Saturday, April 28, 2012

Author Interview: Zoë Marriott

imageToday I have an extra special guest! Zoë Marriott! She's written some pretty awesome fairy tale retellings. Seriously. Once you're done reading this interview and my reviews of Shadows on the Moon and The Swan Kingdom, go to your nearest book store or library and get a copy! But before we get to the interview, take a moment to learn exactly why Zoë's awesome!

I grew up with an older sister and a younger brother who ganged up on me mercilessly whenever they could get away with it (teaching me to fight dirty at an early age). We had a small menagerie of rescued strays ranging from canaries to kittens, all of whom I liked much better than my siblings. I struggled between being a princess (because I liked frilly dresses and tiaras) and being a tomboy (because I could run faster and spit further than any of the boys). I resolved this by being a princess whenever my hair had grown long, and being a tomboy whenever my mum noticed how long my hair had gotten and chopped it off with the kitchen scissors.

I decided I was going to be a writer as soon as I finished reading my first book -- THE MAGIC FARAWAY TREE by Enid Blyton -- and mad as it sounds, I never changed my mind. The first story that I wrote was about a rabbit and a pig having a party. The second was about a girl who found a pair of magic shoes which made flowers grow wherever she walked. I live in a peaceful little house which has the sea on one side and marshlands on the other. Both landscapes provide inspiration for my work. For company I have two cats, one named Hero after the Shakespearian character, and the other Echo after the nymph from the Greek myth. I also have a sprocker -- a springer/cocker spaniel cross -- called Finn, but normally he's known as the Devil Hound. I sing a lot, talk to myself a lot (writers are allowed to do this) and read a lot, usually when I'm supposed to be writing.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
 When I was a really young kid. I mean, I was just the same as every other little girl - I wanted to be a ballerina and a pony-rider and an actress. But I always wanted to be a ballerina, pony-rider or actress who also wrote books. It mostly dates back to a really, really early point in my life, when I was terrified of my bedroom at night. My sister had told me that wolves lived under my bed, and this pretty much confirmed the whisperings of my own over-active imagination. It got to the point where I literally refused to go up the stairs. My dad had to wait until I fell asleep in the living room and carry me up. Finally my mum got me a reading lamp and dug out a copy of The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton and said 'If you get scared, just read'. And it worked! I was so desperate to find out what happened next in the book that soon I was sprinting up those stairs each night. When I eventually finished the book, I felt completely transformed, and I knew that this was what I was going to be doing with my life: telling stories.

Where do your ideas come from?
Everywhere. Ideas are like dust - they're drifting in the air around us all the time, vast oceans of them. We wade through them every step of our lives, breathe them in, eat them. But you don't see them until a sunbeam breaks through the curtains and lights them up. I think we all have the ability to turn our minds into that sunbeam as children - all children draw and write and make up songs and games - but as we get older the brilliance of the sun dims as we're told 'Stop telling stories! Pay attention! Don't daydream!' Writers and artists are the people who somehow managed to hang on to the brilliance of that light in their own heads. In fact, for most writers, the problem is turning the light OFF so that we're not constantly being bombarded with more ideas than we know what to do with.

Who inspires you to write?
Well, all the writers I love, of course. And film makers and musicians. Even people who make ads for the TV! And people who write or make films *badly* inspire me too. Sometimes I read or watch something that makes me really angry for one reason for another: because of the wasted potential of an idea, or because it's full of sneaky, nasty prejudices, or because it's just terrible. Then I'm inspired to try and remake that ruined, awful thing, and turn it into something that I find beautiful and useful, so it's not forever lost.
What’s the first story you can remember writing?
Like most writers, my first story was about animals! My father - who was an engineer for an office supply firm - had brought home a stack of paper and coloured pens for me. So I drew lines on several sheets of paper and wrote the illustrated story of Rabbit and Pig, who wanted to have a party in their house on the hill, but couldn't work out if they had enough money to buy cake and apple juice. Before that, however, I used to copy the illustrations out of Beatrix Potter stories and make up my own dialogue for the characters, so I suppose my first stories were Peter Rabbit and Jemina Puddleduck fanfic!

What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Too many things to count! I'm actually a carer for my father, who is disabled, so I spend a lot of time looking after him. Other than that, I take my dog for long walks, curl up with one of my cats on my knee and a book in my hand, waste lots of time on the internet (although most of it isn't wasted really, as I have friends all over the world, including my writing group), and watch lots of films on DVD. My weakness is the special features. I love behind the scenes stuff. I also love to draw and sketch, and cook - especially baking - and I spend at least a few hours every day singing and dancing around the house, just because. Oh, and Pinterest! Pinterest is my nemesis.

Which work of yours are you most proud of?
Oooh, that's a toughie. I'm proud of them all in different ways. I suppose Shadows on the Moon is a sort of watershed book for me, because it was the first book I wrote where I achieved everything that I set out to do. In both my earlier stories I let fears about the length of the book or my own cowardice about delving into really dark emotional places change my original plans. There were things I intended to do with the story and characters that I never got to. Shadows was so hard to write because I was determined - even if it killed me! - not to wimp out this time, to go to the most painful, vulnerable places inside myself to tell this story. There were times when I crawled to my writing group, completely hollowed out, and just wailed at them: 'I can't write this! I'm not brave enough! Say encouraging things to me!' and they came through and yelled and cheered and ALL CAPSed at me until I went back and just did it. That was a really raw experience.

