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INTERVIEW: Frances Hardinge

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Today I welcome Frances Hardinge, author of A Skinful of Shadows, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes, I've always been a daydreamer. When I was very young and extremely shy, I always had secret stories alive in my head, which I told to myself over time.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I certainly can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a writer. As a child I always had a shortlist of things I wanted to be, and this would change a bit over time, but "writer" was always on the list, as were "artist" and "international spy".

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?
I was born in Brighton, on the 13th floor of the hospital. I now live in a rather green part West London, near to the Thames path and lots of parks. My hobbies include scuba diving, hiking, role-playing games and traveling.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

It wasn't exactly a flash. A number of partial ideas had been floating around in the back of my head for some time, and started to make more sense once they finally came together. I think the first of these to come to me was the idea of the ghost bear. I'd heard about the historical mistreatment of dancing bears, and it had made me angry, so I liked the idea of one of these bears coming back in ghost form to wreak revenge, unshackled at last.

How extensively do you plan your novels?
This varies from book to book, but I'm definitely a planner. I create brainstorming documents, outlines, maps, character lists and sometimes chronological spreadsheets. I also do a lot of research, even if I'm using a fantastical setting. I like to know the main things that happen in the book, and how the story is going to end, before I start writing in good earnest.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Yes, occasionally! A childhood nightmare of mine was the indirect inspiration for a dream sequence in The Lie Tree. Another nightmare gave me ideas for a short story.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
Historical research always unearths lots of fascinating details. I learnt a lot about seventeenth century spycraft, including how to make invisible ink from artichoke juice, and a way to hide a message inside an apparently unbroken egg. I also learnt about fascinating superstitions still lingering at that time, such as the belief that bear cubs were born as shapeless blobs that had to be licked into shape by their mothers. Some remedies were a bit bizarre too - 'snail water' was a treatment for gout, and newly killed pigeons were sometimes laid on a patient's feet if they were in imminent danger of death!

Where do you write, and when?
I usually write in my little study, which doubles as a storeroom and is very cluttered. Most days I try to work nine to five, but often this schedule breaks down. When I have a deadline looming, it's not unusual for me to work until 2, 3, 4 or even 5 in the morning.

What is your favourite part of writing?
Coming up with the initial ideas, in the first flush of excitement and enthusiasm, is fun. Also, there are times when the writing just flows. Of course, you never know when these times are going to be.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I create more brainstorming documents to help myself think things through. Sometimes I take a break and go for a really long walk, which also seems to help me untangle things.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

I'm curious about everything, I always want to try new things, I love talking to people who know things I don't, and I'm a great fan of travel.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
Not unless you count making industrial quantities of tea.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
I would have trouble whittling my list of favourites down to fifty, so this list of ten is a bit arbitrary: Lewis Carroll, Susan Cooper, Douglas Adams, Richard Adams, EM Forster, Terry Pratchett, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins, Tennyson, Charlotte Bronte.

What do you consider to be good writing?

I think that there are hundreds of different kinds of good writing. Elaborate, lyrical writing takes skill, but so does clear, concise use of language. Multi-faceted novels and ingeniously brief picture books require different kinds of craftsmanship. Books that succeed in being funny, entertaining, scary or suspenseful are examples of good writing, even if they're not the sort of book that gets shortlisted for literary prizes.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Here are the tips I usually give young aspiring writers.

What are you working on now?
I'm writing another rather weird YA novel, this time set in an alternative world. I'd rather not say too much at this stage, but some of the action will take place underwater...

BOOK REVIEW: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


The Blurb (From Goodreads):

This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .

Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide.
Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.

Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.

And now there's a spirit inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father's rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.

My Thoughts:

Frances Hardinge is now officially my favourite writer for young adults. Her novel The Lie Tree was one of my best reads of 2016, and now she has enchanted me anew with A Skinful of Shadows which is just as dark, magical, intelligent and surprising.

