Swanky Seventeener Kamilla Benko recently interviewed Kiran Millwood Hargrave about her debut novel, a middle grade fantasy titled THE GIRL OF INK AND STARS in the UK and THE CARTOGRAPHER’S DAUGHTER in the US, released in the UK May 5th 2016 by Chicken House and in the US on November 1, 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers.
About the Book:
When her closest friend disappears into her island’s Forgotten Territories, Isabella Riosse volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart. But beneath the smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.
About the Author:
Kiran Millwood Hargrave was born in London in 1990, and now lives in Oxford, the City of Dreaming Spires. As well as writing novels, she is a published poet and playwright. Kiran does her best writing in bed or in pubs, which are two of her favourite places. She studied at Cambridge University and Oxford University, and was about to do a PhD when she decided writing was much more fun (though no less hard!) Find Kiran at her web site, twitter, and goodreads.
Kamilla: When and how did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
Kiran: Quite recently, actually! I always read like crazy and loved children’s books, but the idea of becoming an author didn’t come until five years ago. My partner was a painter and watching him succeed in his passion was inspiring. So instead of going on to law, I asked myself what I felt passionately about, and the answer was books. I remember what my dad said—it’s easy to fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well fail at something you do want to do! I started writing and publishing poetry, and I applied to a few creative writing courses. I chose Oxford since the program didn’t make you specialize in poetry, screen writing or children’s books – you do all three before specialising.
Kamilla: Where did the inspiration for your novel come from?
Kiran: My parents had an atlas growing up, and my brother and I would put our finger on a place, and then set our game there. We also traveled loads. My parents took us everywhere— Jordan, India, China— and I loved going to new places.
When I was 19, we went on a trip to La Gomera, the second smallest Canary Island. We arrived just after a forest fire, and there were huge swathes of blackened forest and burnt places. I found an overlook with a steep point down to the sea, and I wondered: if I were a girl who didn’t know where I was, how would I feel looking at this sunset?
The Islands are volcanic as well—the settings of all the places in my novel really exist! They have the longest walkable lava tubes where the darkness is so black, you can feel it touching your eyelashes. When I was there, I also read a book of Canary Island myths where I leaned about the volcano spirit and his demon dogs. I didn’t write anything until the Oxford workshop, and then it all just came into place. Myths do that!
Kamilla: What was your revision process like for this book?
Kiran: Long! Chicken House and Knopf took me on the condition there’d be revisions. There were eight drafts over two years. When I started, the story was huge and flabby! It was me showing off the world and my imagination, I threw everything I had at it. With my editors, I worked on finding shape and finessing the characters to let them take the lead. And I even fought my editors a huge plot point, but I slowly came around to realize they were absolutely right, and that’s when my book became a book.
Kamilla: Do you outline or write into the void?
Kiran: Write into the void! The most I have is an elevator pitch, and then I just see what happens as I go along. Ideas can grip you, and this book became a compulsion. I’d get up in the middle of the night and write. I’d never done that before, and I couldn’t believe I went 23 years without ever feeling something like that.
Favorite book when you were Isabella’s age?
His Dark Materials Trilogy
Favorite writing place?
The Rusty Bicycle, a pub in Oxford
Music or silence?
Music! Something folky like Beth Orton or The Staves when writing; upbeat music like Beyoncé or Taylor Swift when editing.
Two ginger cats, Oscar and Noodle
Unicorns or dragons?
Do you write longhand or type?
Type! I’m obsessed with my laptop
About the Interviewer:
Kamilla Benko spent most of her childhood climbing into wardrobes, trying to step through mirrors, and plotting to run away to an art museum. Now she wrangles manuscripts as a children’s book editor. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her bookshelves, teapot, and hiking boots. Though she writes about searching for unicorns, it’s easy to find her on twitter, instagram, and goodreads.