Author Interview: Mary Hooper on Newes from the Dead

Mary Hooper on Mary Hooper: “I’ve been writing books for children and young adults for about twenty years. I’m happily (re)married with two grown children and live about forty miles outside London.”

What kind of teenager were you?

I was an only child and not born until my mum and dad were forty, so I think my teenage years were a bit of a shock to them. I hit my teens in the sixties and was lucky enough to come from West London, where I saw the Rolling Stones every Sunday (then later, Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds) at the local athletic ground. I had some great times.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer? What helped you the most? What might you do differently, given the opportunity?

What helped me was not starting off with any great expectations. Had I begun writing today, in the shadow of J. K. Rowling, I might have felt too intimidated to even try.

I started off by writing short stories for magazines, which was a great way in and not too daunting. You learn what works and what doesn’t, and if no one takes your stuff, at least you haven’t wasted too much time over it.

Gradually, my stories got longer and longer until they reached book size, and there I was, a writer.

What is it about young people as fictional heroes and/or as an audience that especially appeals to you?

I don’t consciously think of the age of my audience or my main character, but write the sort of things that I like to read. The main reason I began to write books for children, rather than adults, is that they were shorter.

Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I was at home, rather bored, with two small children, read a short story in a magazine and thought, I can do that!

When I’d written and sold lots of stories I sent some tear sheets from the magazines to a publisher of teen books saying I’d like to write a book, so how about it? (It’s different and far more difficult now!)

About six years ago, I ran out of ideas for modern teen novels (and also got a bit baffled with all the new technology business: mobile phones, texting, blackberries, ipods, etc., knowing that if I was going to write credible books for teens, I’d have to have them in there). It was then I decided to write historical fiction.

Could you please update us on your recent back-list and/or current titles, highlighting as you see fit?

A book I particularly love is The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose (Bloomsbury, 2006), about two babies who are exchanged at birth. This is set around the Court of the Merry Monarch, Charles II.

Before this, came a book about London’s Great Plague: At the Sign of the Sugared Plum, and its follow-up about the Great Fire of London: Petals in the Ashes (also published by Bloomsbury, 2003/4).

At the moment, I’m writing a third book about Dr. Dee, who was a magician at the Court of Elizabeth I (the first two in this series books are At the House of the Magician and By Royal Command, published in the U.K. by Bloomsbury but not yet sold to the U.S.).

How have you grown as a writer over time? What do you see as your strengths? In what areas do you feel as though you must still push yourself?

Early on I realized the importance of moving with the market. When animal books were popular, these were what I wrote, ditto diary books, issue books, funny books, etc.

The only thing I haven’t attempted is fantasy, because I know I wouldn’t be any good at it, and also because I like my books rooted in reality. My historicals contain real people (Nell Gwyn, The naughty Earl of Rochester, gorgeous highwayman Claude Duval, Dr Dee, Aphra Benn, etc.) As to pushing myself, well, I should really test my skills by seeing if I can manage to write a book with multi-viewpoints, but I much prefer writing in the first person.

Congratulations on the release of Newes from the Dead (Roaring Brook, May 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about it?

It’s the true story of Anne Green, a maidservant, who in 1650 was seduced by the grandson of her employer. She found herself pregnant, miscarried the child and was taken to be hung for infanticide.

After hanging for half an hour, her body was cut down and taken to the dissectionist at an Oxford college. When the physicians gathered and lifted the coffin lid to begin the procedure, they heard a rattle in her throat…

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I heard Anne Green’s story on the car radio and thought, Wow! I was supposed to be taking the car in for a service but, sitting there listening, I missed my time slot.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

At the time, there was a major competition going on in the U.K. to write the first chapter of an adult novel, so I did a little research, then sat down and wrote a few thousand words about Anne Green.

Seeing as I’d written lots of YA novels, I thought I might be in with a chance, but I didn’t even get a mention.

I sent the start of the book and a synopsis to my agent, Rosemary Canter, who said I’d have to write the whole thing before she could send it out, so I took six months off writing my commissioned books to do just that.

