The Daring Dreamwalker: An Interview with Samantha Shannon.

samantha shannonTeeny plot spoilers, so I’d avoid this until you’ve read it – if you plan to! I don’t want to be the reason you had any part of this super book spoiled.

There’s been an odd duality to the teen heroine these last few years. There’s been the Bella spin offs, those who find validation in an attractive male, no matter their own strengths. There’s the knee-jerk reactions, the Katniss Everdeens that kick ass and cast desirability to the side. There is, however, a new character making the rounds, treading the line of strength and femininity, with mistakes all being a part of human nature.

Paige Mahoney.

Not heard of her yet? It’s a fair bet that you soon will. Creation of Samantha Shannon, Oxford graduate and young author, the heroine of The Bone Season lives in a world where to be clairvoyant is to be unaccepted, and where her gift is rarer than most – to be a dreamwalker.

From the first chapter where she chose her own path rather than follow her father’s wishes to go to University, Paige has a sense of character many heroines lack. Going into the process, this is one trait that Samantha had in mind for her leading lady, wanting her to be “independent.”

It’s soon apparent that her strengths lie beyond her mere choices, with her ability to stand up to what is wrong being key. “[She is] essentially good-hearted, but not unconditionally compassionate – she lives in a tough world,” Samantha explains. “I’m very concerned with the bystander effect – I think it’s one of the most frightening aspects of modern life – and I wanted her to be the sort of character that would speak when she saw injustice, or someone in need of help. I didn’t want her to fall prey to apathy.”

Far from being the lacklustre teen whose life is turned upside down, she has known she was different for many years. More so, Paige has a real back story, originating in a turbulent period in Ireland’s history – the Molly Riots. “On the first day of the riots, which were started by students in Dublin, she witnessed acts of terrible injustice as Scion violently suppressed the rebelling population.

“Her cousin Finn’s actions also had an effect on her that day: after seeing his girlfriend shot dead, he left the young Paige to fend for herself when he ran into the fray to take out his rage on the soldiers. She realised then that she couldn’t always rely on others to protect her.”

This, it seems, may be a particular driving force in her own protective nature. When in danger herself, she fears compromising the safety of the Seven Seals – the illicit clairvoyant group in which she operates – above all else; when seeing injustice against a young, defenceless boy Seb – a youngster stolen away with her in Bone Season XX, she speaks up. She is ingrained with the need to protect.

“She’s immediately protective of Seb because she sees her younger self in him. For a number of reasons, she often felt alone and different as a child. Seb is one of the only amaurotics taken during Bone Season XX, and although the amaurotic population rarely does anything to help voyants, Paige feels compelled to keep an eye on him. With only limited knowledge of clairvoyance and how it works, he is twice as vulnerable in Sheol I. Her loyalty to the Seven Seals is complicated and will be examined further in the book’s sequel, The Mime Order. ”

The depth of character is certainly ticked by this point, but Samantha’s main success in terms of bucking the literary clichés is to toy with the power paradigm within relationships. Paige is subservient by status to the Warden, but not by nature. The patriarchal structure tips to the dominant male, but refuses to fall into the cliché.

Their dynamics transcend the typical boy-meets-girl story line, where good looks do not excuse bad choices. ‘”Insta-love” was one trend I hoped to avoid,” she admits. “Although Paige does take note of Warden’s physical appearance when she first sees him, I didn’t want her to excuse or forgive his ownership of her because of how he looks, or sympathise with a man who has just staked a claim on her life.

“I knew I was setting up a complex relationship when I imagined Warden and Paige’s situation. Although they are ostensibly master and slave, it’s really a political masquerade that Warden upholds in order to help her.

“He chose her as his tenant so she wouldn’t fall into the hands of a Sargas keeper, but to make it work, it was critical that Warden never abused the power he was given. I wanted their relationship to be a slow-burn: a gradual discovery of motives, eventually leading to enough trust between the pair to justify a moment of intimacy.”

bone seasonThe automatic urge to counter an issue by doing the exact opposite is deftly avoided, as it transpires Paige actually has wanted to be seen as desirable as a background notion, without judgement cast. Years spent being praised for her talents, a real part of her wants to be viewed as a mere woman. “She does wish to be seen for herself, and not for her gift, which has often defined her relationships with others. That doesn’t just apply to finding a partner; it’s something she seeks in people in general, even her enemies.

“If someone came along and they connected, she wouldn’t dismiss the idea of a relationship, but trying to make herself “desirable” in a romantic sense isn’t a concern. In the first book, her main desire is to survive and break out of the colony, while learning as much as she can about the Rephaim.”

Through flashbacks, the reader can see that the pain of depending on someone who wanted someone else tips the scales in seeking personal validation, albeit fleetingly. Paige succumbs to something simply normal, the one-night stand, without that odd shade cast over the notion. “It just wouldn’t have occurred to me to pass judgement on Paige during that scene,” she says. “I haven’t read many Young Adult books – I’m still catching up after three years at university – but I’m aware that slut-shaming still exists in that genre.

“It isn’t even that part of the memory that’s so dark for Paige. It’s a point at which she realised she was depending too much on another person; that she’d allowed Nick, by loving someone else, to break her. I see it as an empowering moment in the long run. She learns that only she should determine her happiness. ”

By extension, she consented to the one night stand. When men get too friendly, Paige returns to speaking out. “Everyone reacts differently in those situations, and I wouldn’t dream of saying what other women should and shouldn’t do,” she explains. “It’s brilliant when that kind of behaviour is called out – if a girl is able to fend off an attacker, for example – but some people just can’t do that. Some freeze. Some say nothing.

“What was important to me was that first, Paige didn’t feel that misplaced sense of shame that many women report when they’re faced with harassment or unwanted attention; and second, that there was no victim-blaming.”

Mahoney proves that strength doesn’t just mean masculinity, and that a boyfriend doesn’t have to be the driving force to fulfillment. She is talented, smart, caring and driven. Being locked up is not an option, and she’d rather die trying than submit, with others continually put before her. More importantly, she makes mistakes. She has her own personal ups and downs, she makes errors of judgement, but she owns what she does. Is she the role model people have been looking for?

I’ve always been a little wary of the term “role model”, as nobody is perfect – Paige included. There are things she does wrong and things she does right. How she measures up as a role model depends on your moral compass.

“Paige kills three times in the book: twice by accident, once on purpose. She kisses a betrothed man. She makes people’s noses bleed out of spite. But she’s also brave, good at perceiving injustice, and kind at heart. I don’t know if that makes her a good role model, but I hope it makes her human.”

This was a part of my dissertation project looking into young adult heroines.
@heathermmcd

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