In Conversation With Laura Weymouth and London Shah

Hi everyone! Today on Pop! Goes The Reader I’m incredibly honoured to host a conversation between authors Laura E. Weymouth and London Shah as they explore their respective forthcoming releases, A Rush of Wings and Journey To The Heart Of The Abyss, in great depth, as well as fascinating details about their craft and creative process!

About London Shah

London Shah is a British Muslim of Pashtun ethnicity. She has lived in Britain’s capital for most of her life, via England’s beautiful North. On any given day she can be found daydreaming of a different past, an alternate present, or some surreal future. She enjoys 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, and losing herself in a fab SFF book or film.

Her debut novel The Light At The Bottom Of The World is out now from Little, Brown. It’s the first book in the Light The Abyss sci-fi duology. The sequel Journey to the Heart of the Abyss publishes on November 9, 2021.

Author Links: WebsiteInstagramGoodreads

About Laura Weymouth

Laura Weymouth is a Canadian living in America, and the sixth consecutive generation of her family to immigrate from one country to another. Born and raised in the Niagara region of Ontario, she now lives at the edge of the woods in western New York in a house that may or may not have chicken feet.

Laura writes critically acclaimed historical fantasy for teen readers. Her first two novels are The Light Between Worlds and A Treason of Thorns, both published by HarperTeen. Her third young adult offering, A Rush of Wings — a retelling of the classic fairytale The Wild Swans – is forthcoming from McElderry on November 2nd, 2021, and will be followed by a fourth YA title, A Consuming Fire, in Fall 2022. She is represented by the inimitable Lauren Spieller of TriadaUS.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

Title A Rush of Wings
Author Laura E. Weymouth
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Publication Date November 2, 2021 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Find It On GoodreadsAmazonChaptersThe Book DepositoryBarnes & NobleIndieBound

For fans of Serpent & Dove and A House of Salt and Sorrows comes a darkly atmospheric and romantic fantasy about an untrained witch who must unlock her power to free her brothers from a terrible curse and save her home.

Rowenna Winthrop has always known there’s magic within her. But though she hears voices on the wind and possesses unusual talents, her mother Mairead believes Rowenna lacks discipline, and refuses to teach her the craft that keeps their Scottish village safe. And when Mairead dies a sinister death, it seems Rowenna’s only chance to grow into her power has died with her. Then, on a fateful, storm-tossed night, Rowenna rescues a handsome stranger named Gawen from a shipwreck, and her mother miraculously returns from the dead. Or so it appears.

The resurrected Mairead is nothing like the old one. To hide her new monstrous nature, she turns Rowenna’s brothers and Gawen into swans and robs Rowenna of her voice. Forced to flee, Rowenna travels to the city of Inverness to find a way to break the curse. But monsters take many forms, and in Inverness, Rowenna is soon caught in a web of strangers who want to use her raw magic for their own gain. If she wishes to save herself and the people she loves most, Rowenna will have to take her fate into her own hands and unlock the power that has evaded her for so long.

Title Journey to the Heart of the Abyss
Author London Shah
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Publication Date November 9th 2021 by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers
Find It On GoodreadsAmazonChaptersThe Book DepositoryBarnes & NobleIndieBound

The sequel to London Shah’s thrilling futuristic mystery The Light At The Bottom Of The World, perfect for fans of Illuminae and These Broken Stars.

Leyla McQueen has finally reunited with her father after breaking him out of Broadmoor, the illegal government prison — but his freedom comes at a terrible cost. As Leyla celebrates his return, she must grapple with the pain of losing Ari. Now separated from the boy who has her heart and labeled the nation’s number one enemy, Leyla must risk illegal travel through unchartered waters in her quest for the truth behind her father’s arrest.

