Thursday, February 19, 2009

Interview with YA Author, Zoe Marriott

Today's author interview is with Zoe Marriott, pictured on the right with her cocker spaniel, Finbar! Zoe is the author of the YA Fantasy novels The Swan Kingdom (2007) and Daughter of the Flames (2008). You can find Zoe online at

  • Have you always wanted to be an author?

  • Yep. Well, as soon as I knew what an author was, anyway. I know most little girls want to be ballerinas or a pop stars, and I did too - but I always wanted to be a ballerina who was also a writer. I can remember looking in the copyright page of of all my Roald Dahl books and writing down the addresses of the about nine years old.

  • Where do you find your inspiration for your stories?

  • From pretty much everything that happens to me. Mostly my own feelings. I think that's what makes a writer - there's an extra bit in the back of my head that's always working no matter what else is going on, filing things away, running images and ideas like a sort of constant show reel. It's a little tiring sometimes, and I wish I could switch it off, but without it there would be no stories. I can remember being in floods of tears over something - I mean really upset - and that little extra bit was going 'Ah, so this is what terrible grief feels like. Maybe we can use this in the next book'. It was sort of horrible, but those feelings did end up in Daughter of the Flames...

  • What was the road to publication for The Swan Kingdom like?

  • Wow, that is a great question. It actually began way before I started writing The Swan Kingdom. The first young adult book that I ever finished (when I was twenty) was called Blood Magic and it was rejected by every publisher in the UK. And two in Australia, just to finish off. But one of the publishers in the UK (Walker Books) had really liked it and the editor who eventually phoned me to tell me that they weren't going to offer me a contract for Blood Magic made a point of saying 'Please, please send me the next thing you write'. He kept in touch with me through email for the next year while I was writing The Swan Kingdom, just asking me 'How's it going?' every now and again. Finally, when the book was finished, I emailed it to him, and within a day he came back to me and said 'This is very, very good'. But it didn't end there! At that time the idea of fantasy aimed at girls was not really well-known in the UK, so the editor's boss wasn't sure about the book. They invited me to go to London and talk to them, and what they wanted was for me to put The Swan Kingdom aside and look at their guidelines for chapter books and write something else for them. Well, the editor had warned me this might happen, and so before I went I had prepared a speech, and when the Boss Lady said this to me, I said, 'Okay, but just let me tell you about the market for this book first...' And I talked to her for forty minutes about the US market and Tamora Pierce and Meg Cabot and Shannon Hale and Robin McKinley and how these authors were writing fantasy for girls and were bestsellers. And at the end of that time, she offered me a development fee to go away and do revisions on The Swan Kingdom. That was in November - I finished the revisions before Christmas - and I was offered a contract in February. But because they hadn't expected to offer me a contract, they had no space in their schedule to publish the book, and so I had to wait for two and a half years for The Swan Kingdom to be published. It felt like forever.

  • What do you think makes a good story?

  • That's one of the questions that I don't think anyone can answer completely. It's an emotional connection, I suppose - whether the characters reach out to the reader and make them care about them. Without that, the plot could be amazing but no one would care. The other day I was re-watching The Matrix and I thought to myself, 'I should be making notes here; this stuff is genius'. I don't mean the story itself, or the ideas, but the way that the reader is led into the character's world and the way the tension is ratcheted up and up until you're practically biting your nails and desperate not to lose anyone. That's what makes a good story. Just having to know what happens next because the characters seem so real to you.

  • Do you listen to music when you write?

  • Always. I usually make a playlist for each book that I write: for instance, the playlist for Daughter of the Flames was made up of songs from both Gladiator soundtracks, some music from Lord of the Rings, some from Master and Commander, and a bunch of songs I found on iTunes in the world music section. I also have other playlists to help with specific kinds of scenes. I have one called 'Fight' which has songs from Evanescence and Within Temptation and My Chemical Romance on it. The number one song I listen to when I need to feel sad is 'Memories' by Within Temptation. It's a perfect song to bring tears to my eyes.

  • Who is your favorite character you've created?

  • Oddly, it's never my principle characters! I love them, but because I live inside them for so long they kind of feel like parts of me. I love the cottars, Olwyn and Will, in The Swan Kingdom. They were incidental characters who I made up on the spur of the moment, and they feel completely real. But probably my real favourite is King Abheron in Daughter of the Flames. He's the villain, he's a monster, he's killed so many people...but to me he's the saddest character in the book. I don't want to give out spoilers, but a lot of people who have read the book have said they ended up crying for him.

  • What book are you currently reading?

  • Well, I've just finished Graceling by Kristin Cashore. It came out the other weekend here in the UK. It was great, and I read it straight through in about three hours. I book I have next to me now is 'The Writer's Journey' by Christopher Vogler. It's non-fiction, and it talks about how stories are put together, the Hero's Journey and the Hero with a Thousand faces. Honestly, it's kind of blowing my mind, and I'm only two chapters in!

  • What's your all time favorite book?

  • If I gave you the name of one book, it would probably be a lie, because it changes from day to day. I can give a list. I love the Abhorsen Books by Garth Nix and have re-read them about twenty times. I love The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold and re-read that at least once a year. I love Pride and Prejudice and still find something new in it each time I read it, although I read it for the first time when I was fourteen. I love Night Watch by Terry Pratchett and cry at the ending every time. The books I love are ones that you can keep forever.

  • What other great things can we look forward to from you in the future?

  • Well, the book I'm writing now is going to be pretty good, I think. I pitched it to my publisher as Cinderella meets The Count of Monte Cristo meets Memoirs of a Geisha. It's rich and dark and full of daring new things I haven't tried before. After that I'm going to write an indirect sequel to Daughter of the Flames, in which we go back to the country of Ruan about five years after the book finishes and see how the nation is rebuilding itself and how the Ruan and Sedorne are learning to live together. It will be my first story told from the POV of a male character, so I expect it to be very challenging.

  • And finally, any parting words of wisdom?

  • Oh, heck. Er... 'Life is not a gamble, it's a certainty.' There. Is that wise enough?

    Thankyou so much Zoe for agreeing to do an interview with Look At That Book! Both The Swan Kingdom and Daughter of the Flames are available now so you can head down to your local bookshop and pick one up :)


    1. What a great interview! And how brilliant was the way Zoe pushed to get The Swan Kingdom published? She cited some of my favorite authors.

      Plus, I read and reviewed Daughter of the Flames earlier this month and loved it!

      Wonderful questions.

    2. This book has been on my Goodreads to-read shelf for a while. I was not paying attention to the release date every time I looked for it in the bookstore! Haha! I have to wait even longer than I thought to read this, I guess. But damn. Awesome cover!
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