On the 7th July, the mighty forces of the British Science Fiction Association and the Science Fiction Foundation did unite, for a day of AGMs, panels, interviews and discussions of matters speculative and fantastical. The BSFA was kind enough to invite me as their guest of honour.
The weather was less kind, to the point of being downright unsporting. My walk to the venue was considerably more aquatic than expected. Fortunately my little paper map held out, and only collapsed into a papier mâché tatter just as I reached my destination.
I did at least manage to catch part of the first panel, featuring the SFF’s guest of honour, Jo Fletcher of Jo Fletcher Books. It was a cross between a literary discussion and a balloon debate, the other panellists ‘pitching’ different books to Jo, who used her formidable editorial instincts to decide which ones she would ‘publish’.
Next it was my turn to be interviewed by Tom Pollock (The Skyscraper Throne trilogy). Tom was a generous, insightful and skillful interviewer, and managed to give some shape to my ramblings and digressions.
We discussed children’s fiction with a bodycount, ‘neat’ resolutions versus ‘messy’ complex endings, dead parents, questionable surrogate parents, hats, geese, whether romance in YA fiction can push out depictions of other relationships, and whether my worlds were dystopias.
Tom was also very modest, and did not mention
a) that his second book The Glass Republic had just been shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award,
b) that the very next morning he was throwing himself off the Broadgate Tower and abseiling 165m to raise money for St Mungo’s Broadway.
(It’s OK, he survived.)
After lunch, Sophia McDougall (Mars Evacuees, the Romanitas trilogy) interviewed Jo Fletcher, who described the journalistic and publishing career that has led to her running her own imprint. She also talked about the rise of internet vitriol, working with legends such as Ursula le Guin, and running a convention with a broken neck. When asked what sort of manuscripts authors should avoid sending her, she mentioned vampires (she’s seen enough of them for a lifetime) and dystopias (soon to be out of vogue).
The last item on the schedule was my panel with Farah Mendlesohn, Niall Harrison and Virginia Preston. My fellow panelists scared me beforehand by asking whether I would mind a “frank and free discussion of my work”. Since they are all terrifyingly intelligent, I had visions of my books being meticulously dissected while I hid quivering under the table.
In the event, my fellow panel members were actually fairly gentle with me, and no hiding was required. We discussed what constituted a ‘good’ character in my books, Farah suggesting that it was one who “would open doors that everybody else had told them should remain closed”. We also talked about rebels and rule-breakers, mentor-figures and ways that gaming has affected my writing.
Many thanks to everyone at the British Science Fiction Association and the Science Fiction Foundation for a very enjoyable day!
I mentioned that I was looking for an excuse to go back to the Story Museum, didn’t I?
Fortunately the nice people who work there invited me over to run a workshop at the Museum.
On Wednesday 4th June, I worked with students from Shellingford Primary School, looking at ways of fleshing out a story character. The students came up with lots of really inventive and imaginative suggestions throughout. A character who fell into the sea, were munched by fish then grew gills! A hero whose most important relationship was with the villain, since without him he’d have nobody to fight! A character plagued by terrible flashbacks whenever they saw their nemesis!
At one point, we discussed the way things that a characters’ experiences could change them, and I asked whether anybody knew what had happened in Batman’s childhood. To tell the truth, I liked the “raised by bats” and “swallowed a bat” answers better than the real back story.
I was also pleased that “liking hats” was suggested as a character ‘strength’. (The student who suggested that was clearly adept at assessing his audience.)
Afterwards, all the students came up with their own brilliant characters, including a cookie-based hero (with raisin eyes and sesame seed buttons) questing for the rare Alien Cookie, a troll-hating rhino-rider, a mermaid doomed to be killed by a witch, Lava Man battling his nemesis Water Man, and a schoolgirl overcoming her fears of change and going to a new school.
Many thanks to The Story Museum for letting me come and play again, and to everybody at Shellingford Primary for sharing their ideas with me!
Last March, I was invited to Oxford’s Story Museum for a secret photoshoot. I’m not generally a great fan of cameras, since I’m about as photogenic as a mousetrap. However, I wouldn’t be attending this shoot as Frances Hardinge, but as the book character of my choice.
This threw me into wild indecision. I don’t have a single favourite book character, I have hundreds. I was tempted by the Cheshire Cat, but wasn’t sure how to disguise myself as a disembodied smile. In the end I chose one of my favourite tricksters – The Scarlet Pimpernel.
