Maybe there's something else she wants from him?'
This idea stuck in my head and eventually I began to wonder if what Cinderella wanted might not be revenge, because after all, the story starts with the death of her father. And that made me think about the Count of Monte Cristo and all the transformations the character has to undergo for his revenge, and the toll they take on him. This seemed a perfect sort of story for Cinderella, which is after all a fairytale about transformations and illusions, and the way people see each other.
All this was rolling around my head when one Sunday I was re-watching one of my favourite films, 'Memoirs of Geisha' and everything came together in my head with a bit of a thunderclap of inspiration. Just as Cinderella and revenge felt like a natural match, so Cinderella and historical Japanese culture, with its deep reverence for beauty and the proper way of doing things, and its quite rigid social structure, seemed to slot together as if they'd always been meant to be.
Me: I’m a character driven reader so I always ask authors about characters in their books. Where did you get the inspiration for the characters? Which character from Shadows on the Moon is your favorite?
ZM: Suzume grew up very naturally from the sorts of questions I was asking myself about the original fairytale. If all the things about Cinderella that we traditionally know - her sweet, uncomplaining nature, inability to act on her own behalf, patience and lack of anger - were fake, then that meant my character had to be bitter and full of regret, highly active, naturally impatient and raging. Traditional Cinderella skims over the surface of emotion and only really gets upset when she's denied the chance to wear a pretty dress and dance with the Prince. My Cinderella would be full of dark and vulnerable emotions that she was forced to hide, and wouldn't care less about prettiness or dancing for their own sake. Traditional Cinderella shines with natural beauty that is unmarked by the abuse heaped on her others. My Cinderella would be scarred and broken, and her beauty a carefully constructed illusion. She really couldn't be any other way, in order for the story to have emotional truth.
Then, because I wanted my Cinderella to find - and reject - love, I had to ask myself, what sort of person would value and come to care for a girl like this? What sort of person would she be forced to value and care for in return? And the answer, of course, was someone who was in many ways her opposite. A sweet natured and patient person, full of natural happiness and with a unique beauty of their own that only the heroine would see - a person unafraid of scars because he wore his own proudly and openly. Otieno formed in my mind as Suzume's perfect match. Someone outside her own culture, who would have the vision to perceive her as she really was without misconceptions, and change her perception of herself in the process.
I must confess though, that my absolute favourite character in the book is Akira. She appeared in the story on cue and just took over, one of those characters who warp every scene around themselves with the strength of their personality. Believe it or not, she was originally supposed to have a fairly small role - as a bitter, cold, emotionally unavailable woman who would serve to the heroine as a warning about living in the past. Her humour, warmth and vitality took me completely by surprise, and I fell in love with her!
Me: Shadows on the Moon is set in a fantasy version of ancient Japan and I see that your new series, The Katana Trilogy, will feature characters from ancient Japan as well. Why do you feel drawn to this culture and time period? How familiar were you with this culture and time period before writing the books? Was a lot of research required?
ZM: I've been fascinated with Japan since I was quite a young child, and I happened to see Hayao Miyazaki's 'Laputa: Castle in the Sky' on TV one rainy Sunday afternoon. I should say that I love Japanese culture in general, not just ancient Japan - but being a fantasy writer means that I tend to draw on myth and folklore from Japan, and things and people from history, because they fit so easily within my genre.
Shadows on the Moon did take a huge amount of research. Soon after I realised that I just had to set my story in a fantasy version of Japan I began to realise that being a manga and anime addict and reading books or watching films made by Japanese writers and directors wasn't really the same thing as actually being Japanese (bummer, right?) and I was likely to make some truly offensive mistakes if I didn't knuckle down and do the work. I applied to the Society of Authors here in the UK for a work-in-progress grant to help with buying reference books, and I was incredibly lucky to be selected to receive the Sasakawa Prize, which meant I could afford to do crazy things like import an authentic Kimono and paraphernalia and learn to dress as a traditional Japanese woman might have, walk and move as she might have. I bought a Japanese tea set and ingredients online - I bought Japanese music - I built up a small but extremely expensive reference library. It was wonderful, and gave me the opportunity to make the book much better, much more real, than it could otherwise have been.
