An Interview with Samantha Shannon

Samantha Shannon is a well-known fantasy and dystopian author. Whilst studying English Language and Literature at Oxford University, Shannon signed a book deal for a seven-book series known as The Bone Season.

Shannon is currently working on the fifth instalment of the series, and a project set in the world of The Priory of the Orange Tree. After being introduced to her worksin the Spring of 2020, via Priory, and becoming enthralled in her series, I had the honour of interviewing her.

Q – I just wanted to say how much of a fan I am of you. Your writing has really inspired me, and your interaction with fans always blows my mind.

A -Thank you so much! I love chatting to readers.

Q – Do you have any advice for balancing writing with university? How did you manage writing The Bone Season whilst working and studying?

A – I started the first draft in Summer 2011, just before my second year at uni, and kept writing into the first term. If memory serves, I got my book deal around the start of second term, early in 2012. Time management was critical – I worked on my research and essays during the day and wrote in the evenings. I’d written as a hobby from the age of 12, so I was used to carving out time for writing during studying and homework.

I won’t pretend my academic and social lives didn’t take a hit – I skipped lectures (they weren’t compulsory for my degree) and going out with friends – but, luckily, it paid off. In hindsight, I wouldn’t recommend writing at the expense of academic opportunities. You’re paying through the nose for your degree, you worked hard to get your place, and you have your whole life to work on a book.

Q – Your books are always beautifully diverse, whether with queerness, mental health, disability or race. Why is that important to you?

A – Real life is diverse, and I don’t see any reason not to reflect that in my books. I want my readers to see themselves in the worlds I create and feel they have a place there. I know how reassuring and inspiring I find it when I see people like me in the stories I love.

Q- You’ve often shared songs which tell your characters’ stories – like how Danse Macabre reminds you of Jaxon. Do you base characters off songs, or find the link as you write?

A- Music inspires me in terms of atmosphere and scope, rather than storylines. I like music without lyrics – film scores, or the cinematic instrumental music in trailers. I sometimes connect characters with songs, as with Danse Macabre and Jaxon, but that’s generally a connection I make once the character has taken form.

With Arcturus, the deuteragonist of The Bone Season, I thought it would be interesting for him to communicate through an old gramophone, as he isn’t human and doesn’t always have his own words to express himself to the human protagonist, Paige.

Q – I know your fascination with etymology inspires many of your character names. What else inspires your writing?

A- Everything from history and mythology to geology and language. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the natural world – volcanoes, caves, hot springs, the Northern Lights – for a book set in the same universe as Priory and for the Bone Season books, I delve deep into real cities, like London and Paris. I love drawing real details into a fantastical setting.

Q – What’re your favourite writing and reading snacks and/or drinks?

A- Coffee is my go-to drink for writing and editing. I’m trying – and failing – to give it up and drink more water, as I suspect the caffeine doesn’t help my migraines, but coffee is still my fuel. I don’t snack much when I write, but when I do, it’s fruit. For reading, I’d take a cold Dr Pepper in the summer and a hot chocolate with biscuits in the winter.

Q – Do you have plans to step outside of the fantasy / dystopian genre, and if so, which genre?

A – Not for the foreseeable future, but I’ll probably delve into historical fiction at some point. I already thread historical detail into my books, but I want to take the full step and write books centred on women side-lined by history.

Q- Finally, what is your favourite genre to read, and what is your go-to book recommendation

A- Fantasy is my favourite. My favourite books which came out this year are Black Water Sister by Zen Cho (about a closeted lesbian who becomes her dead grandmother’s medium), The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid (a fantasy inspired by Jewish mythology and Hungarian history, with a gorgeous slow-burn romance) and She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan (a queer reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty).

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Louise Collins

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December 2021
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