The more I found out, the more fascinated I became; it seemed that this was the story idea I’d been waiting for (and how come no one had found it before?) When I’d finished it Rosemary sold it to Random House, who then sold it on, after a bidding war, to Roaring Brook Press. It’s now been three years since the “spark.”
What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

There is not much written about Anne herself, rather more about the doctors who saved her, so it was just a case of putting down the facts, what was actually recorded at the time, and then fitting the other bits (customs, dress, housing, food, servant/master relationship, medical practice, etc) around what I knew for sure.

Finding out that Christopher Wren was present was a bonus, as was discovering that Charles I had visited the house where Anne was a servant, and then that Sir Thomas Reade had died within a few days of Anne’s ordeal.

As I wrote, it all seemed to come together. I found it easier having a template to follow instead of writing a pure fiction story where you find yourself having to decide between with ten possible endings.

The language is mesmerizing! It’s a beautifully evocative read. Did you read texts of the era? Jump into a time machine?

I had been reading Pepys Diary for gossip and information, and–like one finds themselves speaking in mock-Shakespearian after seeing a couple of his plays (well, I do!)–I found myself thinking in Olde Englishe. It’s just a matter of rearranging words and altering the rhythm of people’s sentences rather than lots of “prithees” and “unhand me, knaves!”

What advice do you have for writers of historical fiction?

People are the same whatever century they’re living in–but they will already know this.

What do you do when you’re not in the book world?

Potter about, read a lot, visit interesting places (old graveyards a special favorite), walk, be curious about things.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I am hoping to write another book about Anne Green and find out what happened to her afterwards.

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaways

Austin SCBWI offered a great line-up for its April 26 conference.

Featured speakers included: author and editor Deborah Noyes Wayshak from Candlewick Press (author-editor interview); Alvina Ling from Little Brown (personal blog); agent Erin Murphy (interview by Pam Mingle from Kite Tales, Rocky Mountain chapter, SCBWI); artist’s agent Christina Tugeau; writing professor Peter Jacobi; illustrator Christy Stallop; and retired educator Naomi “Mama” Pasemann.

The Critique Clinic and Success Panel Authors included: Brian Anderson (author interview); Chris Barton; Lila Guzman (author interview); Helen Hemphill (author interview); Varian Johnson; April Lurie (author interview); Jane Peddicord (author interview); Jo Whittemore (author interview); and Brian Yansky (author interview).

Special contributions also were made by Julie Lake (author interview) and Gary Schumann, Lyn Brooks, and the conference committee–Regional Advisor Tim Crow; Lyn Seippel; Meg Shoemaker; Donna Bratton; Julie Lake; Christy Stallop; and Carmen Oliver.

Highlights included the inauguration of the Austin SCBWI Meredith Davis Volunteer-of-the-Year Award, named in honor of our chapter founder and first regional advisor. The first recipient was current ARA Lyn Seippel.

The night before the conference, Greg and I had the honor of hosting a reception in honor of the conference faculty and volunteers. The menu (above) included: green goddess crudites with anchovy green goddess dressing; peak season fruits paired with cheddar, Jarlsberg, Havarti and Gruyere cheeses, an assortment of bite-size pinwheels of carne asada, grilled vegetable and roasted turkey with fig spread on colorful tortillas, jumbo shrimp poached in a court-bouillon and served with a choice of traditional cocktail sause or spicy gazpacho sauce, along with fresh lemons, lime, and dill, and two-bite sweets–cookies, brownies, and bars. We also served red and white wine, water, and sodas. The event was catered by Whole Foods (Lamar).

Thanks to the committee, critique clinic faculty, and speakers for an amazing event! Cheers again to Austinite and rising star, Varian Johnson, on his first hardcover sale (to Delacorte)!

May Giveaway

The Cynsations grand-prize May giveaway is an autographed paperback set of all three of Lauren Myracle‘s New York Times bestselling Internet Girls novels (in chat-room-style writing)–ttyl, l8rg8r, and ttfn, all published by Amulet!

