Friday, May 28, 2010

My interview with Katherine Langrish, PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Katherine Langrish, the highly talented author of the Troll Trilogy and her newest novel, The Shadow Hunt (releases 6/1 in the US; currently on sale in the UK as Dark Angels) was kind enough to stop by IIF and answer a few questions!

How would you describe SHADOW HUNT in 4 words?

Children’s Celtic-Medieval fantasy

How much research goes into your stories, and how do you conduct your research?

A lot! Months of research goes into each of my books. For me the world of the story is as important as the characters. I end up with huge files of notes, but I love doing it. ‘The Shadow Hunt’ is set specifically in the late 12th century, a few years after the Third Crusade. Not only the physical world – the clothes, the castles, the social system – but even the legends I use, such as the possibility of your dead relatives not being really dead but spirited away by the elves to some underground kingdom – were researched from accounts of the time, by writers such as Gerald of Wales (a Welsh-Norman cleric) and Walter Map (one of King Henry II’s courtiers). So all the things my characters believe in – including of course their medieval Catholic beliefs about God, the saints, and the arrangement of the universe – are correct for the period. I remember thinking, ‘Wow - the medieval model of the Universe (with the Earth in the centre, and the Sun and all the planets going around it set in perfect crystalline spheres) is so grand and beautiful! All right, so nowadays we know it’s not correct – but what a marvellous setting for a fantasy.’ The internet is an excellent resource so long as you are cautious about checking the sources. I also read almost nothing but medieval history and medieval literature during the two years I was writing this book, so I was submerged in the 12th century world. Plus I read up about wolves, about feral children, and about the medical conditions that might have led medieval people to suppose a child might be a changeling. Living in Britain, I’m lucky to be able to visit the places I was writing about. The dramatic hill country of the Welsh borders which is the setting for The Shadow Hunt is a few hours away from where I live. With my ever-patient husband, I clambered around old castles, met wolves in a wolf sanctuary, and squeezed down the dark, dripping and highly uncomfortable passages of an abandoned Roman copper mine… all for the good of the book.

What typically comes first for you – the character or the plot?

Characters come before plot. And even before characters, what come first are images – strong pictorial flashes of vision that set the ‘feeling’ for the book. In the case of The Shadow Hunt I began with a picture in my mind of enormous fiery angels walking through a cornfield and setting the corn alight. And another picture of a boy on a hill at night, watching a shower of shooting stars. Though neither image made it into the final book – at least, not unchanged – I began to get that shiver down the spine that tells you you’re on to something. Angels and cornfields suggested a medieval setting. The boy on the hill – who was he? Why was he there? Could he be a shepherd? Or was he running away from something? And gradually I began to explore the world I was visualising. Plot is important, of course. It goes without saying that something has to happen. But I need characters I really care about first.

For you, what is the most challenging part of the writing process?

You know, in the fairytales, when the princess has to climb the glass mountain? That’s the way it feels when I start writing a new book. There’s this ghostly, glassy, perfect pinnacle rising up and up ahead – and boy does it look hard and high to climb! Maybe one of the most difficult things is getting the beginning right. The first few pages of Chapter One of ‘The Shadow Hunt’ went through over thirty different versions before I was satisfied.

How would you finish this sentence: A successful author is someone who…

A successful author is someone whose books you want to re-read.

Any new projects you can share with us?

I’m about to begin taking the first few slippery steps up the glass mountain. My next book (or two: this may well spill over into a duet or a trilogy) will have a very different kind of setting: a cityscape a couple of hundred years into the future. I have some strong characters I’m getting to know, and there’ll be mythical and folklore references. I’m very, very excited about it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Yes – take the time to think. Thinking is just as much part of creating a novel as actually setting the words down. Don’t feel pressured to start too early, and don’t feel guilty if you’re not hammering out those two thousand words a day. (Me? I sometimes don’t write more than fifty. Or I end up with fewer words at the end of the day, because I’ve been cutting and unpicking.) Often, if you get stuck, it’s a sign that you’re veering off course with the book – maybe trying to force a character to do something they wouldn’t. Give yourself time out. Go off and do something different and let your subconscious mind come up with the answers.

What Young Adult novels would you recommend to readers?

There are so many amazing books to choose from! But if I had to pick just two, Susan Price’s The Sterkarm Handshake and A Sterkarm Kiss are amazing YA novels. The premise is that a time-travel ‘Tube’ has been invented which takes researchers back into the wild Scottish borders of the 16th century – where the men and women of the Sterkarm clan take the oddly clothed, strange-spoken 21st century intruders to be elves from Elfland. The scientists, whose agenda is exploitative, make the serious misjudgement of assuming the rough, uneducated Sterkarms to be naïve and stupid. The Sterkarms, however, are nobody’s fools - and casual violence is their way of life…. Beautifully written, witty, thought provoking – these books let you see both the 16th and the 21st centuries from twin perspectives. Susan Price is a past winner of the Carnegie Medal; she won the Guardian award for the first book in this series, and is currently working on the third.

And I can't resist a travel question! Where are a few places in England that you would recommend to visitors - places that may not be as well known to travelers?

I come from the Yorkshire Dales in the north of England, and think it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet – if you like moors, and hills, and old houses, try visiting the Dales around the old market town of Skipton. There’s a beautiful old castle, a Roman road leading over the moors, a bustling market, and the town is surrounded by wonderful places to walk.

Or you could visit Ludlow on the Welsh Marches, in Shropshire. It’s an utterly beautiful old town with lots of half-timbered Tudor houses; the castle is where Henry the Eighth’s older brother Prince Arthur lived with his wife Catherine of Aragon - before his early death at the age of fifteen. It’s also the place where John Milton’s magical play ‘Comus’ was first produced as a courtly masque. And it has some of the best restaurants in the country!

A huge thank-you to author Katherine Langrish for agreeing to do an interview with me. And now I'm very excited to announce a giveaway! The awesome folks at Harper Collins sent me an extra ARC of The Shadow Hunt, and I'll be giving it away to one lucky winner!

Entries will be simple this time: leave a comment with your email address, so I can contact you if you win. Note: if you commented on my review of Shadow Hunt, you get a bonus entry! However, you had to have commented BEFORE this post :) A winner will be announced on June 1, the day Shadow Hunt releases! Make sure to add this amazing book to your TBR! Click here for more info.

NOTE: If you live in the UK, this title is already available under the title DARK ANGELS :)
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