GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Amy McCulloch, Author of THE OATHBREAKER’S SHADOW

Today we’re talking with Amy McCulloch, author of  The Oathbreaker’s Shadow (book one of a high fantasy YA duology), which debuts today!

oathbreakers_shadowFifteen-year-old Raim lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make. Break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert.

Raim has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember. No one knows where it came from, and which promise of his it symbolises, but he barely thinks about it at all—not since becoming the most promising young fighter ever to train for the elite Yun guard. But on the most important day of his life, when he binds his life to his best friend (and future king) Khareh, the string bursts into flames and sears a dark mark into his skin.

Scarred now as an oath-breaker, Raim has two options: run, or be killed.

1) The first thing that grabbed me about The Oathbreaker’s Shadow was the idea of promise knots, and the penalty for breaking them. It’s a fascinating concept. What inspired you to come up with it?

History! The whole concept kicked off when I was studying the oaths of fealty made by medieval knights to their lords. It’s a strange idea – that of promising your life to one single person – but it was repeated in cultures as diverse as Japan, Mongolia and Western Europe. I wanted to take that concept and give it a real fantasy twist: hence I dreamt up promise knots, and the idea of a physical consequence once an oath was broken.

2) Another thing that sets The Oathbreaker’s Shadow apart is that its world is inspired by Mongolia. What drew you to that setting, and what was your research like? Is there any particular book you’d recommend to people who are interested in learning more about Mongolia?

While I was at uni, I became totally fascinated by Genghis Khan and how he rose from a lowly nomad without a tribe to the leader of the biggest (in terms of land mass) empire the world has ever seen. I wanted to know what kind of environment created that kind of society, that kind of person. I did a lot of academic research in studying Medieval Mongolian society, but I also read as much fiction as I could find: I suggest Conn Iggulden’s Conqueror series for those who want more Mongolia-set stories.

3) Trilogies are pretty common nowadays. Duologies, not so much. Did you find there were any particular difficulties or advantages to telling a story in two books instead of one or three? 

Oh yes, definitely! The difficulty and the advantage are one and the same: speed! The benefit of having a duology is that you can keep the pace strong throughout the course of each novel: there’s no ‘sagging middle’ book. But it also means you have to work hard to make sure you’ve developed your characters and plotlines enough to still give the conclusion the impact that you want.

In this particular case, I conceived the book as a duology: more like one book split into two. Book one definitely ends in the middle of key events – but hopefully readers won’t mind too much as there’s only one book to go!

4) There aren’t that many authors who also work as editors. Do you feel like your editorial work has influenced your development as a writer?

Oh, absolutely. Being an editor means I’m immersed in story every day – and it helps to hone the technical side of my writing: pacing, character, plot. In fact, sometimes it’s great to be able to step out of my own head and into a world another writer has created – and, when my editor hat is on, my writer hat (and writerly voice) stays well aside.

But also the opposite helps too: being a writer definitely helps me be a better editor. And that’s because I know what writers are looking for in an editor: a partner on this long publication journey. I’m lucky in that I have a great editor on each side of the pond, and for the most part their job is not about editing my book. It’s about everything else: the cover design, the production, the publicity… the editor is my touchstone to the publishing house, and by understanding a writer’s needs, I’m able to be a better advocate for my own authors (at least, I hope!).

5) Time to boast! What part of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow are you most proud of?

I’m just proud that it’s been published, frankly! I wrote the first draft of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow when I was 19. Now, 7 years later, it’s being published. I cannot stress to you how much I thought no one else would ever understand my little book, or would grow to love my characters as much as I did. But surprisingly – to me, at least! – it’s really touching a chord. Including for Robin Hobb, one of my most favourite fantasy authors, who says: “The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is a very promising debut in what bodes to be an electrifying duology. Unusual magic set in an exotic location and nomadic culture lures the reader to total immersion in Raim’s world.” And I couldn’t be prouder of that fact.

6) And finally, as this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know two or three books that inspired you when you were a kid.

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling – natch. Sirius Black, for the win!

The Golden Compass/Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – my favourite book of all time.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – I just loved this book as a kid, and I’ve lost track of how many times I read it. 

Thank you, Amy, and congratulations on your debut!


Amy McCulloch was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, UK, and moved to Ottawa, Canada, when she was 11. She attended Immaculata High School, where she developed a love of geeky things like science fairs, yearbook, RPGs and The Lord of the Rings. After high school she started studying at the University of Toronto, where she graduated with a B.A. (Hons) in English, specializing in Old English and Medieval literature (her love for Geoffrey Chaucer will never die).

After a year spent backpacking around Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia (you can read her travel blog here), she moved back to London, UK, to find a job in publishing. She now works as commissioning editor for HarperVoyager, where she works on such amazing authors as George R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb and Raymond Feist, and edits brilliant new stars of SF & Fantasy like Blake Charlton, James Smythe and Janet Edwards.

At the beginning of 2011, she signed with the amazing Juliet Mushens of PFD Literary for her debut YA fantasy-adventure novel The Oathbreaker’s Shadow. Random House Children’s Books UK and Doubleday Canada will be publishing in Spring 2013. You can find Amy at her website, on Facebook, or on twitter.

Add The Oathbreaker’s Shadow on Goodreads or buy it at:
Amazon UK
The Book Depository (WORLDWIDE free shipping)

This interview was conducted by OneFour member Rosamund Hodge, and is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Lucky13s —- YA, MG, and children’s books authors debuting in 2013.

Rosamund Hodge loves mythology, Hello Kitty, and T. S. Eliot. After earning a master’s degree in Medieval English from Oxford, she moved to Seattle to get a job with computers. Her debut novel, CRUEL BEAUTY–Greek mythology meets Beauty and the Beast–is due out from HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray in Winter 2014. Her agent is Hannah Bowman at Liza Dawson Associates

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