Today we’re joined by the author of Wicked Women story ‘The First Witch of Damansara’ – Zen Cho, take it away!
Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write:
I’m a lawyer and writer who was born and raised in Malaysia. I’m currently based in London. I write fantasy novels and short fiction, generally with a sprinkling of romance and a dose of history.
How long have you been writing and how did you get started?
I’ve been scribbling bits of stories since I was all of six years old, but it took me a long time to figure out how to finish things! I got into fanfic in my teens and that got me used to sharing my writing with other people, as well as giving me an online community with whom I could talk about reading, writing and ideas. I started writing original short fiction for publication five years ago, and my first novel Sorcerer to the Crown came out in September 2015.
Which authors have influenced you and why?
The authors that have left the most lasting marks on me are those I read as a kid and teenager. Terry Pratchett, P. G. Wodehouse, Diana Wynne Jones and L. M. Montgomery are up there. I also really admire the work of Karen Lord, Amitav Ghosh and Geoff Ryman, who I read a bit later on.
Both history and fiction are replete with women who aim to misbehave – do you have a favourite wicked woman and why?
Not actually wicked, but Sybil Kathigasu was a Malayan WW2 heroine who wrote a memoir of her experiences supporting the resistance against the Japanese occupation, No Dram of Mercy. I suppose she misbehaved from the occupiers’ point of view! It’s a short book but fascinating because you can tell what a strong character she was, perhaps to the point of being overbearing – you get the impression she ruled the roost in her household. She was also very much aware of writing for the historical record – no false modesty in that regard.
For a “wicked” example, I’ve always been fond of the Chinese female pirate Ching Shih.
Your most recent book – Sorcerer to the Crown – is set in Regency England, what drew you to that era and how did you put your own twist on Regency style fiction?
I’ve always been fond of Regency England as a setting and several of my favourite authors used it to great effect – Susanna Clarke, Patrick O’Brian and Naomi Novik among them. My version has magic, of course, and centres on England’s first African Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias Wythe, and the incorrigible female magical prodigy Prunella Gentleman. I think of it as Georgette Heyer with dragons and politics.
You’ve also edited the Buku Fixi anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia – has your experience as an editor changed how you approach your own fiction?
Not really – I’m focusing on writing a novel at the moment, and I find writing novels such a different beast from writing short fiction that I can’t say I’ve been able to apply any lessons from the experience of editing Cyberpunk: Malaysia to my own writing so far. That said, it did bring home to me how much an editor is on the writer’s side – I was really invested in the short stories I worked on – and I hope I remember that when my next set of editorial notes come in!
What’s the appeal of short fiction for you and do you have any short fiction recommendations?
As a reader it’s nice to be able to explore a story and world without the time commitment you need for a whole novel. A short story is capable of making a point more efficiently and powerfully than a novel – it’s a particularly good vehicle for science fiction for that reason. Besides Cyberpunk: Malaysia, two books of short stories I’d recommend to SFF readers are the collection of James Tiptree Jr’s short fiction Her Smoke Rose Up Forever and Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio.
Room 101 time: what one genre cliché would you get rid of?
Movies suffer from this more than books – at least the kind of books I read – but I really hate the trope of the badass female character who you’re set up to think might be the chosen one, but actually the chosen one is the totally mediocre male lead.
What are you up to next?
I’m hard at work on the sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown. The only con I’ve got in the diary at the moment is Åcon 8 in Finland in May 2016 – I’m Guest of Honour and I’m really looking forward to it!
Thank you for joining us Zen Cho!
Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia. She is the author of Crawford Award-winning short story collection Spirits Abroad, and editor of anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia, both published by Buku Fixi. She has also been nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and the Pushcart Prize, and honour-listed for the Carl Brandon Society Awards, for her short fiction. Her debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, is the first in a historical fantasy trilogy published by Ace/Roc Books (US) and Pan Macmillan (UK). She lives in London with her partner and practises law in her copious free time.