On the day of the shoot, the wonderful Ginny Battcock presented me with a complete outfit in my size, including a powdered wig and a beautiful red frock coat, all borrowed from the National Theatre Company’s wardrobe. Then the makeup expert Sue gave me a powdery, courtly pallor, and drew a tiny black heart on my cheek.
I then spent a happy hour play-acting, flourishing handkerchiefs, brandishing masks and generally being larger than life, while the excellent photographer Cambridge Jones took pictures.
And when I saw all the photographs later, they were brilliant.
I became even more excited when I learnt the names of the other authors involved: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Horowitz, Michael Morpurgo, Jamila Gavin, Shirley Hughes and her daughter Clara Vulliamy, Francesca Simon, Charlie Higson, Benjamin Zephaniah, Geraldine McCaughrean, Terry Jones (from Monty Python), Cressida Cowell, Holly Smale, Katrice Horsley, Kevin Crossley Holland, Steven Butler, Ted Dewan, Michael Rosen and Katherine Rundell.
Nonetheless, I still imagined that the exhibition would be nothing more than a photo gallery. I was beautifully wrong.
26 Characters has taken over two floors of the museum. Each of the photos nestles at the heart of a carefully created set-piece, often filling a room. As Charlie Higson put it: “You can step inside twenty-six great books.”
You can sit in Badger’s parlour from The Wind in the Willows, and hear the crackle of the fire. You can stand on the deck of Treasure Island‘s Hispaniola, or even swab it if you like. You can try to steal the One Ring (though you might regret that). You can push through a wardrobe full of fur coats, into Narnia.
I don’t care how old you are. If you love books and can reach Oxford, you should drop in at the Story Museum and see 26 characters.
While you’re there, stop in at the Talking Throne. Grab a board, choose some word tiles to give yourself a pick ‘n’ mix title, then proceed grandly up the red carpet and sit on the throne. It will announce you by your chosen title, with fanfare.
I had myself announced as “The Devastating Cheese of the Underworld” before thinking, hmm, didn’t I write a book about that?
There is also the Story Loom, demonstrated to us by Ted Dewan (in a splendid Victorian outfit). He regaled us with the sad tale of its lovelorn inventor, while the machine filled the room with sedate music and smoke. (The little buttons on the front say things like, “Foreshadowing”, “Past” and “Dream”.)
Now I just need to find an excuse to go back…
On the 8th May, Cuckoo Song will be published. To celebrate this, next week I will take part in my first ever blog tour.
Given the cuckoo in the title, embarking upon a series of guest blog posts seems pretty appropriate. Feel free to imagine me as a hatted cuckoo, flying between other birds’ orderly, well-designed blog-nests, and dropping in my posts like misbegotten little offspring.
Here is the schedule:
5th May 2014
I don’t have to do any work for this. I just need to marvel as Casey Ann devises some face art based on the book’s cover. I can’t wait to see what she creates!
6th May 2014
I will be talking about the direct and indirect inspirations for Cuckoo Song, including some of my childhood fears…
7th May 2014
Seven facts about the writing of Cuckoo Song will be revealed. Sadly none of them involve time travel to the 1920s.
8th May 2014
Nostalgic memories of the books I read when I was young: totalitarian rabbit states, child thieves, murders, malevolent boulders – everything a growing child needs.
9th May 2014
I will be answering interview questions about my writing, my rolemodels and women in my life that have influenced me.
I hope some of you will visit these blog-nests to watch my egg-posts hatch. In the meanwhile, here is a picture of a young cuckoo impersonating a baby sedge warbler.
On Thursday 24th, I could be found in Manchester’s FAB Cafe for a World Book Night event. (The alert amongst you may recall that World Book Night was actually on the 23rd. This, however, was a Fashionably Late World Book Night celebration.)
I had never been to the FAB Cafe before, and it turned out to be beautifully-appointed underground geek lair, complete with Daleks, Cybermen and sci-fi memorabilia. Indeed, my first reaction upon seeing it was to remark “Eeeheeheehee!” or something similarly eloquent, then run around like a madwoman photographing everything. I would defy anyone not to do the same.
The high point was the readings given by local authors and poets, including R A Smith, D A Lascelles, Tony Curry, Sarah Grace Logan, Anna Percy, Dermot Glennon, Zach Roddis and Jackie O’Hagan. There was a lovely mix of tones and subjects – gritty cynicism, macabre humour, dryly witty and subversive feminism, historical fantasy, and sheer chutzpah. I pitched in as well, giving a reading from the soon-to-be-published Cuckoo Song for the first time.
