Frequently Asked Questions
How long did it take you to write your first book?
You might say 50 years—that’s how old I was when I wrote Catherine, Called Birdy—but the actual writing time was closer to three years. I was inspired to write the book when I got the idea for Catherine herself. I wanted to know about that character and what her life was like, and the only way I could do that was to make it up and write it down. So I did.
Why do you write about the Middle Ages?
I think the Middle Ages are an interesting period to explore. It was an exciting, colorful, brutal time in history. The idea of a young person living then and trying to make sense of her world appealed to me. And I think the medieval period is close enough to our own times that I can make an attempt at understanding it but distant enough to seem exotic and interesting.
Why did you decide to be an author?
I did not start out to “be an author.” I started writing because I had an idea for a story and I wanted to know what happened. I write because I love to make up stories, because there are things I want to say, because writing (most of the time) brings me great joy.
Your stories feature really interesting girls. How do you develop your characters? Do they have anything in common with you or people you know?
My girls are made up, but all have a little bit of me in them. Some have the same needs or fears that I do. Some, like Francine in The Loud Silence of Francine Green, are a lot like I was growing up and others, like Catherine, are what I wished I had been like.
I develop the characters slowly, over many, many drafts of a book. Each time I go through the manuscript, I add some specific detail or dialogue to bring the character to life and help us get to know her.
Which is your favorite of your books?
I think the The Midwife’s Apprentice is my favorite, partly because it came fairly easily, without giving me a lot of headaches, and partly because I can identify with Alyce and her search for a place in the world.
What are you working on right now?
I’m in the midst of a draft about Sally O’Malley, a girl in Oregon, 1894, searching for…well, she’s not exactly sure.
Will you ever write a book about a boy?
I did. Will Sparrow’s Road tells of a runaway in Elizabethan England. Will is definitely a boy. I had to work very hard to make him a real boy and not just one of my girls in boys’ clothing.
What do you like most about writing?
I like making things up.
What don’t you like?
Writing is very hard work. And sometimes I worry that a book won’t be good enough, that readers won’t like it, that I’ll finish and never have another idea again—I don’t like that either.