I had the pleasure of meeting Marianna Shek in a middle grade writers critique group where I’ve gotten to read her wonderful words. Even though she’s all the way in Australia and I’m here in the US, technology lets us feel like that’s not very far apart. She took time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions so we can get to know her better!
Thank you for joining me here on my blog! What project are you working on at the moment? Oh I always have multiple projects on the go. I’m in the middle of editing my path-finding adventure book There Once Lived a Girl Who Wanted to be a Knight. And I’ve just finished the lay out for my fairy tale called The Stolen Button. It’s just launched on Kickstarter and I’m doing all the marketing on it now.
I’ve enjoyed your writing in There Once Lived a Girl Who Wanted to be a Knight. What’s your fairy tale, The Stolen Button, about?
It’s about a spoilt girl who nags her mother to take her to the circus. At the circus, she runs into a gypsy called Fang Fei who is jealous of her beauty and status. When Mei Ling gets trapped inside the mirror maze, Fang Fei tricks her into giving up her belly button in exchange for taking her home. You can check out some more of the beautiful illustrations here:
What inspired you to write The Stolen Button?
I was inspired to write The Stolen Button because I’ve always loved reading and writing fairy tales. Many fairy tales play with the theme of substitution – the idea that people’s identity can be usurped, for example, hearts can be stolen by planting a rose or drinking a potion. I started thinking about the meaning of different body parts and what could be the consequence if these body parts were taken.
I think sometimes moms wish we had extra body parts—like more arms to get more done! How are you able to balance work/ writing/ family?
Hhhmm… I have a very supportive family. They understand when I say ‘I’m going to work’ that what I mean is I’m going to my study to write and they don’t disturb me. I’ve just had a baby but lucky for me, he’s really easy going. For the first few months he slept like he was in a cocoon. Believe it or not, I managed to get a lot of writing down during this time. Now he’s ten months and just learnt to walk, and I’m going back to work in July so perhaps I’ll have to re-address this work/ writing/ family balance…
Babies definitely sleep a lot, especially in the early months! Do you have a writing process, and has it changed over the years?
In my twenties I use to just sit at my desk (or in a cafe with my notebook) and write whatever and whenever I felt like it. These days, I am a planner. I am very strict with research and I like to plot everything out on index cards before I start writing. So when I actually start the writing I know where I’m going 70% of the time. I do like to leave a little leeway for the characters to come to life and whisper in my ear if they don’t like where I’m leading them.
Why do you write fantasy for middle grade and young adult audiences?
I write what I read and for some reason I never stopped reading middle grade and young adult fiction. I remember browsing the bookshops in my late teens. I always got these floundering feeling of being lost and having no idea what book to buy and inevitably I always ended up in the young adult section and then I’d know exactly which book I wanted.
So what are you reading at the moment?
Just like I work on several pieces of writing at once, I also have several books on the go. At the moment, I’m reading an anthology by Helen Oyememi What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. I’ve also just bought a great find, East of the Sun West of the Moon. It’s an anthology of translated Norwegian fairytales. The illustrations are by Kay Nelsen and they’re glorious. I’m also reading a young adult book called The Bone Gap by Laura Ruby but I’m only up to chapter two so I can’t really say much about it at this stage.
Reading helps me with my writing, especially when I feel stuck. Do you ever get writer’s block?
Yes. When I first had my baby, I got writer’s block for several months. I panicked because all my creative friends had warned me that it would be years before I’d do anything creative again. But I started going to the gym when I was about 2 months post-caesarean, and that really helped. I think the physical exertion just cuts through everything. Now I try to get to the gym two to three times a week.
Wow, I definitely disagree with the thought that you wouldn’t be able to do creative things for years after a baby. And you are proving the idea wrong! Going back to your early years, what were you like at school?
Writers get asked this question a lot. I like how there’s a lot of similarities between aspiring writers growing up. They tend to be the quiet, deep thinkers but can surprise their classmates by bursts of gregariousness. I’m going to refer to my Kickstarter campaign again – not because I’m trying to plug it but because in the third paragraph, I talk about cosplaying as a kid and also there’s a cringe-worthy photo .https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/965099239/the-stolen-button
Ohh definitely worth a click!
What’s your biggest learning experience so far from the writing process?
Read every day. Keep a diary to write down the passages that you fall in love with. It will not only help improve your technique but it will inspire you to keep going when the writer’s block hits.
That’s excellent advice! Thank you, Marianna!
Don’t forget to visit her kickstarter! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/965099239/the-stolen-button
You can visit Marianna’s blog here http://www.rockonkitty.com.au
And her facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/rockonkitty/