Monday, June 3, 2013

Blog Tour - Q&A with Amy McCulloch

Something a bit different today. Isn't that fun? :)

Today's the start of Random House Canada's blog tour for Amy McCulloch's debut YA The Oathbreaker's Shadow. Now, Amy was here in May as part of the Canadian YA Lit Event, but I could say no to having her come back and talk some more about her book and about being Canadian while living in the UK. :)
Q: What was the first spark of idea that would become Raim and The Oathbreaker's Shadow? Where did it all start?

A: Funnily enough, I can remember exactly when that first spark came: while I was sitting in the Princess of Wales theatre in Toronto, waiting for the Lord of the Rings: the Musical to start. Random, right? I had gone to the theatre straight from class – a History of China class, where we had been discussing how Genghis Khan’s rule eventually led to the Mongol Empire conquering China. This same concept came coming up – of blood brothers, of men pledging their lives to their lord (or their khan). I suddenly wondered (probably something to do with watching a fantasy musical) what would happen if there was a fantasy version of that pledge. A promise with physical consequences if it was broken.

Then I had my first chapter (which actually ended up being the first chapter of Part Two in The Oathbreaker's Shadow): a young boy, scarred as an oathbreaker, exiled out into the desert, without knowing what the promise was that he had broken. Then the theatre went dark, the curtain came up, and I had to put my ideas on hold until after the three hour show ended!

Q: Promises are very important in Raim's world. What brought on the idea to have something physical and painful happen when a promise is broken, to have very real consequences?

A: I basically began to think of the worst consequence I could think of for a broken promise, beyond being struck dead or something! This is a very brutal world that Raim inhabits, similar in a way to Mongol medieval society, but heightened for fantastical purposes. You’re loyal, or you’re not. Medieval justice was sometimes very black and white! And if you’ve read the book, you’ll know that actually the physical pain/scar is not actually the worst part... in my opinion, it's the shadow that is worse than the scar.

Q: You've mentioned that you were inspired by distant places like India, Pakistan, and Mongolia, but you've also said that at its heart it's a Canadian novel. Was it at all complicated to combine setting and theme or did it come together easily?

A: It did all come together quite naturally for me – and I think being Canadian has helped that a lot. I’m a blend of cultural backgrounds myself – my Mom is Chinese, my Dad is English, and they own their own carpet store in Ottawa so I spent a fair bit of my childhood traveling to far flung places. I’m always struck by the similarities between cultures, as well as differences. I think that’s why this notion of fealty was so appealing to me: I’m a student of Old English and Medieval literature as well, so I know that the concept of fealty was fairly universal across the world – despite the disparate cultures! I also find it fascinating that it is a pretty ancient concept now. You don’t see too many people actively promising their lives in defence of another person these days (maybe a cause, or a country, but not a specific person…)

Q: You were born in the UK, moved to Canada, and now you're back in the UK. Is there one you prefer over the other, or to they both have their own unique charm?

This is pretty easy for me – I prefer Canada! I’ll be back (she says, in true Terminator fashion). I just love the Canadian way of life, the laidback attitude, embracing the outdoors and, oh yeah, the space! Haha. But actually, the UK has been pretty great to me – I came here to get into publishing as the London scene is bigger than Toronto (and marginally less competitive), which I succeeded in doing (I now work as a Commissioning editor for HarperVoyager, the SFF imprint of HarperCollins). And it’s been awesome to be here during the Royal Wedding, the Olympics and the Jubilee – London has totally come alive. Plus, you can’t beat the proximity to Europe for easy long weekend city breaks!  I’m just trying to enjoy my time here as much as possible, before coming back to Canada to settle down.

Q: Is there anything you miss from Canada that's hard to come by in the UK? The Timbits, the poutine, the maple leaf plastered on just about anything and everything?

A: Is it a cop out to say my parent’s cooking? I definitely miss that. Timbits, poutine, maple leaf, check, check, check, but I also miss the Canadian summers, NHL and my cottage.

Thanks for the great interview, Lindsay, and for having me on Canadian YA authors month!

Many thanks to Amy for answering my questions and to Random House Canada for the chance to take part in the blog tour. Here's the whole tour schedule so you know where to go this week. :)

Me On Books: June 3, 2013
More Than Just Magic: June 5, 2013
Retreat by Random House: June 7, 2013

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