For the next few weeks, in celebration of my new fantasy novel, Grayling’s Song, this blog is featuring a few of my favorite fantasy authors answering four questions about their own writing. Today, you can read Susan Cooper’s answers. She’s the author of many fine books, including the Newbery Medal-winning The Grey King.
Q: What was (is) the hardest aspect of building a fantasy world for you?
A: On the whole, it’s American writers who build a fantasy world; the British ones (including me) tend instead to bring fantasy into the real world. Maybe it’s because we grew up in time-haunted islands full of mysterious reminders of 3,000 years of ancestors; if you visit Stonehenge in the middle of the night, as I once did, you can believe almost anything could happen there. The hard thing—but also the most fun—is to make your reader believe that the real world can also contain magic.
Q: What do you feel is different for you, particularly, as a writer about creating a fantasy novel rather than writing a realistic or historical novel?
A: I seem to be incapable of writing a realistic novel. I began life as a newspaper reporter, and I’ve written biographies and other non-fiction books, but whenever I write fiction, my imagination gives me fantasy—even in books set in the historical past, like King of Shadows and Victory. The only exception was Dawn of Fear, a book about World War 2, but that wasn’t truly fiction because it was almost totally autobiographical.
Q: Did you read fantasy novels before you wrote your books? If so, what’s your favorite fantasy novel and why?
A: I was born a loooong time ago, so I grew up reading myth and legend and folktale rather than fantasy novels, and I don’t have a favorite. But I remember E. Nesbit’s books, like The Phoenix and the Carpet, and two fantasies by the English poet John Masefield, called The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights. I read Tolkien when I was at university; he lectured to us on Beowulf, and after a lovely shout of the poem’s first two lines in Anglo-Saxon, he mumbled. C.S.Lewis gave lectures too (on Renaissance literature) and was much easier to hear, because he boomed. I read his adult science fiction novels, but not the Narnia books.
Q: Is there a character in one of your fantasy novels that you wish you could invite over for dinner? What would you talk about?
A: Since you have to think yourself inside the head of every character you invent, you know most of them as well as you know yourself. The only exception for me is Merriman Lyon, in the Dark is Rising sequence: he’s mysterious, remote, perhaps unknowable. But I’d never have the courage to invite him to dinner.
Thank you, Susan, for sharing your experiences and insight. I encourage you to read all of Susan Cooper’s books, including The Dark is Rising Sequence and Green Boy, as well as the others she mentions. Learn more about Susan Cooper on her website.
Grayling’s Song is available on June 7th from Clarion Books and your favorite bookseller. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books said “The language gives the book the atmospheric flavor of historical fiction, and the land itself is wild and mysterious, exactly the type of place where magic could happen, children could wander around trying to fix the world, and tiny mice could shapeshift into mighty protectors if fed the right potion.”