BRIT School Interview

Marion is an alumni of the British Record Industry School of Performing Arts. In April 2015 she gave an interview to the BRIT School's newsletter about Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran. Here's what she said.

What inspired you to write the book?
Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran was inspired by Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera. Within it, Leroux hinted at another story based in Northern Iran, involving the daughter of the Shah. People have written prequels before, most notably Susan Kay’s Phantom, but I wanted to take a different approach. I wanted to tell the story from the Sultana’s perspective, to discover what could make a young girl, born into ultimate privilege and power, so twisted in her pleasures. 

Are any experiences in the book based on events in your own life?

I think every story contains something of its author, but this is perhaps the most removed of any I have written. In the same way an actor prepared for a part, I had to immerse myself in the history and culture of that time. I spent a lot of hours looking through picture archives, listening to music and documentaries on YouTube, and reading articles. 

How did BRIT shape you to be who you are today?

I was at BRIT from 1997-1999. I’d come from a small village in the Midlands and moved to Croydon. BRIT was a fabulously expressive time in my life, where I got to meet people with extraordinary talent and creativity. It’s impossible not to feed off that. BRIT gave me a lot of confidence, and being surrounded by artistic people allowed me the freedom to explore my own interests. It provided a safe environment to make creative mistakes and to learn what makes a good story.

What were the main challenges of writing your book?
Those Rosy Hours was a challenge in many ways. Firstly because of the historical research involved, trying to walk the fine line between accuracy and expression. It’s easy to get bogged down with historical fiction, drowning your story in facts. After a while you have to pull back and let the story tell itself. It was also challenging because it’s based on a classic novel that already has a strong following. That’s both a boon and a burden. Everybody who loves a story feels a sense of ownership over the characters. You are never going to live up to everybody’s expectations, but you try to remain as faithful as you can to the original.

Who designed the cover?
There’s actually an article all about that:
My publisher engaged a very talented Hungarian cover designer called Gábor Csigás. The photograph of the girl is by an Iranian photographer called Babak Fatholahi, who has done shoots for Vogue. A lot of work went into it.

How has your study of theatre at The BRIT School been implemented into your writing?
Being an actor and being a writer are very similar skills. Drama training at BRIT seriously helped me to develop characters and to consider what makes a strong character and an interesting plot. It introduced me to Stanislavski and Brecht, but also more modern writers such as Philip Ridley. Learning to perform scripts is a great crash course in how to write dialogue.

Do you have any advice for budding writers?
It’s a constantly evolving process. Nobody writes a novel and wakes up a fully-formed writer. You are constantly thinking, changing and evolving. Read as much as you can, learn what works and what doesn’t. Listen to your editors but not always your critics. Forget about writing what you know, write what you love. A hundred thousand words is a long time typing, if you’re going to get through it you really need to be passionate about your subject. Passion is the important thing. Anything you don’t know, you can look up as you go along. 

What book are you reading now?

I currently live in Rwanda, and I arrived here via Nairobi, so I thought it was about time I read Karen Blixen. I’m currently reading Out of Africa, after enjoying her short story Babette's Feast. 

What was your most treasured memory from The BRIT School?

A physical performance piece I did with two friends. We performed tank rolls in front of a TV playing white static and got an A*. It was such an abstract piece, and we’d all come from backgrounds where that freedom of expression would probably have been frowned upon. It was really something to receive not just recognition, but encouragement, to pursue art in all its forms.

Are you in contact with any of your old classmates?
Yes, a couple. One of my very good friends, Daniel, is busy globetrotting and illustrating. He spent about four years teaching in Taiwan and is now in Spain, via Peru. Another, Mathew, is an accomplished fashion photographer, and my friend Sharon, who I used to take the bus with every day, is now a police officer! BRIT certainly breeds diversity.