Posted on March 10, 2011 - by MG
Today it is my turn to host the fabulous Katherine Langrish on her WEST OF THE MOON blog tour.
Katherine and I are interviewed by two teenage readers, Libby and Patrick Caffrey, who have been following both Katherine’s TROLL FELL and my Joshua Files series.
You can read the interview with me over at Katherine’s blog, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.
Katherine and I have decided to swap blogs for the day. So here on mgharris.net it is all about Katherine and WEST OF THE MOON.
WEST OF THE MOON – an abridged version of the TROLL FELL trilogy – is the kind of book that will have you wishing that you were a teenager again so that you could read it at the most humdinging age, hunting around for a teenager to give it to and then snuggling down to enjoy it all by yourself, the wretched teen can get her own book…
Katherine writes beautifully, perfectly pitched simplicity with just occasional, delicious use of unusual words that settle the reader right into the world of Norse mythology. The story opens when Peer, a twelve-year old boy is whisked away from his friends and neighbours after his father’s death. He’s taken to live with two evil uncles who are in league with trolls to steal children. Yet what could easily become a bloodthirsty tale of child abduction becomes an atmospheric, brooding and charming tale of a fishing village in the craggy north where trolls and humans try their best to get along, with occasional misunderstandings. There is darkness and cruelty in Troll Fell – but it comes from the lonely shapeshifter Granny Greenteeth and bullying Uncles Baldur and Grim.
It’s a heroic tale of family, young love and the bravery of two kids – Peer and Hilde, who eventually travel to the fabled lands ‘West of the Moon’ for their biggest challenge. And kept me thoroughly entertained these past few nights while I’ve been in Switzerland!
Katherine studied English at university, got a job, got married, had children and went to live in France and then in America. She began visiting libraries and schools, telling stories aloud. This turned out to be excellent practice for being an author! She moved back to England and began writing the stories that turned into the Troll Trilogy, ‘Troll Fell‘, ‘Troll Mill‘ – and ‘Troll Blood‘ (HarperCollins) which was recommended in the ‘Top 160 Books for Boys’ compiled by the School Library Association.
FOUR BIG QUESTIONS FOR KATHERINE LANGRISH (by Libby and Patrick Caffrey)
1 How do your editors affect your work and have you always worked with the same editor?
What an interesting question! Readers often assume an author simply writes the book and has it published in exactly the same form, not realising the role editors play in the process. And as you might guess, the role of an editor varies from author to author and from book to book.
Some authors like their editors to be hands-on, involved from the outset, talking through plot, structure and even characters. This can work especially well if the author is a planner, someone who likes to know where they’re headed well in advance.
Me, I’m the other sort. I’m a kind of secretive hermit. I try to tell people as little as possible about what I’m writing, and this includes my editors, who have to be very patient and restrained! I usually spend a lot of time before I even begin, just privately thinking and mulling over my characters, getting to know them and their world. Once I really know who they are, plus their surroundings and situation, I set off with them, usually with only the vaguest idea where we’re all heading. That way, I stay interested. (A friend once described this to me as ‘weaving my parachute on the way down’, but for me it seems to work!) Only when the book is finished does my editor get to see it. I re-draft as I go, so by the time I’ve got to the end, I’m usually fairly happy with it, and happy to show it.
At this point, my editor (and I’ve had several by now, so no, not always the same one) will read the manuscript. She will come back to me with her overall impression (hopefully good!), and with some more detailed suggestions, perhaps for cutting passages here and there to improve the pace, or asking me to look again at whether a certain chapter works, or perhaps strengthening a character or two. Often she’s 100% right; sometimes I don’t agree and we argue it back and forth a little: but her input is essential. If there’s one rule in fiction, it’s that you can afford to cut out a lot more than you think! So I really appreciate my editors, who, to a woman, have been professional, tactful, intuitive, and as keen as myself to make the book as good as it can possibly be.
2 The Troll Fell trilogy has a lot to do with folklore – is this something you were brought up with as a child or did you have to research it while writing? If so, where did you find information from?