Across Britain, the fallout from Leyla’s actions has escalated tensions between Anthropoid and non-Anthropoid communities, bringing them to an all-time high. And, as Leyla and her friends fight to uncover the startling truths about their world, she discovers her own shocking past — and the horrifying secrets behind her father’s abduction and arrest. But as these long-buried truths finally begin to surface, so, too, do the authorities’ terrible future plans. And if the ever-pervasive fear prevents the people from taking a stand now, the abyss could stay in the dark forever.

Hi everyone! I’m Laura Weymouth, author of The Light Between Worlds, and A Treason of Thorns. My latest novel, A Rush of Wings, will be publishing on November 2nd from McElderry. I’m thrilled to be here in conversation with my wonderful and talented friend, London Shah, to chat about her forthcoming release, Journey To The Heart Of The Abyss (the second installment in the Light The Abyss duology). So without further ado, London, I’d love if you could tell us a bit about your upcoming novel and the series it concludes!

Hi, Laura and Jen! It’s so lovely to be here with you xx

The Light the Abyss series is a young adult science-fiction duology, published with Little, Brown. Book 1, The Light At The Bottom Of The World, is my debut novel and was published in Autumn of 2019. The story is set in a submerged world of the future where humanity resides a thousand feet below the ocean’s surface. It focuses on sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen, a British Muslim submersible racer, and her quest to reunite with her father who’s been wrongfully arrested and imprisoned. When she’s picked to participate in the prestigious annual London Submersible Marathon, she spies her chance to help him — the prime minister promises to grant the champion their heart’s desire. Except the marathon doesn’t go to plan, and soon Leyla is forced to leave the safety of London and venture out into wilder waters for the first time in her life. As she navigates her own submarine through the unfathomable depths of Britain, battling both the oppressive authorities and the dangers of the deep, she discovers a world basically drowning in lies…

The story concludes with Book 2, Journey To The Heart Of The Abyss, which releases next month (November 9). Book 2 goes deeper in every way…It’s full of twists and turns, and shocking reveals, and I love it so much!

I absolutely love it too. And you know, it’s always struck me what evocative, lyrical titles you choose for your work – I’m wondering if there’s any special meaning behind the series’ name, Light the Abyss.

“Light the Abyss” was deliberately chosen for its ambiguity. I wanted to leave it entirely up to the reader to determine what the titular “light” and “abyss” reference. Is the light literal, simply referring to the illuminated sight of civilization existing on the seabed? Or is my protagonist, 16-year-old Leyla McQueen, this light; someone who pursues the truth relentlessly, no matter how terrible those truths or how perilous uncovering them becomes for her? Or is Truth itself — something now concealed deep within the folds of the waves — the light?

Maybe it’s Hope that lights up the abyss, because despite everything — no matter how dangerous her journey becomes — Leyla refuses to give up hope. What about Love. Leyla’s love for her father, and thus her desire to be reunited with him, sets into motion a series of events that has far-reaching consequences for all. Maybe humanity is the light. The remnants of humankind who’ve survived a catastrophic global disaster to find themselves living at the bottom of the world, surrounded by endless water, and who still go on, still try to make the best of this submerged existence. Or perhaps it’s the many positives nature still offers humanity, even in its darkest depths. As for the nominal Abyss, is it the literal deepest depths of the oceans, the debilitating presence of toxic nostalgia, the ever-present fear, or the darkness within us? Perhaps it’s our wretched desire to always try and control one another.

Whatever the nominal “light” and “abyss” reference, is entirely up to the reader’s own understanding of the story. I thought it was the perfect title for this series, and it was quite by chance that both books contain a word from the series title!

I absolutely love how much thought you’ve put into that name, though every aspect of your work is always exquisitely thought out. Particularly the setting of the series, which is one of my favorite science-fiction settings of all time. I’d love to know: Did anything particular inspire the incredible underwater world of the series?

