Ask The Author

Frances Hardinge

A Skinful of Shadows

Do you believe in ghosts? – Gavin

I really like the idea of ghosts, and I find the idea fascinating! However, I don't want to give in to wishful thinking, so I'd need to see some pretty convincing evidence before I let myself believe in them. So far, I haven't seen any proof of their existence - not even a glimpse of a baby-ghost! Mind you, that might just mean that I'm not very psychic.

How did you think of your characters' names? – Lilli, 11

I come up with different characters' names in different ways. Sometimes I come across interesting placenames or words which I think would make good names, and I jot them down so I can use them later. Sometimes I invent a weird name that doesn't really have a meaning, but just sounds right to me. Other times I pick a name with a hidden meaning in it that suits the character. Sometimes I use an interesting name that I've found through historical research.

When I wrote A Skinful of Shadows, I called the heroine 'Makepeace' because some religious communities at that time did give their children over-the-top names like that. (Others include names like Praise-God, Sorry-for-Sin, Fight-the-Good-Fight-of-Faith and Humiliation!) That name also sounded suitable for the character. Even though she can't 'make peace' by bringing the civil war to an end, she can 'make peace' with herself, her past and the various voices in her head.

What is the first book that made you cry? – Freya, 13

Don't laugh, but it was actually Winnie the Pooh! It's the chapter where Eeyore has a birthday, and Piglet accidentally pops the balloon that he's bringing him as a present. Eeyore briefly gets excited by the idea of receiving a birthday balloon, but then learns that it's been burst, and is now just a small damp rag. It would have been his favourite colour as well.

The chapter ends with Eeyore perfectly happy, but when I was very little I just couldn't cope with his sadness and disappointment in the middle of the episode. In my defence, I was very young.

What made you intertwine a supernatural element along with an ancient and ghoulish setting? – Charlie, 14

Actually, the supernatural elements of the story came into my head first! I had come up with the idea of the ghost bear, and the sinister inherited gift of the Fellmottes, before I knew when the story would be set. I knew that I wanted to set the story in the past, when aristocratic families like the Fellmottes were particularly powerful. I find times of great change and upheaval really interesting and exciting to write about, and the Civil War was a time of huge change. It seemed like a time when even ancient ghosts who had lived for centuries might not be able to guess what might happen next...