Monday 16 April 2012

A Cosy Chat with Zoë Marriott

You know how I adore
Zoë Marriott's writing. Well  when I heard she was hoping to be crowned Queen of Teen,
 I couldn't resist dragging her back kicking and screaming onto my blog again, 
to talk about her nomination and her new book FROSTFIRE which will be published by 
Walker Books on the 5th July.
If you would like to vote for Zoe as the Queen of Teen, then please click
here. You must be under 18 to enter and the closing date for entries is
 Friday 20th, so get voting!
Hi Zoë  thanks for joining me on the blog today.
Hello, ducks! Lovely of you to have me back again after my shenanigans last time. The restraining order’s expired now, right?

*Checks date on calendar nervously*
 Yep, you're OK to come back on, although I will be watching you very carefully. Blimey, I can't believe it has been nearly a year since you were on the blog last. What have you been up to?
*Desperately searches for something non-writing or book related to talk about*
*Fails*’s been pretty much all work all the time around here for the last year. I actually had to mark my calendar to remind myself to leave the house and do other stuff occasionally. That’s...not a joke. Good grief.
However, in book terms it’s been a brilliant year! The response to Shadows on the Moon was so amazing – I’m stunned by how people have taken my revenge obsessed Cinderella to their hearts. There was also lots of excitement around September and October when my brilliant agent rolled her sleeves up and negotiated a contract with Walker Books for Big Secret Project. And then I got to share Big Secret Project with all of you, and reveal it as The Katana Trilogy, my very first series and my very first urban fantasy story, and again I was chuffed to bits with the reaction. Yeah, the past twelve months have been pretty awesome, all told.

That is good to hear. So what is all this Queen of Teen business I keep hearing about?
Well, it’s this brilliant award which is all about celebrating female authors and books aimed at girls, and strong female characters. It’s voted on by young people between the ages of 9 and 18, and the eventual winner actually gets crowned – with a real crown – The Queen of Teen.
So, what I’m trying to say here’s pretty much the bestest thing since sliced chocolate cake. Previous winners have been authors of contemporary fiction for girls – which is, of course, brilliant stuff, dealing with universal themes that real life girls recognise and love – but this year I think it would be great if there was a wider selection of genres on the shortlist. So I’ve been reminding everyone that girls love fantasy novels with sword fights and magic too (especially if there’s some extra kissing in there, which I always try to ensure with my books).

You should definitely be on that list! You know I would have voted for you, if I had been eligible.
 *Coughs* *Looks in mirror and definitely sees a teenager looking back* .
Why should my readers vote for you to be the Queen of Teen?
Well, I think today’s readers are a pretty savvy lot. They like to read books in lots of different genres – paranormal romance, fantasy, contemporary, historical – so long as those books are well written and give them young adult characters they can love and relate to. So hopefully they, just like me, will think it’s a great idea to celebrate and reward all kinds of different books. That’s the best way to encourage diversity and lots of choice, so that everyone can find something to read whenever they visit the library or bookshop.

Hopefully all my younger readers will now go and vote for you.
*Glares at young blog readers*
I hear you have a new book called FrostFire out very soon. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Ah, FrostFire! My nemesis! After Shadows on the Moon I swore no book was ever going to put me through that sort of angst again. And then this blooming story rocked up and kicked my butt. I seriously thought it was going to kill me at one point.
Oh – hang on – you wanted to actually know about the story? Well, it’s a companion novel to my second book Daughter of the Flames – it’s set in the kingdom of Ruan seven years after the events of that first book, in the rugged, untamed mountains where the main character from Daughter of the Flames grew up. The story doesn’t feature any of the characters from the first book, but you do get to meet Sorin’s cousin Luca, and as you learn about his history you get a lot of the back story about Sorin that didn’t make it into Daughter of the Flames.
This book brings in a new main character, Frost, a girl who’s travelled a very long way based on rumours about the healing that might be offered by ‘The Goddess in the Fire’. While the people of Ruan were dealing with an external war, Frost has been fighting a constant internal battle with the spirit of a wolf linked to a dark god native to her own country. From young childhood the wolf has always taken over whenever Frost glimpsed her own blood, and its berserker fury has destroyed any chance she might have had of a normal life. But as she enters Ruan a strange twist of fate brings her into contact with the Hill Guard, and with characters who, in their own way, are as deeply scarred as she is. And then pretty much everything that could go wrong...does. Don’t you love it when that happens?

