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Frances Hardinge's first novel, Fly by Night, was published in 2006; it was shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award and won the Branford Boase Award. Set in the Fractured Realm, a skewed version of 18th-century England, it tells the story of orphan Mosca Mye, her grumpy goose Saracen, and a rebellion. A second novel in the same world, Twilight Robbery, was published in 2011 and shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. Hardinge's other novels—the contemporary fantasy Verdigris Deep (2007), secondary-world adventures Gullstruck Island (2009) and A Face Like Glass (2012), and this year's historical fantasy Cuckoo Song—have all been standalones. All Hardinge's novels are notable for their linguistic and conceptual wit and invention, as a result of which she has devoted readers of all ages. She was a guest at this year's BSFA/SFF AGM event held at the City of Westminster Archives in London, 7 June 2014, where she was interviewed by Tom Pollock, author of the Skyscraper Throne trilogy. A related panel discussion followed, which you can read here. You can also read our reviews of Fly by Night, Verdigris Deep, Gullstruck Island, Twilight Robbery, and A Face Like Glass.

Tom Pollock: So, Frances, your books are published for children in the UK; do you think of yourself as a children's writer?

Fly by Night coverFrances Hardinge: I do. I generally consider myself to be writing for me at the age of 12. Me at the age of 12 was admittedly quite a bizarre child, well into the murder mysteries, fond of intricate plots, spies, etc; so yes, I am writing books for children, but they do tend to have a body count. And people aren't quite sure what to do with me—it's an interesting lottery walking into a bookshop and seeing where they've put me. Sometimes it's 8-12; a lot of people consider me to be YA; an increasing number of adults seem to be reading me; and for their award the UKLA put me in the age 7-9 prize category. So quite a large range! I don't really mind, I'm happy to be like Aesop's bat, pretending to be a bird or a mouse depending on what people seem to want at the time.

TP: What is it you like about writing for children, as opposed to other kinds of writing? Have you done other kinds of writing? Have you ever written anything that you consider to be for an adult audience?

FH: I did actually start out writing adult short stories, and attempted one or two longer works for an adult audience, which are lying comfortably nestled in the oblivion they so richly deserve. The short stories I did actually send out I, and there were a couple of short story competitions I won, which was nice. However, the longer works slid into certain kinds of self-indulgence. I really enjoy writing children's fiction partly because it allows me a lot of liberty, there are a lot of tricks I can play with genre, lots of levels of humour etc, and joie de vivre things that people are more likely to let you get away with if you're writing children's fiction. But also I've found it works against some of my less good tendencies as a writer. I have to pay a bit more attention to pace. As it is the books I write are quite long, but if I didn't have that sense of, "no, my audience is not going to have patience with my self-indulgence if I write this bit, that goes"—if that wasn't always in my head, I think my books would be a lot longer, so I think that actually has quite a positive effect on my writing.

TP: So it disciplines you a bit.

FH: Yes, indeed.

TP: The reason I ask is that it seems like every other day now YA comes under attack—this was published in Slate this week, and it says: "most importantly these books consistently indulge in the kinds of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple, endings that are uniformly satisfying," and "the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction is nowhere in evidence in young adult fiction."

FH: I didn't actually see the original article, I saw the backlash and thought, "Oh! Someone is slating YA! It must be lunchtime." It just didn't seem worth the attention . . . that's actually mildly laughable.

TP: Isn't it. I was going to ask you for a comment but I think you've covered it! So let's talk a little bit about your path to publication, because it's a little unusual. Fly by Night won the Branford Boase Award, so clearly it's a very good book in the opinions of lots of people—but you didn't actually send it to an agent or publisher, did you?

FH: Not exactly, no, in fact I didn't exactly send it to anybody. What happened was that, as I say, I was writing a lot of adult short stories, but I was also doing a lot of other recreational writing, and I took part in a large online communal narrative programme called Elsewhere. As a result of that a very good friend of mine, who was already a published author, saw a lot of my work. Her name is Rhiannon Lassiter, and she is one of these annoyingly talented people who got her first book contract when she was in her teens, but she's also a lovely person so you can't even hate her. And she suggested that she and I write a book together. So we started meeting each week, and coming up with lots and lots of ideas, and eventually we realised that we didn't have a book concept, we had two book concepts and that our visions just weren't meshing—but that we loved having these meetings. She encouraged me to take the concept I had and write it as a children's book—and the moment she suggested that, everything I had started falling into place. It made a lot more sense of my style, and the shape the story was taking, so I thought, "Yes! This is a good experiment, I'll give this a go." After I'd written about five chapters of it, Rhiannon said, "Right, this is good enough that you should be sending this to an editor." I told her it wasn't. I told her it was an experiment, and that it was rubbish, and that it was destined for an unmarked grave. So Rhiannon nodded and smiled, and poured a bottle and a half of wine down me, then stole my chapters. She then took these to her editor, and within a week, to my colossal surprise, I had a book contract. If anybody looks inside the front cover of Fly by Night, you'll see there are two dedications. One is to my late grandfather, and the other is to Rhiannon, who is described as Mosca's godmother—Mosca being the main character of the book—because without her that book would not have ended up on shelves.

