Book birthday interview with Kendra Leighton
I totally love ghost stories, so I jumped a the chance of reading the fantastic debut by Kendra Leighton GLIMPSE. It chilled my spine, warmed my gnarled old heart, and got my pulse racing. In short, it was the most fun I’ve had in years. And to add to my joy, I was lucky enough to get to talk to her about it too!
But first, a taste of the book…
The highwayman came riding –
Riding – riding –
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door
Liz just wants to be normal. Her life is anything but.
Seven years ago Liz lost her mother and ten years’ worth of memories. When she inherits the infamous Highwayman Inn, she hopes the move will be a fresh start. Then she meets Zachary. Zachary who haunts her by night and in dreams; who makes her question everything she is and wants to be; who seems scarcely real – yet makes her feel so alive.
Inspired by Alfred Noyes’ classic poem ‘The Highwayman’, Glimpse is a ghost story, a love story, and a story of a girl fighting for her future by confronting her terrible past.
First of all congratulations on the publication of GLIMPSE, Kendra. Can you tell us a bit about your journey so far?
Thanks, Nikki! It’s five years this month since I started writing Glimpse, so my journey to publication has been a long one!
Glimpse was the first novel I wrote. Back in 2009, very much a newbie writer, I spent six months on a first draft before dashing it off to agents. Like a lot of non-writers, I thought that being an avid reader meant I could write a good novel, and that getting published would be easy! Amazingly, I did get a couple of full manuscript requests, but the general feedback I received was a wake-up call that writing well is a skill and getting published takes work. So I spent two more years rewriting the manuscript before trying again, and it paid off, because in 2012 I signed with my lovely agent, Jane. Jane and I revised Glimpse a bit more together before she sent it to publishers, and shortly after that it was picked up by Much-in-Little.
When did you first read the poem The Highwayman, and why did you decide to use it as a basis for Glimpse?
I can’t ever remember not knowing ‘The Highwayman’ poem! I must have read it or heard it when I was really young, and I’ve always loved it.
When I first starting writing, I knew I wanted to write something dark and romantic, because that’s what I’ve always loved reading. In my pre-writing days I was an English teacher, and having recently taught ‘The Highwayman’ poem in school, it was fresh in my mind. I wanted to write something just like it, and somehow the poem became all tangled up with the original ideas in my head. Glimpse was the result — it isn’t a retelling of the poem, but uses it as a springboard to create something new.
There are several pubs called The Highwayman Inn. Did you base your story on a particular one (so we can visit it!)?
There are, but sadly I haven’t managed to visit any of them yet! The Highwayman Inn in my book is fictional, but it was heavily inspired by The Spaniards Inn in London. The Spaniards Inn is five hundred years old (just like my Highwayman Inn), and famous for once hosting real-life highwaymen, so it’s perfect. It’s even rumoured to be home to Dick Turpin’s ghost!
Do you believe in ghosts and have you ever seen one?
Good question! I’ve never seen a ghost, but have always been fascinated by the idea of them and am open to the possibility of their existence. A close friend of mine has seen the occasional spooky thing, and one of her stories in particular gives me goosebumps. As a child, during the night she would hear ghostly footsteps walking slowly up the stairs to her door…at which point they’d stop, start again at the bottom, and repeat over and over until morning. *shudders*
How would the teenage you have reacted to living in a haunted house?
I’d be terrified of living in a haunted house *now*, so the teenage me wouldn’t have coped at all! My main character, Liz, handles her plight much better than I would. As a teen, I was too wimpy to even read Goosebumps books, and one episode of The X-Files had me convinced that a life-size doll of my sister’s was possessed. I remember countless nights spent rigid with fright in bed! I’ve since been told that my childhood home was indeed rumoured to be haunted, which I’m very glad I didn’t know at the time.
Where did the idea of disembodied ‘glimpses’ come from?
When Glimpse begins, Liz is plagued with the ability to see what she calls ‘Glimpses’ — disembodied floating body parts, such as a hand or a foot or a face. She has a lot to work out as the story progresses, and the Glimpses are a kind of physical representation of how little she knows about her life. She needs to literally learn to see the bigger picture of her reality in order to understand the things she sees.
Also, the idea of seeing floating body parts is just very creepy!
You write very sexy ghosts (move over Twilight!). What are your top 3 literary romances and top 3 ghost stories?
Haha, thanks Nikki!
My top three literary romances…The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (not a happy romance, but beautifully complex), Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (because I love a good tragedy), and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (because I really am a glutton for punishment).
My top three ghost stories are all YA and rather less depressing: Doll Bones by Holly Black, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, and A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb.
As well as being a super-talented author, you run a chocolate company (how jealous?!) How well do writing and chocolate go together?
Writing and chocolate go perfectly together! While I’m writing, I can eat chocolate. While I’m making chocolate, I can eat chocolate.
Seriously though, the two jobs do work well together. Though the chocolate job can be time-consuming, I get to listen to audio books while I’m working, so my brain is always mulling over stories in one way or another.
What’s next (please say a sequel!)
I would never say never, but I’m not planning a sequel — sorry, Nikki! Though there are certainly things I could explore in a second book, I think Glimpse stands quite nicely on its own. As for what comes next, we’ll have to wait and see — I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve…
Thank you Kendra, and best of luck with your launch!
Kendra was born in Lincolnshire in the early ’80s. She spent most of her childhood wishing there were more books in her local library, and holding cucumber parties for snails in the back garden.
After university in Durham and Cambridge, she taught in China and Spain before returning to the UK to teach in middle schools. She discovered her love for YA fiction, and for Noyes’ poem ‘The Highwayman’ (which inspired her first novel), in the English classroom.
In 2008, she left teaching to start a chocolate company in Cambridge. These days, when she’s not making chocolate, she can usually be found writing, reading, taste-testing chocolate (far more than necessary), or trying to steal other people’s cats.
Nikki Sheehan is the youngest daughter of a rocket scientist and went to a convent school in Cambridge where she was taught by real nuns in habits. Her writing was first published when she was seven and her teacher sent a poem she had written into a magazine. She always knew she wanted to be a writer, but, for some reason she can’t remember she did a degree in linguistics followed by psychology. Nikki’s first job was subtitling the Simpsons. She then retrained as a journalist and wrote features about child psychology for parenting magazines and the national press. She is married and lives in Brighton with her husband, three children, two dogs and a cat.