Today we're excited to chat with Frances Hardinge author of
Read on for more about Frances and her book, an excerpt plus an giveaway.
Meet Frances Hardinge!
Frances Hardinge is the winner of the Costa Book of the Year for The Lie Tree, one of just two young adult novels to win the major UK literary prize. Known for her beautiful use of language, Hardinge has written many critically acclaimed novels, including Cuckoo Song, Gullstruck Island, Fly by Night, Verdigris Deep, and Fly Trap. She lives in England. Visit the author at franceshardinge.com.
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea meets Frankenstein in Frances Hardinge’s latest fantasy adventure
The gods are dead. Decades ago, they turned on one another and tore each other apart. Nobody knows why. But are they really gone forever? When 15-year-old Hark finds the still-beating heart of a terrifying deity, he risks everything to keep it out of the hands of smugglers, military scientists, and a secret fanatical cult so that he can use it to save the life of his best friend, Jelt. But with the heart, Jelt gradually and eerily transforms. How long should Hark stay loyal to his friend when he’s becoming a monster—and what is Hark willing to sacrifice to save him?
~ Author Chat ~
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
The inspiration for Deeplight came from many places. I read stories like Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes, Susan Cooper’s Greenwitch and Ray Bradbury’s “The Foghorn” when I was quite young, and I’m sure that’s partly why I’m so fascinated by the mystery, beauty and danger of the sea. Deeplight was also inspired by my own experiences scuba diving, genuine sea creatures from the darkest deeps, submarines of the 18th and 19th century and the sea monsters of folklore.
While I was planning Deeplight, another unexpected source of inspiration turned up in my email inbox. A young reader called Ella had sent me a mail to ask whether I would ever consider including a deaf character in one of my books. This set off a small avalanche in my imagination, and gave me the idea for the ‘sea-kissed’, well-respected individuals who had lost some or all of their hearing because of their underwater adventures. (Ella very kindly agreed to be my ‘expert advisor’. She and the other members of the Young People’s Advisory Board of the Deaf Children’s Society gave me really useful guidance on how to write Selphin and the other deaf characters. Needless to say, I am very grateful for their help!)
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
The main character Hark is probably my favourite (though Selphin is a very close second).
Hark is a fourteen-year-old orphan who has been surviving through his talents as a petty thief and con artist. He’s got a gift for coming up with lies and stories, but stories are also his addiction. He loves them – telling them, hearing them, collecting them. He may think of himself as a hardened criminal, but a part of him always wants to reach out and understand other people. Despite scrambling for survival all his life, he’s still an optimist at heart. It’s in his nature to look for chances – to hope.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
The book came first. While I was writing the book, it had the working title “God Heart”, but I was fairly sure that wouldn’t be its final name. Much later I had a long email conversation with my editor, brainstorming dozens of titles, and Deeplight was the one we liked best.
This isn’t unusual. Of the nine books I’ve had published, only three of them ended up with their original working title!
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
In the world of Deeplight, there is a dark realm beneath the ordinary sea called the Undersea, a place of nightmares where the ordinary laws of physics break down. Towards the end of the book, the reader sees the Undersea for the first time, and I really enjoyed writing that part. Obviously, I’m not going to comment on why any characters might find themselves in such a dangerous place. And I’m certainly not going to reveal whether they survive…
It was a challenge writing about the Undersea, because in some way’s it’s solid, and in others it’s a phantom place made of soul-matter, where the water is literally filled with fear. I wanted it to feel physically real and dangerous, but unreal and nightmarish at the same time.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I really like all the Abrams covers for my books, which usually have vivid, eye-catching images against dark, ominous backgrounds. They look really striking and sinister (in a good way).
I like the creepy, mysterious image on the Deeplight cover because it hints at lots of different things. The pale, pock-marked shape in the middle looks like bone, but also a little like a heart. The tentacles suggest the perils of the deep sea. At the same time, that writhing thing is clearly monstrous, unnatural, a bit Lovecraftian…
YABC: Which was the most difficult or emotional scene to narrate?
All the conversations between Hark and his best friend Jelt were rather painful to write. This is a relationship which was once a great source of strength to both of them, but over time it has warped to become something more toxic. Hark’s good qualities – his loyalty, empathy and conscience – put him at a disadvantage. While writing those scenes I kept wanting to give Hark a shake and a bit of a pep talk. Readers might well feel the same way.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
I enjoy drafting more… but only for the first two-thirds of the book. At first I’m really excited by the book concept, and this enthusiasm carries me forward for ages. I do nearly all my brainstorming, research and planning during this happy time as well.
As time goes by, however, the momentum runs out, and the doubts set in. By the time I’m two-thirds of the way through the first draft, I’m usually starting to hate the book. I become convinced that I should never have started it, it was a terrible idea from the start. Everyone else will hate the book, and they will turn up outside my house to throw rocks at me. As you can imagine, finishing and editing the book is really hard work when I feel like that! I only forgive the book for existing once it has actually been published, and nobody has thrown any rocks at me...