Verdigris Deep coverTP: So let's talk a little bit about Fly by Night. It's set in a sort of alternative 18th-century England, and it appears to be a fantasy novel, a secondary-world fantasy novel, in which there is no magic or supernatural elements of any kind.

FH: Indeed, absolutely.

TP: So what's behind that thinking? Obviously you're not averse to the supernatural stuff, as demonstrated by your later books, so what made you decide to exclude it from that particular world?

FH: One of the things that I was looking at in Fly by Night, and there are many things, was how fantastical and original and funny and bizarre you can make a world without anything supernatural. And the answer is, really quite a lot, because it's full of people, people are easily the most bizarre, fantastical, perverse, wonderful, unpredictable, and insanely funny thing I have ever encountered.

TP: It's also the only novel you've written a sequel for—so far. What brought you back for that, and are you planning a sequel to any of the others?

FH: Basically I felt, in the case of the Fractured Realm, which is the world in which Fly by Night and Twilight Robbery are set, that the story was not over; that there was more scope to carry on both the adventures of the heroine and the story of the world. I'm not ruling out the possibility of writing another book in that series at some point. However, if and when I do, I will try to do what I did with the second book, which is to make sure that it works as a standalone, so that if someone hasn't read the earlier books they can still pick it up. I'm not planning to write a sequel to any of the others, but I am massively complimented any time someone contacts me to ask whether I am, because they can see that the heroine or hero might still have adventures, that they can see that more might still happen. Because that's very much the way I like to leave things—I can think of nothing worse than to leave a main character with the sense that nothing interesting will ever happen to them again, that everything in their life is resolved and they can just sit there and go, "Well. Right then."

TP: Sort of, "You've peaked, haven't you?"

FH: Right—and also I don't believe that resolution is a natural state for an environment. I believe that societies do continue to change, that there do continue to be more problems and challenges that need to be faced. So my endings are never completely endings. They always give a sense that there are more challenges still to come. They always give a sense that these protagonists—most of whom, as you might expect, are pretty young—are growing into something, and still doing remarkable, perhaps even more remarkable, things as they grow older.

TP: Let's talk a bit about Mosca specifically. She seems to wander through the world inciting revolution after revolution after revolution. Is that your idea of heroism?

FH: I do have a guilty fondness for rebels and rule-breakers. I have a strong individualistic tendency in my nature, and I like people who are capable of stepping outside the social frames in which they operate. I mean I never like to make it too easy for my heroes and heroines to do that, moving outside those frames should be, in absolute terms, a painful process. I don't want to write characters who have pristine 21st-century morality, looking around themselves going, "Everybody else is completely stupid! Haven't they noticed that their ideology makes no sense?" But yes, Mosca does tend to be something of an instigator. I tend to have quite a few characters who are placed either voluntarily or against their will slightly at odds to the general social system or slightly outside the rules, which does give them something of an alternative perspective. But also gives them a bit more challenge in terms of changing what they see around them.

TP: Is that a particularly children's or YA book obsession, do you think, unpicking the social strata in which you find yourself?

FH: I think there probably is an element of that. Part of coming of age etc. is the realisation that your parents are human, which means a) that they're not perfect, b) that they're comprehensively fallible. And also learning that it is possible to empathise with their stance as well. Which is quite a complicated mental transition to make, because by extension it means realising that all the structures around you in the wider world are created by fallible people, who have blind spots, that sometimes for good reasons or well-intentioned reasons or through misconception or lack of thought may sometimes be perpetuating problematic structures. That's a rather dry answer, I fear.

Gullstruck Island coverTP: It's interesting you mention that it's informed by a perspective that parents aren't perfect, though . . . do any of your lead characters have parents? There is one of your books I haven't read, but I think in all of the books I have read I think I'm right in saying none of the lead characters have their parents.

