YA novelist Zoë Marriott lives on the bleak and windy East coast of Britain, in a house crowded with books, cats, and an eccentric sprocker named Finn (also known as the Devil Hound). Her folk and fairytale inspired fantasy novels are critically acclaimed and have been nominated for many awards, even winning a few, including a USBBY Outstanding International Book listing for The Swan Kingdom and a Junior Library Guild Selection and the prestigious Sasakawa Prize for Shadows on the Moon.
In July 2013 The Night Itself, the start of an epic new urban fantasy trilogy called The Name of The Blade will be unleashed onto the world in a tide of Kitsune, Kami and katanas. Zoë is proudly represented by Nancy Miles of the Miles Stott Children’s Literacy Agency.
Let’s see how Zoë answers the Proust Questionnaire!
What is your idea of happiness?
Freedom. Time. Peace. Space. Solitude. All the things I require in order to work, really. And a large mug of chai latte…
What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
The piece of music I listen to over and over and never get tired of (and own about six different versions of) is Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis. This is a piece of sacred music composed in the time of Elizabeth the First. I heard it for the first time about ten years ago, after I told a friend about a book that I was working on (an alternate history Tudor fantasy based on the short, tragic life of Arbella Stewart).
My friend thought an album of Elizabethan music called The Rose and the Osterich Feather might be inspiring for me, and sent it all the way from Tokyo. I listened to it for the first time on a warm summer evening just as the sun was going doing down, casting golden light into my small living room. I felt as if I had experienced something really close to divine. I listened to it over and over for close to an hour, until the light was all gone and everything had gone silvery and cold and still. The book went the way of the Dodo, by the way––but Spem in Alium still brings me to tears each time I listen to it.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could play a musical instrument really well. At the time of writing this I can play a recorder, the piano, a violin and a mandolin… all really, really, REALLY badly. I mean, just nauseatingly badly. The average five year old can probably play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star better than I can. No amount of practise seems to help.
On what occasion do you lie?
To make other people feel better. I almost never lie on my own account, but I will perjure my immortal soul to make a sad person smile, even just a little.
What is your present state of mind?
Stressed out. That’s normal for me, though.
What is your motto?
Compassion is the most underrated virtue. Also: Everyone is weird. Everyone. Avoid anyone who tries to convince you that they’re normal, as they’re usually dangerous, and almost always boring.
What character trait do you most value in your friends?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Absolutely!” I know I do it. I hate it. But the moment someone asks me a question which requires a simple ‘yes’ it just seems to explode from my lips. Then I cringe.
Your favorite painting?
It changes from day to day. At the moment it’s this one, by one of my favourite illustrators, David Wyatt. I actually own a print of this but I don’t have enough money to have it framed at the moment. *Sigh*
What is your favorite journey?
Probably the train journey between Stockport and Manchester. It’s magical. You’re stuck on the train travelling through the most boring, flat, brownish fields and then you go through a long, pitch-dark tunnel, your ears pop, and you emerge into this bleak, wild landscape of gorse-covered hills, dry-stone walls and stone bridges over churning silver becks. Suddenly all the stories in your head come alive and anything is possible.
What is your favorite time of day?
Very early in the morning, when the sun is just coming up. Particularly if I can get out with my dog and go roaming through the nature reserve where I live. A start like that sets me up for the rest of the day.
With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
This is a tough one, but I’d love to have a proper High Tea with Chrestomanci (and Millie and Michael Saunders and Irene and Cat and Janet and… well, everyone) from Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci Chronicles. Those people have had adventures on almost every world. The stories you’d hear!
What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
I need to finish this trilogy. I’d be devastated to pop off and leave it unfinished. But I’d like to have a chance to get to the Beauty and the Beast retelling that I have planned, too, because I’m so excited about that. There’s also a romantic sort of story dealing with dragons and archeology that I want to get to. And a piece of science fiction…
Who or what is your first love?
My first love was a boy called Lee. He was in the same primary school class as me and was the only boy who was fast enough to catch me when we ran races. Well, not really. I just let him win because I liked his silvery eyes and black, shaggy hair. But he was better than me at drawing, which is what first gained my respect. He captured my heart by bringing me a Spanish leather purse back from his family holiday abroad, and my attempts to write him love letters, featuring pictograms when I didn’t know how to spell the words, caused hilarity to both our families, but definitely improved my language skills. When I was about nine he moved away to a different area and I was sure my heart was broken for good. But I remember very clearly thinking “Oh, so this is what a broken heart feels like… I should use this in a story one day…” And thus a writer was born.
What’s the last dream you remember?
I have vivid and disturbing dreams almost every night, so this is last night’s. I was part of some kind of resistance group, hiding in plain sight in a suburban community of wicked, evil creatures who *looked* like humans, but seemed to need to eat infants. Living infants of any kind, human or animal. I was tasked to try and break into these terrible people’s houses in the middle of the night and to steal their food––baby humans, kittens, puppies, mice, monkeys––and smuggle the poor helpless things away. I remember an overwhelming, crushing sense of responsibility twinned with hopelessness, because no matter how many babies I saved there would always be hundreds more being devoured at any moment––and it was inevitable that I was going to get caught, probably sooner rather than later, and then who would do my job?
This theme––helpless, hopeless struggle against overwhelming odds––seems to be a common theme in my dreams. It’s not what I’d call particularly restful…
What’s your madeleine?
The smell of hospitals. Throughout most of my childhood my mother was seriously ill––and when she started to get better my father became even more dangerously sick. I spent large chunks of my formative years huddled, half-crying and half asleep, on hard plastic chairs clutching at someone’s arm––and I’m never sure if the large, unresponsive ‘someone’ is my older sister, or my mother, or father––staring at the ugly splashy patterns on hospital lino floors in the eye-watering yellow strip lighting. Hospital ward after hospital ward, waiting room after waiting room. They all blur together. On a few terrifying occasions, I walked home from my school into a house that smelled of hospitals––a sure sign that an ambulance had been summoned and that someone had been taken away, that it was all beginning again. Brushing by a nurse in the supermarket is still enough to send echoes of helpless, child-like panic and fear through my whole body.
Without thinking, in one word: what is life?