Earlier this month we asked award-winning children's author Katherine Rundell some questions about her exciting new novel The Wolf Wilder, and also about the processes she goes through as a writer.
Can you tell us a bit about The Wolf Wilder...?
It's about a girl who lives with her mother in just (italics) pre-revolutionary Russia with a gang of wolves in the wilderness. And then something happens. Her mother's kidnapped, and she rides a wolf across the snow to reclaim her mother, and to start a revolution. On the way, she gathers a lost soldier who loves ballet and a little child who... then they start a revolution
...And then about what a 'wolf wilder' actually is?!
So, a wolf wilder is not a real thing! But it's based on a real thing, which involves lions. I grew up in Zimbabwe, and there's a place in Zimbabwe where people who have taken lion cubs to be pets discover that they're not very good pets after a few years - they maybe accidentally eat something that technically belongs to someone else, like a foot(!) - and they're taken and taught to be wild again. To hunt and to mistrust humans. And that is a real thing: it's about trying to give back to animals what we've taken from them. I wanted The Wolf Wilder to be based on that, just a snowier and darker version.
Talk us through the joys (and difficulties) of creating the world through which Feodora dances...
I've been to Russia when the snow has been as high as your thigh. It's a really visceral experience, but I did find it interesting that it's quite hard to really capture what it's like to be really, really cold.
I was writing a lot of this book when I was in Zimbabwe in the very hot sun, visiting my mother, so I got some cocktail ice and wrote with my feet resting on it because having cold feet is a really distinct feeling that you can't really recreate unless you're actually experiencing it. You know that feeling when you think your little toe might drop off? That's what I was trying to get back to.
Talk to us a bit about your writing habits. Do you write early in the morning, or through the night? Pen or laptop?
I've always had another job whilst writing, so to write I have to carve out space. I used to wake up very early - about 5am - and I would write in bed with coffee and a laptop, and then late at night again. All I need really though - whether in cafes of libraries - is a laptop and huge amounts of caffeine, and that's it.
Music helps. I've got into a habit... there's an app on my phone that plays cafe noise - that really helps!
What inspires you to write?
I can't remember not wanting to be a writer. As soon as I knew that writing was a thing and books were built and not born, rush-made, I wanted to write. Wanting to write for kids was a little bit later. I think children are readers unlike any other kind, in that they carry the books very close to their hearts. I think the books you read - especially when you're sort of 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 - they get under your skin. And there's this really fascinating thing that when you meet kids, they say how much they've loved your book, which is always lovely, and they describe it in detail, and then they describe all these things which never happened. Kids who come up to me and say 'My favourite bit is when they waltz on rooftops' in Rooftoppers, and well, I think, That doesn't happen! I think it's a really fascinating phenomenon that when you go back and read books that you read as a kid, they're much shorter and sparser because you have added so much. I think for kids, you build them a house and they make it a castle. Kids make the books bigger. They do half the work. It's pretty remarkable.
More about Katherine Rundell:
Katherine Rundell spent her childhood in Africa and Europe and is now a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. She is also the bestselling author of Rooftoppers, a story inspired by summers working in Paris and by night-time trespassing on the rooftops of All Souls. Rooftoppers won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and the Blue Peter Award in 2014 and was shortlisted for many others. The Wolf Wilder is the first of three new novels with Bloomsbury.