Interview with Author Zoë Marriott (SHADOWS ON THE MOON)

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Zoë Marriott is the author of two unique fairy tale-inspired novels, THE SWAN KINGDOM and SHADOWS ON THE MOON.  She is also the author of an original fantasy novel entitled DAUGHTER OF THE FLAMES, which has a sequel entitled FROSTFIRE out in the UK July 5, 2012.  Her most-recently announced fantasy novel, THE NIGHT ITSELF, is the first in the KATANA trilogy and will launch in 2013 (and it sounds zomg AMAZING).

Zoë Marriott lives in England, so her novels are always published in the UK first, with later publication dates in the USA.  SHADOWS ON THE MOON came out in the UK on July 7, 2011, and will arrive in the USA/Canada on April 24, 2012.  Or if you're like me and can't wait, you can order it from Book Depository right now for a great price!

Also check out my review of SHADOWS ON THE MOON right HERE!

An interview with Zoë Marriott

What drew you to choosing Cinderella as a fairy tale you'd like to dissect and renovate in the first place as opposed to any number of other stories?

Well, in a way I was drawn to the idea of creating an...anti-Cinderella, shall we say. If you asked me what my least favourite fairytale was, as a kid, I'd have said Cinderella. She's so incredibly passive as a character, always acted upon rather an active. She makes no attempt to escape from her life of drudgery and exploitation, and when the chance to change things for the better drops into her lap in the form of a fairy godmother, she throws it away on the MOST frivolous wish ever. What a wimp! It's exasperating. I don't even own the Disney version of the story (and I own All The Disneys).

But back when I first started doing school visits, one of the exercises I did, based on my first book THE SWAN KINGDOM (which is a retelling of The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen) was taking the children through the process of unravelling and retelling a fairytale. I'd always ask the class for a suggestion of what fairytale we should use, and Cinderella came up again and again, so I was forced to examine the story from a different angle. And it began to occur to me...what if this girl wasn't a wimp? If I turned the whole story on its head (as I was asking the kids to do) and asked myself why any real girl, with a real heart and real emotions, would act this way, then suddenly I was looking not at weakness but at strength. Terrible strength, almost frightening ruthlessness... A girl who would put herself through such awful ordeals would be an extraordinary character. And that was how SHADOWS ON THE MOON was born. 

What made you set SHADOWS ON THE MOON in 月の光の国 (Tsuki no Hikari no Kuni/The Moonlit Land), which incorporates features of both China and Japan?

A mixture of factors. The setting was originally born from my love and adoration of Japanese culture, and the knowledge that a society with such respect for beauty would be perfect for a fantasy about lies and illusions and the curious nature of truth. But I also realised quite early on that the story I wanted to tell couldn't take place within any historically accurate version of Japan. And so I began to construct what a friend of mine calls a Chinoiserie setting - a world very strongly influenced by Japan, with a sprinkling of China, but which would still give me room to invent a (hopefully) coherent world for the story to unfold within.

How did you first come up with the idea for such a unique novel incorporating an Asian background and creating such a one-of-a-kind novel using elements of the traditional Cinderella tale?

Well, I'd been toying with my idea of a revenge obsessed Cinderella for a loooong while (I have a page of notes about it in the back of one of the notebooks I wrote Daughter of the Flames in, back in 2006) and I was excited about it. But...something was missing. At the same time, I'd also been reading Manga and watching Anime like they were going out of style, and collecting Oriental ceramics, and generally being a huge Japanophile, so it goes without saying that I longed to set a story in Japan. And then...I think I was watching an episode of AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER (which is an American animated show heavily influenced by Asian works) and something... popped. The two things collided in my head and I realised that they were perfect for each other, like two halves of a whole that had just been waiting to join. Everything came alive. Frankly, I feel a bit dim that I didn't realise earlier!

How did you come up with your own mythology when creating important story pieces such as shadow weavers and the Shadow Bride?

