Thursday, 15 August 2013

Interview with author Natasha Ngan

Today I am delighted to have one of my new favourite authors on the blog, Natasha Ngan! I read her debut novel The Elites a few days ago and WOW. You can read my review of it here! But for now, read on to find out about Natasha's new book coming out next year and her most embarrassing moment involving a revolving door...

Hi Natasha! Welcome to The Mile Long Bookshelf! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your new highly-anticipated debut novel, The Elites?
I'm a half-Chinese, half-English girl who grew up living between Malaysia and England - as well as reality and my imagination! I studied Geography at university before working in London in social media. I'm also a fashion blogger over at Girl in the Lens, a website I run with my boyfriend, and now of course a YA author! Outside of my three jobs, I love spending time with my friends, travelling, reading, eating, and just enjoying life as much as I can :)

My debut novel The Elites is about a city in the future where no one ever enters, and no one leaves. It follows the story of Silver, a fifteen-year old girl who works as an Elite to guard the city's leaders, and her best friend Butterfly, as they do the unthinkable and leave the city, where they discover for themselves just what is outside its walls. The Elites is part adventure story, part romance, and with dashings of sci-fi, fantasy and social commentary thrown into the mix!

I know you have a really popular fashion blog. Love it! What made you decide to write about such a different topic for your book?
I've always loved sci-fi and fantasy novels. Perhaps it's the geographer in me, but world-building and exploring new societies is something I really enjoy doing through my writing, so for now, that's where my stories will go as that's where my heart lies. It's great to have a break from all the non-fiction fashion stuff I write for the blog too! Fashion does still find its way into my novels though - each of my characters have their own distinct style, and I see their outfits as clearly as everything else about them.

How long did it take The Elites to get from inside your head to retailers, readers and reviewers?
In total, around four years! But that's from the moment I first had the idea back in my second year in university to a few weeks from now, when the novel comes out in bookstores. I didn't actually start writing The Elites properly until February 2012. Before this, I had only jotted down a few snippets of scenes and ideas. When I started writing the story properly, it took around four to five months to get the first draft done. I landed an agent a month later, and then a publishing deal a couple of months after that! Over the last few months, I've not actually spent that much time with The Elites, as it's been my publisher's turn to work on it and prepare for publication. So starting from when I properly began writing last year, it's taken a year and a half :)

How did you come up with the beautiful names for the characters in The Elites?
Oh I'm so glad you like them! I've been overwhelmed by the response to my characters' names - I was genuinely a bit worried readers might find them too weird. Quite a few people snigger when I tell them there's a boy called Butterfly. But personally, I've aways loved different names - it gives stories an extra uniqueness. And as The Elites is set in the future, names would have evolved anyway.

Some of the names in The Elites (like Akhezo, Allum and Taiyo) came from trying to find names that sounded as though they suited their ethnicity. All the characters who are Elites also have meanings to their names. Allum actually came from a mix of researching African names and as a reference to aluminium, because he's so strong! Then Ember's name matches her fiery temper (and her flame-red hair), and Butterfly's is of course from him having wings. Taiyo actually means bright or sun or sunlight in Japanese, which I think suits her personality perfectly. And Silver's name ... well, you'll just have to read the book to find out the meaning behind that ;)  

Characters names are so important to me. They often arrive along with the character, though sometimes I do need to have a feel around for the right name. I just can't write a character until I've found it!

If The Elites was offered a movie deal, who would you pick to play Silver and Butterfly?  
I've always imagined Silver as a young Kristin Kreuk - she's got that mix of ethnicities that give her a really exotic look, and she's small and slender, but still has a sense of strength. I guess Shay Mitchell from Pretty Little Liars would make a good Silver too in that way, though she's a bit too sexy looking! As for Butterfly, I've always thought he'd look like a mix of Adam Brody and Henry Cavill (but maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part, hehe ...)

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
I've got some writing tips up on my author blog, but number 4 is my favourite. Write for yourself. Only by writing the books you love as a reader will you write books your readers will fall in love with. I think this is so important. Write from the heart, explore issues that interest and challenge you, create characters that capture your emotions. Stay true to yourself. Don't try and mimic other writers' success (though definitely learn from the ones you admire), just focus on getting out the stories that are inside your own heart.

