Wren: An Interview With Lucy Hope
Lucy Hope’s second novel Wren was published by Nosy Crow this month and I attended her book launch at Waterstones in Bath. Like her debut novel, Fledgling, Wren is a captivating gothic adventure filled with madcap inventions and featuring a plucky, determined protagonist.
Wren lives in a grand old house on the island of Anglesey in Wales in 1870. She loves to go out rowing on the Menai Strait in her coracle but above all she longs to soar through the sky, like her mother did before she died in a tragic accident. Wren’s father thinks she’s running wild and bringing their ancient family name into disrepute so he meets with the sinister ‘Aireys’ about sending Wren away to their school for the re-education of wayward girls, which only spurs her on to build a flying machine so she can escape. And there’s something going on with Wren’s house—cracks are appearing in the walls, and she keeps hearing strange noises as though the house is singing…but it would be a spoiler to say any more than that!
I asked Lucy a few questions about Wren and her writing process:
Fledgling was your debut novel and as such I’m sure it had a long and nurturing gestation period. How did the writing process differ for your second book?
The process for writing Wren was significantly quicker than it was for Fledgling. That meant I had less time for my ideas to percolate, and I did worry for a while that I wouldn’t be able to add as much detail as I’d have liked for texture and authenticity, but somehow I think it worked. I’m one of those people who likes a tight deadline, so perhaps a shorter gestation period helped me to get the creative juices flowing faster! I think the main difference in the process between Wren and Fledging was that with Wren, I didn’t have time to get anyone else’s thoughts on it before I sent it off to my editor which made me a bit nervous. Also, when it was published, I felt a greater level of anxiety about readers’ reactions as so few people had read it, whereas Fledgling had had many more eyes on it before publication. I wrote Fledgling scene by scene, and spent a lot of time polishing as I wrote, but with Wren, I just let the words splurge onto the page and kept writing without looking back until the end. That was quite scary and I ended up with a bloated, very rough first draft. In the second draft I deleted nearly 30,000 words – I try not to think about how many weeks of writing that was!
I believe Wren’s house was based on the house you grew up in, tell me about that?
Yes, Wren’s house was inspired by the old Welsh house I grew up in. Both feature a tower-like structure at one end, thick stone walls, battlements and a chill that never seems to leave, however much the fires inside are roaring. They’re equally steeped in Welsh history and both have quite a dark past! Basing Wren’s house on somewhere I know well made the setting much more satisfying to describe. I also think that ancient houses have a particular ‘feel’ to them, and hope that my experience of growing up in an ancient building helped me create a more believable setting for Wren’s story.
Wren is another inspirational STEM-orientated protagonist, and your signature blend of whimsical fantasy and steampunk-style inventions is quite distinctive. What is it about this combination that particularly appeals to you as a writer?
That’s such a good question, and I don’t really know if I’m honest. I’m not actually a very practical person, and don’t think I could even build a flat-pack cupboard, but I do really love madcap inventions, especially those invented by the Victorians, who excelled in this area! I think, with both Wren and Fledging, it was a case of my character having a problem (e.g. Wren being desperate to fly like a bird) and then me thinking of a quirky way to solve it, with just the briefest of nods to the laws of physics!
Wren covers a diverse range of subjects from Welsh mythology through to reform schools for girls and the history of flight. Tell me about your research process…
Much of my research starts on the internet, for obvious reasons. With regards to the Welsh mythology in Wren, my ideas came from reading the Mabinogion, a collection of stories written in Wales centuries ago. Some of the themes in Wren were inspired by my own Welsh heritage and the stories I grew up with about one of my ancestors, Rheinallt ap Gruffydd ap Bleddyn, who was very involved in the defence of Welsh lands from the English. Even though Wren has a hint of fantasy, I’ve also tried to tie it in with actual Welsh history. So my research for Wren was a combination of reading books on Welsh myths and legends (Clare Fayers’, Welsh Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends, was a very useful resource) and visits to Anglesey to see the landscape and the waters of the Menai Strait at different times of the day. A visit to the old gaol at Beaumaris inspired the setting for the institution!
Welsh mythology is fascinating – do you have a favourite character or story?
One of my favourite stories is that of a dog called Gelert, who was the favourite hunting hound of Llewelyn the Great. One day Llewelyn went hunting without Gelert and when he returned found his beloved dog with a bloodied jaw and his baby son missing. I won’t say what happened next as it’s too sad, but if you’re intrigued, look the story up on Google, or even visit Beddgelert in North Wales and find out more for yourself. One of Wren’s dogs is named after the brave and loyal Gelert.
Have you ever rowed in a coracle? (It doesn’t look like the easiest craft to manoeuvre!)
I haven’t, but I did read a chat on a fishing website in which someone described how they navigated the Swellies on the Menai Strait in a coracle so I knew that it was theoretically possible! There are also plenty of videos on YouTube of people in their coracles, so I was able to get a sense of what was involved. I’m not sure it would be my boat of choice!!
I loved Aunty Efa in her steam-powered wheelchair, tell me about the inspiration for this character?
Aunty Efa was one of those characters who just arrived in my head fully formed. I could totally ‘see’ her with her bright lipstick and a dramatic flame-red hair-do piled up on top of her head. I had a great uncle who lived up a mountain near Blaenau Ffestiniog and had his own steam train on the Ffestiniog railway, so the sound and smell of steam trains was a big part of my childhood. I liked the fact that I was able to use a technology very much associated with Wales as an eccentric solution to a problem!
What was your favourite book when you were Wren’s age?
I was Wren’s age a very long time ago when there wasn’t such a great selection of children’s books. I loved Enid Blyton and the book I remember reading over and over again was The Magic Faraway Tree. I was very excited to hear that Jacqueline Wilson has just published an updated version! I also used to love reading anything by Roald Dahl. When I was a little bit older, I moved onto the classics because there weren’t many books for teens in the 1980s.
What can you tell us about Book 3?
Book 3 is a little bit different from Fledgling and Wren. It’s less gothic and more grounded in reality. That’s all I can tell you for now!
By Rebecca Rouillard