Clare Braganza is a writer who spent three years teaching English in the mountains of Fukushima, Japan, before returning to the UK to follow her publishing dreams. By day, she works at Penguin Random House, where she helps sell her favourite children’s books around the world. By night (i.e., dawn and dusk) she taps away at her keyboard, dreaming up worlds of gods and spirits and angsty teens. She lives in London with long-suffering bookshelves and a pair of brilliant housemates.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
Writing has always been a huge part of my life. I think, like it was for a lot of writers, I was a reader first, and then I found myself dreaming up scenarios with my favourite characters and thought “Why hasn’t anyone done this story yet?” I began, at age 9, rewriting my favourite unicorn series with myself as the main character (of course), before moving to animal stories with main characters who were inspired by myself, finally maturing to fantasy adventure stories with anti-heroes and fabulously flawed characters that were completely made up. So, for me, it was a natural progression as I grew up and honed my craft, and I really do owe all this growth to the amazing series I grew up reading, particularly Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Lord of the Rings, and Alex Rider.
What inspired you to start writing this book?
After university, with no idea what I wanted to do, I moved to the mountainous north of Japan to teach English in middle schools. I lived there for three years, spending my winters skiing and my summers hiking, and fell in love with the local nature and people. My town, Nihonmatsu, was still recovering from the Fukushima disaster of 3/11, so there were never any tourists, and yet it had so much history and culture to offer. Every corner of my town had legends of the yokai, Japan’s mythological spirits, and the Shinto religion meant there were shrines to all kinds of gods atop mountains or behind restaurants—even a ramen noodle god! Surrounded by stories of gods and spirits, I dreamt up a world of contemporary Japan where all the yokai are real and society is split into the revered tengu at the top, humans in the middle, and mistrusted tanuki shapeshifters at the bottom. Before I knew it, I had a teenage main character whose family were tengu pretending to be human, a local minor god with a tragic past, and a town of disappearing people and cursed masks that corrupt whoever wears them.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
I came up with the title halfway through writing the book. I knew I wanted the focus to be on my main character, Kai, who’s struggling with the ordinary life laid out for him by his parents and dreams of reclaiming his tengu heritage and doing something for the storybooks. At the end of the book, Kai is forced to make a sacrifice, and I was able to include the title in the aftermath. This felt like a nice rounding-up of Kai’s overall arc.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
Any of the songs from the Ghibli films, as well as the soundtrack to the film Your Name (Kimi No Na Wa). I listened to these nonstop as I wrote to really immerse myself in the world.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
After leaving my job as a teacher in Japan, I took up a dream job in publishing at Penguin Random House. I’ve always wanted a rewarding career with books, so I felt incredibly lucky to secure this job. I work in International Rights, where we sell the translation rights to our exciting new children’s books around the world. This insight into the publishing business has been invaluable and really spurred me on to get my own writing out there. At the end of the day, traditional publishing is a business, but there are also so many amazing editors out there looking for the next big book. When the next huge YA ‘romantasy’ hits our desks, the excitement is palpable. I really love it here.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
I hope readers of all ages connect with Kai’s inner struggle to belong, especially as so many of us grow up with uncertain futures, or with paths laid out for us that we want to change. I hope they can see that, like Kai, even if the odds seem against you and there is no way out, by never giving up and really believing in yourself, you can find a way to achieve your dreams.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.