A far better and more detailed account of the evening can be found here, on D A Lascelles’ blog.
Ed Fortune (columnist and correspondent for Starburst Magazine) suggested that he record an interview with me, to be transmitted for FAB Radio International‘s The Bookworm programme, which he co-hosts with Ninfa Hayes. I agreed, and we found a small, quiet-ish cloakroom at the back of the bar in which to conduct the interview.
I couldn’t help noticing that the door clicked to behind us with a disturbing air of finality. Sure enough, it was an auto-lock. We were trapped in the cloakroom.
We gamely went ahead with the interview, ignoring the possibility that it might only be broadcast posthumously, after the discovery of the dictaphone with our skeletons months hence. In the interview (which can be found here) you may notice a slight hint of panic in our voices.
Fortunately the FAB Cafe staff were on the ball, and came to let us out…
Many thanks to everybody involved for letting me come and play. It was lovely meeting you all!
Another of my stories has escaped into the world! Today sees the official launch of twinned anthologies Noir and La Femme, edited by Ian Whates. Both contain fantasy, horror and SF tales that explore the dark, cynical, heady world of noir, but the latter focusses upon that most dangerous and ambiguous of creatures, the femme fatale.
My story, “Slink-Thinking” can be found in La Femme. It’s noir, but of a slightly peculiar breed. My femme fatale won’t be found peeling off long gloves, or wielding a cigarette holder. She’d need opposable thumbs for that. And a pulse…
Here’s the full Table of Contents for both anthologies:
1. Introduction – Ian Whates
3. Frances Hardinge – Slink-Thinking
4. Storm Constantine – A Winter Bewitchment
5. Andrew Hook – Softwood
6. Adele Kirby – Soleil
7. Stewart Hotston – Haecceity
8. John Llewellyn Probert – The Girl with No Face
9. Jonathan Oliver – High Church
10. Maura McHugh – Valerie
11. Holly Ice – Trysting Antlers
12. Ruth E.J. Booth – The Honey Trap
13. Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Elision
2. E.J. Swift – The Crepuscular Hunter
3. Adam Roberts – Gross Thousand
4. Donna Scott – The Grimoire
5. Emma Coleman – The Treehouse
6. Paula Wakefield – Red in Tooth and Claw
7. Simon Kurt Unsworth – Private Ambulance
8. Jay Caselberg – Bite Marks
9. Marie O’Regan – Inspiration Point
10. Paul Graham Raven – A Boardinghouse Heart
11. Simon Morden – Entr’acte
12. James Worrad – Silent in Her Vastness
13. Paul Kane – Grief Stricken
14. Alex Dally MacFarlane – The (De)Composition of Evidence
About the Authors
The launch party for both books is at 6pm this evening at Eastercon in Glasgow. I won’t be there, but I hope others will drop in and enjoy the party! For those who aren’t at the con, La Femme can be ordered here.
On 29th March, I dropped in at Hounslow Library to give a talk and reading as part of their Spring Fair.
I was given this comfy, colourful corner in the Children’s Section.
Many thanks to those who stayed to listen, despite all the other attractions at the fair. (I think my large, cuddly goose puppet was a bigger hit than I was.)
Bologna is a beautiful city, known for its shady colonnades, rosy stone, leaning medieval towers and delicious food.
Every year, several hundred publishing companies and imprints from all over the world meet for Bologna Children’s Book Fair, to sell and buy book rights, meet each other and discover all the new and exciting things happening in the book world. Tens of thousands of people attend, including rights reps, authors, illustrators, agents, booksellers and journalists.
Last week I attended the Bologna Children’s Book Fair for the very first time. Fortunately I was being looked after by a posse of Bologna veterans – my fellow authors Rhiannon Lassiter, Mary Hoffman and Lucy Coats.
Apparently one wise soul recommended that the best things you could bring to the Bologna Book Fair were “good walking shoes and a strong bladder”. Many people who attend the fair have crazily intense schedules, with half-hour-long appointments back-to-back all day, leaving very little time for food or toilet breaks. The fair isn’t small either, so sometimes people have a five-minute dash through the halls to their next appointment.