That was one of the nicest things about working on this book - the way everything branched out so organically in my head. Once Cinderella and Tsuki No Hikari No Kuni came together, they were like a beautiful wild plant that grew out of control, with flowers and leaves and tendrils everywhere. I didn't have to do much sitting down and careful planning out of these fantasy elements - they just formed themselves and waited for me to notice them. I knew that I wanted my Cinderella to use illusions to mask her true self, and the setting suggested a kind of intuitive illusionist who drew inspiration from the shades of nature, and strength from the moon. I knew that I wanted the ball in my story to be much less pretty and clear-cut than in the fairytale - not about marriage and happily ever after, but about sacrifice and power - and so the idea of a high ranking courtesan, a kind of shadowy second-best wife, came to mind. And since the imagery of shadows and moonlight kept cropping up everywhere, shadow weaving and shadow brides naturally followed after.

Suzume is the grittiest, rawest reincarnation of Cinderella I've ever seen. She's so focused on revenge that she's unable to truly live. Was it always your goal to make her this way? What were your motivations when creating her character?

Yes, she was always like that - she had to be, or her actions in the story would have made no sense. There are only two possible explanations for Cinderella to act as she does, you see: either she's weak and passive, or she's frighteningly strong and single-minded. I hope that when readers compare Suzume and her story to the traditional Cinderella tale, they see them like mirror images, or the photograph and the negative of a photograph. The events of the story - the death of a beloved father, the banishment to a life of drudgery, the rising from the ashes to the glory of the ball - are all essentially the same; it's the motivation of the character enduring them which is utterly different. Cinderella is a story which values beauty above all else, which equates beauty with goodness.  SHADOWS ON THE MOON  is a story which asks the reader to think about how we define beauty, and hopefully allows him or her to reassess their ideas of good and evil.

Has SHADOWS ON THE MOON changed a lot from your initial idea to the finished book? What were some of the biggest surprises for you as a writer?

The self-harm element was a surprise. That wasn't part of my original plan, and when I found myself heading there I had a short, fierce struggle with myself to accept that it was vital, because I had to go to some dark places, mentally, to make it work. But probably Akira was the biggest shock. The synopsis I sent to my editor called for a remote, distant woman, a sort of human representation of the cold, frigid beauty of the moon - someone who would serve as a warning to the heroine about the devastating risks of love. Instead, she became...well, what she is. The most vital, warm, wonderful person - the heroine's saviour, the cornerstone of a new life. And she's one of my favourite characters EVER.

What were the hardest things for you when writing? Did you know a lot about Feudal Japan or the Japanese language going into this?

Certainly the research took a lot of time and effort. It's all very well to know more about Japan than the average bear, but knowing enough to actually write a story set in such a heavily Japanese influenced world was something else. My ignorance humbled me. There were certain points where I'd literally be jumping up to check a reference book, or skipping to one of my favourite websites, or pulling out my notes, every. Single. Line. Silly things, like knowing all the individual names for the separate elements of an Obi, or the names of common Japanese garden plants. When you've watched a lot of Japanese films and read a lot of Manga you know what everything LOOKS like, but not necessarily what it's called! And I speak enough Japanese (gleaned from subtitles!) to say hello, goodbye, thank you, etc. but not enough to do the translations that I needed, so I had to get help there.

But I have to admit that the hardest thing about writing this book was keeping my own promise to myself and not chickening out of the really dark emotional places the story and the characters me needed to go. I mean, they needed me to. And I realised that, early on, and realised it was going to be gruelling (shortly after I wrote the opening line down in a blaze of inspiration and then sat back and thought 'Oh cr*p'). And I made an oath that I'd do it. I wouldn't put in a convenient page break, or flashback, or write around the hard parts like I knew I'd desperately want to. I'd blub like a boy if I had to and eat six bars of chocolate if I had to and make myself depressed for a week if I had to but I would blooming well write the stuff that needed to be written. There were several scenes that had me completely vapour-locked because I just Did Not Want, but at the same time I had to keep that promise. I'm lucky that I had my fantastic writing group to talk me down or I might still be stuck now...

Zoë, I adore you!  I wish you didn't live across the pond so I had a chance of seeing you here! :-)  I adored reading your interview; it went above and beyond my wildest expectations! ♥   


  1. What a fantastically amazing interview! Zoe, you are already well aware of how much I love you, but this, if possible, makes me love you more!! I need to force myself out of this reading slump like, NOW, so that I can FINALLY read that book! It's CALLING to me. BEGGING me to read it and I want to SO insanely badly!! :P

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