Sounds fantastic! From what I have read about it, I have a feeling there is a little bit of a love triangle going on in FrostFire. Which team do you think I will be on? Team Luca or Team Arian?
I can’t answer that! And you know it, you terrible temptress, you!
I will say that over the various drafts of the story, I changed my mind multiple times about which characters would end up together. I think that any combination could have plausibly worked in certain circumstances. FrostFire doesn’t have a traditional love triangle where two characters are hopelessly in love with the third, or anything like that. Each of the three people involved in this messed up relationship loves and hates the other two in various ways. And each of them changes so profoundly throughout the story that I think you’ll be like me – changing your mind constantly about how everything should resolve itself.
When you reach the end, whether Frost ends up with Arian or Luca or neither of them, if I’ve done my job right you ought to be calling yourself Team Frost. That’s what would make me happy.

Team Frost is it then. You know I am very excited about the prospect of your exciting  trilogy coming out next year. What can you tell me about that?
Oh my GOSH you cannot be more excited than I am! *Claps like a seal*
I’ve always loved what I call Real World fantasy. Half my favourite authors write books in that part of the fantasy field. And when I started writing YA, one of the first ideas I had was a book with a contemporary setting. But by sheer coincidence the first two books I had published were high fantasy, and after that it was hard to break out. My agent at the time was keen for me to build a ‘brand’ and she felt that I needed to stick to high fantasy because I’d already proved I could be successful there.
Still, the ideas kept bubbling up. One of my friends quoted a poem at me (‘The Bedpost’ by Robert Graves) which is about a legendary warrior whose spirit is trapped in a tree by a jealous witch, and who eventually ends up stuck in a part of a bed belonging to a young girl. His only hope of freedom is to whisper stories of his heroic adventures and get the girl to fall in love with him – but she’s not interested, so he stays trapped. I immediately felt that someone ought to take that idea and give it a more dramatic ending! Then it occurred to me that *I* could. Only I didn’t want my warrior to be trapped in a bed. He ought to be trapped in a sword...a Japanese katana belonging to a clueless modern girl. A girl so clueless that she fishes him out of the family hiding place and takes him to a Christmas party as a feature of her fancy dress costume!
When I realised I was looking at a project that had enough legs to be three books, as well as my first urban fantasy story, I felt incredibly excited – but also scared. Luckily by then I had a new agent who was really open to me exploring new directions with my work. She loved the idea and offered me loads of invaluable support and feedback to help me put together a proposal for my publisher. Then we crossed our fingers... and they loved it too! Phew!

OMG! It sounds so utterly brilliant! How is the writing of the  Katana Trilogy coming along? Where are you within the series at the moment?
I’ve just finished the second round of edits on the first book – The Night Itself – and I’m plugging away on the first half of the second book (which does have a title, but I’m keeping schtum for now). And I’m having pretty much the most fun I’ve ever had in my entire writing life.
In the real world – and online – the first thing everyone always says about me is that I’m funny. That’s how I think of myself, too. But my high fantasy has always been so dark and intense – even if I try to work in some humour it usually gets cut. One of the absolute best things about working on The Katana Trilogy is that I’m finally getting a chance to unleash my twisted, black humour onto the page. There’s tons of drama and darkness and intense emotion in the story, but being able to fling zingers and one-liners and witty repartee in there somehow makes it all ten times easier to write.
I don’t want to jinx myself by rhapsodising too much, but I will say that, as a writer, the vast majority of the time the stuff that appears on the page doesn’t live up to what was in your head. If you can get 70% - 75% of the way there...that’s enough, that makes you feel happy. But there’s some kind of magic in this story and these characters. It’s not all easy going by any means, but somehow what’s coming out on the page seems closer to the pure vision in my head than with anything I’ve written before. The finale of the first book? I’ve read that eight, nine times now, revised it and re-written it and fiddled with it. And it’s STILL giving me goosebumps. I find myself sitting back and asking: ‘I wrote this? ME? Really?’ That’s rare and wonderful!

