This week for the BookBrunch interview I had to curb my enthusiasm as I got to interview author of The Lie Tree and recent Costa winner Frances Hardinge:
Just when you think publishing’s getting staid, it turns around and does something delightful to change your mind. The Costa Book of the Year to children’s and YA author Frances Hardinge for her novel The Lie Treewas one of those moments.
Against the odds
Hardinge is only the second children’s author – after Philip Pullman – to win Book of the Year since the Costa (previously Whitbread) adopted this format in the mid-Eighties. “That’s, of course, one of the reasons why I didn’t think I’d get it,” she says, with what is becoming known as trademark modesty.
“At first I just felt completely stunned, then I felt stunned, sleep-deprived, and as if somebody had attached me to a sort of media rollercoaster. Now, I’m working my way around to it sometimes actually sinking in. There’s been a great deal of happiness throughout. On the occasions where it has sunk in, I have a tendency to giggle… I still can’t really quite believe that this is actually happening!”
The choice has been a hot topic in the industry, with literary news outlets and commentators discussing what this means for the genre. “It’s really good for children’s and YA fiction,” comments Hardinge, “because it does mean that some people are looking at them anew, and maybe even delving a bit and noticing exactly how much interesting and exciting stuff is out there.
“There do seem to be an increasing number of adults reading my books, which is lovely. As well as being children’s/YA books, they’re all basically genre fiction as well, and the genre fiction community is actually quite open-minded about children’s/YA fantasy.” Her 2014 novel, Cuckoo’s Song, won the Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel.
The appeal of strong themes
One of the reasons her books have been picked up by adults as well as children is undoubtedly Hardinge’s ability to wrestle with strong themes. The Lie Tree focuses on a young girl called Faith unraveling the mystery behind the death of her Reverend father. Living in a strict Victorian milieu, she picks up his enthusiasm for botany and science, despite internal and external criticism that it isn’t a suitable occupation for a girl. The feminist themes are apparent.
Hardinge’s original idea was the Lie Tree itself. Once she slotted it into the context of the Victorian period, the story began to flow. “Because we are dealing with lies and facades – not just the lies we tell each other but the lies we tell ourselves, the lies we let other people tell us, and the untruths we cling to – the Victorian Period very much looked like the one to use.
“But then, looking at the fact that I would be writing about a teenage girl in the Victorian period and looking at interest in science, I couldn’t see a way I could dodge gender – in fact. I couldn’t see a way I should dodge gender. I could try to tiptoe around it, but that felt wrong, so in the end I gave up and took it head on…”
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