Natasha Ngan is a writer and yoga teacher. She grew up between Malaysia, where the Chinese side of her family is from, and the UK. This multicultural upbringing continues to influence her writing, and she is passionate about bringing diverse stories to teens.
Ngan studied Geography at the University of Cambridge before working as a social media consultant and fashion blogger. She lives in France with her partner, where they recently moved from Paris to be closer to the sea. Her novel Girls of Paper and Fire was a New York Times bestseller.
I had the opportunity to interview Natasha, which you can read below.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thanks so much for having me! I’m a Chinese Malaysian British writer living on the west coast of France with my partner and our little staffie Nova. I love gaming, being by the sea, reading when it’s raining outside, and sharing good food and drink with friends.
How did you find yourself becoming a writer? What drew you to young adult and speculative fiction specifically?
I’ve always been a writer – I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write or dream up imaginary worlds. I love the way YA allows you to explore those integral firsts in life, from love to the beginnings of really understanding your own identity and what you believe in. There’s such hope in YA, too, which as adults is something I think we all need more of. As for spec-fic, there’s definitely an escapist element that speaks to me, especially as I’m disabled, but I also love how it can hold up a mirror to our own world and force us to confront issues we deal with through a different lens.
How would you describe your writing process? What are some of your favorite/ most frustrating parts of the process?
I’m a complete pantster (I don’t plot my books in depth) so a big frustration for me comes from never quite knowing if I’m on the right path. Writing is very instinctual for me, so there’s a lot of need for just trusting in the process – which is difficult, since I’m a very anxious and self-critical person! But luckily it always seems to work out in the end! My stories tend to come to me very acutely in their initial state: a strong sense of setting and concept. I then wallow in that, just kind of daydreaming and jotting down ideas. Once I understand my main character’s POV well enough to place myself in their world and situation, that’s when I begin drafting.
Growing up, were there any books or authors that touched or inspired you as a writer? When do you think you first saw yourself reflected in literature?
Oh, so many! I loved the worldbuilding and magical escapism of The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell; the wit and wacky characters of Philip Ridley; the adventure of Tolkien; the complex heroines and intricate magic system of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen books. Looking back now, though, I see how so many of the authors I read at a young age were white men. Apart from in manga, I didn’t see a lot of my Asian side represented. I can’t honestly pinpoint when it was I started to really see myself in books. Honestly, it’s probably only been quite recently, with the amazing diversification we’re seeing in literature for kids and teens.
What can you tell us about your book series, Girls of Paper and Fire? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
I had just come off a hard year where a book I’d written and edited with my then agent didn’t sell, and as hard as that was it was also liberating, because I gave myself complete creative freedom with the next one. I was in my mid-twenties and starting to explore my sexuality more, as well as process both old and fresh traumas. When I first went into writing Girls, I didn’t set out to address any of that specifically, it just came out naturally. I had so much fun creating a fantasy world that felt completely authentic to me. I’d touched on my Chinese-Malaysian heritage in my previous two published books, but it wasn’t until Girls that I went all out and fully celebrated who I am and where I come from.
How does it feel to be coming out with Girls of Fate and Fury, the last book in the Girls of Paper and Fire trilogy? How do you feel you’ve changed as an author since the beginning of this series to its completion?
It’s exciting, but there’s a definite bittersweetness. I’ve been working on this series for so long. It’s sad to leave its world and characters behind. I’m so proud of my girls and how far they’ve come, though, and I feel like I’ve journeyed with them, growing in confidence in terms of owning my own identity and power. I hope I’ve improved as an author too. I truly believe everything we write – every word, every book, even the ones that never come close to publication – develops us as writers. There’s no such thing as lost time when it comes to writing. I’m always learning, always pushing myself to critique the process and craft, to write with more intention.
Without too many spoilers, what can we expect from the last book in the series?
Wren and Lei are separated, so for the first time in the series we see things from Wren’s perspective. We get more insight into her motivations and thoughts, and I loved writing about how she thinks of Lei, because if Lei knew just how highly Wren thinks of her it would just be so beautiful. The Kingdom of Ikhara is also now officially at war, so there are battles and much maneuvering for power – both outside and within the Hidden Palace walls.
Aside from being a writer, what are some things you would want others to know about you?
My partner and I have had our gorgeous black staffie Nova for almost half a year now, and she is the absolute best dog in the world and brings me so much joy! I post cute content of her over on @natandnova on Instagram.
If you could go back and tell your early writer-self anything, what do you think you would say?
There will be more books. Don’t worry if this one doesn’t work out; just keep writing.
What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?
Pretty much that! Especially with a first book, it can seem like it’s the only book in the world, that all your success will be weighed by it. But there will always be more stories-of-your-heart to tell. You’re constantly evolving as a person – and so you evolve as a writer. If something doesn’t work out, keep going. Have faith in yourself and write the stories you love, because those to me are the books that really shine.
Are there any other projects you are working on right now and at liberty to speak about?
I’m currently working on a new YA fantasy, which is – thankfully! – a standalone. It’s less about war but rather the legacy of it: how we inherit hate, how prejudices are passed through generations. It’s also a sapphic romance between two highly ambitious girls who might or might not be playing one another. I’ve been having so much fun creating a new world to explore!
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Some of my favourite own-voice LGBTQ+ YA writers include Sara Farizan, Julian Winters, Adiba Jaigirdar and Lana Popovic (who also just released a fantastic witchy sapphic adult romance, Payback’s A Witch). I will also forever be recommending Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and House in the Cereulean Sea by T. J. Klune. They’re both adult novels. Song is a heart-breaking Greek epic based on Achilles and Patroclus while House is a comforting, ultra-cosy read about a grumpy caseworker finding his soft side. Both are very queer and absolute brilliant.