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Samantha Shannon, author of The Bone Season & dreamwalker - Video Interview

An Interview with Samantha Shannon, Author of "The Bone Season"


By Alastair Thompson
(with the assistance of Rosalea Barker)

22 year old UK Author Samantha Shannon is keeping herself busy making history in publishing. Her first novel The Bone Season was released in August in 20 languages and has now been translated into eight more. Three months after release 20th Century Fox acquired the film rights and a film may follow shortly. And maybe, a video game version too. On a flying visit to New Zealand last month she sat down for an on camera interview with Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson in Auckland. Earlier they spoke by phone when he was in Adelaide and an edited transcript of that interview is also provided below.
( You can comment on this post at the Scoop Review of Books. )

Samantha Shannon author The
Bone Season
Samantha Shannon, Author of The Bone Season

In August this year Samantha Shannon's debut dystopic immersive fantasy novel The Bone Season was published by Bloomsbury Press- the publishers of the Harry Potter Series.

By November when I spoke to the young author the book had been translated into 28 languages and 20th Century Fox had signed on with Andy Serkis's Imaginarium Studios to make a movie version of the book.

Samantha - like J. K. Rowling - has planned out a seven novel series ( Bloomsbury signed a six-figure publishing deal for the first three books so far). It is unsurprising then that the initial press for the book has focused on comparisons with the publishing and film sensation.

And as the interviews below show the connections to the Harry Potter story run deep.

Samantha is part of the Harry Potter generation and grew up reading the books. As they were released Samantha would read them in a single sitting to avoid having the plots spoilt.

As a teenager she dreamed of walking in Rowling's footsteps. And now her dreams are rapidly coming true.

The Bone Season
by Samantha Shannon - CoverThe Bone Season is set in an alternate England where clairvoyance is considered a scourge against society. A fascistic government called Scion has made its business to hunt down clairvoyants and imprison, kill and - for a small number - assign them to a clairvoyant army based in the remains of Oxford which has been taken over by aliens.

Written in the first person it is a fast paced page turner and very hard to put down.

And it is remarkable in other ways also. In particular it appears to be a forerunner for a new kind of publishing which seeks to replicate the Harry Potter phenomena. Only this time with a savvy young heroine as both author and central character.

Two years in the writing and editing Samantha Shannon blogged about the experience of preparing the novel for publication - building up a relationship with potential readers well before release of the actual book. Samantha is also tweeting about the experience of becoming a literary superstar at @say_shannon .

After reading The Bone Season on a flight back from a holiday in Bali - and finding that I could not put it down (much like Harry Potter) - I followed Samantha on Twitter and fairly shortly thereafter noticed she was on a tour in the Australia.

I contacted her by twitter and learned she replied whilst out for dinner with her Bloomsbury tour managers and said she was indeed coming to NZ ( I later noticed that Scoop had in fact already published a press release on her upcoming visit ).

Below is a transcript of the interview conducted subsequently by phone when she was in Adelaide. She had just visited a Zoo and met a Koala. I followed this up with the video interview that you can see below also.

In both interviews I was seeking to explore what it means to become a literary superstar at such an early age, as well as examine Samantha's relationship with her character Paige, who was the same age as Samantha when she started writing the series.

I wanted to know how close she was to this character and how much her book comes from the inspiration of Harry Potter on the one hand, and from her personal experience and views on life on the other.

Paige is a clairvoyant "dream walker" who can project her consciousness into the dreamscapes of others. Is there a parallel of a kind between this and what happens when a novelist creates a dreamscape - alternative reality - that we as readers immerse ourselves in?

"Sort of" Samantha replied on reflecting on the idea.

Samantha Shannon Interview #2
at De-Brett's Hotel, High Street, Auckland Tuesday 19 November 2013

Samantha Shannon Interview #1
by phone Wellington to Adelaide Friday 11 November 2013


Transcript by Rosalea Barker

(After introductions)

Scoop:
Your book has also been compared with Hunger Games and with Northern Lights. And it struck me that there’s almost elements of Doctor Who and Twilight in there as well. There’s two scenes that are slightly Twilight-y.

Shannon:
I didn’t intend to do that. I think that Twilight is very heavily romance-centric, whereas mine is, any romance is a subplot. I wanted to have it very plot-driven.

Scoop:
Immersive fantasy in the sense of the creation of alternative realties appears to g a new form of popular escapism. And with it I think J.K. Rowling was credited with reviving the interest in reading for an enormous number of people. Was this the case for you also?

Shannon:
Definitely. It was such a hugely formative book for a whole generation. Especially my generation. When I was younger, Harry Potter was still coming out, so it definitely, probably helped form a generation of fantasy readers.

Scoop:
When did you first read Harry Potter?