From a recent Cynsations interview with Lauren:

“The credit for inspiration all goes to my fabulous and adorable and brilliant-beyond-words editor, the great Susan Van Metre.

“One day, she and I were having a talk about how different things are for girls now than when we were teenagers, and we circled around to the whole IM thing. You know, how when we were in school, we’d come home and phone our buds and go over the day (who wore what, who said what, etc.), but now, girls come home and IM their buds to do their post-op.

“And Susan said, ‘Someone should write a book all told in IMs.’

“And, being no dummy, I said, ‘Okay!’ And so I did.”

Read Lauren’s blog, and visit her at MySpace!

To enter the giveaway, email me with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST May 31! Please also type “Internet Girls” in the subject line. Note: one autographed set will be awarded to any Cynsations YA reader.

Giveaway Winners

Autographed copies of A Growling Place by Thomas Aquinas Maguire (Simply Read, 2007)(author-illustrator interview) went to Katie, a fifth grade teacher from Las Vegas as well as Cynsational readers Tracy in Poway, California; and Sheila in Coral Springs, Florida.

Autographed copies of How Not to Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler (Delacorte, 2008)(author interview) went to Cana, an eighth grade teacher in Starke, Florida; and Em, a Cynsational reader from Boulder, Colorado! Visit Jennifer’s LiveJournal and MySpace page!

And finally, Cynsational YA reader Kate in Bangor, Maine; and Tantalize Fans Unite! member Breanna in Tacoma, Washington; won copies of By Venom’s Sweet Sting by Tiffany Trent (Mirrorstone, 2007)! Read a Cynsations interview with Tiffany.

Hunger Mountain’s Annual eBay Fundraising Auction

Visit between now and noon EST May 8th to place your bid on manuscript critiques with notable authors and limited edition letterpress broadsides.

One-on-one manuscript critiques in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and writing for children and young adults are offered by phone, email, and mail with award-winning authors.

Authors offering critiques: Gillian Conoley, Cleopatra Mathis, William Olsen, Tim Wynne-Jones (author interview), Robin Hemley, Randall Brown, Sebastian Matthews, David Huddle, Victoria Redel, Evan Fallenberg, Dara Wier, Jack Myers, Baron Wormser, Thomas E. Kennedy, David Jauss, Xu Xi, and Norma Fox Mazer (author interview). Note: Tim and Norma specialize in youth literature.

A new letterpress broadside featuring Lucia Perillo’s poem “Breaking News” is now available. It is the fourth broadside in the Stinehour Broadside Award Series. These letterpress broadsides are all signed and numbered, limited edition, and frame worthy!

All purchases are charitable donations in support of Hunger Mountain’s non-profit mission to bring readers outstanding creative work by both established and emerging writers and artists, as chosen by guest editors from the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing Program faculty.

Visit for more information, including contest and submission guidelines. (Don’t miss the deadline for the Howard Frank Mosher Short Fiction Prize, awarding $1,000 and publication: entries must be postmarked by June 15, 2008.)

VCFA Picture Book Certificate Program

The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program now offers a one-semester graduate-level picture book certificate program. This program is currently only available to graduates of the three MFA programs at the Vermont College of Fine Arts; however, for the fall 2008 semester, the program will be opened to graduates of other master’s programs and to individuals without an advanced degree on a case-by-case basis. Note: “The picture book certificate program is modeled after a regular MFA-WC&YA semester with a few additional components.”

More News & Links

BookPage Spotlight Award 2008: “reward a librarian for a job well done.”

Cheryl Klein: official site of the senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books. Includes a number of “talks on writing and publishing,” “on submissions and about me,” and more. Recent additions include: “Words, Wisdom, Art, and Heart: Making a Picture-Book Cookie” and “Principles of Line Editing.” See also her blog, Brooklyn Arden.

