A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
It really did feel like Christmas had come early when I sat down to read The Snow Sister in September. Not only because Emma Carroll’s new book is a wonderful evocation of a Victorian winter, complete with sugared plums and snowy country lanes, but also because reading it felt like such a treat. It’s the kind of book that has just the right amount of sentimentality without tipping over into the saccharine, the kind of book that makes you want to curl up and read it in front of a roaring log fire. Incidentally, it is also the perfect size to fit into a Christmas stocking, so start writing your letters to Santa now! It was a real honour to be able to ask Emma a little about how the book came about.
The Snow Sister feels deliciously Dickensian, both in terms of historical setting and its central message. Was Dickens a conscious influence when you were writing it?
Yes! Anything Victorian Christmas-themed seems to lead straight back to Dickens- I mean, he is touted as the ‘inventor’ of Christmas as we know it. My publisher Faber approached me to write a festive story and were keen for it to be in keeping with traditional tales like The Little Match Girl. So I did have a binge on old Christmas stories before writing it, which included re-reading ‘A Christmas Carol’.
If this isn’t too personal a question, what inspired you to write the book? I notice that it’s dedicated to ‘the original snow sister’.
Well… Anyone who’s read Frost Hollow Hall will be familiar with my love of snow. My best friend Karl is of a similar ‘persuasion’, shall we say. During the winter months we’re both obsessively on the look out for snow, which drives our respective partners and families slightly mad. We call ourselves ‘snow sisters’. On a deeper level, as my own brother lives in Australia, Karl is like another brother to me.
Your description of period details, such as the making of sugared plums, is wonderful. Did writing The Snow Sister involve much research (including eating sugared plums!)?
I did research the details of a Victorian Christmas, yes- stuff like when did Christmas trees and Christmas cards first appear, were there any white Christmases in the mid/late C19th? Also menus and ingredients for certain festive dishes. For sugared plums I watched an episode of the BBC’s The Victorian Farm where Ruth Goodman makes them. They look amazing but so so sickly.
I love the fact that the relatively low word count of The Snow Sister makes it a perfect stocking filler. Was the decision to write The Snow Sister as a novella yours or your publisher’s?
It was Faber’s. I was commissioned to write a 10,000-word novella. It ended up at about 11,000. I’d never written anything of that length before, so it was a challenge to make sure the structure worked. That said, pretty soon afterwards I did another commission for Collins, which was a retelling of Wuthering Heights with a strict 5000 word count . That was definitely harder!
The book ends with something new and unexpected happening to Pearl (no spoilers!). Do you think you might ever write a sequel? Although the book ends on a happy note, I imagine there could be lots of challenges ahead for the characters involved.
Oooh, I’d not thought of a sequel! But you’re right- there are plenty of challenges ahead for the Granger family. On the subject of sequels though, I’ve always fancied finding out what happens next in Frost Hollow Hall. What occurs when Tilly returns Kit’s ring to Lady Barrington? Does Eliza ever come home? Is Tilly visited by the ghosts of Kit and Ada again? It could work nicely in another novella, (ahem) couldn’t it Faber? *wink wink*
Your books to date have all had at least partially historical settings. Why do you think you are drawn to historical settings, and would you ever consider writing a purely contemporary book?
As a reader, I love stories with historical settings. So in that sense it’s a taste thing. As a writer, I’ve found that the world building in a historical story really helps create atmosphere. Also, without technology characters have to rely on their wits more. The dangers they face are often physical, brutal- hunger, illness, cold. It makes for very evocative storytelling. That said, I really enjoyed writing Alice’s contemporary narrative in In Darkling Wood. At times, I felt out of my comfort zone, but it did make me think I’d like to write a modern day story sometime. Watch this space…
The Snow Sister, as the title implies, involves a lot of snow! Now you’re an adult, do you still enjoy playing in the snow, or do you look at it and groan?
Groan? NEVER! I’m probably more obsessive about snow these days, not less. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, we often had snowy winters. We’ve had a few decent snowfalls in recent years too, but generally modern winters are warmer. One of the best parts of being a teacher was getting Snow Days. This winter I’ll be working from home, so can’t really justify having a Snow Day as such. Bet I still get excited, though!
I see from Twitter that you have a lot of exciting new projects up your sleeve. Are you allowed to reveal any of them yet?
Yes! My next book for Faber is called ‘Strange Star’ and is based on the writing of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. That’s coming out next summer. I’m just starting a project for Chicken House, where I’m turning the winning story idea from their Big Idea competition into a novel. The story will be about the first hot air balloon flight over the Palace of Versailles in 1783. So expect wigs, big dresses and lots of gas! After that, I’ve more to come for Faber. So in all, busy, exciting times.
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Emma Carroll writes MG fiction. Her debut ‘Frost Hollow Hall’, a Victorian ghost story, won the North East Book Award 2013 and was longlisted for the Branford Boase. Her second novel ‘The Girl Who Walked On Air’ has been nominated for the CILIP medal. Her latest book ‘In Darkling Wood’ is inspired by the Cottingley Fairies photographs, and publishes with Faber in July 2015. In another life she wishes she’d written ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Emma lives in the Somerset hills with her husband and two terriers.
At the age of four Elli wrote her first picture book, involving her best friend, a tricycle accident, blood everywhere, and the author emerging as the hero. Several years later she completed an MA in social anthropology, moved out to Thailand, taught herself the language, and has since worked variously as a Thai to English translator, a copywriter for a domestic appliance insurance firm (about as interesting as it sounds) and an assistant editor in academic publishing. She now lives in London where she combines writing with freelance translation work, looking after her four children, butchering nice music on the piano and being dictated to by her deranged cat.