Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Liz Kessler chats to MFB

I was very lucky to meet and chat with Liz Kessler last year at the Orion's Children's party.  I distinctly remember doing my best to lure Liz onto Twitter and succeeding (@lizkesslerbooks) and also chatting to her about blogging and reading and writing.  When Orion approached me to ask me to read Liz's new book "A YEAR WITHOUT AUTUMN" I said yes, as the time-slip novel really appealed to me and it's not something I've read in the longest time.  Little did I expect to fall for Liz Kessler the way I did.

When they offered me a space on the blog-tour, I said yes too.  You may notice I have trouble saying "no".  What's resulted is this, my interview with Liz I wrote shortly after finishing A YEAR WITHOUT AUTUMN.

I make no excuses for the fawning overtones:

1. Where did your timeslip idea for A Year Without Autumn come from?

I had the idea years ago. I think even before I started writing books for children. Originally, my idea was about a woman in a department store who took the lift upstairs and came out a year later on in her life. When I started writing children’s books, the main character became a girl instead. But the thing at the heart of it for me is the idea that our lives seem to turn massively on the tiniest moments. Those moments seem so random and miniscule at the time, but they can change the course of our lives forever. Combined with the fact that I think time travel is just ACE, it all eventually led to A Year Without Autumn!

2. Autumn’s character is such a great vibrant one, and I loved how you contrasted Autumn with Jenni’s character. Was it a conscious choice to choose Jenni’s “quieter” voice as narrator of our story?

Yes. I wanted the main character to go through a transformation. I wanted her to be someone who didn’t see herself as important or brave or interesting, but through the course of the novel, realised that actually she was pretty cool, and that she had strengths of her own.

3. I was wondering: do you see A Year without Autumn as a science fiction novel, taking into consideration the time-slip factor? Also, did you do a lot of research?

Yikes. I don’t think I see it as science fiction. That sounds far too grown up and clever! I wouldn’t really know how to categorise it, and in fact, I think it’s more up to the reader than the author to make those kinds of decisions anyway.

In terms of research, I read various different theories about time travel and watched a few Stephen Hawking programmes, and then took the bits that I liked out of all of it and ignored the rest! The important thing to me was that at this moment in time, no one can prove that time travel actually exists – which means I could do exactly what I liked with it and no one could tell me I’d got it wrong! (No one can prove mermaids or fairies don’t exist either – which is part of what I like about writing those books too!)

4. Are you a big genre fiction fan – i.e. sci-fi/fantasy etc?

Not at all. Actually, I don’t really notice genres. I’m not a big fan of labels. I like books with interesting, believable characters and really good plots that make you want to just keep on reading. Beyond that, I don’t really mind what genre they are or aren’t as long as they’re good!

5. From a writerly perspective: how did you go about planning this novel and how did you manage to keep track of the different strands?

I plan meticulously with all of my books. I don’t even begin to write a word of the book until I’ve got the whole plan in place and I’m sure it’s going to work. Once I’d written this book, my editor still managed to find a few bits that didn’t quite work – so I had to sort those out. I hoped we spotted them all, and managed to get all the strands to match up. If we didn’t, please don’t tell me!!

6. Was it difficult to walk away from your Emily Windsnap and Philippa Fisher books to write something for an older audience?

No, because Emily and Philippa are still there. In fact, I’m writing a new Emily Windsnap book this year, which will be out next year. If anything, it feels exciting. It’s my first ever stand alone novel, and so it feels quite fresh and different for me.

7. Strong family relationships are key in your writing, yet they never feel contrived. As a writer, how do you stay aware of where to draw the line to keep it believable for your readers?

I have no idea! I don’t think this is something you can consciously set out to do. You can just write what’s genuinely in your heart and you genuinely care about, and hope that the emotions and actions you are trying to convey will successfully make their way to the page. It’s quite funny because people often tell me about the themes in my books – like friendship and family and love and loyalty. I never intend to write about these things, but I know that they are the biggest things in my life – and somehow or other, they always seem to wriggle into my books!

8. What was your path to being published?

I had my first poem published in the local paper when I was nine. That was my creative peak for about 25 years!

I worked as a journalist, and I taught English and Media Studies. Then in 1999 I had a complete lightbulb moment and suddenly remembered that I’d always wanted to be a writer, and I had to do it NOW!

So I left my job, took some temporary part-time contracts and got writing! I was lucky enough to be put in touch with the wonderful Catherine Clarke, who became my agent, and she got me the book deal with the equally wonderful Orion. I have been with both of them since, and hope to remain so for the rest of my career!

9. I realise Autumn is so new, it’s not even lost its shine yet, but what are you looking at doing next?

Well I’ve just finished the first draft of the next book. It’s (tentatively) called The Night the Sea Stole Our Town. What d’you think? Do you like the title? (oh gods, yes, I love the title!! tell me more!!) I’m currently taking votes on it. This will be the second of my stand alone books. The plan is to have three of these, which are not linked at all, apart from the fact that they all involve some kind of time slip.

Once I’ve sent this off to my editor later this month, I’ll be getting started on the fifth Emily Windsnap adventure…

10. What are you currently reading for fun?

I’ve just started reading Lionel Shriver’s ‘So Much For That’. But I’ve seen what it’s about, and I’m not sure it’s particularly cheery number, so I’m not sure if ‘for fun’ is the right expression! But I’m about five pages in and enjoying it so far!


My review for A Year Without Autumn can be found here.  Later this afternoon, I'll put up another piece that Liz wrote for us about character creation.  So, remember to pop by for that too.

In the meantime, do follow Liz on the rest of her blog tour - the dates are all below!


Anonymous said...

I will host Liz's guest blog tomorrow, but the review won't be until Friday (I wish the designer of the poster had known that..!), because you can't dilute the lovely Liz.

Michelle Fluttering Butterflies said...

What a fascinating interview, thank you to you both. I really can't wait to read A Year Without Autumn, I've caught a couple of the blog tours posts so far and it's all been fab. Also, just that title alone makes me want to read The Night The Sea Stole Our Town!! Hurrah for timeslip novels :)