Sci-fi spun in reality

Sci-fi spun in reality

Interview with popular British writer of dystopian fiction Samantha Shannon whose latest book in the bestselling Bone Season series has just been released.

The Mask Falling

In 2012, Samantha Shannon, still a student of English literature at St Anne’s College, Oxford, sold a seven-book series, The Bone Season, to a major publisher. The dystopian, sci-fi series is set in 2059 in a London that is governed by an organisation called Scion and an Oxford, which has been taken over by an otherworldly race set on enslaving clairvoyants. The fourth book in the series, The Mask Falling, was released in late January. DHoS caught up with Samantha to ask her what these books mean to her and what she tries to impart through her writing. Excerpts from an interview.

It has been nearly seven years since The Bone Season began. How do you feel about publishing your fourth book in the series? 

I’m relieved it’s finally out, after such a long delay between instalments, although it’s bittersweet for a number of reasons — first and foremost, my grandmother, who was such a big fan of the series and who supported my writing from when I was very young, isn’t here to share this moment with me. She was looking forward to this book so much, and I’m terribly sad that she never got to read it, or to see the end of the series. This instalment — the middle and the heart of the series — is dedicated to her.

The Mask Falling also isn’t the book I would have chosen to launch in the middle of a pandemic — I’m gutted I won’t be able to meet readers in person to talk about it. Having said all that, it’s wonderful to know it’s going to be on shelves at last. It’s my favourite book in the series by a long shot.

The book is written entirely in Paige’s perspective and you have said you live vicariously through her. Is there any character in the book who reminds you of yourself?

All of the characters have a little of me in them. Jaxon has my enthusiasm for words, Arcturus has my curiosity and love of learning, Nick is the part of me that always tries to be kind — even Nashira, the antagonist, has a shadow of me in her. They are all facets of me, because they all came from me.

Which of the four books did you enjoy writing the most? 

Definitely The Mask Falling. It combines all of my favourite things about the first three books: the regular interaction between Warden and Paige from The Bone Season, the underworld politics and urban exploration of The Mime Order, and the high-stakes action of The Song Rising. It’s also set in Paris, a city that fascinates and inspires me every time I

Do you have any writing quirks? 

Not really — I don’t have any elaborate rituals. I pretty much just sit down at my desk and work for as long as I can each day. I can’t listen to music with lyrics when I write, if that counts as a quirk.

Lyrics give a song a story, which can often distract me from the story I’m writing, so music has to be purely instrumental.

Back in 2013, you had mentioned that you had only a skeletal idea of the entire series. Has the idea been fleshed out now? 

In some ways. I was 19 when I started writing the Bone Season series and I’m now 29, so it was inevitable my ideas were going to change over time. Although some details have changed, most of the key events and twists have stayed the same. I’ve always had a clear idea of where I wanted the series to go, even if I’ve ended up taking a slightly different route to the one I first envisioned.

Do you ever read your books after they’ve come out in print? How does seeing your books on shelves make you feel?

I do. It’s always a nerve-racking experience to read the finished book — I keep expecting to see a typo, or an error that slipped through the cracks, or something that should have been cut or changed — but once I’ve got past the first read, I love coming back to it, seeing the result of both mine and the publishing team’s work.

Seeing my books on shelves and in shopfronts is surreal, even eight years after my debut. It was something I dreamed about for such a long time, it still doesn’t feel real.

You’ve expressed the importance of normalising gender equality in fantasy fiction. Do you consciously try to include more female characters in traditionally male roles?

I don’t constrain my female characters. They can be leaders, knights, guards, soldiers — anything. I also try to make that unremarkable. Paige faces many challenges when she becomes Underqueen in The Song Rising, and many people don’t believe in her, but it isn’t because she’s a woman.

It’s not that I think we should never portray or tackle sexism in fiction — I just feel strongly that it shouldn’t be expected of the fantasy genre, which has a history of misogyny.

I want to see worlds where women overcome it, but also worlds where they never have to face it at all.

If there’s anything you’d love for your readers to take away from The Mask Falling, what would it be?

Every reader comes to a book with a different perspective and experience, so it’s difficult to predict what they’ll take away from it, but I hope my books are always thought-provoking, and I hope this one provides a little Parisian escapism alongside the darker parts.

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