I don't think I can wait! You are definitely teasing me now. Changing the subject completely, I notice you have a keen interest in Pinterest lately, how is that helping your writing?
I can honestly say, hand on heart, that it’s in the top two most useful things I’ve discovered for my writing in the last five years (the other one is Microsoft OneNote, in case you were interested). I’ve always collected vast archives of images to help me get into the atmosphere of my works-in-progress, and it’s great to be able to share those with readers. But – especially now, when I’ve got several projects revolving in my head – being able to efficiently snatch up and organise all the images I’ve got for current and future works-in-progress is brilliant. It keeps my imagination working all the time, giving me new ideas and inspiration. At the same time, it helps to safely contain each story in its own space so that I don’t find myself getting distracted from Current Book Ideas by Shiny New Book Ideas.

It sounds like a useful tool for every writer. I noticed that I haven’t seen you on Twitter that much lately, what is your secret for Twitter abstinence?
I actually feel rather guilty about this, because it effectively means I’m ignoring everyone for hours all day. But it stops me from spending hours chatting away on Twitter when I ought to be doing one of a dozen other things, and I used to do that constantly before (and I felt guilty about that, too). So I’ll share.
I keep Twitter open in my browser all the time, next to my emails. But I leave it on the ‘Interaction’ tab. That way, I only see the number of unread messages if they’re actually addressing me. I pop back quickly when people ask me questions or respond to something I tweeted earlier, or check me into an ongoing conversation or whatever, and that keeps me interactive. But I don’t allow myself to jump into the rushing tide of my Twitter feed more than a handful of times a day – and ONLY when I actually have the time, and have accomplished everything else I need to do.

I definitely need to follow your advice. So with four books now under your belt, do you find the writing becomes easier with each book?
This is going to sound so depressing but... Nope.
Sorry, sorry! I know it’s not what anyone wants to hear. But I think that the more you learn as a writer and the more confidence you gain, the more you want to stretch yourself. Consciously or not, you set yourself new, more taxing challenges with each story. It’s not that you’re not getting better at your craft. It’s just that your craft is still evolving.
Sometimes you luck into a gem of a story that is pure happiness to write. It doesn’t happen often, and you will KNOW when it does. But even then, you won’t *let* it be easy. You’ll want to do justice to your gift from the universe, so you’ll end up being even harder on yourself than before. Right now I’m driving myself crazy trying to figure out how the heck you actually write a three-part story, and how to fit in back story from the first book along with foreshadowing for the final book. A writer’s work never ends.

It sounds like an ongoing learning experience. I won't keep you much longer now. Just one last question. Have you read anything good lately? Tell me what was the last book you read and enjoyed?
The last thing I read and loved was an e-ARC of Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan. It had all the stuff I love about Mary Stewart – atmosphere, romance, spookiness – and Diana Wynne Jones – fascinating magic, complex characters, twisty plots – but woven together with a distinctly modern, SRB-twist. Before that I was re-reading the adult Dystopian/urban fantasy Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. The first book in the series nearly put me off on my initial reading, but each one just gets better and better after that. I adore these books and can’t wait for the newest one to come out in July!

Thanks Zoë for taking time out of your writing to talk to us. I wish you luck with the Queen of Teen nominations and your new book FrostFire. Same time, next year?
To find out more about Zoe Marriott:
Twitter: @ZMarriott


  1. Wow, it sounds like Zoe has had a busy year and like it's going to be a very exciting 12 months (and beyond) ahead!).

    Good luck with the Queen of Teen nomination :D

    1. She has been busy! And absent from Twitter! *pulls sad face*

  2. Great interview and good luck with Queen of Teen!

  3. Interesting read, I'm always fascinated by these chats.


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