FH: In Verdigris Deep the main character, Ryan, does have both his parents alive. But it's certainly true, I have killed a lot of parents, my wake has been red with parental blood. Although often that's in backstory, there's only a few I actually kill during the narrative. I do thickly scatter the narrative with potential surrogate parent figures, though, who all have different advantages and disadvantages.

TP: On which note, do you want to talk a bit about Eponymous Clent?

FH: Yes . . . I should explain who he is. I start Fly by Night with my 12-year-old heroine having just committed arson and theft, and basically going on the lam with a professional con artist that she has just freed. At this point the reader may be getting the impression that the book will not be necessarily staying on the well groomed side of the legal fence. Eponymous Clent, the con artist, is for a certain amount of Fly by Night a somewhat ambiguous figure. He is clearly not by any means a man of enormous integrity. He is self-interested, he is profoundly untrustworthy, and has a ruthless streak—partly because that's one of the ways he's survived. And one of the tasks that Mosca has during Fly by Night is trying to figure out how far that ruthless streak runs, since her life may depend upon it. But in a rather antagonistic way he does find himself sort of in the role of father figure to Mosca. This does not in any way mean that either of them trusts each other or that either of them is remotely polite to each other!

TP: So what are the advantages of having a con man for a surrogate dad?

FH: Well, there are certain advantages. Eponymous Clent has a remarkable capacity for talking himself out of trouble. On the downside, of course, Eponymous Clent has a remarkable capacity for talking himself into trouble. So moonlit flits form a fairly significant and recurrent theme in the partnership's escapades, one way or another.

TP: Moving on a little, I don't want to spoil too much about the latest book, Cuckoo Song, but there are certain parallels between it and your last novel, A Face Like Glass, in terms of being about a character in a world they didn't necessarily grow up in—and that's very different to what you were talking about earlier, in terms of Mosca having grown up within a society and then having to find a way to see it with fresh eyes. What was it that changing between that insider and outsider view gave you? What was behind shifting gears for the more recent books?

FH: I always enjoy shifting gears; in fact I find it easier than not shifting gears. I understand that all authors are different, but generally speaking at some point during the writing of a book I learn to loathe it with a passion that knows no bounds, and by the time I've finished it the very last thing I want to do is write anything remotely like it. So yes, Cuckoo Song is different from a number of my books in certain ways. For one thing, a number of the societies that I've created in my books have been strongly historically influenced, but this was the first time I'd actually set a story in a real-world period, in this case in 1923, but then woven some supernatural elements into that—of which most of my characters are initially unaware. So yes, that was different, not least because when you set in a real time period, suddenly you can get things wrong. This is extremely annoying. The nice thing about the Fractured Realm is I can say things like, "Ha! I'm having kite-pulled floating coffee houses, dammit! Because it's my world and I say there are!" Whereas writing a particular historical period feeds into one's monomaniacal tendencies, and you end up hunting desperately through rabbit-warrens of research, trying to find out which rooms in the house they'd have had gas in, things like that—things that might well be in a paragraph that will get cut out. You go completely mad. It's sort of fun, I rather like the research angle, but there is still this dread now that it's out that people are going to find all these little things I got wrong, and I'm going to have to run out with a biro and correct every single one.

TP: Send them an email back: "Just bring it to me and I'll correct it."

FH: Actually what might be simplest is, if there are too many of them I'll just build a time machine and go back and edit 1923.

TP: I love that idea. Switching tracks: What kinds of children's writers influenced you or are your favourites?

FH: I had loads of favourite books when I was growing up. I was very lucky, in that I grew up surrounded by books. Both of my parents read to me. Apparently even when I was baby, I was given a cloth book that I chewed lovingly, so there was never any hope for me. And then my father read us a lot of books when we were slightly older, including The Hobbit, The Thirteen Clocks, The Midnight Folk, Box of Delights, Puck of Pook's Hill, the Dark is Rising series—lots of excellent books. My introduction to SF was actually Nicholas Fisk; I still have a lot of time for A Rag, A Bone and a Hank of Hair. He was a writer who didn't patronise children, who went for dark, disturbing concepts and very much highlighted the fact that adults are fallible, adults miss things, adults are human beings, which I very much liked. I got into Leon Garfield, which I think interested me in historical fiction. And I read ridiculous numbers of murder mysteries, about fifty Agatha Christies, all the Raymond Chandlers, Ruth Rendell, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James—though I seem to remember it was Sherlock Holmes who was my gateway, I read those first and then got addicted to murder. That sounds really bad.

TP: Do you think of your books as mysteries?

