December 02, 2013

R. J. Anderson: Author Interview

With the UK editions of Knife, Rebel, Arrow and Swift being released in Canada for the first time, 
with my review yesterday of youngCanLit author  
R. J. Anderson's book Quicksilver
sequel to Ultraviolet
I asked her if she'd be willing to take some time 
to answer a few questions for CanLit for LittleCanadians.  

R. J. Anderson graciously accepted 
and I'm pleased to share that interview here. 

HK: When your first book of the Faery Rebels series, Spell Hunter (more recently republished as Knife) came out in 2009, it was selected as one of nine honour books for the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award. You were in auspicious company, including authors Gordon Korman, Janet McNaughton, Arthur Slade and Tim Wynne-Jones. Looking back, what do you think distinguished your novel and grabbed readers’ attention?

RJA: I can’t speak for the committee, but I know what aspects of the story stood out in my own mind when I was writing it. For one, it took small faeries seriously and presented them as characters the reader could identify with, rather than cute accessories or malevolent pests. For another, it turned the usual idea of humans being enchanted by the magic of fairyland on its head – in this case, it’s the human world that astonishes and entices my faery heroine, and through her eyes we see the wonder of the everyday things we often take for granted. And finally, it was the only story I knew of at the time where a wheelchair-using teen was portrayed as athletic, attractive and even romantic, instead of a brainy sidekick or a sickly object of pity. Ultimately it’s the characters that make or break a story, and I’d like to think the committee was won over by Knife and Paul and the remarkable friendship they share.

HK: Why did your publishers choose different titles and covers of your Canadian and UK books? Do you think it has affected your audience or those who choose your books? Why or why not?

RJA:  Knife was my original title for the first book, and my UK publisher was happy to run with that and give my heroine an appropriately fierce look on the cover. It quickly went into multiple printings and became a bestseller.  But HarperCollins, who published the first hardcover edition here in Canada, didn’t think Knife was a good title for the North American market. They also wanted to emphasize the series aspect, and that’s how we ended up with Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. Unfortunately, readers couldn’t remember (or spell) the title, and the cover didn’t seem to grab their attention either. The second book Rebel also did very well in the UK, but struggled in North America with a photographic cover and its original title of Wayfarer.
     I do think UK readers are more willing to read about faeries, especially small faeries, than North American readers are. Over there, faeries are a respected part of folklore that dates back hundreds of years, and boys as well as girls will read about them; while here, people tend to think of Disney and Tinkerbell, and assume that faery stories are for six-year-old girls. I’m hoping the recent Canadian release of the UK paperbacks, with their more dramatic and action-oriented covers and titles, will help to overcome that misconception.

HK: Would you ever consider adding a genealogy or family tree to help clarify relationships between the characters and different books or do you believe that the surprise revelations are too significant to your story lines?

RJA: I hope that the narrative speaks for itself, as far as who’s related to whom and which relationships are really most important. If people need a family tree to figure it all out, I’d say I’ve probably not been clear enough! But also yes, I would say that some of the more surprising connections are too important to spoil.

HK: You’re definitely a versatile fantasy writer, having your Faery Rebels series and then your Ultraviolet books. Although both fantasy series focus on struggles between good and evil and those with the courage to stand up for their beliefs, these books are substantially different in atmosphere, tone, setting, etc. How did the writing process differ with respect to these two series?

RJA:  They are certainly quite different, and I was alternating between the two series as I was writing them, so I found that I had to give myself a couple of months to get my head out of one world before I could immerse myself in the other. I did a lot of folklore, historical and geographical research for the faery series, including travelling to the UK. But the most intense and demanding work I’ve ever done was on my contemporary Canadian books Ultraviolet and Quicksilver, because it was so crucial to me to get the real-world details – legal, medical, scientific and so on – as accurate as I could possibly make them. There were times I thought researching those books would kill me, but I’m very proud of the way they turned out.

HK: I have one favourite question that I like to ask authors. This is it: would you rather produce one book of extraordinary importance that becomes a classic but one to which all your writing is forever compared, or would you prefer to author many different books for different audiences and which could not be compared to each other easily?

RJA:  Ideally I’d like to write a whole series that could be considered a classic, like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. Certainly, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the most famous and much-acclaimed of those books, but the series gets talked about as a whole more often than not.

HK: If there were one thing that you would really like to share with young readers about yourself, your books or your writing, what would it be?

RJA: I’d like to encourage kids who love fantasy and science fiction not to be discouraged from reading and writing it, even though current educational (and alas, even literary) wisdom doesn’t tend to count such things as Worthy Canadian Literature. There are some fantastic stories waiting to be read – and told – about this country and the people who live in it, and I’d love to see children’s fantasy become as widely written and well respected here as it is in some other places. As Anne of Green Gables said, “It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything… There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there?”

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