Another piece of advice - go for it! If you really want to write, then do it, and don't let anyone stop you. Of course, don't just quit your job (unless you're lucky enough to be able to afford to do so)! But make the time for writing. If you really want it, you'll scrape every spare minute in the day to spend with your story. I have three jobs now, one of which is writing, and so sometimes that means I'm typing away well past midnight, or early in the morning at the weekend. But it's worth the effort to be able to live my dream.

Are there any certain authors that have inspired you throughout your life?
Oh so many! I am constantly inspired by the books I read. Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell's The Edge Chronicles was one of those childhood books that made me dream about jumping into the pages. It really opened my eyes to the creativity of the fantasy genre and how rich and unique world building could be. The same goes for Tolkien, Philip Reeve, and all of Enid Blyton's fantasy stories. Now, I'll read anything by Rainbow Rowell, Marcus Zusak, Ian McEwan, Lemony Snicket, Elizabeth Wein, and Patrick Ness. And of course, J. K. Rowling.  

What is the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you? Sorry, I had to ask. :D
Haha :P I'm totally tactless, so there are always loads of embarrassing things happening to me! One of the times I still feel embarrassed about when I think about it was when I went for a job interview. The company had two buildings. My interviewer came to take me across to the other building for the interview, so we had to go out of the first one through a set of revolving doors. I still can't ever tell how many people one section is supposed to fit with those things! I thought these ones could take two people so I rushed in after my interviewer when he got in. Turns out, of course, each section was only really made for one person. He glanced over his shoulder in surprise and let out a surprised little, "Oh!", and we had to shuffle slowly round, my front inches from his back, until we could get out. It was mortifying, but pretty hilarious too. And he ended up offering me the job!

What is your favourite food?
I LOVE FOOD. Seriously. I cannot stress this enough. When I was editing The Elites with my agents, she was like, "I love all the food references, Tasha, but one on every single page is perhaps a little too much ..." :P It definitely comes from the Chinese side of my family - food is so important to our culture. I couldn't possibly pick just one favourite dish, so here are a few - tempura prawns, my mum's roasted belly pork, bangers and mash, chocolate, popcorn, blueberries, and Maggie Mee noodles.  

And finally, I hear your new book, The Memory Keepers, comes out in Autumn next year! Is there anything you can tell us about that?
Yes! I can't wait to share it with everyone! Like The Elites, The Memory Keepers is a YA sci-fi novel, though this time the setting is a futuristic London. Technology has progressed to the point where people are able to make recordings of their memories, and some of these memories are traded as commodities for people to 'surf' (i.e experience them for themselves).

The story follows Seven, a boy who steals memories to trade on the black market, and a privileged but sheltered girl called Alba, who is from one of the most prominent families in London. Alba discovers Seven when he breaks into her home one night to steal a memory. But instead of giving him away, and for reasons he'll later learn, Alba promises to keep it a secret if Seven takes her back to his flat to memory surf. Together, they end up discovering a memory about Seven himself, and they try and uncover what his hidden past means before they are found by those that want his secret for themselves.

I'm really enjoying writing The Memory Keepers and am so excited to see what everyone thinks :) I hope it'll appeal to readers who enjoyed The Elites as there's similar themes of friendship, conspiracy, social inequality, young romance, and characters who have to find the courage to rise up against forces far bigger than themselves.


  1. FABULOUS interview, Amber! I seriously cannot wait to read The Elites and The Memory Keepers. Keep up the good work! :)

    1. Thank you! The Elites is AMAZING. I can't wait for The Memory Keepers either, it sounds brilliant!

  2. I'd bookmarked this for commenting before the cookie promise, but I can't say I the added incentive doesn't appeal ;) Great interview, Amber :)

  3. I am so excited to read The Elites! I've got a copy on it's way in the mail, and as son as it arrives I'm getting stuck-in. You ask such great questions, Amber! I think it's so interesting about all Natasha's different interests and how she studied Geography, is a fashion blogger then fantasy writer. A bit of everything! :)

    1. You'll love The Elites! I know, I found Natasha's interview really interesting too - it's so cool when people can do so many different things! Thanks Sophie :-)