Shannon:
Gosh, how old was I when I first read Harry Potter? I read it pretty much when it first came out, so in 1997, I would have been about seven. I read it pretty much from the beginning. My grandmother heard about it and she got me a copy before it was very well known.

Scoop:
And you then kept up with it as it came out?

Shannon:
Oh, I loved it! Yeah, yeah, I totally loved it.

Scoop:
That’s fascinating. I thought that was likely to be the case, given how old you are.

Samantha Shannon author The
Bone Season

(changing subject)

Regarding the ‘on the merits of unnaturalness’ chart in the front of The Bone Season [ in the book this chart is attributed to one of the central characters - it breaks down and categorises a very large number of different kinds of clairvoyance gifts]—it’s sort of a breakdown of clairvoyance—is that based on some primary research that you did?

Shannon:
Yes. I wanted to have a system of clairvoyance that drew from history and various traditions like Spiritualism and the Native American understanding of spirituality, and Roman augury and soothsaying, cos I think it feels more kind of realistic if it comes from a historical background. But also, I wanted to put my own spin on each type as well.

Scoop:
So that was original research you did into comparative clairvoyance, pullingl together lots of different streams of knowledge around clairvoyance?

Shannon:
Yeah, as far as I know, it hasn’t been categorised in that way before. The idea of the seven different groups is mine. I took certain things within that—like, obviously, medium comes from Spiritualism and it was a Victorian obsession. A lot of the soothsayer and augur types are based on actual types in the Roman era. But the actual classification system is mine.

Scoop:
That’s quite remarkable, and that probably comes back to that idea of immersive fantasy in terms of you creating a vision of a reality for your characters to inhabit. My first thought when I was reading The Bone Season was that wanted to hear more about this amazing alternative reality.

Shannon:
I’m glad to hear that.

Scoop:
How long have you been studying, and interested in, clairvoyance?

Shannon:
It was never particularly something of interest to me until I got the idea for The Bone Season, which was in July 2011. I was working in an area in London—Seven Dials, where the book is set—and there are quite a lot of stores in the area that sold Tarot cards and crystal balls and did psychic readings and that kind of thing. It just kind of occurred to me that I hadn’t read or heard of a book that had a detailed society of clairvoyant people, and I just got really excited by the idea. That’s when I started researching it.

Scoop:
You must have read very widely in order to identify so many different types of soothsayer and others.

Shannon:
Yeah, I did quite a lot of research. I wanted it to feel as if had come from research. I wanted it to feel detailed and kind of realistic despite the fantasy element.

Scoop:
I know some people who claim to be "sighted" in the clairvoyant sense, even members of my family. They say they see colours near people. They tell various people this and they don’t necessarily believe them when they do so. Did you also talk to clairvoyants as well, as part of your research?

Shannon:
I actually didn’t, because I wanted it to be something I did just by myself. I haven’t really spoken to any people who are clairvoyant or people who can see auras. Although, I have since heard from people who have those kinds of gifts. But I just wanted to work on it in private and make it my project. Just purely from historical research.

Scoop:
What about since then? What about family clairvoyance?

Shannon:
Family clairvoyance? No, actually, not that I know of, anyway. It’s very much just something that I became interested in after I got the idea.

Samantha Shannon author The
Bone Season

Scoop:
You dedicate the book to dreamers, and you sign it off in the acknowledgments saying, "Thanks for taking a chance on a dreamer". So you see yourself as a dreamer?

Shannon:
Oh, yes. Very much. I’ve always been an imaginist, to use Jane Austen’s word, someone who just loved dreaming up stories. I wanted to dedicate the book to people who love fantasy, and to people who just have a dream. It was just something I wanted to do. As a young child, I always dreamed of being a writer. Now I’ve kind of got that dream, I wanted to dedicate a book to people who are dreamers.

Scoop:
This is probably a step too far, but it’s what always happens when people love books—they look for deeper meaning. I wonder if there’s a sense of you also being a dreamwalker like your character Paige, metaphorically creating a dreamscape for your readers.

Shannon:
I suppose so, yeah. I spoke to someone who said that writing is a kind of clairvoyance, because writers want to essentially read minds and find stories in people. I wasn’t thinking about that metaphorically, exactly, when I wrote it. But you can put your own meaning on it, I guess.

Scoop:
Also the character is your age, too, and it’s set in Seven Dials.

Shannon:
Yes.

Scoop:
When we are young and we… well my own experience of reading has always involved a strong sense of indentification with characters in books, and I think that’s part of what makes literature so wonderful as a form of escapism.

Shannon:
Absolutely.

Scoop:
Do you identify with Paige?