In a different way, though, I'm very proud of the urban fantasy series I'm working on now. It's called The Katana Trilogy and it's set in contemporary London. It's the first time I've written a story with a real world setting and the first time I've been able to really use humour, and something about that combination and the way the characters have's magic. The finale of the first book, The Night Itself - which I finished late last year - is the closest I have ever come to being able to get something out of my head onto the page completely unchanged. Most of the time, as a writer, if you manage to get something you've written about 75% of the way to the vision in your head, you're happy. But this huge set piece scene just seemed to pour out, unadulterated. I've re-read and revised it about nine times now and every single time I get goosebumps. I want to look over my shoulder and ask someone: 'Hey, did I really write this?' So I'm intensely proud of that.

What are you working on now?
I'm working on the second book of the Katana Trilogy that I mentioned above. It's about a young Anglo-Japanese girl named Mio who sneaks her family's ancestral sword - the katana - out of its hiding place so she can wear it to a costume party. Unfortunately for her, this wakens an incredible power within the sword which has been sleeping for a long time, and before she knows it she's got a gorgeous Samurai spirit-guardian trailing after her and the Gods and monsters of ancient Japan stalking the streets of London searching for her and her sword.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Firstly - and I know it's the one everyone says - read. Read, read, read. I'm always astonished by the number of aspiring writers that I come across who don't seem to read at all. They say things like 'I don't want to pollute my unique voice by reading other people's work' or 'I don't have time! I need to write!' No. I'm sorry, but no. NO. Read, and what's more, re-read everything too. That is how you learn. You wouldn't try to become an architect if you'd never lived in a house. You wouldn't try to become a film director if you'd never watched a film. Books are your best friend.

The other thing? Try to develop a balance between being able to take constructive criticism and being too credulous. I see many young writers posting their work online for crit, but then getting angry and defensive if anyone actually offers any. All they really want is praise. That's not the way to improve your craft. On the other hand, the moment someone comes along and starts telling you 'rules' for writing (and I'm not talking about the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation here) like how prologues are absolutely forbidden and you must never use dream sequences or flashbacks? How adverbs/adjectives are lazy and any sentence with 'was' or an 'ing' word in it is 'passive'? Please don't listen! These 'rules' are not rules at all! They're stifling nonsense, and usually the people who parrot them over and over are terrible writers because all they care about is getting things 'right' instead of writing something they love and believe in. You must only write what you love and believe in.

If you had to choose, which fairy tale would you retell next?
I'm actually contracted to write another fairytale retelling set in The Moonlit Lands - the setting of Shadows on the Moon. And I can tell you that the fairytale will be Beauty and the Beast. But as you've never seen them before!
You get to choose any of your characters to go out to lunch with. Who do you pick, where do you go, and what do they order?
I'd have to pick Youta and Akira, the two fairy godmother characters from Shadows on the Moon! They're my all-time favourites. And of course, we'd go get sushi (probably from Yo! Sushi! my favourite restaurant). Akira would be watching her weight and mostly get sashimi, topped up with miso soup, but Youta and I would share an order of takoyaki (stuffed squid balls), hairy prawns, inari pockets and chicken gyoza, as well as sampling the Chicken Katsu Curry and vegetable yakisoba. Om nom nom.
If you could meet any author (living or dead), who would it be?
Tamora Pierce. She's the novelist who defined what YA is for me. Her books are proudly Feminist and multi-cultural, and include characters of diverse physical status and sexuality. It's because of her that I write fantasy for young people, and I'd love to be able to tell her how much of an impact she's had on my life.

What are 3 words that best describe your personality?

Loud. Funny. Kind. 
You are trapped on a desert island, with no way to escape. What 3 books would you bring?
Ha! I guess I can't cheat and say my Kobo ereader, pre-loaded with all my favourites? No? Okay then. The collected works of Jane Austen, the collected poetry of W.B. Yeats, and The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. But those choices all change from day to day. I'd have a different answer for you tomorrow.
If you had to choose one food to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Oh my God! You've no idea how cruel you're being... *Clutches head*

All right, I'll go for sushi. I'd be beautifully healthy and thin after a few years of that! But I'll mourn Italian, Indian and British cuisine for the rest of my life.

What is your all-time favorite fairy tale?

It's still The Wild Swans. I'll never get over the silent strength of that heroine.

Let's all give a big thank you to Zoë for taking the time to sit down for this interview and to write all her amazing books!



  1. Zoe Marriot is one of those authors whose interviews just make me want to read more and more of her stuff! Anything. Heck, I'd read her grocery lists. I am SO excited for the Katana trilogy to premiere next year, and even MORE excited about the prospect of a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Fantastic interview!

    1. This interview was SO MUCH FUN! She's so nice and her answers were so interesting. I'm glad you had fun learning more about her! Maybe with the next book release there can be an interview involving grocery lists...


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