I was so excited to be able to interview Natasha Ngan, author of The Elites- an epic fantasy tale I read a few weeks ago and absolutely fell in love with! I wasn’t quite sure on what theme to have the questions on at first. However, because I was so interested in the breath-taking, original world that Natasha set her debut novel in, these questions and answers are all about Neo-Babel! Here’s a little bit about Natasha:
Natasha Ngan was born in St Albans, Hertfordshire, and spent her childhood in both the UK and Malaysia, where the Chinese side of her family is from. She also spent it living in two other worlds – reality, and her imagination. As an only child, books were her best friends, and though she now has real, physical, human friends, books are still every bit as important to her.
Natasha has always (only) wanted to be an author. THE ELITES is her first novel. Outside of writing YA fiction, Natasha works as a freelance social media consultant and runs a fashion and photography blog with her boyfriend Callum (www.girlinthelens.com). Follow Natasha at: http://natashangan.com or on Twitter: @girlinthelens
So… onto the interview, complete with some brilliant pictures similar to Neo-Babel!
•Where did the name, Neo Babel, come from? Does it have a deeper meaning?
I’m ashamed to admit this because names are so important to me, and usually I have them all for every setting and character in my before starting writing, but … I didn’t know what the city was called until around the middle of the first draft! I was just writing ‘City’ in place of a proper name. I think the difficulty I had with the city in The Elites is that it was created by a global governing body for a particular purpose. Therefore, it was likely to have been given a name which meant something, and it couldn’t be based on any existing place.
It was actually my dad who gave me the inspiration for the name in the end. One afternoon, we were walking through the woods near where I live, throwing around ideas for the city’s name, and he mentioned the biblical Tower of Babel – a place where a united humanity comprising of multiple ethnicities and cultures went for shelter following the Great Flood. The story of the Tower of Babel just fit so well with the history of the city in The Elites, I had to use the name! Wanting to make it a little more sci-fi (and also because it sounds cool), I then added the Neo, which means new. It seems crazy now that it took so long to find the name as it suits the city perfectly!
•Have you had any other inspirations from fantasy worlds in books, that gave you ideas for Neo Babel?
Most of the ideas for Neo-Babel actually came from my own upbringing and travels rather than any literary influences. I’ve spend a lot of my time in Malaysia, where my mother is originally from, and things like the motorbike sellers, hawker stalls, and the eating areas in the Stacks were based on restaurants or hawker markets I’ve visited out there. I also tried to inject a touch of humour and quirkiness to the city, so things like the Temple of the Fat Wives or the skylungs add a sense of uniqueness (I hope!) to Neo-Babel.
One of the book series that did inspire me though was Philip Reeve’s incredible Mortal Engines series. What I love about the world in this series is that, like Neo-Babel, it’s intensely multicultural, which I think reflects the current social climate of our world more realistically than the westerncentricism of a lot of YA books (I’m sorry to say). The action in the Mortal Engines series spans the whole globe, and it’s a joy to see different cultures and locations used throughout.
•You made the society very multicultural which caused some racial tension in the city. Why did you decide on including that?
I’ve always been interested in cultures and how they interact – it’s one of the reasons I chose to study Geography at university! Plus, living in Britain, a country which is very multicultural (especially in cities like London), has I think made me more attentive to the social and political issues of having such a mix of cultures in a relatively small space. The fact that I’m mixed-race myself and have lived in both Europe and Asia also means that multiculturalism and racial tension are topics close to my own heart.
Furthermore, I do think they are issues which are only going to become more pervasive and pressing as our world becomes increasingly interlinked, so I wanted them to be prominent themes in The Elites. I remember one early reader being shocked at the idea of the Council ‘proving’ the Reds (ethnic Chinese) inferior or superior through DNA. I think she thought I was a bit racist myself for suggesting so! But the sad truth is, it’s something that has happened time and time again in our past – look at how the Nazis used science to ‘prove’ the superiority of the Aryan race. Governments are always manipulating science to support their own policies and ideals. It can be a powerful tool of oppression.
•What sparked the idea for The Elites, the guardians of the city?
The entire story began with a single line – “There is a rumour that the Elites don’t bleed”. As you know, that’s still the first line of the book! But when that line came to me, fully formed in my head, I didn’t really have any idea who these Elites where or why there’d be a rumour about them being superhuman. Then the concept of this futuristic city where people are streamed at birth according to their DNA started forming, and it made sense that these Elites would be those with the ‘best’ DNA. And if the government kept an air of mystery around them, it seemed probable that the citizens of Neo-Babel might think they were superhuman, especially combined with the superstitions and spiritual beliefs of some of the cultures there.
•If you were to be living in Neo Babel, what would you be doing for a living there?
Well I would definitely not be an Elite! I’m an academic at heart – reading, researching, and writing essays (yup, I like writing essays) all make me happy, and are things that I seem to be good at, so I’d probably be working in one of the museums or for the Council writing things. But I’m very much like many of the characters in the books in that I believe in freedom of speech and multiple accounts of history, so I’m not sure how I’d deal with the restrictions. I don’t think I’d be brave enough to escape to the Limpets though. There are so many things I love about Neo-Babel! The riverside promenades, floating arcades, the beautiful gardens in the Council District, all the ethnic hubs, THE FOOD.
•have you got any Top fantasy/future worlds from books and films?
Loads! I absolutely adore The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, and if I had to choose just one fantasy world to visit it’d be the Edge. I stare at the illustrations and maps and just wish I could dive into them! Another fantasy place I think would be really fun (if a little bonkers) to visit would be the Kingdom of Wisdom in Norton Juster’s utterly brilliant The Phantom Tollbooth. It’s totally surreal but magical. I’d especially love to see the sunrise orchestra – that’s one of my all-time favourite scenes of any book, ever. And of course, J. K. Rowling’s version of our world in Harry Potter is just mesmerising. I’d love to go shopping in Diagon Alley and explore the Ministry of Magic for myself. I’m still waiting for my letter of acceptance from Hogwarts …
•Can I have a pet micro panda please? I spotted one mentioned in your book in a description of the city. AND I WANT ONE SO BAAAD.
Hehe, everyone keeps telling me they want one! They’d just be the cutest, wouldn’t they?
Thanks, Natasha, for answering my interview questions with some brilliant stuff! Be sure to check out The Elites when it’s published- It’s a gripping fantasy that’s just unmissable for teens! click HERE for my review of The Elites!