Mina Ikemoto Ghosh introduces her debut novel

We spoke to author and illustrator Mina Ikemoto Ghosh who answered questions about her stunning debut novel, Hyo the Hellmaker.


Can you introduce Hyo the Hellmaker, your debut novel?

Sure. Hyo the Hellmaker is a YA fantasy-mystery set in a world inspired by Japanese traditions and religion. Hyo is a girl who can manipulate bad luck, but only when paid to do so by others. She runs a vengeance service selling unlucky days and individualised hells that make her commissioners’ enemies suffer. Hyo the Hellmaker finds Hyo and her brother coming to Onogoro, an island where the gods of her country live amongst the humans, and quickly getting tangled up in a murder mystery that drops her straight into Onogoro’s dark side.

What were your inspirations for the book?

I guess a female experience of Japanese culture? En, kegare and the idea of monstrous vengeful women with terrible cursing power (like grudging ghosts and the Ushi no Koku Mairi curse ritual) are all a part of that. I was pretty determined not to draw on the elements of the culture that the English language publishing industry was most familiar with.

Hyo actually started out as a rom-com. I really liked the idea of a bumbling god of en-musubi (fate-connecting) who couldn’t hold on to any good en of his own. I thought his logical opposite would be someone who made a lot of personal en (fateful connections, loosely relationships), when other people’s ens didn’t work out. Murder is the ultimate en blow-up. Rather than healthily cutting the en, it just transmutes the previous en into a new one of ‘murderer and murdered’ – so Hyo appeared, as someone who found clients at murder scenes.

The last piece of the puzzle was Onogoro. In the old Japanese calendar, the tenth month was called No Gods Month, except for at the Great Shrine of Izumo, where it was called All Gods Month. This was because the tenth month was when all the gods left their home shrines to go have a massive (very ritually important) feast (spa break) at Izumo. It occurred to me that if the gods were physically real, a bomb dropped on the party would destroy all gods guarding a country and a country’s ability to bargain with luck in one go. It’d be useful to know that in a war…and that’s where the worldbuilding stepped in.

Hyo the Hellmaker also features your stunning Japanese-inspired artwork. How did you approach the illustration process?

I picked out key moments per chapter, and then tried to make sure I got a good mix of compositions, expressions and characters in. Character introductions, I wanted an illustration to signpost their arrival. I also wanted some quiet moments and pictures that had more space to them, like I was inserting breathing space into the book.

Process-wise, I’m fairly easy. I go in with a pencil, then pen it out, and shade and edit digitally. I like to draw with pen because once the line’s down, that’s it. I can’t hit undo, so it forces me to carry on drawing, and in the end that’s faster. I look up references for clothes, architecture, and animal species when I need to. I learnt a lot about true crabs and false crabs this time!

Can you tell us more about the way you structured the novel using kishotenketsu?

In the four act kishotenketsu story model, conflict isn’t necessary for story, although you can have it. All you really need is a situation that develops in complexity until you hit the ‘Ten’ part, which is the so-called ‘twist’. The ‘twist’ is often something that changes the way you interpret the ‘Ki’ and ‘Sho’ sections leading up to it, but the more important idea is a sense of irreversibility. The cat is not only out of the bag, it has eaten all the bags in the world and cannot be put back.

The climax of Hyo the Hellmaker, in the Ten section, is therefore not a final showdown with a villain, but the moment when she is finally commissioned and her powers are unsealed. The rest of the story was built to lead up to that moment, gathering together the pieces of who did what and where to bring everything to that point.

Without villain antagonism to shift things along or drive up tension, I used more incidences of fate or luck to put pieces in place instead. That’s pretty common in kishotenkentsu based media, but it also worked really well for Hyo’s world when fate and luck are actually within the conscious (imperfect) control of some characters.

I also used a mini-kishotenketsu in each of the four acts as a starting point for pacing events, but it was a guideline more than a rule.

Who was your favourite character to write?

Every time Tokifuyu showed up I was cackling. I had a rule that not a single character was allowed to be too cool, and he very much fell victim to that in every draft. He’s also earnest and desperate to do the right thing, but convinced he’s doing everything wrong. I’ve always had a soft spot for the characters who’d beg the world for a user manual for it if only there was one.

Are there any other authors or illustrators who inspire your work?

Amano Yoshitaka and Chris Riddell are big for drawing. I come back to Arakawa Hiromu’s Fullmetal Alchemist when I want to think about story heart, and Terry Pratchett’s City Watch books for character and world. Chainsawman makes me think a lot about cinematography and panel composition. I also like an old fashioned mystery classic: Agatha Christie, Yokomizo Seishi, that kind of stuff. I read the Decagon House Murders by Ayatsuji Ikuto recently and wanted to throw the book across the room at the ONE LINE that explained everything. My first mystery love was Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. You can’t beat a trick that isn’t actually a trick, and it probably cemented my love for the monster in the shadows.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors or illustrators?

Liking writing or drawing just for the act of it isn’t enough, and reading or copying the art you like has its limits. You need to find something that matters to you, and matters deeply. It doesn’t need to be a great cause or a flag to wave. It just needs to matter to you.

That could be inclusion, equity and climate change. That could be deep sea vent ecosystems. It could be figuring out what makes the perfect chocolate cake, or checking out kabaddi, or thinking about the history of glass in Europe, or a combination of all those things. That constellation of things that matter to you becomes your truth.

So write and draw, but find things to, first, be interested in and, second, care about. Care makes you warm. Find the things that light you up and teach you to care, so that when you write or draw – it doesn’t even have to be directly about these wonderful, awful, happy, sad, clever, absurd things you find – you know how caring’s fire feels, and you can put it in your stories to warm others too. I can’t say I can do this yet myself. I’m working on it.

What are you reading right now?

I’m in the mood for a healing book right now, so I’ve got My Beautiful Garden by Nagira Yuu in the Japanese, about an en-cutting shrine at the top of a small apartment block and the people who go there. One of the characters tried to cut themselves clean of ‘societal expectations’ and another ‘running away from (his) problems’. I’ve also got Darker by Four by June CL Tan, and looking forward to diving in!

Hyo banner 1

Hyo the Hellmaker
gbp prices
Save £4.00
Product ordering

Hyo the Hellmaker

A breath-taking YA fantasy, illustrated with stunning Japanese-inspired artwork by the author, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Xiran Jay Zhao and R.F. Kuang. Meet the Hakai Family Hellmakers: Purveyors of artisan hells and unlucky days to inflict upon your enemies. They’ll make it personal… But for a price! Hyo Hakai is a hellmaker. But when a curse destroys her village, she and her brother are forced to flee to the Island of Onogoro – a place where Gods live among humans. Hyo expects the bodies when they show up, but as she invetigates she is drawn into a tangled web of ens, death, conspiracy and secrets.

Similar Posts

All categories

Blog home