Twilight Robbery coverFH: I think of them as a lot of things, but yes, all of them to some extent are mysteries. Quite a few of them contain a murder mystery, but all of them have elements of unravelling, of finding solutions to the problems of the plot, finding a way through . . . that nearly always depends on my heroes understanding what's going on. Intelligence and comprehension very much matter. So yes, I think of them as mysteries, I also think of them as adventures. Otherwise, the precise genre can be a little hard. I tend to describe Fly by Night as a comedy historical spy thriller murder mystery crime caper picaresque. I've also had it described as kitepunk. And A Face Like Glass, because it has a delicacy-based—well, you could call it a magic system, essentially, delicacies that are so finely honed that the effects they have are sort of magical—anyway, since there are a lot of quite dangerous cheeses, some with explosive properties, it was suggested to me that this book might in fact be cheesepunk. Which I very much like. Although it's perhaps slightly niche.

TP: I guess the great thing about cheesepunk is the capacity for endless sub genre expansion, you know briepunk and cheddarpunk, and so on. Hmm. Have you read a lot of dystopia—like, modern teen dystopia?

FH: I've read some. Not as much as I possibly should have done.

TP: It strikes me that a number of your books are set in places that are dystopias, or dystopic in some respect, but that they have a quality I feel a lot of modern dystopias lack, which is that you can see how people would have got there because there are certain aspects of it that are appealing. Do you feel like it's important to balance the worlds you create, so that they're not horribly awful, or amazingly utopia, but they're exciting without being terribly extreme?

FH: I don't think it's so much that I consciously say, "ah, I must balance this!" It's more that I think it comes naturally, just as a product of what I'm trying to do. People don't generally say, "Right, what direction shall we take this society in? I think the terribly grim one looks good." People hodge and podge their way towards social solutions, and compromise, and make mistakes, and fix them in certain ways, and sometimes the sellotape that's been used to solve one problem ends up lasting longer than it should and people put more and more strain on the sellotape, and are thinking, well, we need the sellotape now, so let's reinforce it with plaster, despite the fact that it was not intended to be a long-term solution. And that metaphor needs to be taken out and shot. But, yes, I want all the places I create in my books to feel like living, breathing places, so they're going to be full of people doing what people do, which is try to make the best of things. Which means that even in grim situations, they'll be saying, well, we can do this, or in some cases, if nobody's looking, we can do that . . . and you will have people doing positive things. At the same time of course, if I'm writing a story that covers a fairly large canvas, if everything is completely happy and fixed at the start, again it won't feel terribly realistic, but it also means there's less to actually tackle, to face, to look at. An environment without problems doesn't provide so much narrative tension. To be honest, the point where I realised that actually I was possibly creating dystopias was the point where I got invited to appear on a dystopia panel. And I thought, ah! Oh yes! And I could see where they were coming from.

TP: The classic thing is to ask yourself would you want to live there, and normally. . .

FH: No.

TP: No, but you don't have a slight bit of hesitation about looking at the world of A Face Like Glass, thinking, that's quite cool?

FH: I think for a lot of my worlds, I'd be fine with visiting them. It's like the past—I was once watching Pride and Prejudice with some friends, and one of them was saying, wouldn't it be so lovely to live in that time? And my reaction was, no! For one thing the odds of you actually being of the correct class to be drifting around in the pretty frocks and wondering if Mr. Darcy likes you are tiny, you're much more likely to be below stairs polishing up the copper. But also I'm rather fond of certain little modern luxuries, like penicillin, and the vote. Similarly, I would love to visit some of the worlds I created and see all the exciting stuff, and then leave before I'm subjected to the grinding oppression and unfairness.

TP: Fair enough. One of the things that strikes me as particularly distinctive about your books, certainly in terms of the YA canon, is the signal absence of romance. And how a lot of your books seem to be structured around different kinds of friendship, whether that's between Mosca and Eponymous, or Mosca and Saracen, or between Triss and Pen in the new one . . . why that?

FH: To a certain extent, yes, that covers an awful lot of different kinds of relationship, but with the exception of romance, so in a way I suppose you're almost asking, why no romance?

TP: What I'm asking you is not so much, "why no romance", but rather—if no romance in yours, why do you think it's so common everywhere else?

A Face Like Glass coverFH: I can entirely understand why there is romance in so many other books, it's often incorporated as part of a coming of age narrative. Just as recognition of your parents being human, and flaws in the world around you, is part of a coming of age narrative, learning about yourself is part of it, and that's romance, where you are being seen in a different way and learning to see yourself in a different way. I think that's perfectly natural. It's not a narrative that draws me so much, but I don't really feel in YA fiction we've got a dearth of romance . . .

