Author Interview: Zen Cho – Author of Sorcerer to the Crown and Spirits Abroad #AsianLitBingo

Hello everyone! I hope you are all having a good week and are reading some wonderful books.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that I have a guest on my blog today: Zen Cho! She is a truly phenomenal writer, one that I personally look up to, and I am so excited to be sharing my author interview with her. Zen Cho has written one of my favourite fantasy books of all time, Sorcerer to the Crownand she also write a fantastic novella, The Terracotta Bride, which you might have seen me rave about on my Twitter!

But before I jump into my review, if you hadn’t heard of Sorcerer to the Crown before, here’s a little bit about the book! Read it, and then join me in my excitement for the next book in the series which is due to release next year in 2018!

Magic and mayhem collide with the British elite in this whimsical and sparkling debut.

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up.

But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

CW: Hi Zen, thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed! Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of the interview, I must know: What is your favourite Malaysian food, and what food is ‘home’ to you? (I always joke with my other Malaysian friends that if you meet a Malaysian, you will inevitably talk about food!)

Zen: My favourite Malaysian food varies according to mood, season, time of day, etc., of course. When I get home I always want to have chilli pan mee – I’m kind of obsessed with it. But what’s home to me is homecooked Chinese food: Hakka, Cantonese and nyonya-style dishes with rice.

CW: That sounds delicious! I absolutely love Hakka and Nyonya-styled dishes – especially Nyonya curry laksa.

You’ve created some fantastic characters, all with unique and memorable personalities! Who was your favourite character to write about and why?

Zen: I don’t know that I have a single favourite character of all time, but I’m very fond of Mak Genggang, the irrepressible Malay witch who causes havoc in Regency London in Sorcerer to the Crown. She’s one of those characters that writes themselves.

CW: Mak Genggang was a great character! Certainly one of my favourites.

I thoroughly enjoyed your book, Sorcerer to the Crown, and I found it so witty, charming, and the political discourse fantastic. What inspired you to write Sorcerer to the Crown?

Zen: Thank you! Like any novel Sorcerer drew on a lot of different sources, but the biggest and most obvious inspiration was Georgette Heyer’s sparkling Regency romances. They’re very fun and witty, full of hijinks. I wanted to write a book that would be as pleasurable to read as Heyer’s novels, but that had magic and engaged with Empire in a critical way, since those are both things that interest me.

CW: I love that combination! And I think you certainly achieved that – I especially loved the critical elements of Sorcerer to The Crown.

I’m really looking forward to reading where the Sorcerer Royal series will go next. Are you able to give us any hints at this point of time?

Zen: There’ll be a follow-up set in the same universe as Sorcerer to the Crown, but focusing on different characters. Zacharias and Prunella make appearances, but I’m hoping to explore Janda Baik in more detail. We also get to see more of Fairyland.

CW: I can’t wait! I’m so happy to hear we’re seeing more of my favourite duo!

The story I’m really curious to know more about is your novella, The Terracotta Bride. I read your The Terracotta Bride shortly after returning from a trip to Malaysia where I attended a Hokkien wake and funeral, so the story really resonated with me. What gave you the idea to write The Terracotta Bride?

Zen: The Terracotta Bride was actually my attempt to write steampunk without the Victorian trappings. I’d say it was a failure in that regard, even though I did manage to sell the story to a steampunk anthology. But that’s why it’s about terracotta “people”, who were constructed by human beings but have a life of their own. They were inspired by the terracotta warriors, of course, but they’re also like robots or golems, a kind of AI.

I’ve always been half-fascinated, half-terrified by the Chinese concept of the afterlife. Writing the story was a way of engaging with that.

CW: I completely relate and agree regarding the Chinese concept of the afterlife. The levels of hell are terrifying but I can’t stop reading about them once I start.

Across all of your books, you have incorporated elements of Malaysian culture. We Malaysians don’t get to see a lot of representation, so thank you so much for including us and parts of us in your writing! What is the most important thing to you as a Malaysian, and how has that translated into your writing?

I think it’s important for anybody who makes art to try to make stuff that is meaningful to them. It can be hard to figure out where that meaning lies – it’s not always immediately obvious – but that’s part of the work. I’m trying to write stories that are entertaining and true, the kind of thing that would’ve helped me understand myself and the world when I was 16. Having a certain level of Malaysianness in my stories is part of that.

CW: I think that’s wonderful, and it speaks to people like me who understand the ‘Malaysianness’ of your stories.

Last question: what was one of the biggest obstacles in your writing career, and if you could give your younger self (or other aspiring writers!) one piece of advice, what would you say?

It took me a long time to learn how to write regularly and finish my stories, and I held back for years out of fear. Fear still gets in the way of my writing – when I procrastinate on writing it’s usually because I’m scared it won’t be any good once I sit down and start doing it. So my advice is to develop discipline with your writing – you don’t have to do it every day, but learn to do it consistently. And push through the fear. It afflicts everyone, even writers you think of as successful. Don’t let it stop you from writing.

CW: That’s some fantastic advice. I had a lot of fun with this interview; thank you so much for your time, Zen! 

Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia. She is the author of Crawford Award-winning short story collection Spirits Abroad and editor of anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia. She has been nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and honour-listed for the Carl Brandon Society Awards for her short fiction. Her debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown (Ace/Macmillan), about magic, intrigue and politics in Regency London, won a British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer and was a Locus Awards finalist for Best First Novel. She lives in London.

Find Zen Cho in, her Twitter, and in Goodreads


2 thoughts on “Author Interview: Zen Cho – Author of Sorcerer to the Crown and Spirits Abroad #AsianLitBingo

  1. I LOVE that last bit Cho said about writing. I hold back on writing the things I really want to be because I know they won’t come out like I want them to and I’ll feel like crap over it. It’s comforting to know someone who is now really Doing It went through that too.

    I clearly need to read Sorcerer to the Crown. I have had this ‘I don’t like fantasy’ idea in my head that was pretty much dispelled when I fell in serious love with VE Schwab, so I think Zen Cho is a good progression for my newly interested in fantasy self.

    Great interview, CW. I really enjoyed reading your conversation :)

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