I have Suzannah Rowntree, author of Ten Thousand Thorns, with me today. Well, not really because … we happen to live on different continents. But with the wonder of the internet, she is here, with me on my blog …
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WHEN DID YOU THINK ‘LET ME SET THIS FAIRY TALE IN CHINA’ AND WHAT BROUGHT IT ABOUT?
Haha! OK, I’ll be honest with you: it was while I was watching a movie called THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM with my sisters. I know, a lot of wuxia fans detest that movie as a lamesauce American homage to the genre, but then again, it does have that epic Jet Li/Jackie Chan duel in it, and none of the great Chinese wuxia films have that, so. I’d always loved these adventurous, fantastic, and beautiful martial arts films (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and HERO must be the ones most familiar to Western viewers), but it was while I was thinking about the philosophical underpinnings to Taoism as they cropped up in THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM that I got the idea of telling Sleeping Beauty in this style. It occurred to me suddenly that in China, a princess wouldn’t be cursed to sleep for a hundred years: on the contrary, she would meditate, not sleep, and it would be this wonderful spiritual blessing. Or would it?
This would also give me the opportunity to write a Sleeping Beauty retelling that was absolutely chock-full of kung-fu action scenes. I mentioned the idea to my bro the same evening, and from the look of awe and anticipation that crossed his face, I knew it was a winner.
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THE WISE SAYINGS – HOW AND WHERE DID THEY COME FROM? DID YOU MAKE THEM? CAN I STEAL YOUR BRAINS? WERE THEY INSPIRED FROM SOMEWHERE?
I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t make them up myself. I don’t have that level of brains! I just spent a lot of time trawling through collections of Chinese proverbs online. Aren’t they marvellous? I did this because my Chinese beta reader told me that one’s martial arts master is supposed to speak in wise riddles, which the disciple is then supposed to figure out for himself. And if you can figure out what your martial arts master is saying, that proves you’re worthy to be his disciple. I thought the best way to get that effect and make it authentic would be to pepper his dialogue with gems of Chinese wisdom.
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HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE TEN THOUSAND THORNS?
The actual writing wasn’t too bad, though with other projects in the mix it took about a year from beginning to end. I took a month to write the first draft, a month to write the second draft, and another month to apply the edits suggested by my first-round beta readers. It usually doesn’t take me this long to do edits, but I had a Chinese
beta reader whose critique was very challenging and far-reaching. He gave me amazing help.
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WHAT WAS YOUR WRITING PROCESS LIKE?
I tend to plan on a macro level. I’ll start with a concept and some research. I watched a lot of Chinese films and read two very long classic wuxia novels to prepare, which took me months. I also watched the director’s commentary for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (yes, I spent a lot of my “work” days watching entertaining foreign films. I did not feel guilty about this at all).
I kept detailed notes of interesting things I noticed that seemed relevant to the story’s theme or a fun part of the martial arts story world: blood brothers, shocking betrayals, intense tea nerdery. Once I had all these details under my belt, I was able to construct a basic plot outline that expressed the theme and drew on all these elements that I enjoyed, hopefully also weaving them into something new. Then it was just doing the writing itself, which I usually do in a boring manner from nine till five with the assistance of silence and a succession of cups of tea.
One thing I did do differently for TEN THOUSAND THORNS was to adopt a slightly different writing style than usual. It’s a bit more pulpy, a bit more humorous, and draws on the diction (in English) of Chinese friends and literature.
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I WAS REALLY IMPRESSED BY THE TITULAR ‘THORNS’ – DID THE IDEA FOR WHAT THEY WOULD BE SPRING INTO YOUR MIND OR WAS IT A TAKE ON THE FAIRY TALE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO?
Aha! That particular concept just came packaged along with the genre. Once I connected the dots between Sleeping Beauty and wuxia, it was obvious what I was going to do with the thorns. The Chinese proverb “crouching tigers and hidden dragons” itself refers to the fact that you can never tell when someone or something will turn out to be highly dangerous and/or well-trained. Just watch any wuxia film and you’ll see that this is true. And that’s all I’ll say about that 😉
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WAS THERE A PARTICULAR SCENE THAT YOU REALLY ENJOYED WRITING?
Oh help. All of them? This novella was pure joy from beginning to end. Maybe I particularly loved the scene with the old lady at Wudang, and all of Iron Maiden and Clouded Sky’s duels in the first half. They had such fun interactions.
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IF YOU COULD TIME TRAVEL – RIGHT NOW – TO ANY HISTORICAL TIME PERIOD, WHICH WOULD IT BE?
[A WORD OF WARNING – I HEAR JUNE 1348 IN ENGLAND IS A BAD YEAR TO PICK]
Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere in 1348. I even avoid fiction set during that time because I know it’s not going to end well, especially if it has ominous words like “domesday” in the title. No, I’d like to visit Jerusalem in 1183 to do research on my OUTREMER project. Saladin called it “a garden of paradise” and I would just love to see the amazing architecture and mosaics and fabulous clothes they all would have been getting around in.
THANKS FOR STOPPING BY, SUZANNAH!
When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, writing historical fantasy fiction informed by a covenantal Christian perspective on history.
If you like the fiction of CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, Stephen Lawhead, or ND Wilson, you’ll probably enjoy her stories too.