As part of #RamadanReadathon, I’ll be hosting a series of author interviews to spotlight new and upcoming releases from debut and established authors. I’m so excited to welcome London Shah on the blog today to talk about her debut novel The Light At The Bottom Of The World!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
London Shah is a British-born Muslim of Afghan descent. She has lived in Britain’s capital city for most of her life via England’s beautiful North. When she’s not busy re-imagining the past, plotting an alternate present or dreaming up a surreal future, then she’s most likely drinking copious amounts of tea, eating all the sweets and cakes, strolling through Richmond Park or along the Thames, getting lost on an evening in the city’s older, darker alleyways—preferably just after it’s rained—listening to punk rock, or losing herself in a fab SFF book or film. If she could have only one super power, it would be to breathe underwater. The Light At The Bottom Of The World is her debut novel. You can follow her on Twitter @London_Shah.
ABOUT THE LIGHT AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD
At the end of the twenty-first century, the world has changed dramatically, but life continues one thousand feet below the ocean’s surface. In Great Britain, sea creatures swim among the ruins of Big Ben and the Tower of London, and citizens waver between fear and hope; fear of what lurks in the abyss, and hope that humanity will soon discover a way to reclaim the planet.
Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen has her own problems to deal with. Her father’s been arrested, accused of taking advantage of victims of the Seasickness—a debilitating malaise that consumes people, often claiming their lives. But Leyla knows he’s innocent, and all she’s interested in is getting him back so that their lives can return to normal.
When she’s picked to race in the action-packed London Submersible Marathon, Leyla gets the chance to secure his freedom; the Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. The race takes an unexpected turn, though, and presents her with an opportunity she never wanted: Leyla must venture outside of London for the first time in her life, to find and rescue her father herself.
Now, she’ll have to brave the unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a secretive, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. As she discovers a world drowning in lies, how much longer can Leyla hold out hope for the truth? If she fails, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture—or worse. And her father might be lost forever.
Salaam, London! Thank you so much for joining us! To begin with, could you quickly introduce yourself and your debut novel The Light At The Bottom Of The World?
LS: Walaikum Assalaam, thanks so much for having me! Well, I live in Greater London via England’s beautiful north, and have now spent most of my life here. The Light at the Bottom of the World, a YA sci-fi, is my debut novel. It releases on October 29th in sha Allah, from Disney-Hyperion. The story is set in a submerged world of the future where, due to an asteroid strike that resulted in the release of all the waters held in our planet’s deep subterranean reservoirs, humanity now resides a thousand feet below the ocean’s surface. It focuses on sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen, and her quest to find her missing father.
What are the most prominent themes within the novel? What do you hope readers will take away from Leyla’s story?
LS: The most dominant theme in my debut novel is fear of change. Nostalgia is exploited to foster and drive that fear, as is fear of the other. The story also covers hope; this one, teeny tiny word that basically saves us over and over again. If readers enjoy going on this epic adventure with Leyla, and come away truly feeling that no matter how difficult things might seem, there is always hope, then I couldn’t ask for more.
As you’ve already mentioned, the story takes place in the future. In what ways is it still similar to the present, and in what ways is it different?
LS: Although humanity resides deep underwater, and we’re jumping decades ahead, my story world remains in many ways quite similar to our current one. Physically, there is much of this world still present in my futuristic one. Though in bad shape, so many pre-flood structures remain visible, and the former landscape is still very much discernible. The seabed is a maze of both old and new. Life goes on, and people still work and play and love and connect. Also similar are some of humanity’s less desirable traits: Any differences are still being used against us, to divide us—the way we are taught to fear the ‘other’, all so our hearts and minds can be manipulated for the benefit of those who gain from such disconnection.
As for the ways in which my story world is different, there are so many. There’s only a trickle of natural light, and solar spheres on the surface light up the depths below. Local travel is only possible by way of submersibles, with submarines used for long-distance journeys. Entering and exiting buildings is obviously more time-consuming than it is now. The technology is of course advanced, and I had great fun creating what I wanted and needed. Replicating certain aspects of pre-floods life via technology was especially rewarding. The whole mood of the people is different, but I don’t want to reveal too much now! I would say that in all the ways that matter most, we remain connected to the world and people in my story.
With all that being said, how exactly do you approach world-building? What has been your favourite and least favourite part of writing this particular story?
LS: Oof, I approach world-building with great joy! It’s such a drug… It’s just everything. The freedom to zoom completely out of your own reality, and the power and creative release that comes with having whatever you can imagine in a whole new world! It’s a lot of hard work, but still hands-down my favourite part of the entire writing process.
I had so much fun envisioning and creating everything for my debut novel—all the society, history, settings, advanced technologies, and even with language. Thinking about how language might have evolved due to setting, and how the extreme nostalgia present in my world would also determine its usage, was exciting and fun. My least favourite part has to be drafting…*screams*. Goodness, I just find it so utterly challenging. Facing a blank page is so unbelievably hard. Even though I always have an outline! I have no discipline at all during this phase, and become so easily distracted. With every fibre of my being, I despise drafting.
And finally, if you can share with us, I’d love to know about any deleted scenes for this book. Throughout the process of drafting, did you make any significant changes to the story?
LS: Hahaha. From the first few years alone, that would be a thousand pointless scenes containing a hundred unnecessary sub-plots, resulting in the most long-winded plot and excessive amount of characters ever. But over the last couple of years I’d written good, strong scenes, and moments too, that were dropped during editing in order to strengthen the structure.
For example, I miss having my Leyla playing a game with her best friends, Theo and Tabby Campbell, in their Holozone—a large virtual reality room set up in their home. This particular game was Ripper’s Revels. The setting was gloomy, impoverished Victorian London streets, and you had to avoid Jack the Ripper catching and attacking you. Everything in the game is so real—the sights, characters, settings, sounds—and you’re completely swept up in that world! It was a fun scene, and experiencing Victorian London while you were actually in a virtual reality room deep underwater in 2099, spoke deeply to my contrast-loving heart.
I love that! Thank you so much for joining us, London, and for taking the time to answer these questions!
Want to win a copy of The Light At The Bottom Of The World by London Shah? Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win this book or a book of your choice from any of the authors featured during #RamadanReadathon! These books will be revealed throughout the month so keep your eyes peeled for more interviews on this blog.
This giveaway is open internationally, as long as Book Depository ships to you.