Frances Hardinge: 'Young adults tend to be more broad-minded than adults'

Frances Hardinge: 'Young adults tend to be more broad-minded than adults'

Frances Hardinge answers our questions about her latest YA novel, Deeplight (Macmillan Children's Books), which has been shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2020.


1. Can you sum up Deeplight in one sentence?

With great difficulty. But I’ll try...

In the great archipelago of the Myriad, where the islanders brave the deeps to salvage valuable fragments of the dead gods who once terrorised them, teenage petty criminal Hark must deal with dangerous enemies, more dangerous friends, a mysterious relic showing uncanny signs of life, and unsuspected perils in the deepest sea.

2. What inspired the book?

Deeplight was inspired by lots of different things! When I was young, reading Susan Cooper’s Greenwitch, John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes and Ray Bradbury’s “The Foghorn” left me fascinated with the vast, unknowable deeps of the ocean. Later I became a scuba diver, so Deeplight also owes a lot to my adventures underwater. Many of the Myriad’s hideous gods are inspired by actual deep sea creatures, and some of the weird submarines in the book are based on real, crazy prototypes invented centuries ago. However, I only came up with the sea-kissed after a young reader contacted me to ask whether I had ever considered including a deaf character in one of my books. She then very kindly agreed to be my expert advisor, to help me write the deaf characters!

3. Which character in the book is your favourite?

Hark is probably my favourite character, but Selphin is a very close second.

4. What does being on this year’s YA Book Prize shortlist mean to you?

It’s really exciting! For one thing, it’s amazing to see Deeplight listed alongside so many fantastic books.

5. What's the best thing about writing for young adults?

Young adults tend to be more broad-minded than many adults. They won’t bat an eyelid if I write a really weird book, or mix genres together, or take the story in unexpected directions. It’s really freeing for me as a writer.

6. What was your favourite book as a teenager?

When I was sixteen, I loved Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

7. What is your top writing tip?

Don’t be afraid of writing rubbish. Take risks, try things that don’t work, write when you don’t feel like it, and don’t give up even if you’re not happy with the result. The more you write, the more you learn about your craft. No writing is wasted. Also, no writing is ever perfect. Don’t hide your work away from the world because it’s not flawless yet. It never will be.

8. What song would be on a playlist for Deeplight?

“Who Needs Enemies” by Cooper Temple Clause would have to be somewhere on the list.

9. Who would you cast in a film version of this book?

I can never answer this question! I know what my characters’ heads look like from the inside, but I have great trouble imagining them with actors wrapped around them.

10. What other stories would you recommend to someone who enjoyed Deeplight?

If you like tales of the ocean’s dark mysteries, I would recommend Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Foghorn”. There is something vast in the deeps. It is monstrous, ancient and lonely...

Find out more about Deeplight by Frances Hardinge and read the first chapter of the book for free on the YA Book Prize website.​​​