I can’t seem to recall how or when exactly the inspiration first took root; it was so long ago. I do remember being obsessed with the idea of us living underwater since at least my early teens. It was a vision I could never escape. When I’d look out of any window, or up at the sky, I regularly saw that submerged existence — waves upon waves surrounding a functioning city, with submersibles and sea creatures darting around. Imagine! I remember watching the film Splash and how it never left me afterward because of that final scene when we briefly glimpse an underwater city. Though that was a mermaid habitat, it was still the closest thing to my vision I’d experienced. I can still vividly recall the thrill I felt on watching it.

My own fantasy was less a fantastical underwater realm and more reflective of the world as we currently know it. A submerged world rooted in realism — specifically one grounded in the familiar and complex setting of urban life. For me, the underwater landscape is infinitely more surreal and fantastical when it’s as if the waters are here, in this world as we currently know it. I want readers to still feel at home in the world I’ve created, thereby ensuring its more fantastical elements are really felt. It was never some clinical, futuristic world I dreamt of either, nothing hard sci-fi. I just really wanted this world, but deep below the surface of the oceans. The only answer was to have the old and the new existing side by side in my submerged world, and to retain the aesthetics of the old even in the new.

That certainly comes across in your work, and it makes what could be a very cold and alien backdrop seem magical and exciting and like a joy to live in, despite its dangers. Because the settings in your work seem so completely real, whether they’re serene and beautiful or spine-tinglingly eerie, I wonder how you go about creating such immersive scenes?

Aw, thank you so much for that, Laura. Coming from yourself, a creator who gives us truly the most atmospheric worlds, that means a lot to me.

I have — and no doubt this is true of all creatives — the most vivid imagination. And I never create anything without first contemplating the feeling I want to convey — the mood I want to trigger from that setting. And so that kind of becomes its foundations. And then the rest just grows from there. My settings absolutely must excite and inspire me first, before I ever spend a single moment bringing them to life. If I’m not stirred by the thought of a certain place or sight — whether manmade or natural – it will never make it into my story. And then when I’m writing the scene, I immerse myself completely in my protagonist’s thoughts and feelings at the time, experiencing that moment with them. This ensures authenticity of perspective, and the crucial emotional depth. When I’m describing a new setting to readers, I try to ground them as quickly as possible, starting with the larger details before zooming in. It’s important to me I present each setting in a way that assures the least confusion possible. This leaves the reader free to focus on what matters — experiencing the moment fully.

How about you, Laura? I absolutely love your settings! The tone and atmosphere of each one is so perfect for the scenes that take place in them, whether a train station or sublime woodlands. Do you work very differently to me to ensure they’re immersive?

I think we’re fairly similar in that regard, though I do quite a lot of sensory work — to try to make a scene or setting seem as realistic as possible, it’s always my goal to engage multiple senses, and to bring out minor details, like the scent of that first breath of air when you walk outdoors or into a musty room, or the specific cadences of background noise. Sometimes, if I’m having a hard time getting grounded in a setting, I’ll make an ambient noise playlist which represents what a character would hear, and play that through headphones as I’m writing. I suppose that’s a sort of research, though not of the sort I do for the backstories when writing historical fantasy. I’m sure you end up doing plenty of research of your own too, where the Light the Abyss series is set in a world so different than ours, while remaining familiar in many ways.

Oh gosh, yes. I recall endless months of nothing but research before I was ever free to begin thinking about plot. How would we survive deep underwater? The challenges posed by such a drastically different environment would be pervasive, and every aspect of society would need examining.

There was the basic infrastructure of my underwater city to consider — homes, civil buildings, energy, food production, transport, etc. And specific civil services to ponder, such as law and order. How would a police force operate deep undersea — would holding cells and prisons still be feasible? Would providing an education outside of the home be worth the trouble of getting our children into submersibles and out there every day? Were there currently any scientific and technological predictions for the future that might render hospitals unnecessary? The advancements in technologies would no doubt replace many of our current civil services. There was an awful lot to consider when contemplating how my submerged Britain would function.