Shannon:
I guess it depends what you mean by “identify”. Obviously, she’s had very different experiences that have shaped her than I’ve had. I kind of live vicariously through her I guess. I understand her probably - obviously - more than she understands herself. I do really love her. I’ve never really connected with a narrator like I have with Paige. As a kid or as a teenager, I generally wrote in third person and Paige was the first person I’ve really, properly, tried to write from someone else’s perspective, from inside someone else’s head. So yes I do feel very closely connected with her.

Scoop:
At times in the book Paige gets a little bit annoying. She’s 19, and she’s a bit angry and she does things which get people hurt on several occasions, as well.

Shannon:
Yes, yes she does. I understand her and I understand her foibles, and I think they make her more human. It’s so important to me not to write a character who’s just perfect and does everything right all the time, because no one’s going to identify with a character like that. You need to have a character that makes mistakes, and preferably learns from them.

Scoop:
So on one level is the book an introduction to Paige and her world?

Shannon:
Yes, I agree. I think any first book in a series lays quite a lot of foundation, both in terms of the world and the character.

Scoop:
Which brings me to another question which everybody who has read The Bone Season will be asking as soon as they finish it: When do we get the next book?

Shannon:
I’m working on it right now, and I very much hope it will be out next year. I’m not saying that for certain, but I’m working as hard as I can because I would like to get it out next year. I know how frustrating it can be to wait for the second book in a series or any book in a series. I don’t want to leave people waiting for too long.

Scoop:
It’s a fairly delicious anticipation, too I think. And I wonder if that was possibly what some of the success of the Harry Potter phenomena was all about.

Shannon:
Totally, yeah. It was kind of an event when the next Harry Potter book came out. A cultural event that everyone waited for every year on the calendar.

Scoop:
Yes, and then read it for 24 hours, non-stop.

Shannon:
Yes, exactly. Just in case someone spoiled it.

Scoop:
Is that what you did with the last Harry Potter book, yourself?

Shannon:
I did it with every Harry Potter book, pretty much. I used to read them in a day because I was so terrified of someone spoiling them.

Samantha Shannon author The
Bone Season

Scoop:
So is it in post-production now, the second book?

Shannon:
Basically, the second book, well I started it while we were still - my editor and I - were still working on The Bone Season. So it had quite a lot of inconsistencies because I changed a few things in The Bone Season. I wrote 50,000 words and I then deleted the entire thing because I thought it just wasn’t good enough. It just wasn’t a good book, so I deleted the whole thing, and I’m now 63,000 words back into it.

Scoop:
Bloomsbury signed on for three books so far, is that correct?

Shannon:
Yes, three. We’re very committed to doing all seven, but we thought it might… especially as I was only 20 when I signed the deal, it was quite a big thing for a young writer to have a seven-book legal contract. I’m very committed to doing all seven, but we just agreed that three was good for now.

Scoop:
So you have a sweeping arc for the story then? An idea of the narrative path. This was something that JK Rowling aways said that she had, too. For several years she said she knew how it was going to end.

Shannon:
Yeah, I think it is definitely helpful to have some direction, some sense of direction. I don’t know how much JK Rowling plotted her chapters in detail. I don’t really do each chapter in detail. I have the key points of each book. I think if you rigidly plan it too much, it just takes the fun and the spontaneity out of it.

Scoop:
As a book launch, The Bone Season also unprecedented and it could be said you are making publishing history here. Twenty languages simultaneous release.

Shannon:
Twenty-eight, now.

Scoop:
Twenty-eight languages?

Shannon:
Yeah.

Scoop:
Do you know how many copies have sold?

Shannon:
I have no idea, I’m afraid. I haven’t got any kind of sales figures on it.

Scoop:
It’s still relatively recent since it was launched. That seems truly remarkable.

Shannon:
It came out on the 20th of August, so it’s been a few months now.

Scoop:
A relatively few—three, four.

Shannon:
In the wider scheme of things, yes, it is a small amount of time.

Scoop:
One of the things I’ve also noticed is that your blog and Twitter presence pre-date release. That is also pretty unusual for a new author.

Shannon:
I started my blog when I got the book deal because I thought I was in quite a unique position as a writer who… so the blog is called A Book from the Beginning—I wanted to chart it right from the beginning to publication and beyond, and to explain to people who maybe want to write how each stage works. People could ask questions, and it was a really great experience writing it and I am going to continue writing it in the future, just perhaps slightly less frequently.

Scoop:
The book itself reads a little bit like a screenplay sometimes. There’s a lot of physical scrapping and violence and chase scenes and dramatic settings. Running across rooftops. Great opportunities for really good computer graphics effects.

Shannon:
Yes.

Scoop:
Was the idea of a film also in mind when you wrote it?

