Frances Hardinge is the author of A Face Like Glass, which has just been shortlisted for the Kitschies Red Tentacle Award (Best Novel category). We caught up with Frances to find out more about her fifth novel, set in the underground city of Caverna, where expressions have to be learned from the famous Facesmiths. You can also click on the link to get a free extract from A Face Like Glass.
A Face Like Glass is your fifth book and the third world that you have created. Your worlds have been described as ‘richly evocative’, and how do you go about creating them?
I am always inspired by a nugget of the real, or more often several nuggets, piled together in ways that amuse me. The 'Fractured Realm', in which Fly by Night and Twilight Robbery are set, is heavily based upon England in the 18th century, but with an added dollop of Romania, which made a powerful impression on me when I visited it years ago. Gullstruck Island was inspired by a range of different countries that I passed through during a year-long trip round the world. Caverna, the underground city of A Face Like Glass owes something to treacherously luxuriant Courts like those in the historic Versaille, but also a good deal to the many caves, buried streets, tunnels and catacombs that have fascinated me over the years.
When I design a world, I always need to know 'how it works', even if the way it works is freakish, macabre or whimsical. My setting notes always contain copious details that never appear in the books themselves. Once I have established my (often slightly crazy) central premises, then I can extrapolate outwards from them to flesh out the world. I only properly understand my characters once I get to grips with the environment that has created them.
My settings aren't real to me unless they have a history, and preferably one too large and complex for my heroes to resolve by the end of the book. These worlds aren't 'stable', not even before the book begins or after the epilogue. Their natural state is one of change, either gradual or sudden. Progress is a matter of the world breaking and mending itself, over and over again, in vast and tiny ways.
In Caverna the world’s most skilled craftsmen create delicacies beyond compare, if you were going to learn a craft there which one would you take up?
If I were to learn one of the crafts, I would be tempted by cheesemaking, purely because of my life-long love of cheese. However if I was placed in charge of some of Caverna's perilous vision-cheeses, I would probably die or go mad within days due to gobbling too many of my own wares.
Where did the idea of people having to learn expressions from Facemiths come from?
The idea of a society where all expressions have to be learnt, one by one, has been with me for years, and I can no longer remember what first gave me the idea. However, I've always been fascinated by the way people express themselves, whether through words, tone of voice, art or body language. I'm also amazed by our subtle, almost magical ability to come to some understanding of each other through these odd, imperfect message systems. As a result, I'm always concerned by situations where self-expression breaks down or is suppressed.
Which character from your novels would you most closely relate to?
Mosca Mye from Fly by Night and Twilight Robbery is still probably the character I identify with the most. She channels a lot of my anger, and is the snarky little voice in my head muttering the things I don't say out loud. She also shares my passion for books, and my fascination with words.
Hathin, the heroine of Gullstruck Island, also contains a good deal of me. She has a talent for escaping notice, and as a child I was also very good at making myself 'invisible'. I sympathise with her self-doubt, her sense of responsibility and the fact that she's a bit of a worrier.
I hear you have almost finished your next book (provisionally titled Cuckoo Song), can you give us a sneak preview of what it is going to be about?
Unlike many of my other books, my next novel isn't set in an imaginary world. Instead the story takes place in 1920s Britain, just a few years after the Great War.
Eleven-year-old Triss is recovering from a near-drowning and a serious illness, tended by her doting parents. As she tries to return to her ordinary life, however, she soon becomes aware that something is terribly wrong. Her memories are tattered and incomplete, her appetite is running rampant, and sinister, impossible things keep happening around her. And for some reason her younger sister Pen is treating her with hostility and hatred ... or possibly fear ...