To find out more about Frances Hardinge or Cuckoo Song, please do visit the following websites:
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Frances Hardinge's blog
Can you tell me a little something about yourself?
I'm a hopeless kidult. The study where I work has nerf guns and water pistols arranged along the hooks on the door. My boyfriend and I have a board game stack that literally reaches the ceiling. An embarrassing number of my clothes are fancy dress or period costume. I can sing the whole of “What's Opera, Doc”.
Did you have a role model growing up?
I always admired Elizabeth I. She may not have been a cuddly idealist, but I had to respect her wiliness, ruthless intelligence and hardboiled strength of will. At the age of twentyfive she took over a completely untenable position as female monarch of a tumultuous, male-dominated nation, yet somehow managed to get the bit between its teeth and ride it to victory. She was so incredibly adept at propaganda that centuries later we're still buying into the image she designed for herself.
Who do you look up to now?
I've accumulated plenty of other heroes since.
Mary Kingsley, a Victorian explorer who spent several years wandering the jungle in full gentlewoman's dress, discovering new species, making friends with cannibals, falling into spiked pittraps and bashing crocodiles on the nose for being illmannered enough to try to eat her.
Kipling once said of her: “Being human, she must have feared some things, but one never arrived at what they were.”
Raoul Wallenburg, who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews during World War II using nothing more than charm, dodgy diplomatic paperwork and nerves of steel. It's truly sad that he didn't survive the war. However, thanks to him, a very large number of other people did.
Nancy Wake, a spy who worked with the French Resistance during WWII. The Gestapo called her “The White Mouse” because of her knack for slipping through their fingers, and put her at the top of their most wanted list, with a five million franc reward on her head. It didn't help – she lived to be 98.
Hugh Thompson, Jr, a helicopter pilot who intervened at My Lai to stop fellow US soldiers massacring Vietnamese civilians. Defying your own side on a matter of principle takes a special kind of guts.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer, an artist and an international spy. Well.. I'm now a professional writer, and I spent some time working as a graphic designer, so that I suppose that's two of the three. As for whether I became an international spy, I could tell you about that, but then I'd have to kill you. And everybody else who reads this blog.
Tell me something about the women in your life who have been an influence on you?
My mother gave me my first book when I was a baby. It was made of cloth, and apparently I chewed it for a bit. She proceeded to introduce me to a whole slew of other books as I grew older, and I treated those with a little more respect. She was always highly original, creative and imaginative, with a decided subversive streak.
My sister Sophie is only eleven months younger than me, and we had a huge influence upon each other growing up. The two of us constructed elaborate imaginary worlds, wrote plays with scripts and backdrops, created tiny newspapers and fought like blue fury. Sophie is a hardcore traveller, and still gets bouts of malaria as a result of several years spent intermittently working for a charity in Madagascar. She is generous, audacious, uncomfortably honest and very funny.
Who is your favourite fictional character? And why?
My favourite character varies depending on my mood, but I do have a soft spot for likeable but ambiguous tricksters, such as the Cheshire Cat, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Puss in Boots, the Golux, the 'Stainless Steel Rat' and Flambeau in the Father Brown stories.
Is there a fictional character that reminds you of you? And if you could choose to be best friends with a fictional character, who would it be?
A part of me (probably the best part) is a little like Snufkin from the Moominland books. It's the part of me that remembers that the world is beautiful, and that you can miss it if you fall into a rut, or lose yourself in worries about things that aren't really important. It's the traveller in me, but it's also the part which has come to terms with my own oddness, and no longer fears judgement. Snufkin would make an amazing friend. I would love to wander the world with him a while, watching new horizons unfold.
What were you like as a teenager and how did you cope with all the changes that occurred?
I was intensely shy, decidedly weird and something of a loner. One goes through a lot of emotional turbulence as a teenager... and I kept most of my feelings to myself. I think I believed that my 'job' in the family was to be selfcontrolled and reliable, so I worked very hard at that. I was terribly earnest and a worrier, and bottled up a lot of my feelings. I only really relaxed once I reached university. Spontaneity and irresponsibility are talents I've developed since becoming an adult.
Which book would you say that every teenager should read and why?
I wouldn't wish to do that. Teenagers are all different. Each probably has a book that they 'should read' and which will speak to them. These won't be the same book.
If you had any advice for yourself as a teenager, what would you say?
Everything gets better. Hang on in there.
Carry on being true to yourself. 'Weird' is fine.
If you could choose to have a girly sleepover with any fictional characters, who would you choose?
Hmm, perhaps I could have a 'formidable Victorian females' sleepover! I could invite Marian Halcombe from The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, Alice from Alice in Wonderland and the adventuress Irene Adler from A Scandal in Bohemia. An evening of subversion and crumpets...
Of the issues and concerns that women are faced with today, what's the area you most like reading/writing about?
The female right to education is an issue that always interests me. I am acutely aware that I have been allowed opportunities that countless girls and women deserved but were denied over the centuries. Of course in many places, the fight for this basic right still continues, and the battle sometimes has a death count. Young Malala Yousafzai is indescribably brave to have put herself on the front line at such a tender age.
Thank you so much for that, Frances! Cuckoo Song is now available, do look out for it!