Fortunately my schedule wasn’t quite as jam-packed, so I was able to explore the fair. (My attempts to look like a calm and seasoned professional might have been more convincing if Rhiannon and I hadn’t spent five minutes jumping around on an interactive fish pool.)
But going to Bologna is useful, because you get to meet important people in the industry! Such as… er… giant bees…
…and Miffy, here seen with her entourage.
Since it’s the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tove Jansen, author of the Moomin books, The ‘Author Cafe’ contained a lovely little Moominland scene. Moomins and Hattifatteners glowed under animatronic trees, which slowly waved in a non-existent breeze.
The fair also has a large Illustrator Exhibition, filled with beautiful artwork.
Lots of illustrators who aren’t in the exhibition turn up to the fair anyway, in the hope of catching a publisher’s attention. You see them roaming around with their portfolio cases, or queuing patiently by stalls. There’s a long wall where they can put their posters and flyers, and it’s never long before it’s completely covered – talent pinned haphazardly onto talent, some beautiful pictures even falling to the floor.
I learnt a new phrase at Bologna – ‘paper engineering’. This isn’t just wondrous pop-up book art, this covers all ingenious use of paper and card to make 3D sculptures. We came across it everywhere.
I even had a chance to explore Bologna itself, thanks to Evelies Schmidt from Verlag Freies Geistesleben, (the publishing company who have produced a German version of Verdigris Deep, and are currently having A Face Like Glass translated into German as well). Since we both love seeing new places, our ‘meeting’ escaped from the fair, and ran off into the heart of the city in search of adventure.
Things I learnt at Bologna:
1) The children’s book world is vast, and I’ve only seen a tiny corner of it. Although I technically knew this already, it’s a very different matter seeing huge halls filled with stalls from different countries, and large posters for celebrity authors I’ve never heard of because they haven’t been translated into English.
2) My books aren’t really ‘my books’. I work very hard to make them happen, but so do an awful lot of other people. Editors, rights reps, designers, translators, printers and all the people who make sure the books reach the right shops… I’m just lucky enough to be the one whose name is on the cover.
3) Trends in the book world change fast, and move in cycles. What’s more, sometimes publishing companies announce that they’re after one kind of book, then get excited and pounce on something completely different. Moral: as an author, chasing trends can run you ragged. You might as well go ahead and work on the book you’re passionate about, and write it as well as you can.
4) There are a very large number of people all over the world dedicating their lives to the production of joyous things. This makes me very happy.
I have become aware that some of my characters have been appearing in public without telling me. Fortunately a kind gentleman named Michael Dickinson managed to take photos of them while they were frolicking at large in Cardiff Central Library. (‘At large’ may not be the right term. ‘At small’ is perhaps more accurate.)
As you can see from the picture below, the runaway characters are preparing to make their getaway in a floating coffeehouse. Note the big, white kite used to pull the coffeehouse along the blue paper water.
Here are Hathin and Arilou from Gullstruck Island/The Lost Conspiracy, dangling their legs into the water.
Here is Neverfell from A Face Like Glass, attending to a formidably sized cheese. It may even be a Stackfalter Sturton…
…which means it should probably be kept safe from this gentleman.
Come to think of it, the little figure that is just visible through the lefthand window also looks somewhat suspicious. And… um… rather familar.
Here is a closeup of the tiny, belligerent paper Saracen…
…and another view of the coffeehouse, where other disreputable individuals can be glimpsed through the windows. The man dressed in a blue coat and seen from behind is Hopewood Pertellis, and the black-clad figure is Aramai Goshawk.
Many thanks to Michael Dickinson for creating this wonderful display, and for sending me these photos!
On the 6th December, King’s College School in Wimbledon witness a clash of titans – the National Final of the Kids’ Literary Quiz. The Kids’ Lit Quiz is an international literature competition for children aged 10-13, and each year the team that wins the National Final has the chance to compete in the International Final.
This was a second time I had attended the National Final, and once again it was a lot of fun. Every team is given an author as a sort of mascot. It’s very relaxing for the author, because the team does all the hard work, whereas the author basically sits on the sidelines making supportive ‘woo!’ noises and occasionally eating cake.
I was lucky enough to be handed to the team from Finham Park School, who were fun and interesting, and had a tiny cow as a mascot. As it turned out they were also brilliant, and carried off the second prize after a nailbitingly close battle.
Many congratulations to all the teams who competed, and to City of London School for Girls who will be going on to the International Final!