YABC: What would you say is your superpower?
Apparently my mind works in a slightly odd way. For example:
“Hmm, the people in this underground city I’ve created needs a source of breathable air and light. Ooh, they probably get them from glowing carnivorous plants!”
For me, this is a natural train of thought. It’s been suggested that my trains of thought may not run along the usual tracks.
“Where were you this morning, then?” demanded Hark. “I waited for hours!”
“Staying out of someone’s way,” Jelt answered curtly.
Jelt was much in demand these days. Cold-eyed people came looking for him—and not to shake his hand. Sometimes it was the governor’s men, sometimes other people who didn’t give their names. It had been happening ever since that night on the mudflats, the night Hark and Jelt never talked about. Hark sensed that Jelt was almost daring him to ask about it now. He did not take the bait.
“You lost them?” he asked instead.
“Yeah,” said Jelt, no longer in a humorous mood. “Hurry it up, will you?”
Events had a current, and Hark didn’t believe in fighting currents. Using them, playing with them, letting them push you slantwise to somewhere that might serve your turn, yes. Fighting them flat out, no. The current that was Jelt pulled him along more than any other. Somehow Hark couldn’t slip or slide or shoot off sideways and still pretend he was doing what Jelt wanted, the way he could with anybody else.
I don’t want to anyway, he told himself firmly. Jelt is family. He knew better than to trust anything he told himself, though.
There were four figures waiting near the top of the hill, in the shelter of one of the lookout towers. Hark’s heart lurched as he recognized their leader, a woman in her late thirties, with a bitter, thoughtful mouth and a thick mottling of freckles that covered her face and arms, and even the scalp beneath her close-cropped hair. Dotta Rigg’s reckless, cutthroat smuggling runs filled Lady’s Cravers with both alarm and an odd pride.
Her five children, even the younger ones, could get free drinks anywhere on the island, and only partly because people were afraid of them.
Hark had heard older hands talking of Rigg with trepidation and contempt, combined with bafflement at her success. She’s heading for a fall. Too chancy, doesn’t listen to anyone. Who the abyss wants to be a famous smuggler?
“Captain Rigg,” said Hark, hoping to sound confident but respectful. Whatever madness Jelt had gotten them into, he had better act as if he could handle it.
He noticed the steel and scrimshaw ear-studs worn proudly by a couple of Rigg’s companions to signal that they were “sea-kissed.” People who spent a lot of their time diving or trusting their lives to submarines often ended up losing some or all of their hearing. It was the mark of a seasoned aquanaut, and generally respected.
Sign? he asked them quickly in sign language, and received a nod. Many sea-kissed could lip-read or retained some of their hearing, so it was always polite to ask whether they preferred speech or sign language.
You wanted to see us? Hark asked Rigg in Myriad sign language. Since there were so many sea-kissed across the Myriad, virtually all islanders knew some sign language, though the signs varied slightly from one island to the next. Hark could manage the basics of the Lady’s Crave variant but always felt a bit clumsy with it, compared with the grace of those who used it more often.
Yes, though I’m going off the idea, Rigg signed sharply with a scowl. We’ve been waiting nearly an hour! You better not be late tonight. She beckoned Hark and Jelt closer, and the six of them reflexively formed a huddle so that their signs could not easily be read from a distance.
Tonight? Things were moving even faster than Hark had feared.
We won’t, signed Jelt. No excuses, no apology, just a sky-blue stare.
Rigg jerked a thumb toward the beacon tower on the next headland.
It’s that beacon and the one beyond it, she signed, fixing Hark and Jelt with an assessing glare. You’ll need to put both lights out an hour after the cannon. There’s a route under the lip of the cliff to the one further away . . . You see that ledge under the red streak? One of you will have to climb along that. You can’t use the cliff-top path or you’ll be seen.
Hark was catching up fast and wished he wasn’t. He gave a silent, dry-mouthed nod, trying to disguise his rising panic. He wondered if Jelt had deliberately brought him in late so he wouldn’t be able to protest and back out. Four dangerous people had been kept waiting in the cold—he didn’t have the nerve to tell them that they’d been wasting their time.
It has to be done tonight? Hark asked, thinking wistfully of his gullible, abandoned merchant.
Of course, Rigg signed irritably. The governor’s men will be busy, won’t they?
She was right, Hark realized. Most of the governor’s guards would probably be on the docks, guarding the Abysmal Child, watching the warehouse with the new cargo, and stopping people diving in the harbor for fallen scraps of the Hidden Lady. There would be fewer men patrolling the cliffs and the coves.
They’ll hold an Appraisal tomorrow to sell off the Abysmal Child’s godware, I guarantee it, continued Rigg. After that, patrols will be back at full strength. It has to be tonight.
No problem, answered Jelt.
“You didn’t ask,” Hark said bitterly, as twilight settled on the island like a sour mood. “You never ask, Jelt.”
