The Game Weavers: Interview with Rebecca Zahabi

Author Rebecca Zahabi tells us all about her fantasy novel The Game Weavers…

Rebecca Zahabi

In a world where people have the ability to conjure fantastical creatures (pawns) from their hands using a power known as Twine, which is used for a competitive sport that sees two opponents use their creatures in a stadium-set battle, The Game Weavers follows Seojun, a world-class Twine champion and his younger brother Minjun.

When one of Seojun’s secrets becomes news-worthy, the two face a big change in their lives that could set them on a path to a whole new world of possibilities…

We spoke to author Rebecca Zahabi about how working at Manchester United football stadium as a tour guide helped inspire her to write The Game Weavers

Can you remember when you first got the idea for The Game Weavers?

The idea came to me while I was working at the Manchester United football stadium as a tour guide. I spent my days leading tours of the stadium, walking down the players’ tunnel as I recited anecdotes about the pitch, the players, the changing rooms, the history of the club… Then the writing brain kicked in. As I learned about football, I also learned about the toxic side of sports culture. I wondered if there was a way of bringing everything I was experiencing and thinking about day to day into a story. I started taking notes between tours – and that turned out to be the first draft of The Game Weavers!

What were your inspirations when writing The Game Weavers?

As I’ve just mentioned, the inspiration for this story came in part from the football stadium. But I am also a big fantasy reader, and interested in the e-sports scene, notably of the League Of Legends game. So I wanted to create a magical game that carried some of the feel that big e-sports tournaments have.

To create Twine, I immersed myself into all the competitive games I’d played when I was a kid – Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering (or, in the latter case, still play). I wanted to depict a magic competitive game, but I wasn’t interested in the ‘build your collection’ aspect of card or Pokémon games. Letting the Twine players create their own creatures meant players weren’t limited by cards or creatures they had to capture; they could spin pawns from their imagination straight onto the pitch. This also meant that Twine was mostly a creative competition; whoever could think up the best strategy won. I was in my element.

I also went to find inspiration in literature. After reading Kit de Waal’s wonderful novel My Name Is Leon, I really wanted to write a child’s voice, so I wrote part of the novel from the point of view of my champion’s younger brother, Minjun. Writing a child narrator was a challenge, but I think it’s the voice that carries the story.

The relationship between brothers Minjun and Seojun is one of, if not the central relationship in The Game Weavers, why focus on this particular pairing?

I think the fact that I was focusing on Minjun’s voice naturally brought his relationship with Seojun to the forefront. When writing The Game Weavers, I wrote nearly all of Minjun’s scenes first. The other characters came afterwards, and were somewhat built around him.

What’s more, I have a supportive family, and a little sister I love fiercely. I wanted a main character who had that love, even though sibling relationships are not always easy, even though, in some important ways, Seojun and Minjun don’t always understand each other. Strong sibling love isn’t a staple of YA fiction – most often than not, the hero is an orphan – so I wanted that relationship to be central to the story.

Why did you decide to switch perspectives, primarily between Minjun and Seojun, throughout the novel?

I believe it was the only way to show everyone’s mental journey, to clarify how everyone reacted when wrestling with their emotions. I knew that I wanted Seojun and Minjun to have difficulty putting their feelings into words. I wanted their love to show, but without them being always conscious about it, or being able to express it. As the two brothers find it difficult to speak about what’s happening to them and what they’re going through, they can’t have a heart-to-heart conversation to tell each other how they feel. Because of this, I needed to switch perspectives, to show how they both felt, so the reader understood and felt close to both brothers. It was the only way to show how much they cared for each other.

I added Jack’s point of view in part to lighten the book. Jack, Seojun’s love-interest, is clearer about his feelings and more down-to-earth than the brothers. He acts as a counterweight to the story, to help them understand that, sometimes, it’s alright to simply say what you feel.

The Game Weavers is out now…

The magical power of Twine could likely be used for a number of things – why focus this power within a gaming setting? And how did you create and plan out the game of Weaving?

When I was writing the story, I was very focused on the game industry. I was trying to analyse why certain environments are more macho than others. Football might have the excuse of tradition, but e-sports – another very male-driven, sometimes macho field – is a recent venture. Twine allowed me to explore this, and to play with the idea of celebrities who are forced to correspond to their fans’ standards. Why do we both admire star players, and then backlash and force them to correspond to our image of them?

The setting also helped limit the story to one theme. Twine as a magic system is so flexible, it could be used for almost anything – if I didn’t have a context in which to explore it, I think I would have easily got lost in subplots about all the variants of Twine possible. In a way, limiting the use of it to a game setting let me show off the potential of Twine whilst keeping it in a designated arena.

I planned out each match carefully – it was what required the most plotting, especially the final tournament! I knew who I wanted to win, and I knew that for good tension I needed a certain number of turnarounds and surprises in each game. I had to think creatively about how each new strategy would be brought in, then how it was countered and overturned.

Seojun goes on an important coming-of-age journey within The Game Weavers – what were your thoughts behind his journey and was that something you’d planned for him at the outset?

No, not completely. As I said, I planned the Twine matches closely. But I let Seojun find his own way throughout the story – I knew I wanted him to find a way out, but I let the character build on what was thrown at him. I wanted the characters to drive the story forward and wrestle with their issues, so a lot of Seojun’s coming-of-age happened on the page, as the events unfolded.

There is an interview scene with some journalists, which I remember as being an agony to write. I had no idea what to say. Seojun had no idea what to say. I wasn’t sure how I was going to finish that scene. I let Seojun carry the story there, moving very slowly, letting him find his own words to try to express what he was going through.

What are you reading right now?

The Poppy Wars by R. F. Kuang – a fantasy epic set in Medieval China, with shamanism involved. It’s very different from The Game Weavers, but I’m enjoying it!

What’s next for you?

I am currently working on my next novel, in a second-world fantasy setting, which I hope I’ll be able to tell you more about in the future! As with The Game Weavers, I am trying to blend modern issues, such as structural inequalities, into a magical setting. I find fantasy helps draw the focus on what’s important in the story, and helps the reader see their own world differently, with new eyes.

The Game Weavers by Rebecca Zahabi is out now from ZunTold Publishing