Interview with Natasha Ngan | Weaving Pages: Interview with Natasha Ngan

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Interview with Natasha Ngan

Hi Natasha!

Welcome to Weaving Pages! To start off, would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and your upcoming novel: The Elites?

I'm a half-Chinese, half-English girl who grew up living between Malaysia and England. I studied Geography at university before going to work 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 too! The last is obviously my favourite ;) 

The Elites is my debut novel. It's set in a city in the future where no one ever enters, and no one leaves. The story 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, discovering in turn just what is outside its walls. The Elites is an adventure story with dashings of romance, sci-fi, fantasy, and social commentary! 

How did you come up with the idea for The Elites? Did you have any inspiration? Any Behind the Story facts you'd like to share?

The whole idea actually started with the first line, which is still the same to this day - "There is a rumour that the Elites don't bleed." It just popped into my head one day, and I started wondering - who are these Elites? Why might there be this rumour about them? What kind of world is this? And the novel began to develop from there. The city of Neo-Babel came first, and then the characters started arriving in my mind. Plot for me tends to come last, though I have some sense of what the story is about. But it's the characters really who develop it for me as they take me on their journey.

The inspiration behind The Elites came from a mix of my own background, what I was studying at the time (I first had the idea for the book in my second year of university) and my political interests. I've always been fascinated in the nature versus nurture debate, and with current scientific advances in genetic profiling and screening etc, it seemed the right time to be writing a story about these sorts of issues. Race is also a bit part of the novel, and that is definitely inspired by my mixed race background and living in such a multicultural country.  

You talked to me about making time for writing, could you talk about that to the readers?

For me, writing is a compulsion. The words and stories and characters are there in my head, so I have to write to get them out - or I'd go crazy! But it's also very much a discipline. I have three jobs, one of which is writing, and juggling them can be very stressful, especially with my poor health (I've talked more about that here if you're interested). So many people tell me they don't have time to write, which I think is the wrong way to look at it. If you want something enough, you'll make the time for it - even if it means sacrificing social time, weekends or losing sleep (I wrote most of The Elites between 10pm-1am!). 

One tip for making the time to write is to figure out how long it takes you to write a certain number of words or a chapter. For me, it takes two hours to get a chapter of around 1,500 words done if I'm concentrating properly. One chapter a day, five days a week is my usual target. So as long as I can scrape together two hours in a day to sit my butt down and write, I can achieve my daily goal. But try not to be too hard on yourself. Even if you write for five minutes, or just think about your story for a while, it's way better than doing nothing at all :)  

Do you think that you are similar to any of your characters, in any way?

I don't think so. Some people think I'm like Silver, but that's probably only because we both have Chinese blood. I'm much less conflicted or insecure than she is - I have never experienced racism the way she has, or had to deal with someone like Ember! My views are probably more in line with Butterfly, who firmly believes in being the best person you can be, no matter all the crappy things life might throw at you. 

Was writer's block ever an issue whilst writing The Elites?

For me, writer's block hits when I'm not sure about the direction in which a scene or plot-line is going. I'm not an author that can do draft after draft after draft - I tend to edit as I go along. If I feel like something isn't right, I can get held up for days trying to figure out how to make it work. I can't ignore it and move forward. My instincts just keep screaming at me to stop and fix it! 

I also get writer's block to some extent every single day when I sit down to write. It's so scary, that moment just before beginning, when you're facing a blank page and the words are hovering on the tips of your fingers, ready to come out but afraid to at the same time. I always worry that what I'm going to write won't live up to how I've imagined it in my head, or just that what I write will be rubbish. But once I start, it gets a little easier, and usually by the end of a chapter I can look back and be happy with what I've written. 

Your characters have awesome names! How do you come up with them, and is there any inspiration behind them?

Yay! So glad you like them :) Names are super important to me, and I have a bit of a strange taste - I like weird, different names. Some of the names come naturally to me, like Silver and Butterfly, but there are always reasons behind them. In The Elites, since there are so many different cultures and ethnicity, coming up with names that matched a character's racial background was always really important. That's how I came up with Akhezo, Allum, Taiyo etc. I play around with the name in my head, visualising the character, to make sure it fits them. I can't write a character until I've found the right name for them.

All the characters in the book who are Elites also have meanings behind their names, since they're given them by the Council. Ember's name matches her fiery personality and fierce determination, as well as her flame-red hair, while Butterfly's name obviously comes from him having wings. Butterfly has been a really controversial name - some readers love it, while others think it's too wimpy for a guy! I think his character is strong enough to pull it off though. I can't imagine him with any other name!     

What was your favourite scene to write?

Great question! I'm a bit weird and mean in that I really enjoy writing the scenes where bad things are happening to my characters. I find those scenes take on a momentum of their own, and the words come more easily. In The Elites, it was that scene about half-way through the book - you know the one. The one where Bad Stuff Happens. That felt like the turning point of the whole book for me, as it completely changed how Silver saw the world, and the things that happened during that scene haunt her and Butterfly for the rest of the story. I wrote those few chapters so quickly, the words just fell out of my fingertips. I literally felt breathless writing them!

I also really loved writing the ending, especially the very last pages. I felt so proud of Silver and how far she'd come from the beginning of the book, and it was really special for me to share that moment with her.

Quick Fire:

Unicorns are real, Yes or No? (It's a blogger thing...)
Um ... no? 
Blogging or Writing?
Favourite Film:
At the moment, The Great Gatsby. 
Favourite Book:
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.
Ice Cream or Chocolate?
Mean question. Lots of both, please!
Dogs or Cats?
Dogs, though cats are growing on me. 
Favourite place to write:
Anywhere my MacBook Air is. 
Dream Holiday:
This little island called Pangkor Laut in Malaysia - I'd love to go back there for weeks rather than days, with nothing but my laptop, books and boyfriend for company. 

Thanks for joining me on the blog! I hope everyone liked this interview, and look out for Natasha's book, The Elites, which is coming out it September!
 Bye! xx

rita xo

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