London Shah on Finding Inspiration Everywhere

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest is London Shah, author of The Light At The Bottom of the World, a YA Sci-Fi, coming from Disney Hyperion in the fall of 2019.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

Most definitely! Years ago, I watched the most magical movie—Splash. I absolutely loved it. Ever since, I fantasized about human beings, not mermaids, living underwater, and every underwater image or scene I ever saw made my pulse race. With The Light At the Bottom of the World, it was incredibly important to me that I create a submerged world otherwise as similar to our current one as possible, and not either some clinical, futuristic world we experience through the lens of hard sci-fi, or an underwater utopia experienced from the point of view of fantastical beings. Despite the entire planet being deep underwater, I wanted very much to maintain the aesthetic of life on Earth as we currently know it, avoiding an “anything goes” vibe, and lack of connection to the world—both of which I feel reduce the impact of the fantastical.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

The plot grew organically once Leyla came to mind. She is, in her own way, a fish out of water so to speak, and also possesses a fear of the unknown. I always knew I wanted her to be forced to travel and explore this underwater world, and so an adventure was on the cards early on.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Oh yes—always. You can only plan so much and weaknesses in plausibility, characterizations etc are only revealed once you write that first draft. However, my general outline remains the same. It’s usually smaller detail, and most often scene structure, that I have to change.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Oh goodness . . . There are so many, many stories already in my head! Unfortunately, I am a slow writer. But yes, the ideas and possibilities are endless—and ever growing! Any time I step outside of my home, especially if it’s just rained—and even more so if it’s the evening time—all I see are endless fantastical beings everywhere I look, lurking, curious, feeling, living beside us unseen. Other times I see us in fantastical ways. So many characters, so many possibilities—so many, many worlds to create and explore. I feel I have enough ideas to last me a lifetime, truly. Again, sadly, my pace of writing means I’ll never get most of them down.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

For me, it’s exactly how Victoria Schwab describes her own process, where the ideas are all pots on a stove, simmering away. Sometimes, for me, a new pot might cook faster than one already on the stove, depending on how strong and ready my ideas and the sense of urgency to tell that story are. I always thought a certain contemporary urban fantasy would be my second story, but once the protagonist of my current WIP crashed into my head, her character, and all these ideas for a historical fantasy, were incredibly strong. I put it on the back burner along with my contemporary urban fantasy. As I worked out what I wanted for both, I realized the new idea was not only more developed, but I was suddenly more passionate about it than the urban fantasy. So it’s the Persian historical fantasy that I’ve chosen to write next and am currently drafting—while cursing and eating for England!

I have many cats and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

I need absolute solace and silence when writing, as I’m distracted far too easily unfortunately. The only welcome distractions are regular pots of tea and an assortment of cakes!