Grace Lin in the Kitchen Interview from jama rattigan’s alphabet soup: a children’s writer offers food for thought & fine whining. Peek: “I think the biggest challenge when writing autobiographical stories is to really let go. Many times people like to keep things private; don’t want others to know embarrassing or personal thoughts. But those are the things that are most interesting and perhaps what you most want to tell. Once you let that go, truly open yourself up to the page–then real writing happens. After that, the challenge is to figure out what events are interesting to an audience, not just yourself because it happened to you.” Note: includes super-cute kid photos of Grace and editor Alvina Ling. Grace will sign two copies of The Year of the Rat (Little Brown, 2008) for two lucky people who leave a comment at jama rattigan’s alphabet soup no later than May 7. “The books will be sent to her for personalization, so if you already own a copy, think in terms of a gift for someone special! And, if you mention this interview/giveaway on your blog, you’ll be entered twice!” See post for details.

How Much to Tell [a Prospective Agent] from Bookends, LLC. Peek: “I get a lot of questions about how much to tell an agent. If an agent previously reviewed your material and liked it enough to ask you to keep her in mind for other work, should you remind her of this rejection? If your work is currently under consideration at a publisher…”

Launch Pad: Where Young Authors and Illustrators Take Off! “a new literary arts magazine devoted to publishing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, book reviews, and artwork by children ages 6 to 12. The magazine is published six times a year and is fully accessible online.”

Janee Trasler: official author-illustrator site. Her books include Ghost Eats It All (Little Brown). Don’t Miss Janee’s blog, Art & Soul.

Desperately Seeking Cinderellas (or Cinderfellas!) fAiRy gOdSisTeRs, iNk is offering a $1,000 SCBWI Summer Conference Grant for a SCBWI member to attend the Aug. 1 to Aug. 4 SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. To apply, submit a 250 word double-spaced essay describing what you hope to accomplish by attending this year’s summer conference. Application deadline: May 15; winner will notified June 1. Send to:; questions? write: Note: “Fairy Godsisters, Ink. is a small, benevolent squadron of children’s book authors who believe in the magic of passing forward lucky breaks, bounty and beneficence, as so many have done for us.” Members: Thalia Chaltas, Mary Hershey, Valerie Hobbs, R. L. La Fevers and Lee Wardlaw. Source: Shrinking Violet Promotions.

Literary Estate Representation by Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown. Peek: “Many people think that representation stops when the author passes away. Not so! We here at Curtis Brown often work with the heirs of literary estates to try to make sure that the authors’ works continue to find new life via new editions and make sure every new opportunity is explored.”

Kathi Appelt hits the road to promote her debut novel, The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008)(author interview)! See her live at 7 p.m. May 6 at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum (10000 Research Blvd.) in Austin; at 5 p.m. May 8 at Hastings (2311 Colorado Blvd.) in Denton, Texas; at 4:30 May 9 at Learning Express (6828 Snider Plaza) in Dallas; at 2:30 May 10 at Blue Marble (1356 S Fort Thomas Ave.) in Fort Thomas, Kentucky; at 6:30 May 12 at Borders (1 North La Grange Road) in La Grange, Illinois; at 6:30 May 14 at Borders (3140 Lohr Road) in Ann Arbor, Michigan; at 6:30 May 15 at Barnes & Noble (2800 S. Rochester Road) in Rochester Hills, Michigan; at 1 p.m. May 17 at Octavia Books (503 Octavia St.) in New Orleans, Louisiana. Note: Tell Kathi I said “howdy!”

“Where the Rubber Meets the Road:” African-American Imprints/Publishers by Paula Chase-Hyman from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: “If you’re looking for children’s books for and/or by African American authors here the following are a few places to begin.” Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf.

Take a peek at The Castaway Pirates: A Pop-Up Tale of Bad Luck, Sharp Teeth, and Stinky Toes, story and pop-ups by Ray Marshall, illustrated by Wilson Swain (Chronicle, 2008)!

Take a peek at The Adventures of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill (Front Street, fall 2008)!

Author Interview: Elaine Scott on Secrets of the Cirque Medrano

Elaine Scott on Elaine Scott: “I was born in Philadelphia and lived there until my father’s career brought the family to Dallas in 1952. So I’m really a Texan, though I claim Philly, too.

