1. Who: Who are your instabuy, go-to YA authors? And which new talent have you discovered recently?
Earlier this year I read Samantha Shannon’s novels for the first time. The Bone Season series moved firmly into my top three favourite series ever. Fantasy is my first and biggest love and makes up at least 90% of my reading material. I fell so hard for Shannon’s series. Urban fantasy is the sub-genre that excites me the most, and the fact The Bone Season series is largely based in London made it all the more relatable and thrilling. It also features my favourite romantic pairing of all time—Arcturus Mesarthim and Paige Mahoney <3 I barely took any breaks between the books, hardly breathed for fear of being rudely dragged out of that mesmerising world. The next instalment in the series is my most anticipated book. I was left feeling quite bereft when it was over and the only thing to do was to try Shannon’s epic fantasy, The Priory of the Orange Tree. Epic fantasy isn’t a sub-genre I normally read due to my poor memory (far too many people and places to remember!) and even among epic fantasies Priory stands out as a mammoth read. Except I enjoyed it very much, which bears testament to Shannon’s storytelling skills. After enjoying Priory so much, Shannon became an insta-buy. I don’t care what genre she writes, I’m hitting that preorder button. Hers is an immense talent—utterly original, remarkably imaginative, and beautifully considerate, and I’m so excited for whatever she creates.
Another new talent I’ve recently discovered is Ciannon Smart. Her debut novel, Witches Steeped in Gold, is a Jamaican-inspired fantasy published in April of this year, and I loved it. So much heart and imagery; it was just so rich, vivid, and original. Smart’s worldbuilding is to die for and you completely lose yourself in its ferocious heart. I’m really looking forward to catching up with Iraya and Jazmyne when the next instalment releases in ‘22!
2. What: What was the most joyful moment in your publishing journey?
I think it was when I shared the new paperback cover for The Light at the Bottom of the World on social media. That’s when it sunk in that I’d accomplished something very special: There was now (finally!) a British Muslim girl on the cover of a science-fiction/fantasy novel. And for the first time, there was a Pashtun girl on the cover of a SFF novel…It hit me suddenly on that day and I felt quite emotional about it. I kept imagining what it would’ve meant to teen me had I seen someone like myself on the cover of a book—a work of science-fiction/fantasy no less—and especially what it would mean for today’s Pashtun and/or British Muslim teens, and teens of Afghan heritage. I felt like I had definitely achieved something noteworthy. In this industry it’s so very easy to overlook what you’ve accomplished because the challenges are plentiful and relentless. Paperback cover reveal day was truly a very special day for me, and I’m so grateful to the talented artist, Shane Rebenshcied, for creating such a heartening, powerful, and beautiful cover to go with my story.
3. Where: Where do you get your ideas/inspiration from?
My imagination has always, from as far back as I can remember, worked overtime, and now that I’ve started writing it’s proving especially beneficial. I draw on what I love, on the situations and details that have always excited me. To that end I have a lifetime of ideas floating around inside my head, so I already have all the inspiration I’ll ever need.
4. When: When did you first realize you wanted to write the Light the Abyss duology?
Since my early teens, I’ve fantasised about our world existing deep underwater. I always wanted it to be visibly instantly recognisable as the world we live in now, but for the planet to be completely submerged. For me, the underwater landscape is infinitely more surreal and fantastical when it’s as if the waters are here, in our present world. I avoided anything too hard sci-fi and was also disinterested in a fantasy world with mermaids. I dreamt only of a submerged world we could imagine ourselves in. I carried this fantasy with me for years and years. It was only in 2011, once I’d graduated, that I started entertaining the idea of bringing this long-held vision to life. Studying for a degree had for so long seemed like an unattainable dream, and graduating gave me a huge and much-needed confidence boost. I thought if I can do this, then I can do anything I put my mind to. That’s when the idea to try and bring this underwater dream to life started to bloom.
5. Why: Why YA? What draws you to writing for this age group?
It’s the endless wonder young adults experience … I have never forgotten or lost it. Those curiosities, followed by the inevitable realisations—sometimes in a drip-drip effect and other times like a gut punch or lightning bolt—that see us drifting further and further away from childhood. And then all too soon we find ourselves hurtling toward adulthood. The many aspects of life now that our protagonist almost never had to fully factor in as a child: love and loss, home and the wider world, friends and enemies, the strange versus the familiar, peace and violence, freedom and control, all the infinite unknowns—those that soon make themselves known, and also the ones that evade understanding for now. The mysteries that draw us in and never let go.
While childhood is, to me, a time when the fortunate among us are largely cocooned from the more negative aspects of reality, young adults teeter on the precipice of discovering how things are in this world we find ourselves in. Theirs is a unique state of being; the wonder of childhood is not yet lost, but the—often harsh—realities of the world are now also within sight and understanding. What they lack in experience they make up for in buckets of ingenuity, sincere concern, fresh hope, and clear thinking. The world has not yet worn them out; they are passionate problem solvers, and their earnestness is backed up with action. For me, the mystery of not knowing and setting off on a journey—whether physically or metaphorically—to find out, is immeasurably thrilling. For no other age-range is this journey so deeply and permanently transforming as it is for young adults. The way they must now question their place beyond family and friends to discover and determine where they feature in the larger world. The constant pondering over the big questions, and the ceaseless revelations.
Unfortunately, that wonder and curiosity is so often greatly diminished by the time adulthood has revealed more and more truths about how we do things here. But for a brief time, circling that precipice, and even with all that life throws their way, it can be the most mysterious, magical, and moving journey for teens. Writing for young adults is thrilling, and an absolute honour.