Tuesday, 14 March 2017

EVENT RECAP: Samantha Shannon at Waterstones Deansgate

From her first publication, Samantha Shannon has been cited as "the new J.K. Rowling." Whilst her books are certainly taking a different direction from that of the Harry Potter series, Shannon's septology is equally striking. Bursting with clairvoyants, dystopian realities, an oppressed London and now the Victorian language of flowers, Shannon stopped by Waterstones Deansgate as part of her tour for the third book in the series, The Song Rising.

Sitting down to discuss her latest installment in the series, Shannon began by recounting her publishing journey. At the time that The Bone Season was first published, Shannon was a 21-year-old recent graduate of Oxford University, somewhat "shaken by the Oxford experience and the Oxford-bubble" (which inspired the prison camp appearance of Oxford in her work), and such success at such a young age was admirable. Having heard J.K. Rowling's story to publishing, Shannon realised you could write for a living and started writing at 12, completing her first "terrible" and rejected novel, Aurora at 15. The Bone Season was written over the course of her second year at Oxford; carefully balancing academic and novel writing through dividing into university work in the day, and personal writing at night. Shannon may say that she was an awful student, but what she has gained from late-night writing in cold student accomodation is extraordinary

Photo credits to @amyjanealice on Twitter
Initially inspired by the London district of Seven Dials, a place filled with sales of tarot cards and crystals, The Bone Season and The Mime Order had a firm basis in the heart of London. For Shannon, her home city is a place that she feels she'll never quite scratch the surface of, given the many layers of history and hidden places. However, The Song Rising takes a different direction, heading further afield in the UK to the North. Manchester has a heavy presence due to Shannon's family history, and her desire to draw on the industrial past of the city. This in turn was used to create a "choking" feel to the location. Edinburgh also features in the book too. I (someone who hasn't read The Bone Season yet) feel far more inclined to begin reading the series following on from this talk, but particularly from this fact and the knowledge that the dystopia isn't just walled within London. As she says herself, oppressiveness in dystopia is always concentrated through a specific country or city, but what happens to the wider world beyond that? Are they passive acceptors? Do they even know what's going on? Thankfully, as with Shannon's intentions, she confirmed that the world beyond Scion lands will be encountered in the coming latter half of the septology. Is Shannon trying to promote a message like Orwell? Through a meshing of paranormal fantasy and dystopia, maybe. Fantasy tries to take us out of reality, which plays harsh contrast with dystopia acting as a warning to us all.

Again, I as an outsider, was fascinated by how multi-faceted and instensely layed the Scion version of the UK is... it even has it's own alternate timeline! For example, the politics of the seven orders of clairvoyance and how each rank aspires to something; the fact that Scion has no religious undertones, contrasting to dystopias like Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale; and not to forget the fact that Scion society lacks homophobia and misogyny due to their being no real distinctions between genders in the accepted pansexual world. Even before I've immersed myself in The Bone Season series, I'm aware of this rich, wonderfully diverse world. 

Shannon ended with remarking that she roughly knows what's going to happen through her use of skeleton planning, but "as I write the flesh is added. Sometimes the joints change slightly, but they're always firmly there." She knows where she's going but not always how to get there. Maybe this will be similar for her characters, who their creator proudly declares she likes pushing to their extremes. Whether or not it'll be a happy ending is unclear, but we know it's going to be quite the ride.

Thanks so much to Waterstones Deansgate, and Teensgate for inviting me to this event free of charge in order to do this piece. For more from both, follow @WaterstonesMCR and @Teensgate on Twitter.

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