Shannon:
No, not particularly when I wrote it. I wasn’t even convinced it was going to be published. I just wanted to write this story. I did want it to be published but I kind of wondered initially if The Bone Season was just too strange to be published. It didn’t really fit well into one genre box, so I certainly wasn’t thinking about film adaptation when I wrote it. Although, the book was quite inspired by visual things. I get migraine headaches, and I see sort of like a coloured aura when I get a migraine, so that’s where I got the idea for aura from. It’s quite a visually inspired book, but I wasn’t specifically thinking about a film when I wrote it, no.

Scoop:
The physical violence, too, is quite striking. A lot of punching and hitting. Paige gets beaten up quite a lot.

Shannon:
She does, yeah.

Scoop:
And is very physically active. Which I think is why the book is compared so much with Hunger Games.

Shannon:
Yes, I imagine so. It is dystopia, at the end of the day, and so is Hunger Games, and in dystopia it’s a harsh violent world, and unfortunately for Paige, she’s exposed to that quite regularly.

Scoop:
Can you tell me a little bit about The Hunger Games. Did you read that series, too?

Shannon:
No, I read it shortly after I started writing The Bone Season actually, and I didn’t read Catching Fire and Mocking Day for quite while. I was quite late to the Hunger Games party.

Scoop:
I’m interested in these new, female, young characters who are very good at fighting. I wonder if this may be a bit Millennial—it’s not a genre, but it’s something slightly new in terms of literature, I think.

Shannon:
Yeah, I think there’s definitely been a trend to having sort of active female characters.

Scoop:
Another thought I had reading the book is that it would also be very well suited to be made into a video game.

Shannon:
Yeah, I think it would be quite cool if that happened.

Scoop:
Your tie-up with Andy Serkis's Imaginarium Studios interested me as there is a connection through that to Wellington - because of Gollum and the Lord of the Rings Connection.

Shannon:
The Andy Serkis production company has the film rights, so he’s very into the CGI and the motion capture and whatnot.

Scoop:
How far away will the first movie be, do you think?

Shannon:
It’s very difficult to put a time on film because there’s so many different things that can happen on the route to production. At the moment, they’re looking for a screenwriter. It was a huge deal for us to sell the rights… Originally, I sold it to the Imaginarium Studios and it was then very recently acquired by Twentieth Century Fox , so it was very exciting that we now have a studio backing it and we’ve got all four producers in place. Now we’re in the process of actually getting a script written.

Scoop:
That is so cool. How recently did 20th Century Fox join?

Shannon:
A few weeks ago. I’m pretty sure it was in October that Fox acquired it.

Scoop:
How do you feel about working for Rupert Murdoch?

Shannon:
[laughs] I didn’t actually realize that it was a Murdoch company!

Scoop:
Are you a gamer, yourself, at all?

Shannon:
I was pretty much raised on Tomb Raider and games like that. I haven’t played very much recently, I have to admit, just because I write now, generally. But, yeah, I am quite a gamer at heart.

Scoop:
So you did play video games? Tomb Raider was sort of towards the beginning of the console era, I think.

Shannon:
Yeah, I used to play it on a joystick. It was the very early PC days.

Samantha Shannon author The
Bone Season

Scoop:
What was your unpublished book like? It mentions in your biography various times that you wrote another book before this.

Shannon:
Yes, Aurora. It was my bizarre, sci-fi romance epic—whatever that means, but that’s what I called it.

Scoop:
Is it going to see the light of day?

Shannon:
No. Never! It wasn’t very good. It was very clichéd. I started developing the very early idea for the dreamscape in Aurora and I took that into The Bone Season. So the best about that book, I did use, but it just wasn’t a brilliant book.

Scoop:
Final question here. We always like to ask visitors to New Zealand what they think of New Zealand. You’re not here yet, though. Have you ever been here before?

Shannon:
I haven’t been there before, no.

Scoop:
What are you expecting?

Shannon:
I’m expecting sweeping Lord of the Rings vistas.

Scoop:
Right. But unfortunately, I think, you’re only going to Auckland for a couple of days.

Shannon:
Yeah, I know. I’d actually love to stay longer, it sounds incredible. I would love to explore New Zealand. It just looks incredible.

Scoop:
I presume this visit downunder is part of long international tour

Shannon:
I’m not really on an international tour. I’m doing different countries quite sporadically. I did a European stint where I went to Stockholm and Norway and Bucharest. Then I just did here, and then I’m going to India in January. So it’s not really one long tour; it’s sort of like several small tours.

Scoop:
Cool. So The Bone Season is a remarkable book, and I’m looking forward to meeting you when you get here. And I hope you have a lovely time for the rest of your days in Australia, and a good flight over here.

Shannon:
Thank you so much. It was great to talk to you.

( You can comment on this post at the Scoop Review of Books. )

ENDS

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