Author Spotlight: Natasha Ngan talks Girls of Paper and Fire
I'm over the moon to be featuring the lovely Natasha Ngan on the blog today! Natasha grew up between Malaysia, where the Chinese side of her family is from, and the UK. This multicultural upbringing continues to influence her writing, and she is passionate about bringing diverse stories to teens. Natasha studied Geography at the University of Cambridge before working as a social media consultant and fashion blogger. In fact, she is co-owner of the fashion, travel, and lifestyle blog Girl in the Lens.
Her YA novels THE ELITES and THE MEMORY KEEPERS are out now from Hot Key Books, and GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE was just recently published by Jimmy Patterson/Little Brown (US) and Hodder & Stoughton (UK). Though it's only been out for a short time, GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE has garnered much praise, including being chosen as:
a Barnes & Noble Most Anticipated YA Fantasy of 2018
#1 on the IndieBound Kids Winter Next List
"Ngan's plot is tense and tight, her action sequences are elegant and adrenaline-soaked, and her story's stakes increase exponentially through the pulse-pounding conclusion. What most distinguishes this book, though, is how incisively and intoxicatingly Ngan writes about love."―Publisher's Weekly, starred review "This glittering commercial romance has real stakes, and the lavish, intriguingly conceptualized world will capture readers. Love stories between women are still disappointingly few in fantasy, and romance and action fans alike will find much to savor here."―Booklist "Thrust into the beauty and horror of the Hidden Palace, will this Paper Girl survive? Ideal for those seeking diverse LGBTQ fantasy stories."―Kirkus Reviews
Check out the synopsis for GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE below!
Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It's the highest honor they could hope for...and the most demeaning. This year, there's a ninth. And instead of paper, she's made of fire.
In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it's Lei they're after -- the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king's interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king's consort. There, she does the unthinkable -- she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world's entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.
And now, here's my chat with Natasha!
Hi, Natasha! Welcome and congrats on Girls of Paper and Fire. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Thank you so much! Girls is the fantasy I’ve always wanted to read – a rich Asian-inspired world brimming with mythology and cultural influences familiar to me. The fact that it’s an LGBTQIA+ love story – representation that is also important to me – wasn’t planned but felt totally fitting for the story! I was first inspired by the idea of two human courtesans of a demon king falling in love, and from there the story spiraled: who was this King? What were these girls fighting for? How could both demons and humans inhabit the same world, and what might this mean in terms of politics and power.
Lei’s story is very much one of self-empowerment. Without giving any spoilers, what’s your favorite part of her emotional journey? Was there a scene you were dying to write from the get-go?
I absolutely love Lei’s transformation. I feel so proud of her for finding her strength whilst trapped in a situation working to break her. I think the scene I was the most excited to write was also one of the scenes I was most nervous about – one of the final scenes, where her Birth-blessing pendant finally opens. These pendants hold each character’s future within in a single word. Though the book opens with Lei thinking about her possible word, I actually didn’t know what it would be until I reached that scene at the end of the draft! I’m a total pantser, and have to just hope that my subconscious knows more than me. Luckily, this time, it totally did – I’m in love with the word inside her pendant! It’s absolutely perfect for her.
What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you tackle it?
I always find first drafts challenging. Being a pantser, I go in half-blind, and have to feel my way through the story, trusting in my characters to drive the plot in the right direction. It’s a pretty painful process. I’ve tried plotting but it hasn’t yet worked for me. Fingers crossed one day it will!
As a fantasy writer, I’m always interested in world building, and yours is incredibly lush with its caste system. How did you balance inspiration with the unique vision you had for Ikhara?
World-building is one of my favourite parts of the writing process! I like to start slowly, without too much direction – just allowing myself to wallow in ideas, making notes of any and all things that come to me. Much of this is never used, but it’s through them that I stumble upon other elements that I’ll end up incorporating. As more and more ideas come, questions arrive too. By answering these, the world starts to become more fully fleshed out.
I'm a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing Girls of Paper and Fire teach you?
I agree! Girls is the fourth book I’ve written. More than the others, this is where I really started pushing myself to be more aware of structure, of character arcs – all the building-block elements of story. Since I don’t plot my books out much, I struggle to do this before I’ve written the first draft, but I am getting better at being critical with my edits and not being afraid to make big changes in order to serve the story. Working with my brilliant editor Jenny Bak really opened my eyes to how important revisions are! I was unrelenting with Girls – I pushed myself with every round of edits to improve every element the best I could.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I am having a major rewatch of Adventure Time, because I love it’s absurd sense of humour. I’m in a bit of a series hangover since finishing season two of The Handmaid’s Tale, which was excellent and harrowing viewing. In terms of reading, I’m catching up on all the YA SFF released this year that I had to avoid whilst drafting the sequel to Girls! There’s been so many great releases! Sangu Mandanna’s A Spark of White Fire is so, so good, and I am in love with Lana Popovic’s lush worldbuilding and lyrical writing in her Hibiscus Daughter duology!
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?
Never give up! There will be many, many rejections throughout your publishing journey – yes, even after being published. So though you should give your all to every book, don’t think that your entire future rests upon its success. New ideas will come, and your writing will improve with every page you fill, so keep going and stay positive.
Many thanks go out to Natasha for taking the time to tell us more about her pantsing process, world building, and how GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE came to be. Be to sure to add Natasha's lush YA fantasy to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble (who is offering an exclusive edition!) or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,