What kind of child were you?
Very bookish, fiercely independent and very resistent to following fashion. Also loud, bossy and probably insufferable. I am the eldest of four, and what I wanted more than anything was to be an only child. I felt pretty out of place until I went to university and found Yale filled with outsiders like me.
What are your most vivid childhood memories?
Reading six hours a day; spending all my free time either in libraries or swimming in the sea. I was a schoolchild in Paris for a year, where I learned to write with a pen dipped in an inkwell. The first day I couldn’t understand a word of French, and the teacher stood in the doorway and made me enter and re-enter the classroom until I realised I had to bow my head. Going to camp in Brittany, and drinking sweet, milky coffee for the first time. I also lived across the street from the film star Lana Turner, and I was fascinated by the way she seemed both so ordinary and special at the same time. She had telephones on every table of her house, at a time when everyone just had one.
How did you start reading and what books have stayed with you?
The first book I remember reading was in London, called The Pancake, a gorgeous book of simple fairy tales. I was entranced. Books that remain with me are Edward Eager’s Half-Magic; Andrew Lang’s collections of fairy tales; Robert Graves’ Greek mythology; Rex Warner’s retelling of The Iliad and The Odyssey: I draw on them all to this day.
How did you start writing – do you remember the first things you wrote?
I started writing when I was around 8 years old, mainly fairy tales which I never finished. Today they’d be called “fractured” tales as I combined several favourites.
What do you find difficult to write?
I love writing dialogue, and I describe things as little as possible, so writing my books for older children, The Sleeping Army and The Lost Gods, with lots more description, was quite challenging. I’ve been surprised that many people have said their favourite scene in The Lost Gods is a battle between Gods and Frost giants where London is destroyed – pages and pages of blood-curdling prose. Luckily, my writer friend Steven Butler came to my rescue, as he adores writing description, and we spent several fun hours hurling gory sentences at each other – “Thor grabbed Cleopatra’s needle and bashed in a giant’s mouth”; “I am Iron Hag! Prepare to die!” – before I went away and shaped them into a narrative.
Do you draw on your own childhood in your work?
I draw on the fierce emotions of childhood rather than specific incidents.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished Charlotte Mendelson’s hugely funny and enjoyable novel, Almost English, and am starting Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Next will be Hannah Kent’s remarkable-sounding book Burial Rites, about the last woman executed in 19th-century Iceland. Hannah and I met at the Edinburgh Festival, where we did an event for Amnesty together, and I was excited to meet another writer who is also interested in all things Icelandic.
Francesca Simon's latest book is The Lost Gods, out now, published by Faber Children's Books.
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