“Dad was a banker, Mother a homemaker who loved reading and writing. In fact, she had dreamed of a writing career of her own, but she never pursued it.

“Instead, she encouraged her children (my older brother, George, and younger sister, Kathleen) to write for pure pleasure. Often Mother organized writing contests. Most notably, when we adopted a stray dog and a battle ensued over who would name the pup. Mother’s solution? Whoever wrote the best poem about a dog would get to name him. Pencils flew across paper and…my brother won.

“I attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where I met and married my husband, Parker, who was in the oil exploration business. That business led us to Houston, where we have settled—with the exception of a stint in Lagos, Nigeria; in the early 1990s.

“Houston is where my writing career began: first with articles for regional magazines—all written for adults—and eventually, children’s books. After I wrote my first children’s book, I was hooked. With the exception of raising my children, I’d say writing for children is the most satisfactory work I’ve ever done.

“My family consists of my husband, Parker, two outstanding daughters, Cindy and Susan, who each live in Dallas—six blocks apart from each other, and three furry felines, LaVerne and Shirley, and their brother, Troy, who live and freeload with us.”

You last visited with me about your work in winter of 2001, not long after the publication of Friends! (Atheneum, 2000). Could you update us on your more recent back-list titles, highlighting as you see fit?

Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears will Never be Neighbors (Viking, 2004): In early 2000, my book club (which has been meeting for over 37 years, mind you—w-a-a-y before Oprah!) read an account of Ernest Shackleton’s incredible voyage to Antarctica. I was intrigued, and thought it would make a great children’s book, and I enthusiastically began some research.

Then, in fall, 2000 Jennifer Armstrong came out with her amazing account of the same adventure, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World (Random House, 2000), and I knew the definitive book on this topic had been written. But no research is ever wasted, and after pondering what to do with what I had gathered, I came up with the idea for Poles Apart and was delighted when Viking snapped it up.

When Is a Planet Not A Planet? The Story of Pluto (Clarion, 2007): This book began as an account of the discovery of Eris, a celestial body everyone thought would become the 10th planet in our solar system, but as I soon discovered—not so fast.

After debating throughout the summer of 2006, the IAU finally came up with a scientific definition for “planet” and Eris wasn’t one. Neither, they said, was poor Pluto. Now my book had to take a different slant, and it became When Is a Planet Not a Planet? It’s a challenge to write science in real time, but it’s also exhilarating.

Secrets of the Cirque Medrano (Charlesbridge, 2008). This book marked a return to fiction for me. I hadn’t written a novel since Choices (Morrow, 1989).

Congratulations on the release of Secrets of the Cirque Medrano (Charlesbridge, 2008)! Could you tell us about the book?

This is the story of Brigitte Dubrinsky, a 14-year-old orphan who must come to Paris to live with an older aunt and uncle, whom she really doesn’t know.

Impetuous and willful, she resents the drudgery of working in her aunt’s café, and the unpleasant personality of a young man who also works there. She longs for adventure and escape and thinks she may have found it in the Cirque Medrano, pitched at the foot of the Montmartre bluff.

Befriended by a young acrobat who also poses for one of the café’s customers, Pablo Picasso, Brigitte discovers that circus life is not what it appears to be. She becomes involved in a tangle of political intrigue and danger, and comes to redefine her own image of “home.”

What was your initial inspiration for writing this novel?

I loved “Girl With the Pearl Earring” and thought I’d try my hand at writing a piece of fiction that drew its inspiration from a piece of art.

My decision was reinforced when the education director from Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts asked me to help write some children’s programs for the museum. Funding for those programs evaporated, but my interest in art had been whetted. And I had been introduced to Picasso’s masterpiece of the Rose Period, “Family of Saltimbanques.”

You know, Picasso once said, “A picture lives only through the one who looks at it. And what they see is the legend surrounding the picture.”