With Katana, the inspiration for the story came from a poem called The Bedpost by Robert Graves. But I decided straight away that instead of being trapped in a bedpost (not exactly glamorous or active!) my hero should be trapped in a sword; and what kind of sword is more magical than a Katana, a Japanese longsword? Urban fantasy and paranormal stories have had an explosion in popularity in recent years and we've seen every variation on Western mythology that there is - everything from Greek Gods to angels and demons to werewolves to fairies and pixies to vampires. I think there's been sense lately that it's all been done, that no one wants to see another vampire or another angel (although people still come up with new takes now and again that can surprise us). But one of the most wonderful things about Japan is that, because their culture was so isolated from the Western world for so long, there's this amazing wealth of truly unique, unknown stuff to discover. Stories and archetypes and myths and monsters which just have no equivalent in the stories we all know so well - but still have that amazing sense of depth and history. Researching Japanese monsters, myths, fairytales and Gods for this series was pure fun and still is!
Me: Why do you think it’s important to write young adult novels featuring multi-cultural and multi-ethnic characters?
ZM: Because young people are multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. They live in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, diverse world. That's just the reality. And that is a wonderful thing! Yet mainstream mass media presents it as some kind of a problem, a dirty secret that needs to be whitewashed away by sterile casts of skinny, homogeneous white characters - who are nearly all always straight, able-boded and cisgendered too - in books, films, advertising campaigns. That sad, colourless version of 'reality' has nothing to do with reality at all. It not only excludes the vast majority of young people, but it deprives even the ones who fit that into that vision of the chance to see people as the beautiful, difficult, flawed, complex and above all unique creatures they are. It tells young people: 'Conform. Fit in. Be what we want you to be - or be written out of history'. How devastating for young adults to look at the world and see that they have already been judged and found unworthy due to ethnicity, gender-identification, religion, sexuality or physical status! How sickening to realise that you will be silently but irrevocably IGNORED, probably all your life. I hate it. If any one of my books can make even one young person feel less alone, more included, or one young person think 'Maybe being different is cool...' then I will die a happy author.
Me: Do you read the same genre as you write? What are you currently reading?
ZM: Oh yes! Ravenously! I love YA - it's daring and colourful and vibrant in a way that few other publishing categories are, and fantasy is my favourite thing of all. At the moment I've got an eARC of Tessa Gratton's The Blood Keeper (sequel to Blood Magic) and I'm dying to start that. I've also got Unravelling by Elizabeth Norris which I've just started and am loving, and I've also stared Bryony Pearce's Angel's Fury, which is great - I'm switching backward and forward between those when they get too intense. These are all on my eReader. The physical book on my nightstand right now is The Sharing Knife: Horizon, an adult fantasy by Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my all-time favourite writers. I'm trying to make it last because it is ssssoooo good.
Me: What other projects are you working on at this time?
ZM: Well, I'm about halfway through the second book in the Katana Trilogy right now. The Katana Trilogy will be launched in 2013 with the first book The Night Itself. It's about Mio Yamato, an average British-Japanese teenager who decides to steal her family's priceless katana from the attic of her parent's house to spice up her costume for a Christmas party. Not a great decision in the first place - but unknown to her, the katana is far more than just an antique sword. She only figures this out when monsters from her grandfather's bedtime stories about Japan begin turning up and trying to take it from her, and the point is underscored when a mysterious warrior boy appears just in time to save her. The sword's mysterious powers begin to change her almost at once, and her family and friends all get sucked into her quest to discover just what the katana is and how to save London from the consequences of her reckless actions.
The next project I'll be looking at after this will also have a Japanese twist. I intend to revisit the setting of Shadows on the Moon - Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni - in order to retell another fairystory; Beauty and the Beast this time. Once again I'm doing a pretty radical reimagining, sending a tough young peasant girl hunting the legendary Beast through the deep dark forests of her mountain home. Hopefully that will be out some time in 2015. You can see inspiration boards for all my current and future projects here on Pinterest.
Me: Thank you, Zoë!
ZM: Phew! Thanks again for inviting me to be part of this, Novia :)
About the book:
Title: Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 464 pages
Buy: Amazon, B&N, The Book Depository
Contact the author: Website - Twitter - Pinterest
Goodreads Summary: A powerful tale of magic, love, and revenge set in fairy-tale Japan.
Trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume is able to re-create herself in any form - a fabulous gift for a girl desperate to escape her past. But who is she really? Is she a girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother's new husband, Lord Terayama? Or a lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama's kitchens? Or is she Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Whatever her true identity, Suzume is destined to use her skills to steal the heart of a prince in a revenge plot to destroy Terayama. And nothing will stop her, not even the one true aspect of her life- her love for a fellow shadow-weaver.
And now for the giveaway. As a part of the 2012 Muti-Cultural Book Challenge, Candlewick was wonderful enough to offer a finished copy of Shadows on the Moon for giveaway. If you take part in the challenge, you will have more entries in the giveaway. You can sign up for the challenge here. Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below and good luck!a Rafflecopter giveaway