There’s something quite magical about seeing a book you love appearing on shortlists within the literary world. When The House With Chicken Legs appeared on the shortlist for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, I was absolutely delighted for Sophie Anderson.
I have always had an interest in folklore and fairy tales, so I asked Sophie if she would like to share some of her thoughts on the research and writing process for her amazing debut and beyond…
· The House with Chicken Legs has stormed into our hearts, have you always wanted to write your take on this particular Russian tale? What research did you do on the houses themselves?
My grandmother used to tell me Baba Yaga stories when I was young, so I’ve carried her tales in my heart and head for a long time, and often wondered about Baba Yaga’s character. I didn’t realise all that wondering would lead to me writing a reimagining, but when I started, it did feel like I had been preparing for it for a long time!
Research-wise, I read (and re-read) all the Baba Yaga tales I could find, non-fiction texts about her and Russian folklore, and I loved looking at artists’ visions of her and her house over the years.
· Once a writer gets an agent or is published, their world can change forever. Doubts can creep in about their work and ‘Imposter Syndrome’ can take over debilitating many as they try to write their next novel. What can writers do to look after themselves, in particular, their mental health, as they navigate through the highs and lows of success?
The writing life is full of highs and lows. I think you just have to keep reminding yourself of that, and brace yourself for the ride. Sometimes you will feel low, and think your work is terrible, but other times you will be proud of your work and what you’ve achieved and feel on top of the world!
Throughout it all, I remember that I write because I love to write. And nothing else really matters.
· With The Girl Who Speaks Bear coming out later this year, have you changed your writing and editing habits since your debut process? Did you have as much time to write your second novel compared to your debut?
I definitely felt the added pressure of deadlines and expectations! But once I lost myself in the world I’d created it wasn’t too different. I suspect (for me anyway!) every book will involve a slightly different process, but at its heart it’s all about falling in love with your story and working to make it the best it can be.
· Are you a part of a writing or critique group? Do you use readers for your drafts or is your editor there to light the way?
My early drafts feel very fragile, and I wouldn’t like to have them critiqued in case they fell apart, or I was nudged in the wrong direction! I’m only ready for feedback once I’ve done a few drafts on my own. Then I use my agent, Gemma Cooper. She is an amazing editor, and always gives very thorough, very honest, feedback. I do a re-write after considering her feedback, and then it goes to my editor.
· Procrastinator or planner?
Bit of both, but mostly I just dive in without too much thought!
· Congratulations on the CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist! Is this a dream come true for you? Having grown up reading many books that have gained the magnificent accolade, do you have a favourite winner from past years?
The House with Chicken Legs being shortlisted for the Carnegie is beyond anything I dared hope or dream! Last year’s winner, Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean is such a stunning, original book. It evoked incredible imagery in my mind and strong emotions in my soul. I still think about it often. Other favourite winners include Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Skellig by David Almond, andNorthern Lights by Philip Pullman.
· If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? And if you could only take four books with you, what would they be?
I love where I live now, in the beautiful Lake District, although I do miss the seaside sometimes (I grew up in Swansea). Four books? Today I’d choose Collected Narrative and Lyrical Poetry of Alexander Pushkin, translated by Walter Arndt; an omnibus edition of everything Tove Jansson ever wrote, and another of Maya Angelou’s work; and Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales. Tomorrow I might choose a different four!
Thank you for chatting with me, Sophie!
Sophie Anderson grew up with stories in her blood, from her mother, who is a writer, to her Prussian grandmother, whose own storytelling inspired The House with Chicken Legs.
Born in Swansea but now living in the Lake District with her family, Sophie loves walking, canoeing and daydreaming. Her dream is to create stories that help children to explore the world and fall in love with its beautiful diversity.