Reading Plus Champion Natalia interviews her favourite author, Frances Hardinge
At Reading Solutions UK, we don’t believe a child’s reading journey should have an end, and as such, we were delighted to award several students as Reading Plus Champions for the academic year 2022/23.
The Reading Plus Champions role was new for the academic year 2022/23, and after its success, we are very excited to be relaunching it this academic year – with a twist! Find out more about the Reading Plus Champions role here.
The role celebrated students who had completed the entire Reading Plus programme, and selected students were assigned additional exciting reading tasks such as reviewing new and unseen Reading Plus texts and interviewing an author of their choice.
Year 9 Reading Plus Champion Natalia from Sirius Academy shared with us that award-winning young adult fiction author Frances Hardinge is her favourite writer. She told us:
“My favourite genre of book is historical fiction, meaning that I adore authors such as Frances Hardinge, whom I name as my favourite author. I prefer these books to have some forms of realism within them, as you can connect with characters throughout the text on a deeper level.”
We were delighted to facilitate a Q&A between Natalia (N) and Frances (F). Read below how it went.
N: Where do you find your inspiration for the storylines of your books?
F: The short answer is ‘everywhere’! Places I’ve seen while travelling, weird historical details, overheard conversations, place names, anecdotes people tell me, folktales, strange things in museums, etc.
Most writers have a part of their brain that is a bit like a deranged magpie and is always on the lookout for shiny things – that is, odds and ends to use in stories.
N: Are there any individuals who inspired your books?
F: Some real historical individuals partly inspired some of my characters. In A Skinful of Shadows, a female Royalist spy uses the name ‘Helen’, actually based on a real woman named Jane Whorwood.
In the same book, Lady Eleanor is a somewhat prickly prophetess. She is based on Lady Eleanor Davies, a rather pompous and challenging self-styled seer whose prophecies surprisingly tended to come true. Fortunately, her predictions about the end of the world never came about.
In a broader sense, many writers also helped to inspire my books by shaping my imagination and giving me a love of stories. I owe a particular debt to authors like Susan Cooper, Leon Garfield, Alan Garner, Richard Adams, Catherine Storr, and Nicholas Fisk, whose books I read as a child.
N: Which book was the most enjoyable to write, and why?
F: Two were more fun to write than the others. The first was Fly by Night because I wasn’t expecting it to get published! I just had fun with it, weaving in the sort of things that I found interesting, exciting, scary, or funny. I was pretty staggered when I got a book contract!
The second was Cuckoo Song. For some reason, writing it was fun from beginning to end. I never ended up hating it, and I was able to write it a lot more quickly than most of the others.
N: Which book is the most enjoyable for you to read, and why?
F: I don’t usually sit down and read my books from cover to cover, so this is a bit hard for me to judge. I will dip into one of my books sometimes, though, if I want to remind myself of a detail or look for a passage to use as a reading.
The only time I’ve reread one of my books in full was when I was preparing to write Twilight Robbery – the sequel to Fly by Night. I read the first book to understand the reader’s experience better before I began writing the second.
N: Looking back on when you first started writing, what would you do differently now?
F: I’m much more aware of some of my pet faults. I sometimes ‘over-write’, trying to put too much into the books and getting carried away with descriptions. Nowadays, I edit my books more ruthlessly. However, that doesn’t mean I’d want to change the books I’ve already written. They’re a part of my writing journey and the road that has brought me here.
N: Is there anything specific you wish to convey in your books?
F: Usually, I’m exploring ideas rather than trying to hit the reader over the head with a moral or instruction. I generally try to get the reader thinking rather than telling them what to think. In fact, if there is a message in my books, it would probably be something like, think for yourself; don’t let anybody else tell you want to think, including me.
Some of my views and feelings do seep into my books. I wouldn’t say I like unfairness, prejudice, or situations where human beings treat each other as less than human, and I’m sure that comes across in my work.
N: Are there any books you have written that you dislike? If so, why do you feel this way?
F: I usually have a turbulent relationship with my books. When I start writing one, I’m enthusiastic, but when I’m about two-thirds of the way through the first draft, I run out of momentum and lose faith in the story.
By the time I’ve finished the book, usually, I wouldn’t say I like it and have become convinced everybody else will hate it too, and they’ll all turn up outside my house and throw rocks at me. Fortunately, this hasn’t happened yet!
Once the book is published, if people show signs of actually liking it, I gradually forgive it for existing. So, I often dislike my books while writing them, but thankfully it’s temporary!
N: What factors motivate you to continue to draft more novels?
F: I love telling stories, and I always have. Even when I was very young, I was scribbling down little tales in secret notebooks, and I used to make up bedtime stories for my younger sister when we were both trying to get to sleep.
Writing isn’t the easiest of professions because it’s isolating and financially insecure and takes discipline that one doesn’t always have. But even when it’s hard, it’s a job I love.
Regarding day-to-day motivation, I also find that deadlines sometimes help because they put pressure on me in a good way. One of the reasons I like belonging to small writers’ circles is that the meetings can be used as mini-deadlines.
N: Have you ever based a character on somebody you know?
F: A good friend of mine did ask me to base a minor character on him, and I agreed – it’s one of the musician characters in Twilight Robbery. I then had to tell the rest of my friends that I couldn’t base characters on all of them, too! If I tried to squeeze all my friends into my books, the story would get very crowded.
N: When and how did you discover a passion for literature and writing?
F: I was lucky enough to have a childhood surrounded by books. Both my parents read to me and my sister, so I absorbed a love of the written word from a young age.
My late grandfather, H Mills West, also inspired me. He belonged to a poor farming family and was one of many children who had to leave school early so that he could work to help make ends meet. He was extremely intelligent, however, so he used books to educate himself and even got a place in a teacher training college. Not only did he become a teacher, but he also wrote about a dozen books, which a local publisher accepted. Despite all the obstacles, I’m very proud of him for achieving so much.
Reading Plus Champion nominations for 2023/24 are now closed.
Photography © Urszula Soltys