A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I absolutely LOVED Strange Star – so brilliantly and deliciously creepy! Could you tell us a little bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
Absolutely! During my many (many!) years teaching, I always loved sharing ‘Frankenstein’ with young people. It brings up so many pressing philosophical questions, and the Mary Shelley backstory is wonderful. So, a deep love of the book was my starting point. Then I also realised it would be published exactly 200 years after the original story was conceived, so decided to bring that into my story too.
Have you always been interested in Gothic fiction?
Probably, yes. I love anything dark and creepy with strong atmosphere like Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. I also love that Gothic writing has its own sort of code; on the surface it’s full of extremes and grand gestures, but more often that not there’s also a complex inner narrative about human suffering.
A very bad thing happens to your lovely main character, Lizzie – was that hard to inflict on her?
Ah, poor Lizzie. Yes, it really was. Deciding she’d be blind made things very difficult for her, but then she overcomes this adversity admirably. Her blindness also parodies the real ‘short-sightedness’ for those whose prejudice she runs up against. It also echoes the old man character in ‘Frankenstein’, who by being blind is about the only person not to judge by appearance.
Strange Star deals with various issues of discrimination – towards girls/women, disability and race. Was this always something you wanted to tackle, or did it arise naturally from the story?
I think a bit of both, really. These aspects are evident in the original ‘Frankenstein’ and were also experienced frequently by Mary Shelley as a female writer in a world dominated by men. So, yes they are themes in Frankenstein, but its one of the many things that makes it a relevant classic still. I’ve changed these themes to suit my story and characters, but their root lies in Shelley’s book.
I loved how Strange Star features real people from literary history. Did you feel you had to stay faithful to real events, or use them as a jumping off point?
Definitely a jumping off point. Some of Strange Star is true to history, some of it isn’t. My characters- bar the writers at Diodati- are all made up. So too is my version of what happened that fateful night to inspire Mary Shelley. Lizzie’s story is completely fictitious, though inspired by a Somerset man called Andrew Crosse who experimented with electricity at his country house in the early 19th century. It was rumoured that the Shelley’s visited him on their way to stay with Coleridge who lived nearby.
Strange Star is your fifth novel – do you find the novel writing process is getting easier or does each book present its own challenges?
I find I’m getting quicker at first drafts, which is encouraging because this is my least favourite bit. The deadlines are closer together now, plus I’m writing full time so I can probably finish a rough first draft in 3 months. That said, there are ALWAYS challenges- some are unique to each book- I don’t like a certain character/ this doesn’t feel ‘teal’ enough/ we need a dog in this scene etc etc. Some though are quite familiar ones- the 20,000 stalemate/ reading back what I’ve written and being appalled. It’s also still terrifying when the proofs appear and you see people posting on twitter that they’ve received them!
What’s your favourite part of the bringing a new book into the world?
Gosh, there’s so much! I love seeing the book in its physical form for the first time. I love giving my author copies to family and friends, then hearing what they thought of it (they’re all exceptionally good liars). It’s brilliant when you do your first events on a new book and think up ways to hook the audience in. Nice reviews are very welcome too!
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m currently racing to finish the first draft of my next book for Faber, which is called ‘Letters From The Lighthouse’ and is set in WW2. It’s told from the viewpoint of Olive, an evacuee, who is sent with her brother Cliff to an unwelcoming Devon village. So expect bombs, powdered egg, blackout blinds and suspicion towards ‘outsiders’.
Thanks, Emma. Lovely to chat to you, good luck with the book, an happy publication day!
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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 third book ‘In Darkling Wood’ is inspired by the Cottingley Fairies photographs, and her latest novel ‘Strange Star’ is out from Faber in autumn 2016. 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.
Emma Haughton worked as a journalist writing for national newspapers and magazines before settling down to write YA fiction. She is the author of three books: NOW YOU SEE ME, BETTER LEFT BURIED and CRUEL HEART BROKEN, all published by Usborne.