TP: Quite the reverse—do you feel we're under-representing the importance of other kinds of relationships?

FH: I think that books that have that kind of relationship also have scope for other things. I'm tempted to embarrass you and mention one of your books. . . I'll just say that there's a very interesting YA book that I read recently which had on the one hand a romance plot and on the other hand was very much playing up and showing the importance of the primary character's female friendship, her best-friend-ship. There has been a tendency traditionally to regard—this is a massive generalisation—existing friendships, and in particular one's female friendships, almost as placeholders, that can then be sidelined and chucked aside when you get a boyfriend. This is how it's repeatedly been represented. And so it was very refreshing to see the degree to which, in this book, that didn't happen.

TP: Brilliantly and vaguely put. I'm going to open up to questions from the room in a minute, but before I do I want to ask you a couple more, one about geese, and one about hats. Did you have a pet goose when you were growing up?

FH: I didn't!

TP: Do you wish you had?

FH: I might now be here before you with fewer limbs, but yes, that would have been awesome.

TP: Excellent.

FH: A friend of mine did have a real pet goose. . .

TP: OK! There was a real pet goose.

FH: Yes, her name was Jemima, after Jemima Puddleduck, and apparently she was awfully sweet, a lovely white thing, used to hang out in the back garden, but once broke one of his friends's legs in two places. In the goose's defence, the friend was climbing over the fence, but she knew she was allowed in! The goose didn't know she was allowed in.

TP: So she had a guard-goose.

FH: The funny thing is, since the books have come out I've had more and more people coming up to me and saying, "I was attacked by a goose once!" or "When I was a child I had to have several stitches in my face because I was pecked by a goose!" So, yes, there are lots of killer goose stories out there.

TP: And I can't leave the formal interviewing bit without asking you about the hats. Every time I see you you are wearing a hat. Is it always the same hat, or are there many hats that just look very similar?

FH: Well, there's a sequence of hats. Today's hat, I am going to be wearing until it wears out. Not actually in bed or in the shower, or when scuba diving because it gets in the way of the snorkel . . . and anyway, seawater plays hell with the felt, as well. But otherwise, this will be the hat of being Frances until it gets worn out. But the hat of being Frances is a role, it's a bit like being the Doctor. Many hats have played the part, and each has brought something new to the role. I think it was just last year that we had the last regeneration, so this one's finding its feet, but I think it's doing pretty well. Obviously I can't throw any of them away, even after they've faded and got a bit tatty, so I have a small retirement village of hats.

TP: Do you do anniversary specials where you wear three hats at once?

FH: No, but I should. I've got more than three . . . it might be a little difficult to walk through doors.

TP: We'll know when it's coming because all the doorways will be specially enlarged. OK. Has anyone got any questions they'd like to ask Frances?

Audience: Could you tell us a little bit about your writing process, how you write, when you write?

FH: I'm aware that there are authors who are incredibly organised, who get up at 6 in the morning, write for three hours, then go for a brisk walk, and then come back and write for another two hours, and it's all incredibly regulated and they write the same amount each day. I am not one of those people. I thrive on panic and caffeine. I am fortunate enough to be in two different writers' groups, one of which is actually with Rhiannon Lassiter still, though I now Skype to that (hurrah, we're living in the future). The other is London-based. And it means that there is a deadline, there is a session where, if I have not written anything, friends of mine will point and laugh. I find this helps immensely. So I do not produce the same amount each day, it is notable that my productivity peaks with the proximity of deadlines. When I was writing Cuckoo Song, I was absolutely determined that I was going to hit the deadline—and I did. But it did mean that there was considerably less sleep in that last week, and one day when I wrote seven and a half thousand words. And I'm really hoping that it is not now possible to tell which set of seven and a half thousand words that is.

Cuckoo Song coverAudience: One of the things I enjoyed particularly about the Mosca books was the little gods and their attributes. Did you work out a whole schedule of those, or just add them in as you needed them?

FH: I have been asked this before, I have been asked whether I have an entire calendar where I have the vast pantheon of hundreds of these little tiny gods all mapped out for their individual days and portions of days. The answer is no. For two reasons: one, that would take a very very long time, and if I showed it to anyone I'd have to keep to it; and two, that would stop me being able to make up new ones on the fly, which is the joyous thing, it makes me happy as I'm going through the text. So I like to leave it open for me to do that.

