Ask The Author
Beyond the Bright Sea
What made you write this story which is sad and beautiful at the
Oh, Charlotte, what a great question. The answer is complicated. First, I never know what my story will be until it reveals itself to me, bit by bit, through my characters. I cry when it is sad, laugh when it is funny, write faster and faster when it’s suspenseful so I can find out what’s going to happen. One part of the answer, then, is this: the characters themselves made me write Wolf Hollow as I did. But I also know that even the happiest life has sorrow in it. All lives do. Sometimes great sorrow. Beauty, though, is possible regardless. Sometimes, beauty is even more intense and meaningful when we are sad. I remember driving home from my grandfather’s funeral—the same man who told me, when I was a girl, how the real Wolf Hollow got its name—and watching the sky turn pink and gold as the sun set. That beauty and the knowledge that he would not see another sunset brought fresh tears. Until I realized that he was part of that beauty and always would be.
What is a sweater frog?
The Hewett Academy Shadowing Group, Norwich
It’s a weird name, I realize. A “frog” is a clasp that holds a jacket or sweater or a cape closed. It takes the place of a button. I love how people invent interesting names for ordinary things. “Clasp” wasn’t good enough, so someone came up with “frog.” Because we are constantly coming up with new words and expressions, our language is a living, breathing thing, always evolving. My language is the language of Shakespeare, but also of Beatrix Potter, whose Peter Rabbit goes “lippity-lippity.” I find that kind of growth exciting. It means we all play a role in how we communicate with each other. Kids, too.
Do you have any other plans for the characters of Wolf Hollow?
I do, Samuel! I have several ideas. One of them involves Annabelle’s brothers, Henry and James, though it would be mostly Henry’s story. I have the beginning of an idea about what might happen, but I want to wait until I start to write before I let myself get too far down that road. I also thought it might be really interesting and challenging to write a story that brings Annabelle together with Crow, the protagonist in my new book, Beyond the Bright Sea. The problem with that is that I write mostly in the first person, so I’d have to alternative between Crow and Annabelle, letting them take turns telling the story. I know that’s a very popular technique these days, but I prefer to see the world I’m creating through just one set of eyes.
Wolf Hollow automatically became my favourite book. Did Wolf Hollow have
another ending, which you thought of and later dismissed?
Tanya, I’m so glad you liked Wolf Hollow. I was, indeed, torn about the ending. As I approached it, I realized it could go in any of several ways. To avoid a “spoiler,” I won’t say specifically what did happen or what my other choices were, but I will say that I longed for a happier ending. I wanted badly to make everything turn out all right. To reward goodness with happiness. But my job as a writer is to tell the truth. To be honest about the lives I’ve created. To make sure that my characters stay in character. So I let Betty and Toby and Annabelle live their lives authentically, and the booked ended the way it had to end. I hope that proves how much I respect young readers, who are so often more intelligent and wise and strong than people realize.
How long did it take to create the book?
Hillhead High School 3A2 Shadowing Group, Scotland
Ah. Another simple question with a complicated answer. I was 54 when I wrote Wolf Hollow. Since everything I’ve ever experienced in my life has contributed to who I am and how I write, I can say that it took me 54 years to write that book. But it actually took only about three months to put the words on paper (if you don’t count the revision that came later). I tend to write in great, intense bursts of creative energy. The words come out fast and furious. And when I’m not writing, a part of my brain is still at work, building up steam, eager to start again. It’s an exhilarating and exhausting experience. Absolutely wonderful.
Why did you give Toby photography as a hobby?
Hillhead High School 3A2 Shadowing Group, Scotland
Wolf Hollow is a work of fiction, but it’s threaded through with strands of fact. One of those strands involves the camera that Annabelle’s mother wins in a contest when she takes her children to a photography studio to have their portrait done. My grandmother actually did that, and the picture of my mother and her brothers really did win the competition. Because the prize was a camera with film and processing, I grew up looking at hundreds of beautiful color photographs of my mother’s childhood on the family farm. Those pictures, combined with her stories and the times I myself spent on that farm, inspired me to write Wolf Hollow. But the main reason I made Toby a photographer has to do with another strand of truth in the book. My mother told me stories about the “drifters” who came walking through the hills of the farm, refugees from World War One or the Great Depression, looking for food or shelter or work. One of those drifters ended up staying in the area, living in the woods. He had been gassed in World War One and was mentally impaired as a result, but he was fascinated with cameras. He gave two of his photographs to my grandmother. One of them is of the farm in winter. That photograph convinced me that he was a man whose terrible war experiences had left him eager for beauty and peace and a way to record them both: to prove that they were as real as the ugliness and violence that had left him a ruined man. And that’s why I made Toby a photographer.