Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Becoming a Writer - Katherine Langrish's journey into the future

It was William Faulkner who advised "read, read, read...then write". But when Katherine Langrish was a girl, and having read everything that CS Lewis had written, she discovered that CS Lewis - unfortunately - was unlikely to write much more (on account of being dead) and decided to take matters into her own hands...

The result - her own Chronicle of Narnia - was an early, pre-Internet form of fan fiction, and one loving produced in a hardback book complete with illustrations and designs. It was the start of Katherine's journey to becoming an author, one revealed in front of members of the Oxford Children's Book Group on Tuesday evening in Boar's Hill.

As her journey progressed - through E Nesbit, Alan Garner (who she has been rightly compared to) and Walter de la Mare - so did her writing. After initial rejections ("I gave up submitting almost immediately") she took up oral storytelling during time spent in the United States - and arrived back in England stiffened and 'full up' with the stronger Grimm's Fairy Tales, such as The Juniper Tree - with the result that she started writing again in earnest, leading to the creation and publication of the critically acclaimed 'Troll Fell' series.


More recently she has written 'Dark Angels' and 'Forsaken', a retelling of the Matthew Arnold poem 'The Forsaken Merman' told from the point of view of one of the daughters - and based on discoveries she made whilst researching the Scandinavian folk origins that almost certainly inspired Arnold's poem.

Katherine revealed the 'chill running down her neck' when she encounters an idea or inspiration to write - and her discovery of a copy of Sintram and his Companions in Barter Books (a hugely popular and much-praised book from the 1820s, one read by Jo in 'Little Women') led to the seeds of an idea and her current book (see our interview with Katherine below) albeit one set almost as far into the future as 'Sintram' was in the past... 


Being able to listen to the opening prologue of an unpublished book is a real thrill for anyone interested in the genesis of a book, particularly when told by someone like Katherine and her storytelling pedigree.

You'll need to wait until the book is published to discover much more about it (and I really hope 'Gog and Magog' make it through the bruising publishing process) but in the meantime we were able to ask Katherine five questions and shine some further light onto her life as an author.

Five questions with...Katherine Langrish's Writing Life

1. What are you working on at the moment?
A post-apocalyptic fantasy with SF elements set in a future, ring-fenced flooded London - full of gangs, drug-dealers and religious maniacs!

2. What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Cut out the adverbs.

3. What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best: children are such adventurous readers, nothing fazes them and they come with you wherever you take them. The worst? there isn't really a worst...

4. Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work? A bit like Virginia Woolf, I need a room of my own with a door you can shut. My room is surrounded with reference books, maps...and no music, I need quiet.

5. What was your biggest breakthrough? Troll Fell, it was a phenomenal success for me. It went to auction...which, actually, was down to my brilliant agent, so I guess my breakthrough was getting her!



(In 2011 all three books in the 'Troll Fell' series were reissued, abridged by the author, as 'West of The Moon'.

Read our interview with Katherine about the book, her favourite authors, 'beheading' schoolchildren...and Granny Greenteeth...)

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