Well, Secrets of the Cirque Medrano is the result of what I saw when I looked at that painting, which is hanging at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

It sure took a lot longer than my nonfiction! I’d say it took approximately three years between spark and publication.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

As primarily a nonfiction author, I had to keep telling myself it was okay to make things up! But because it was a historical novel, and some of the characters were real people—Picasso, Fernande, Apollinaire, Max Jacob—to name a few, I was determined to be as careful with their words as possible.

For example, I put no words in Picasso’s mouth. None at all. I let Apollinaire, Fernande, and Max Jacob do most of the speaking for him, and when they did, I took their comments from documented sources.

Paco, who is fictional, also interpreted Picasso but even then, I stuck to literary sources—right down to the pet mouse in the drawer of Picasso’s studio. My research kept the spine of the story twisting and turning.

As I researched Paris in 1904-1906, I came upon a de-classified CIA file that detailed the establishment of the Russian secret police in Paris—the infamous Okhrana, forerunner to today’s KGB. And in a bit of serendipity, I discovered that the Okhrana had had Picasso in their crosshairs. The papers also describe a young Polish girl—a milkmaid–whom they had turned into a double agent. This was pay dirt!

I returned to my original story and began to rewrite. Though Brigitte isn’t exactly a double-agent in the book, she does share an age and nationality with the young girl mentioned in the CIA files. And of course, I had to learn a lot about Picasso’s Blue and Rose periods and remain authentic to the paintings that are described in the text.

I owe many thanks to my brilliant editor at Charlesbridge, Judy O’Malley. She was crucial in helping me shape these disparate elements into a cohesive story.

You are well-known and respected for your picture books and non-fiction writing! How was the novel different?

As I said, making things up didn’t come easily to me, so creating an entire world out of whole cloth was a different kind of writing experience. But I loved giving my imagination free reign, getting inside my characters’ heads, wondering what animated them, pondering their hopes and dreams—it was a heady experience.

Why did you decide to make the leap to novel writing?

I wanted to stretch myself, to see if I could do it. I found I loved doing it, so there may be more.

You have been writing books for young readers for a few years now. What changes in the industry have you seen over the course of your career?

Well, publishers are definitely more crunched today than they were some years back. Companies are merging and are often owned by conglomerates that—at the top—have little to do with publishing. Profit is important for any company, and in publishing, money is tight. Books don’t stay on a backlist for any length of time. An author who might have been nurtured along in the past had better have some decent sales right away in today’s market. Editors are losing their assistants, and the pace is much more frantic.

Having said all that doom and gloom, I’d add that editors are still eager to acquire books they love, and authors are eager to write them. Today’s children’s books are outstanding—in both design and content. There will always be a place for another good book, written with passion and conviction.

In terms of craft, how have you grown as a writer?

I think I’ve learned the importance of trusting my own instincts—and that goes from making decisions on a topic–Is it fresh? Timely? Do I really care about it?—to deciding how it should be organized in order to be effectively presented.

I’ve also learned quite a bit about illustration—not that I have any skills in that arena. But I have been doing my own photo research, and that learning curve has been a big one and it’s also been a lot of fun, not unlike going on a treasure hunt.

I’ve also learned not to be afraid of my own voice, and I’ve certainly come to appreciate the value of first-hand research whenever it is possible.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Take joy in your gift, practice it every day, don’t be easily discouraged, write what you love, and find a friend or a writing group where you can share your experiences.

How advice for middle-grade novelists?

All of the above, plus tap into the child you were when you were the age of your protagonist. For the most part, the things that worried you and thrilled you then are the same things that worry and thrill kids today (with adjustments for modern technology!)

How about non-fiction writers?

First-hand research, first-hand research, first-hand research. And a passion for your topic.

What do you do when you’re not in the book world?

I love to read, travel, teach adult theology, hang out with family and friends, and play with the kitties, one of whom is trying to “help” me write this response.

Here are her comments: “xxxci000e” (I’ve told her again and again that this is not interesting or elucidating, but she insists…)

What can your fans look forward to next?

Mars and the Search for Life (Clarion, Fall 2008); All About Sleep From A to Zzzzzz (Viking, Fall 2008); a couple of biographies (new for me), and another novel.