“Wasn’t time, was there? You got to grab these chances when they come. And we were only late because I spent hours finding you in that crowd!”
“You did have time to tell me!” Hark began, but already he knew it was pointless to argue. If Hark stuck to his guns, really stuck to them, that would lead nowhere good.
“Look,” continued Jelt, “here’s how we do this. We hide on the hillside till it’s time, then I climb up near to the first lantern, and you take the ledge path to the second. You knock out your lantern as soon as you can, and I’ll kill mine when yours goes dark.”
“I still don’t see why I have to do the climb along that ledge,” muttered Hark.
“Are you joking?” Jelt halted in his tracks and stared at Hark with wide, angry eyes. “I’m trying to show Rigg what you can do, Hark! You think I couldn’t have gotten somebody else for this? I brought you in because we’re friends! You’re a decent climber, and after tonight, Rigg’s whole gang will know it.”
In spite of his annoyance, Hark couldn’t help feeling a little mollified by the compliment.
“Anyway,” added Jelt, “that path’s got an overhang. You’re shorter than me, it won’t slow you down as much. Also, the one hiding near that first beacon has to stay there, ready to break it, no matter what happens. What would you do if the governor’s men showed up there? Give them a smile? Tell them a nice story?”
“What would you do, then?” Hark retorted. “Chuck ’em all off the cliff?”
Jelt gave a bit of a shrug and a dangerous little smirk. I might, said the smirk, if I feel like it. He was always like that in the face of a potential fight. Bravado toothed with a hint of real threat. Joking but not joking. You couldn’t prove anything either way. “Why do they want the lights out, anyway?” muttered Hark.
The beacon lights had once been a signal to the gods— a plea. Please let our ships sail through. Do not rise in your terrible majesty. We will appease you, we will feed you . . . Many of the Myriad’s islands had long since removed their beacon towers as symbols of a dead and regrettable era. The governor of Lady’s Crave, however, was eternally practical. He had kept the towers, modifying them and adding lenses so that they cast a broad, dim beam on the coves the smugglers favored for their night runs.
“They’re doing something they don’t want anybody to see,” Jelt said slowly and clearly, his tone patiently impatient. “Maybe we’ll find out what if we show what we’re worth.”
Hark hesitated for too many seconds, and Jelt’s short fuse burned out.
“Oh, grow a spine, Hark! Before I start wishing I’d left you out of this. This is a promotion. You got some other career plans, have you? You want to spend your whole life snatching scraps and wheedling pennies on the docks like a little kid, till you’re too old and slow, and you starve?”
Hark chewed his cheek, hearing the truth in Jelt’s words. Hark had a stubborn seed of hope in his soul that kept pushing up and up, however deeply it was buried, and building bright, strange futures for him. Although he felt a profound, blood-level love for Lady’s Crave, many of his dreams involved leaving for Siren, or Malpease—some island that was bigger and brighter, with more hope. Every day he saw people who had probably once had dreams like his, but who had never left and never come to anything. Old men and women in damp rags, gathering clams or squabbling over tiny bribes, their eyes weary pools of disappointment. Seeing them, he could feel his dreams shudder. Hark had moved up in the world, hadn’t he? He wasn’t hanging around the kids’ Shelter anymore, begging for food or somewhere to sleep. He was sharing a shack behind the glue factory, above the flood line, and with warmth soaking through the wall from the glue furnaces beyond. His gaggle of housemates would probably kick him out sooner or later as their alliances shifted, but that was just what happened. Folks turned on you, so you looked for the next bunch of people to get you through. Nobody was permanent.
Nobody except Jelt.
Hark and Jelt had been orphaned by the same bitter winter, and this had somehow grafted them together. Sometimes Hark felt they were more than friends—or less than friends—their destinies conjoined against their wills. Unwanted children were not unusual, and Lady’s Crave had shown them a certain rough charity in their earliest years. They had been given a home at the Shelter and one meal a day. Sailors had thrown them occasional scraps or turned a blind eye when they slept in their rowing boats. Even the territorial shore scavengers let the youngest children delve into their rock pools now and then for sea urchins and shellfish. But when you turned seven or eight, your time was up. You were old enough to fend for yourself without help and were chased off if you tried foraging in a territory claimed by a scavenger gang. In Hark’s case, this did not happen until he was nine: an early lesson in the advantages of looking young and harmless.
But appearing that way was dangerous, too. It marked you as a victim, a soft target. Hark had survived because word got around about his crazy friend, the one who stood his ground against full- grown men and tried to smash their teeth in with rocks.
Jelt had kept Hark alive. Jelt could drop his fear and self-control in a second. Jelt thought big, could even think himself bigger.
“We got to move up,” said Jelt, “or we’re going nowhere. You take the world by the throat or you die.”
By: Frances Harding
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: April 14th, 2020
One winner will receive a copy of Deeplight (Frances Hardinge) ~ (US Only)
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