Interview with Frances Hardinge – Author of A Face Like Glass

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Frances Hardinge is our May Author in Residence. Here is our interview with Frances…

Tell us a little about yourself
By the time I was about five, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Mind you, back then I also planned to teach myself to fly, and to master the language of cats. I suppose one out of three is better than nothing.

Even when I was young I was writing stories that tended to feature twists, turns, murder and mayhem. My sense of humour is darkly weird, and I’m incurably odd. I’m a friendly oddity, however. I love people – I find them fascinating, inspiring and incredibly funny. Although I wear black nearly all the time (including a black Trilby hat) I’m actually pretty cheerful by nature.

I started writing my first children’s novel on the advice of a good friend of mine, fellow author Rhiannon Lassiter. When I had written five chapters (which I thought were dreadful), she prevented me from hiding or burning them by stealing them away and showing them to her own editor. A week later, to my huge surprise, I had my first book contract.

Although I write for younger readers, I don’t plan to have children myself. Being a mad auntie is much more fun. I have a nephew, a god-daughter, and various ‘honorary’ nephews and nieces.

Tell us about ‘A Face Like Glass’ and your inspiration for the story

The book is set in Caverna, an underground city which nobody is allowed to enter or leave. The elite are the Craftsmen, producing delicacies so extraordinary that their effects seem magical – perfumes that enslave the mind, cheeses that give you visions, spices that let you see in the dark.

There is something wrong with the faces of those who are born in Caverna, however. The babies do not smile, and without training their faces would remain blank forever. Every person in Caverna has a collection of expressions that they have been taught, slowly and with difficulty. Each time they change their expression it’s a deliberate act, like putting on a different hat. There are no natural smiles, no genuine frowns. Everybody is a perfect liar.

The one exception is Neverfell, a scatterbrained, amnesiac twelve-year-old with a face that shows her every thought, a girl that cannot lie. Plunged into the decadent and treacherous Court of Caverna, she soon becomes the latest novelty, and finds herself surrounded by those who wish to own her, show her off, use her as a pawn, even kill her…

I’ve always been fascinated by underground places, and the idea that there could be mysterious worlds hidden away beneath the ground. When I’m walking around in Oxford, I love knowing that the tunnels from the Bodleian library are stretching unseen beneath my feet, full of books many centuries old. I’ve seen the underground streets of Seattle which
were once full of illegal speakeasies, the (scarily dark and narrow) Cu Chi tunnels that Vietnamese guerilla fighters used as hidden bases, and Chislehurst caves where a whole ‘town’ was set up during WW2, full of people hiding from the bombing raids.

At the same time, the idea of living underground makes one nervous. There’s a gut-level fear of being buried alive.

Where is your favourite place to write?
I live in both Oxford and Isleworth, and divide my time between them. When I’m in Oxford, I write at a desk in my bedroom. In Isleworth, I am lucky enough to have my own study (though it also serves as a storeroom for random junk).

What are you working on now?

At the moment, just as an experiment, I am writing two books at once. Usually I find that by the time I finish writing a book I’m thoroughly sick of it. This time I’m hoping that by writing two novels simultaneously I can avoid hating either of them. Any time I get bored of one, I can get on with the other.

One of them is best described as a dark fairytale set in the 1920s. The other is a pirate story that takes place in an otherworldly ocean where all our memories take solid form.

What do you like to do outside of writing?

I love travelling to new countries, because it shakes up my ideas, and forces me to throw aside everything I think I know. When I’m in warmer climes I enjoy scuba diving and snorkelling. (Sharks have never been a problem, though a triggerfish once bit a piece out of my flipper.) I’m also completely obsessed with volcanoes, and seize every chance to run
up, around and inside them.

I’ve done a certain amount of historical re-enactment, and I’m perfectly happy dressing up in old-fashioned costumes and pretending to be somebody else for a bit.

Every Thursday I go for a hike of at least ten miles. For some reason I find it easier to think through plot ideas while I’m walking. I’ve got no sense of direction and I get lost all the time, but that just means I discover interesting places unexpectedly.

Aside from that, I like reading, spending time with my friends, playing board games and trying things I’ve never done before.

We have one copy of ‘A Face Like Glass’ to give away. To enter, retweet this post or leave a comment. Open to UK residents only. Closes 31st May at 5pm.