Natasha Ngan

Author of: Girls of Paper and Fire

AUTHOR BIO:

Natasha Ngan is a writer and yoga teacher. She grew up between Malaysia, where the Chinese side of her family is from, and the UK. This multicultural upbringing continues to influence her writing, and she is passionate about bringing diverse stories to teens. Natasha studied Geography at the University of Cambridge before working as a social media consultant and fashion blogger. 

She recently moved to Paris, where she likes to imagine she drifts stylishly from brasserie to brasserie, notepad in one hand, wineglass in the other. In reality, she spends most of her time getting lost on the metro and confusing locals with her French. 
She is represented by Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary. Her YA novels THE ELITES and THE MEMORY KEEPERS are out now from Hot Key Books, and GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE will be published in October 2018 by Jimmy Patterson/Little Brown (US) and Hodder & Stoughton (UK). Head on over to the Books page for more info!

Natasha is also co-owner of fashion, travel and lifestyle blog Girl in the Lens.

To learn more about Natasha, connect with her online:
Twitter  |  Instagram  |  Website

INTERVIEW:

+ What can readers expect from GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE that they wouldn't gather from reading the summary?

NN: That the romance is between two girls! I think my publishers wanted to allow readers the chance to discover this on their own, and also to not make too big of a thing of it. It shouldn't be surprising or that special to have LGBTQ+ romances in YA fantasy books. They should reflect our diversity just as much as any genre!

+ What was your favorite part of creating the band of fierce young women fighting together in GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE? Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to incorporate a female/female love story?

NN: Right from the first moment it was always going to be a love story between two girls. That's just how the story came to me. I think it's so empowering, and also totally normal and wonderful, that two young women kept as concubines to a cruel king would find solace and force in each other. I'm constantly inspired by the strength of women, and I wanted a story that reflects that in many different ways. There's not just one way to be strong. There's also not just one way to react to abuse, and I wanted the varied experiences and characters of the girls to show that.

+ Your previous two novels (THE ELITES and THE MEMORY KEEPERS) are both sci-fi. What inspired you to transition into a fantasy world for GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE, and what was the most difficult aspect of shifting genres?

NN: I've always loved fantasy, even more than sci-fi, so I knew I'd write a fantasy story sooner or later. GIRLS just came about very naturally - it's got so much of me in it, what I've been through, what I think about, what's important to me. Even though it's fantasy, it's heavily grounded in real world issues and experiences. The main difference I found between writing sci-fi and fantasy is that in sci-fi you're mostly limited by real-life-inspired technology, while in fantasy, especially with a magic system, it's totally up to you how to build your world and create boundaries for yourself. It's not that different though. My magic system is rooted in Chinese philosophy and medicine - the concept of balance, yin and yang. So even though it's made-up I still have rules to follow and real-world influences to respect.

+ How do you go about balancing tough subjects (like rape and rape culture) while still maintaining a hopeful and powerful outlook for young readers?

NN: I wanted to explore these difficult issues whilst still creating a world readers would enjoy spending time in. It was definitely a tough balance, but it also came about very naturally as that's just how the world is - beauty and horror living side by side. As a sexual abuse survivor myself, it was so important to me to give the girls an empowering narrative. I didn't want to hide from the darkness of these subjects, or minimise what they were going through, because this is real, it's not made-up. Sexual violence happens. All the time, everywhere, in a myriad of forms. It took a lot of careful editing and discussions with my editor to make sure that we give enough time and credence to the realities of sexual abuse while keeping it within this framework of female strength and support. We also used sensitivity readers. One of them wrote back with this wonderful letter saying that she felt empowered and seen by the story, and really that's all I could ask for.

+ How did your multicultural upbringing influence your writing in GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE?

NN: The world of Ikhara is 100% my cultural heritage. It's totally authentic to me. Being half-Chinese half-English, and also not mainland Chinese but Chinese Malaysian, gives me a bit of a different perspective to much of the worldbuilding we often see in Asian fantasies. Ikhara isn't totally Asian, and it's not embedded in one real-world culture but many, as was my experience growing up between the UK and Malaysia. I love that we're getting more and more diverse fantasies, especially in YA, as it will give writers of colour a chance to reflect our own unique cultural influences and how varied and distinct they can be.

+ As a writer, how do you battle self-doubt and stay motivated to push through your first draft and edits?

NN: It's so hard! I'm terrible, I constantly think what I'm doing is awful and most of my writing days are long, hard slogs. There's nothing to do put just keep going. During first drafts I always dangle the reminder that any problems - and there will be many - can be fixed during edits. The important thing is to just get the story out. No matter how messy it is. Once it's all on the paper, you can see the main themes you were going for. Even though it's always intimidating how much work there is still to do, that's a brilliant moment - knowing that within your jumbled mass of words, there is a story, a good one, shining bright and true. As for edits, the worst moment is the very beginning. Getting that first editorial letter or just looking over it yourself and seeing everything that needs works - it's terrifying! But take a break, let your subconscious mull it all over. A novel is a complex thing. It's totally normal to be overwhelmed. When you come back, you should hopefully feel refreshed and have some ideas as to how to handle at least some of your notes. And remember: it still doesn't have to be perfect. GIRLS took many rounds of revisions. You just have to keep working, keep believing in that bright, shining core of your story. That's what'll get you through.

+ Outside of being a writer, you are also a yoga teacher. Are there any aspects of yoga that translate over or help you with your writing career?

NN: Oh so many! Firstly just in terms of looking after my body - it's so good to stretch and move and ease out those kinks after long writing sessions at my laptop. But it's helped me so much on a deeper level too. I've always had anxiety, and I've found so much calmness and strength to cope with it through yoga. Meditation, breathing exercises, just practicing how to be peaceful and kind with myself and others makes such a difference. An author's life is full of anxiety and stress. You never really know where your career is going, what's coming next, and if you're like me the actual process of writing too is fraught with self-doubt and pressure, both external and internal. I highly recommend cultivating a little yoga practice to help with that. It doesn't have to be anything fancy - most of the time I just do a little five or ten minutes sequence that feels good to me that day, and I already feel better. Just like writing, it's a lot about discipline. Commit to it, even when you don't feel like it. Afterwards, you'll almost always be grateful for having done so.

+ What is the last book that you've read that you would rate 5/5 stars?

*NN: Argh I have to pick just one?! I've had brilliant reading luck recently. The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang blew me away. The way she explores Chinese history through a fantasy lens is just incredible. I also loved Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, which is really as good as everyone says. I also recently re-read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which is still one of my all-time favourite YAs. So, so powerful. I cry every time.


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