Thank you to award-winning young adult author Lucy Christopher for taking time from her busy schedule to do this interview with the Atlanta Young Adult Literature Examiner, Mechele R. Dillard.
Atlanta Young Adult Literature Examiner: Your second novel, Flyaway, was actually written before your debut novel, Stolen, when you earned a distinction in a Creative Writing MA from Bath Spa University. After the publication of Stolen, did you find that you saw a growth in your skills as an author that you wanted to go back and apply to the previously-written Flyaway? Or did the original work continue to stand on its own?
Lucy Christopher: Yes, I suppose I did see a growth in my skills as an author. But I also saw something else too. The original title for Flyaway was actually The Long Flight, and it was a very different book indeed to what it later became. The Long Flight was originally about an eleven-year-old boy, and it also had a slightly fantastical thread to it. When I wrote Stolen, I found that I liked writing in a girl’s point of view so much that later, when I returned to edit The Long Flight, I had this crazy notion to do it again. I knew something wasn’t working in The Long Flight, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was. When I returned to work on it, I completely rewrote it, changing the boy’s narrative to a girl’s narrative and getting rid of the fantastical thread. I also made it more of a ‘teen book’. This was exactly the shake up the book needed. Suddenly this heavily emotional book seemed to work much better and all the family threads and themes wove nicely into place.
AYALE: Your work has been well-received and rewarded by the writing community. We all have our hopes, dreams and egos when it comes to our own literary creations, but did you ever imagine that you would burst onto the literary scene as you have? Does it add a new level of pressure to your creative process, now, writing beyond, presumably, the confines of academic requirements and purely for yourself, your fans and, of course, “the industry?”
LC: I have heard such wonderful things said about my work so far, and I’m so enormously grateful for it. My success has gone beyond my wildest expectation. Of course, this brings an added pressure to my future work, and yes, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about that pressure. It’s certainly much harder writing without the structures of an academic course behind me, and a much more scary process too! I just hope I can hold my nerve and be brave!
AYALE: Your Web site says that you made “various attempts at being an actor, a coffee maker, a waitress and a nature guide,” before working to become a writer. How did undertaking these various occupations affect your determination to get your MA in Creative Writing and (currently) to work on your PhD? Do you find elements of your various work experiences affect your point-of-view as you create then flesh out a new story?
LC: I’m really pleased that I’ve always been open to new opportunities in my life, including the opportunities of taking on all sorts of jobs. Each job I’ve ever had has broadened my view of the world just a little bit and made me glimpse at all sorts of different ways of living life. Having lots of different jobs has also made me realise that there’s always another way to live! Even if this writing malarky fails miserably tomorrow, there’s always another avenue I can follow…and always another interesting adventure to be had! I’ve been lucky in that I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve ever had, and that every job has helped me to learn and, as a result, has helped me to write. I think the best thing I ever did was not to fix myself into a career path too early on.
AYALE: Wildlife is obviously an important part of your life, and you are involved with a kids’ wildlife group at Newport Wetlands. How do you think your participation in this group affects the lives of the children involved? How do you hope it is making a difference for their futures and, of course, the future of Newport Wetlands?
LC: Unfortunately, my extra commitments as a writer has meant that I’ve had to give up my involvement in this wildlife group. This is such a shame, because one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done was be involved in this group. There’s a magic involved in taking kids out in nature, particularly if the children are not very familiar with nature reserves or the process of being still and quiet and observing animals. I think the process of bringing kids to nature reserves is an important one, one that is hugely beneficial for both the children and for the future of those reserves. If we can show kids early on the magic of nature, then hopefully that is something that will stick with them for many years. Nature needs children, and children need nature. It’s a basic principle, but it’s true.
AYALE: After completing your MA, you began teaching part-time as a university lecturer at Bath Spa University on both the undergraduate and the MA creative writing courses. Today, of course, you are an established, award-winning YA author. Upon completion of your PhD, do you anticipate that there will be more formal teaching in your future, as well, such as on a university level, or do you think you prefer to “teach through doing,” such as with your own excellent writing and participation with the Newport Wetlands wildlife group?
LC: Sometimes I wish I could just split myself in two! I want to do both of these things. A part of me would love nothing more than being a full-time author, but the other part would love nothing more than being a full-time teacher. I love both of these professions with absolute passion. I really hope that as I progress through life I can find time to do both. Writing makes me happy personally, but my teaching makes others happy. I think I need both to be a properly rounded individual!
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