Natasha Ngan on trigger warnings, writing struggles and Girls of Storm and Shadow
"Write honestly. Openly. With heart and kindness and hope. There are readers who need to hear what you have to say."
Girls of Paper and Fire, book one in Natasha Ngan‘s epic fantasy trilogy had readers’ hearts pounding and breaking in equal measures. It’s gut-wrenching, action-packed and filled to the brim with heart, soul and care. Now, after a long years wait, the time to read book two has finally arrived. Girls of Storm and Shadow picks up where Girls of Paper and Fire left off and, unsurprisingly, it’s just as epic, gripping and wonderful as book one and we were lucky enough to have to chance to talk to Natasha all about it.
Since Girls of Storm and Shadow is the sequel to Girls of Paper and Fire, how would you describe the trilogy to readers who may not be familiar with its story?
Two queer teen concubines take on the patriarchy!
You’re a yoga teacher by day and an author by night, do you have tips for aspiring authors in terms of balancing everyday commitments and writing?
Oh god, it’s so, so hard. It’s something I struggle with, and I definitely go through periods where I’m better at balancing and then others where I’m just struggling to keep my head above water! I also have a chronic health condition, and so my health gets in the way of my work a lot, making things tougher. I think on a practical level, when it comes to writing, the thing that’s helped the most is learning to write anywhere and anyhow. Before I was published, I would write in the same specific place at roughly the same times. Once you’re published, you might be travelling a lot for promotion, be on deadlines for one book whilst you work on another, and you also have a lot of pressure from your publishers and expectations of readers. So with my new books, I had to throw away that ideal writing situation and just get used to writing little bits between travelling, or focusing on promotional work one day and drafting/editing the next. Once you’re able to make use of those small spaces to squeeze in writing time and let go of the need for a ‘perfect’ writing session, it really helps!
Girls of Paper and Fire is special in that it features a trigger warning, something a lot of readers (especially those of YA) have been asking for in books for a while now, was this something that was important for you to add?
I always wanted readers to go into GOPAF prepared. It’s not the easiest book to read, and there’s no reason for anyone to face the story without knowing just what they are going to encounter. I’m really glad content warnings are becoming more widely used.
In the Girls of Paper and Fire author’s note, you discussed some of your reasonings behind writing GOPAF, did putting so much of yourself in your writing bring up any difficulties or did it make the experience even more personal?
Both, I think. It wasn’t actually too bad when drafting – it was more so having to talk about the book and the inspiration behind it when doing promotional stuff that it got really hard. Talking about what happened to me over and over again… it’s tough. But it’s also very important to talk if I’m able, and I’m honoured how much my book has meant to some survivors of sexual assault. I didn’t have this book at the time I needed it, so it’s incredibly humbling and meaningful to me that it can be that safe space for others.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who are writing stories surrounding their own identity and experiences?
Don’t feel like you have to bare every part of yourself, but if it’s important to you if it’s screaming to come out, write boldly. Write honestly. Openly. With heart and kindness and hope. There are readers who need to hear what you have to say.
Book two is heavier on the battle/war strategy front than book one. What was it like writing these kinds of scenes?
Action scenes are super fun to write! I love playing video games, and I felt like I was in the middle of one writing all the training and fight scenes.
The Girls of Paper and Fire series features a three-tiered caste system, in which the lower your caste, the poorer you’re treated. Did the world’s current political climate and the pitiful way minorities and people with certain identities are treated and ostracised, in terms of race and sexuality etc., inspire this in any way?
Oh, definitely. I always call GIRLS my rage book. It’s a lot about all the things I hate about the world, and how I wish I could fight it more head-on in the way my characters do.
Girls of Storm and Shadow introduces us to some brilliant new characters, such as Merrin the bird demon and Nitta and Bo, the leopard demon siblings. Out of the numerous new faces, do you have a secret favourite?
Bo! He’s the best. I love how he has an opinion on everything and is constantly irritating everyone. He made me laugh so many times.
Both Girls of Paper and Fire and Girls of Storm and Shadow feature so many beautifully described demons, each with distinct animal features. How did you go about deciding which specific animal features to give to each character?
Thank you! Honestly, I’m not sure where my characters come from – they sort of arrive practically whole in my head? I love that they are kind of tied to their demon forms though, how their personalities and behaviours are shaped by the animal they come from.
If you were a demon, what form do you think you’d take?
I’d probably be a cat – but not a big one. More of a house cat that likes to nap and laze in the sun, and get cuddles on demand but gets her space when she wants it! Aha.
Girls of Storm and Shadow ended on a pretty intense cliff-hanger. Can you give readers any hint as to what we can expect from book three?
Book three will be split point of view, between Wren and Lei. And… that’s pretty much all I can say!