The Clockwork Crow is Catherine Fisher’s latest novel – a beautifully crafted enchanted wintry tale for children. Catherine is an acclaimed author and poet of over 30 books and we are delighted that she took the time to answer our questions.
Born in Newport, she graduated from the University of Wales and has worked in education, archaeology and broadcasting. She has been shortlisted for numerous prizes and awards including the Smarties Prize (The Conjuror’s Game), the Whitbread Prize (The Oracle) and the Tir-na-nOg Award (The Candle Man / Corbenic).
What are you reading at the moment?
I always read a few books at once. At the moment it’s an odd mixture – Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher de Hamel, The Fall of Gondolin by JRR Tolkien, and Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography!
Could you tell us how you got into writing?
I was about 11, and started with poems, at first in school and then at home. I had a whole notebook full of them. I only decided to write a novel when I was about 19 or 20.
Where and when do you write?
I try to write every morning between 9 and 1. I have room with a desk looking onto the garden, and that’s my usual place, though the good thing about writing is that you can do it anywhere.
How do you choose names for your characters?
Sometimes the names just come,like Seren in the Clockwork Crow, or Finn and Claudia in Incarceron. Other times I have to make a list and choose. I’m always looking at names on TV programmes or in books for ideas. I have a names page in a notebook with a few saved up for future books, if I can find the characters to suit them.
Which books and authors have inspired you in your career?
Alan Garner’s fantasies, Tolkien, Robert Holdstock’s weird tales, Arthur Machen, who I have always found a great writer. Also a million fairy tales and myths and legends,Norse and Welsh and Irish and Greek. In terms of poetry, Keats,Yeats, David Jones and George Mackay Brown.
A lot of your writing is set in Wales. How important is a sense of place to your books?
In some books like Darkhenge or Crown of Acorns, very important because the story rises out of the landscape and history of that place. In Corbenic I used real places in Wales to set a very strange tale. I think Wales is an amazing place and full of untold stories.
The Tir na n-Og Award celebrates books with authentic Welsh backgrounds. You won the award in 1995 and have been nominated twice more. How does it feel to be recognised with literary awards?
It’s always a great honour and encouragement. But I know that many, many really good books are overlooked, so I try not to get down if I am not nominated. It doesn’t mean the book is any less good.
The book is published with Firefly Press, an independent Welsh publisher who we love. How did this come about?
I have been aware of Firefly since they started and they are doing such a great job for Welsh children’s fiction. I wanted to write a Christmas book and suggested the idea to Penny Thomas, who was very keen to publish it. I was very happy to write it for them.
What inspired The Clockwork Crow?
Christmas, the idea of a Crow you could put together from pieces, lots of snow and ice. I wrote the book last winter and as I was working it kept on snowing outside my window, so I think the snowglobe has a real magic!
Was it difficult / fun / strange to give a voice to the Crow?
Not difficult but great fun. He had to be tetchy and bossy and yet quite likeable underneath. And vain,of course.
The Clockwork Crow is a tale “of snow and stars”. Are you a fan of wintry weather?
I have memories of when I was very small and there were really bitterly cold winters when everything froze. I love snow and the dark starry skies, and Northern, arctic stories. The Snow Queen is one of my favourite books.
The new book is written for 9-12 year olds (though Daddy Worm really really enjoyed it!). You also have poetry and YA writing on the go. How do you approach writing for different age groups?
Each is different and arrives differently. Poetry is much more intense and every word has to be tested. Young Adult and children’s books differ in the age of the hero/ine and the complexity of the story.
Noah (aged 11) has just finished The Clockwork Crow tonight. He’s not read anything else by you. Which books of yours would you suggest he reads next?
I hope he enjoyed it! Maybe a book called The Glass Tower; Three doors to the Otherworld, which contains 3 of my early stories. Or even The Relic Master, the first of a set. Or maybe The Obsidian Mirror.
Is it fair to ask you to name the favourite book you’ve written?
Corbenic. I’m not sure why but I like that character and his story a lot.
What’s next for Catherine Fisher?
I have a new poetry book out with Seren Books in April called The Bramble King, which I am very excited about. And I am working on the sequel to the Clockwork Crow, so look out for more of Seren, Tomos and the Crow.
Many many thanks to Catherine for answering our questions and thanks to Firefly Press for organising. You can learn more about Catherine by visiting her website. To order The Clockwork Crow, visit Firefly’s website.