Get ready to question what you’re doing with your life. Samantha Shannon, a 21-year-old student currently pursuing a degree in English literature at Oxford University, has written The Bone Season, the first volume in a seven-book series. It has already been sold in 18 countries, and the film rights have been snapped up by The Imaginarium Studios, led by Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings) and Jonathan Cavendish (producer of Bridget Jones’ Diary). The global publication of The Bone Season doesn’t happen until August of this year, but we have the first-ever look at the cover, plus an interview and exclusive excerpt from the young author the Daily Mail has hailed as the possible “next J.K. Rowling.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired the story?
SAMANTHA SHANNON: In 2011 I did an internship in Seven Dials, a junction in London where seven roads come together. I’d given up on writing after multiple rejections for my first novel, and I was starting to consider a career in publishing instead, but Seven Dials gave me such a strong idea for a setting that I couldn’t resist picking up my pen again. I’d been interested in parapsychology and divination for a few years, as well as Elizabethan rogue literature, which introduced ordinary Londoners to the city’s underworld. My ideas came together in a future world populated by clairvoyants, with a spirit trade and a criminal network. Once I had that world constructed, the plot came easily. The cover is based on one of the faces on the sundial pillar at Seven Dials.
Tell me about your road to becoming a published author.
I’ve been writing since I was about thirteen, but didn’t start a book until 2007. I spent four years writing a sci-fi novel before I wrote The Bone Season at nineteen. I think what made it work was my experimentation with first-person. It took a lot of courage to try writing from inside a character’s head, but I’m so glad I tried it! I clicked with Paige, my narrator, as soon as I started the first chapter. Bloomsbury showed so much passion for her and for the story, I couldn’t have gone with anyone else.
What about Oxford lends itself to be a great setting for fantasy?
What I like about Oxford is how small it is; it’s really more of a big town than a city. Working in such a small area made it easy to remodel for the book. To me, Oxford represents an unsettling blend of tradition, ritual and innovation, which works well in fantasy and suited the retro-futuristic world I wanted to create. My Oxford — which is no longer called Oxford in the book — is an archaic prison city, in contrast to the ultramodern Scion London. Paige finds herself having to claw her way up the hierarchy in order to survive.
What are your literary influences?
My top three are Emily Dickinson, John Donne and Margaret Atwood. I studied Dickinson for my Special Author paper last year – probably my best term at university! Donne has a special place in my heart; it was his work that first triggered my interest in creating a new idea of the afterlife. My English teachers gave me a copy of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale when I left high school, which has always been very special to me — it was the novel that introduced me to dystopian fiction. I’m also influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, Dickens, John Wyndham and Middle English dream-visions.
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The Bone Season