The Next J.K. Rowling? This Author Doesn't Think So

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_MG_8908-2Photographed by Eva K. Salvi

“I always had a big imagination,” says Samantha Shannon. “When I was a kid, I’d think up sequels to my favorite films and books or short stories before I went to sleep.” She’s not alone there. In childhood, we all had our little imaginary dream worlds populated by favorite characters and our own inventions. The difference with Samantha Shannon — the hailed 21-year-old author of this season’s most hotly anticipated fantasy novel, The Bone Season — is she never stopped building those worlds.

At 13, Shannon took pen to paper for the first time, embarked on her first novel at 15, and was deep into the development of The Bone Season throughout her college years at Oxford University. Now, she’s graduated straight from classes into a whirlwind of publicity and international press coverage that pegs her as, “the next J.K. Rowling.” “There’s been a lot of early interest in the book,” she says of the rounds of morning-show interviews and magazine pieces in a classic example of British understatement.

As we talked to her, however, she seemed fairly undaunted for someone supporting her first novel and, let’s face it, so young. “It’s kept me very busy,” she says, “I do sometimes lose focus on things. But I haven’t suddenly had to become deadly serious about everything.”

Our guess as to why this newly minted literary star (who already has a movie deal and a contract for six more Bone Season sequels, btw) has kept her relative cool? She’s still doing the same things she did in her childhood bedroom. “Building the imaginary world is my favorite part of the writing process,” she says, “and I thrive on breaking boundaries and challenging ‘genre etiquette.’” Point of fact, in the world she’s built for The Bone Season, gramophones and Victorian clothes live right alongside psychic powers and 22nd-century technology. “I strive to write the story I want to write,” she says, “even if that means mixing elements from several genres together.”

Underneath its trappings, Shannon says, the novel is, “an exploration of freedom — what it means, how we get it, how we hold onto it — dominance, suppression, class warfare, and what it means to be human.” It’s heady, ambitious stuff — just the kind of thing you’d expect from a recent college grad.

We had a quick chat with the author (whose book debuts Tuesday!) about her process, learning to swim in the publishing world, and how she’s not the next J.K. Rowling.

Hitting the Books
“I was 19 when I started The Bone Season — a very different person. I was painfully shy when I first turned up at Oxford. I don’t think I could have done interviews on live TV back then. At university, I was mostly an indoor girl. Even in my final year, [I] was watching The Apprentice between study stints. Where other students did drama or music or sport alongside their degrees, I wrote. Luckily, I made some wonderful friends who were supportive of my writing and understood when I couldn’t make it out. But, yes, I’ve been drunk and made bad decisions, just like any student.”

“The Next J.K. Rowling?”
“[Being compared to J.K. Rowling] has been overwhelming, to say the least. Of course, it’s lovely to be compared to an author whose work I love so much, but I think it’s absolutely impossible for there to be a ‘next J.K. Rowling,’ especially when she’s still active and writing. She’s irreplaceable. Still, though, I’d prefer The Bone Season to be considered in its own right.”

Revenge of the Nerds
“I don’t think there is much of a ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ stigma anymore — all kinds of people love fantasy now. It’s beautiful and colorful and gritty. Author John Green said, ‘When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff,' which is not an insult at all.’ He’s right — there’s nothing wrong with liking the hell out of stuff. Fantasy fans are usually enthusiastic, dedicated, and hungry to learn about every corner of the fictional worlds they discover. If that’s ‘geekdom,' I’m proud to embrace it.”

Content Management System
“Keeping a blog has allowed me to engage with people in the industry, people who love reading and writing, and share my experiences with them. I've been overwhelmed by the support I've had from people I've never met. It’s proven to me that publishing isn’t a dying or outdated industry. It will definitely take time to adapt to the digital age, but it’s managing very well so far.”

Publishing Without Perishing
“A writer’s forte is writing, not necessarily what comes with it. Getting published requires the author to learn a wide range of new, unfamiliar skills. I can't stress enough how much work goes into creating a book these days — each one needs bespoke supervision on its way to readers. But I’ve had plenty of support from Bloomsbury, so the transition from student to full-time writer hasn’t been too jarring. Honestly, everyone in the industry — authors, agents, and publishers — shares a passion for literature, a mutual desire for a good story. That’s what keeps it ticking.”

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