The answer is, a bit of both. Yes, I grew up reading fairytales, and was always interested in folklore and legends. They creep into stories even for quite little children more often than you’d think. One of the earliest books I remember reading all by myself was ‘The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle’ by Beatrix Potter. If you think about that story for a moment – it’s about a little girl, Lucie, who runs off up the mountain called Cat Bells in the Lake District, trying to find her pocket handkerchief (her quest). She finds a door in the hillside, goes in, and meets Mrs Tiggywinkle who is obviously a hedgehog – we can see that from the picture! – but who is also a kind of fairy laundress. While there is nothing threatening about the story (or is there? Those prickles poking out of Mrs Tiggywinkle’s gown are a bit unsettling), Beatrix Potter is clearly bringing together all sorts of folklore here: stories about children who run away or are taken away to fairyland, the underground elfland under the hill – and who may not always return safely… And behind the comfortable figure of the fairy laundress is the more dangerous one of the Washer at the Ford, the banshee, the fairy laundress who washes the bloodstained clothes of those who will die in battle. I can’t pretend I was aware of all those echoes when I read the book at the age of five or six, but I was certainly aware of a sort of mysterious depth to the story. And that was why I loved it.
But going back to my own books, for ‘Troll Blood’, the third part of ‘West of the Moon’, I needed to do a great deal of research into the folklore of a Native American people, the Mi’kmaq of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I spent many, many weeks in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, reading ancient copies of journals like The American Anthropologist and the Journal of American Folklore. Often these included direct translations of stories told by named individuals to the person who wrote them down – and therefore authentic. And I avoided like the plague volumes with generically vague titles like ‘Legends of the North American Indians’, which almost never provide sources, and sometimes don’t even say from which tribe or nation the story is supposed to come. (If you think how big North America is, you can see that talking about ‘Indian legends’ is about as useful as putting Greek and Scandinavian mythology together and labelling them ‘European legends’.)
3 You just released ‘West of the Moon’, the abridged version of the Troll Fell trilogy – how did you decide which parts to leave out and why did you feel the need to abridge it?
Actually I believe that ‘West of the Moon’ is greater than the sum of its parts… I wouldn’t so much call it an ‘abridged’ edition, as a ‘revised’ one. ‘Abridged’ always suggests to me something rather lopped and truncated, and I did not want that to happen! No episodes or characters have been cut. What I did get rid of was a lot of unnecessary repetition, especially in the first third of the book, ‘Troll Fell’, which was, in places, a little wordy! To me, this new version is tighter and runs more smoothly as one three-part story. I hope readers will agree!
I was also able to lose all those bits you have to put in to a sequel, so that readers who don’t know the first book will be able to understand what’s going on. You know what I mean, the bits that go something like ‘But Harry was no ordinary boy! Ever since the extraordinary events of his twelfth birthday, when an invitation to become a pupil at Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was delivered to him by owl post at the house he shared with his horrible relatives, the Dursleys…’
4 Hardback, paperback or Kindle – and why?
Oh, ideally all of them. First of all, a hardback book is just such a lovely, durable thing. There are hardcover books I owned as a child, which are sitting on my bookshelves right now in perfectly good condition and have been read by my own children, and will still be there in twenty years time to be read by my grandchildren, should I ever have any. And I believe the next generation will still be reading real books, too – alongside Kindles, or whatever will have replaced Kindles by then.
Because real books are so handy – especially paperbacks. They are relatively cheap to produce and buy and pass along – and it doesn’t matter too much if you drop them in the bath, or get sand in the pages, or leave them on the floor to be stepped on or chewed by the dog, or out in the garden overnight to be rained on…
All of my books are available on Kindle as well as in traditional formats. But I haven’t got a Kindle of my own yet, though I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. It will be useful if I go on holiday (cutting down on the pounds of book-weight I normally cart about with me). But I will have to be careful with it. I must NOT leave it lying around on the floor, or out on the patio catching dew. I must not balance it on the edge of the bath while I lie back up to my ears in the nice hot water. Perhaps owning a Kindle will improve my character and make me a better, tidier person… and perhaps not.
THANK YOU TO KATHERINE FOR VISITING MGHARRIS.NET ON THE WEST OF THE MOON BLOG TOUR!
You can follow Katherine’s blog tour tomorrow down at Scribble City Central.