I looked to the behaviour and structure of our current society, read books on oceanography, explored the scientific requirements of a submerged world, spent far too much time on countless forums that discuss and predict future technologies, watched as many deep-sea programmes as possible, chatted with marine biologists and oceanographers, and discussed specific ideas with research scientists, and companies designing and manufacturing deep-sea vehicles. There was also the psychological impact to take into consideration. I had to understand and predict how we might approach the sudden news of impending worldwide flooding; a disaster so catastrophic it would leave any survivors submerged deep beneath the waves. I sometimes struck very lucky in my research: the CEO of a leading submersibles manufacturer very generously guided me through a submersible driving tutorial via Skype! So yes, I had to basically consider everything. The research was definitely a hard slog, but it was also deeply fascinating.

That’s incredible! I’ve also found specialists outside of the publishing world to be wonderfully generous with their time and expertise when you’re including their area of study in a work of fiction, and it’s so helpful. Now, I have to ask, as we’ve been talking about how much I love your underwater world: is there a special location in the Light the Abyss duology you’d love to visit?

Argh, a very tough but great question…How to pick only one?! Every place I’d featured, I’d love to visit — even the terrifying locations (as long as I’m safely inside a sub!) I apologise in advance now because I’m going to have to pick two places. One would be my beloved London underwater — the vision that kept me company through the long journey of writing the story. The thought of looking down on this city glowing on the seabed, and traveling through it in a submersible, is thrilling beyond words. Writing those scenes in The Light At The Bottom Of The World gave me life. I’d also want to experience the deepest, darkest parts of the abyss. I’m guessing it would feel like a whole other existence…so eerie, unpredictable, and humbling. I watched James Cameron’s record-breaking descent into the Mariana Trench (the world’s deepest oceanic trench) and it was simply other-worldly. I’d love to travel to the bottom of the world. And wow, technology has come such a long way in deep-sea exploration!

I reckon you might go for the kelp forest, Laura? Forests are your thing, and what could be more enchanting than an underwater one!

You know me too well! I’m always completely entranced by nature documentaries that feature kelp forests, though I’d definitely want to explore via submersible like Leyla does in your stories — I hate the idea of slimy kelp touching me, even though I love to look at it! On a slightly more somber note, and shifting away from scene-setting, one thing I deeply appreciate about your series is how it deals with a lot of weighty issues — the marginalization of people deemed other, the uncertain future of humanity on a planet we’re exploiting, the way we use and abuse other living species and our world itself. And yet at all times it remains fiercely joy-filled and hopeful. How do you go about maintaining that perfect tension?

Thank you, Laura — it warms my heart to hear that you feel it’s joy-filled. I actually never once had to think about maintaining a balance between the positive and negative aspects of my story world. I guess my characters, and the beauty in the setting, brought the joy and hope. More specifically, it’s my protagonist, Leyla McQueen, who ensures we experience a balance throughout. Leyla believes, as I do, that no matter how difficult a situation, no matter how bleak and hopeless it might seem in the moment, there is always hope. Nobody can ever take that away from us. So I suppose my own outlook on life and our world, found its way into the pages. A negative doesn’t erase any positives present, no matter how huge the negative and how small the positives by comparison. Ours is a beautiful, enigmatic world, brimming with miracles. There is also so much horror present. Disgraceful actions and unspeakable terrors and pain. Neither one reduces or cancels out the other. Neither one should ever render us oblivious to the other. We are responsible for all of it. When we look upon this world, we’re simply seeing exactly who we are. And that’s also true of my story world.

What a beautiful and uplifting perspective, and a wonderful note to end our conversation on. London, thank you so much for chatting with me, and I hope everyone who’s joined us enjoyed this little glimpse into the way you craft your words and worlds. I also hope they’ll go pick up copies of The Light At The Bottom Of The World and Journey To The Heart Of The Abyss, or request them at their local libraries — both books are such a treat to read, and a wonderful, adventurous escape into a world both alien and familiar.

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!