Audience: My favourite book is probably Gullstruck Island. But that's awfully tough fare for kids—for those who haven't read it, this is an extremely funny book about genocide. Do you know anything about how it's been received by kids? Is it taught, used in any way? I've been fascinated thinking about what happened to that book.

FH: Well, the information I have on how people responded to Gullstruck Island is basically anecdotal. I do get contacted by children, particularly teenagers, through the contact form on my website, and yes, I'm dealing with some pretty heavy duty topics, with genocide, but they seem to cope just fine. The questions are less along the lines of, "What were you thinking?" and more along the lines of, "Will there be another one?" So I'm taking that as positive. But what I generally find, when I'm looking at these darker elements, is that I will get adults saying, "Is this suitable? Will they be able to cope with this? Isn't this more an adult thing?" and the children seem to be fine. As I said at the start, I am writing for a 12-year-old me. I remember what I was reading. And aside from the children's books I mentioned, the other thing I was doing, which I think a lot of us were doing, was reading my parents' books. They had some lovely big shelves, and this great big ladder, and I just climbed around and found things, it was like a cross between mountaineering and treasure hunting, it was great. But yes, I stumbled across quite a lot of adult stuff which I read out of curiosity, and I do not remember at any point falling over in a foetal ball and squealing that my childhood was over.

TP: There's another question I've got, and it's going to sound horribly Marxist: what's the thing about work? All of your characters seem to have fascinating jobs. Especially in A Face Like Glass, but also the Shrike in Cuckoo Song, a lot of others—a lot of your world building seems to be built around the careers people have. What is it that draws you to build worlds that are structured around the jobs people are doing rather than, I don't know, social standing, or species? Like, The Lord of the Rings is basically countries, races, tall people, short people, green people.

FH: In reality, and throughout history, a lot of people's lives have been defined by what job they were doing. Their days were spent working. And I don't want to create a story where it feels as if basically all the people who are doing work are actually a little bit boring, and that really what they should be doing is running off and having adventures and saving the world. A lot of people throughout history have not been doing that sort of thing because they have engaged in the ordinary everyday heroism in putting food on the table. People have defined themselves by their jobs throughout history, you only need to look at our names—Gardener, Cooper, Smith.

TP: So it's historical fidelity?

FH: It's historical fidelity, but also respect. Doing a job involves a lot of work, often a lot of skill, often training, sometimes a prolonged apprenticeship, and I think it's important to give that the weight that it actually has. I once saw a church with these little gargoyle faces carved in what it became very clear were caricatures of the local noble family. So there was obviously a stonemason who had worked hard enough at his craft, and become well enough respected, that he could get away with that kind of cheek. My personal view is that that stonemason is much more interesting than somebody we are supposed to be interested in purely because of their species, or their magical abilities, or something that's been given to them with no work.

TP: One last question: what's next?

FH: Well, unusually for me I'm doing something that is not completely and utterly dissimilar from the last book, in that it is historical fantasy. This time I'm looking at 1865, rather than 1923. There are supernatural elements, and I'd rather not go into too much detail about those, but I'm having fun looking at certain aspects of Victoriana . . . basically I'm looking into death, let's be honest, I'm looking into some of the incredibly elaborate and arcane mourning rituals that went on, and oh yes, talking of including dark elements in fiction for children and young adults: I'm even including post mortem photography, which is something I didn't know existed until relatively recently. For those who don't know, at that time you might have one photograph taken of you during your life—a lot of people even in the middle classes couldn't afford to have a portrait painted of a loved one. Sometimes people died and you didn't have a picture of them. So, some photographers would take photos of your dearly departed in their, ah, slightly more departed state. And initially these photos were of the dearly departed laid out, as if on a bier, surrounded by flowers and so on, but fashions changed, and some people liked a slightly more naturalistic pose. So you have these little family photos where one member of the family is not sitting up as straight as the others, or is propped up . . . complete with the children and everything. Taboos have shifted, and nowadays our instinctive reaction to these pictures is generally, "Aaah!" The problem is, the photographer wasn't always local, and sometimes it took them a couple of days to get there, and looking at some of the photos . . . it's sort of touching, and you're thinking, that's clearly her best dress, and you've combed her hair very nicely, but if I'd been you I probably would have let that one go.

TP: And on that note—Frances Hardinge, thank you very much.

FH: Thank you!

Tom Pollock is the author of the Skyscraper Throne trilogy comprising The City's Son, The Glass Republic, and the forthcoming Our Lady of The Streets.
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