Set during the English Civil War, one of my favourite historical periods, A Skinful of Shadows tells the story of Makepeace, a twelve-year old girl growing up in a Puritan community. Her mother locks her in a crypt on moonless nights, so that she can learn to fight ghosts. Makepeace begs her not to, but her mother is relentless. So Makepeace tries to break free. Her impetuous action leads to tragedy, and Makepeace finds herself a prisoner of the very people her mother had been trying to protect her from.

And Makepeace carries a dark and terrible secret inside her. She is possessed by the ghost of a bear.

A spellbinding and compelling tale of necromancers and cavaliers, hungry spirits and treasonous spies, A Skinful of Shadows thrums with magic, danger and intrigue. Makepeace is a wonderful heroine – clever, resourceful, compassionate and brave. And Bear, the wild fierce and unpredictable force within her, will just about break your heart. I am now eagerly hunting down Frances Hardinge’s other books!

I was lucky enough to interview Frances Hardinge, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK LIST: Kate Forsyth's Best Books of 2016

Sunday, January 08, 2017

In 2016, I read around 90 books (not including research books!) 

That’s an average of seven or eight books a month, and is actually less than I usually read. I had a lot of research to do this year, though!

For my own interest I’ve done two pie-charts to break down the gender of the writers and the genres of the fiction. 

Unsurprisingly, I read a lot more books by women than by men, and my favourite genre was historical fiction. 

I was surprised by how little fantasy and romance I read – it’s not like me. I obviously have some reading to catch up on! 

Here are my lists of the Best Books of the Year. Just click on the links to read my reviews of these amazing books.


1. The Observations – Jane Harris

2. Fingersmith – Sarah Waters

3. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

4. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos – Dominic Smith  

5. Tower of Thorns – Juliet Marillier 

6. The Marvels – Brian Selznick

7. The Other Daughter – Lauren Willig

8. The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry 

9. The Midnight Watch – David Dyer

10. The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge

11. The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert

12. The Good People – Hannah Kent

13. The Suspect – Michael Robotham

14. Wolf Winter – Cecilia Ekback 

15. The Wonder – Emma Donoghue


1. H Is For Hawk – Helen Macdonald 

2. The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece - Carola Hicks

3. Peacock & Vine – A.S. Byatt

4. A Woman on the Edge of Time: A Son’s Search for his Mother – Jeremy Gavron

5. Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place – Philip Marsden

6. Victoria the Queen – Julia Baird

Wondering what were my Best Books of the past few years? Click here!

BOOK REVIEW: THE LIE TREE by Frances Hardinge

Friday, June 10, 2016

Winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2015, The Lie Tree is a dark and powerful novel from universally acclaimed author, Frances Hardinge. 

It was not enough. All knowledge- any knowledge - called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen.

Faith has a thirst for science and secrets that the rigid confines of her class cannot supress. And so it is that she discovers her disgraced father's journals, filled with the scribbled notes and theories of a man driven close to madness. Tales of a strange tree which, when told a lie, will uncover a truth: the greater the lie, the greater the truth revealed to the liar. Faith's search for the tree leads her into great danger - for where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .

The Lie Tree is an utterly brilliant and surprising YA historical novel with a magical twist – it recently won the Costa Book of the Year award in a decision that I applaud most enthusiastically. The story is set in Victorian times, teetering on the edge of the uneasy chasm that opened up between science and religion following Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. Faith is a fourteen-year-old girl with an eager, questioning mind, who is constantly being reprimanded for unwomanly behaviour. She adores her naturalist father, loves her little brother, and dislikes her pretty, manipulative mother. The family – accompanied by her Uncle Miles – sail to Vane, an imaginary island much like Jersey, to escape a scandal. Faith’s father is then found dead. Trying to find out what happened, Faith stumbles upon a complex mystery of deceit, betrayal, and murder. 

The story twists and turns, with all sorts of surprising discoveries, and the characters are all drawn with a swift, deft hand. The Lie Tree at the centre of the story is an extraordinary imaginative creation. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, so please do not be put off by its young protagonist or the fantastical elements. This book is a tour de force. Read it.

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