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Thursday, 07 May 2015
The Girls’ Division Theatre was filled with bookworms excited to meet special guest Frances Hardinge, whose book Cuckoo Song is nominated for this year’s prestigious Carnegie Medal. The date of her visit coincided with the publication of her latest novel, The Lie Tree, and so pupils were able to buy copies as they arrived, which Frances was happy to sign for them.
Pupils from the Girls’ Division were joined by groups from Bolton Muslim Girls’ School, Smithills School and Turton School for the event.
Frances took to the stage – her characteristic black hat in place – to give a talk about her “very odd” books. She gave the assembled pupils a brief introduction to each of her books: Fly By Night, Verdigris Deep, Gullstruck Island, Twilight Robbery, A Face Like Glass, Cuckoo Song and finally The Lie Tree. In each synopsis, Frances gave the pupils a flavour of what makes each book odd in its own unique way.
The focus of the talk was on Carnegie nominated Cuckoo Song and new publication The Lie Tree. The two books share certain characteristics in that they are both historical novels, and both are quite creepy. Frances talked about how this was one of the challenges when she was writing, as relying on tropes or clichés wouldn’t be scary at all. So, talking about Cuckoo Song, she said, “I asked myself what are my fears, and can I take my fears and give them to you?”
She talked about her childhood fear of doppelgangers, narrating a recurring dream she used to have about her sister being replaced which she channelled into Cuckoo Song. She also discussed how her research into changelings – a particularly ancient doppelganger story – completely changed her mind about the book she wanted to write, and led her down a different path to the one she originally thought she was going to take.
Frances then introduced to the story of The Lie Tree before giving an excellent and atmospheric reading to a rapt audience. She read a section in which the main character, Faith, is the only one brave enough to approach her father after he locks himself in his study, and finds more than she bargained for when she goes inside. After Faith’s father is killed in unusual circumstances, she discovers the Lie Tree: a tree which bears fruit when a lie is whispered to it, and this fruit when eaten reveals a truth – the more people who believe the lie, the bigger the truth that is uncovered. The story becomes a murder mystery, with Faith spreading lies to find out the truth behind her father’s death.
Frances also painted a picture of the process of writing a book, from her month-long planning stage, through the year of writing the first draft, and the months of editing work and changes that have to happen before the book can be released. She described this last part as a “painful process” that leaves her hating the book by the end of it all! However, she added that when she receives the cover, she starts to like the book again and by the time it is published and physical copies appear, it becomes exciting once again. For any pupils in the audience who are interested in writing books, this was a fantastic way to see the reality of life as an author – and for readers it was interesting to see what goes into producing a book.
At the end of the session, Frances opened the floor to questions. One pupil asked where she got her ideas, to which she replied, “Everywhere!”
Pupils also wanted to know which of Frances’s own characters and settings are her favourites. She admitted that these questions were particularly hard to answer! She talked about why she likes several of the characters she has written about – particularly noting which of them share parts of her own character – but said that Fly By Night’s setting and main character, Mosca, were probably her absolute favourites. Talking about her favourite of her own books, she said, “The first book – Fly By Night – was the easiest to write as I didn’t think it would be published so there was no pressure. I didn’t end up hating Cuckoo Song as much as the others by the end of editing, so that was good! Right now, I’m rediscovering the excitement of The Lie Tree and remembering why I liked it and why I wanted to write that story.”
During the questions, Frances also revealed that she can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a writer, and that she often sets herself challenges when writing books – for example, creating a character who cannot lie in A Face Like Glass and then needing that character to come up with schemes that other characters can’t find out about!
One of the most interesting questions was whether she was still happy with the endings of her books. Frances said that she is happy with how she ended the books, but some of the endings are a little odd as she doesn’t like to tie up all the loose ends as to imply that nothing interesting will ever happen to those characters or that setting again would be boring. She therefore likes to imply that more things will happen to them after the end of the book.
The pupils were really interested to hear about her creative process and to learn more about her books. This was a fantastic opportunity for them to hear from Frances herself. The event was arranged by Bolton School library staff.
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