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Abandoned as a baby at Chipchase’s Travelling Circus, Louie dreams of becoming a ‘Showstopper’. Yet Mr Chipchase only ever lets her sell tickets. No Death-Defying Stunts for her. So in secret, Louie practises her act- the tightrope- and dreams of being the Girl Who Walked on Air. All she needs is to be given the chance to shine.
One night a terrible accident occurs. Now the circus needs Louie’s help, and with rival show Wellbeloved’s stealing their crowds, Mr Chipchase needs a Showstopper- fast.
Against his better judgement, he lets Louie perform. She is a sensation and gets an offer from the sinister Mr Wellbeloved himself to perform in America. But nothing is quite as it seems and soon Louie’s bravery is tested not just on the highwire but in confronting her past and the shady characters in the world of the circus . . .
Both TGWWOA and your debut, Frost Hollow Hall, are set in the Victorian era. What is it about historical fiction and this time period that inspires you?
To me, historical fiction gives you freedom to put characters in situations that wouldn’t occur nowadays- a 13 year old walking a tightrope without a safety harness, for instance. There weren’t health and safety laws, crash helmets, antibiotics. Danger is everywhere in historical fiction!
Reading your work you really get a feel for the Victorian era, but without feeling like you are being given a history lesson. It is obvious you have had to undertake a great deal of research in order to get the setting of your books just right. What is your favourite fact/ piece of research about the era that you didn’t include in your work?
When researching ‘Frost Hollow Hall’ I found out about post mortem photographs, where people had their picture taken with a loved one who’d just died. It was one of many Victorian grieving rituals which to us seem creepy, but at the time were a popular mark of respect. For The Girl Who Walked On Air I loved reading about Charles Blondin. I had no idea he’d cooked an omelette on a tightrope over Niagara Falls! What a nutter!
On the surface Frost Hollow Hall and TGWWOA are two very different novels. Where do you find your inspiration for such varied subject matter?
‘Frost Hollow Hall’ was inspired by my love of snowy winters and stories set in creepy old houses. I’d like to say ‘The Girl Who Walked On Air ’is inspired by my talent for tightrope walking, but I’d be lying, sadly. One day I was looking at pictures of C19th circuses. It got me wondering what would motivate someone to risk their life every day just for entertainment.
Both of your published works feature very determined young women. What do you think Tilly (Frost Hollow Hall) and Louie’s strongest personality traits are? What are their weakest?
Great question! I think Tilly’s biggest strength is her loyalty to Kit and to her family. Louie’s is her determination to succeed. She isn’t afraid of danger. Weaknesses? Tilly’s rather hot-headed and proud. Louie tends to get the wrong end of the stick sometimes, and she is a bit of a show-off!
Which of your Characters do you identify with the most? Why?
I recognise bits of myself in Tilly and Louie. I think I’m loyal to those I love. I can also be a bit hot-headed and jump to the wrong conclusion at times! They’re both much braver than me- I’d never walk a tightrope, or go up a pitch-black staircase at night. No way!
What is it that attracts you to writing fiction for young people, particularly for the 9-12 year old age range?
For the past 18 years I’ve worked as an English teacher, so I’m around young people a lot. That said, the age I write for is a bit younger than the age I teach. When I started Frost Hollow Hall, I wanted to write a good old-fashioned romp of a story, something that was engaging and uplifting to read. Faber pitched Frost Hollow Hall at the 9-12 market, and I’m so glad they did. School events with this age group have been awesome!
In Louie’s world the ultimate achievement is to become a showstopper. In order to achieve this dream Louie has to maintain her belief and self-confidence in her abilities in the face of external criticism and indifference. Gabriel’s struggles however are internal. He has to face his fears, fears exacerbated by his past experiences. For you how much was writing and publishing a novel about grit and determination in the face of external obstacles and how much was about facing your own internal obstacles?
Interesting question! Writing involves determination. It takes time. It can’t be rushed. Yet it has to fit in around a day job (for me, anyway) and family life. It is hard work- like always having homework, I heard someone once say! But I’d not change it for the world.
Like Gabriel in’ The Girl Who walked On Air’, I think most writers face internal struggles. Not a day goes by where I don’t think ‘ ugh that’s a terrible chapter/scene/sentence’ and when other people say it…well…it can hurt a bit. But at some point you do have to take a deep breath and let go.
Did you have to overcome any personal challenges in your quest to become an established author?
The hardest thing has been juggling a job I find challenging with one I’m desperate to spend more time doing. I’m still so new to all this, so ask me again in a few years time.
IN TGWWOA there is certain level of audience expectation that the circus performers continually push themselves to create and perform more daring stunts. While I’m sure that your publishers didn’t expect you to risk life and limb for the cause, how has your experience of writing a second novel differed from your debut?
Ha ha luckily no they didn’t! Writing The Girl Who Walked On Air to a deadline gave me my first real flavour of writing professionally ie less staring out of windows/checking twitter, more getting words down. I felt I understood the process of crafting a book better so when the editing began, I didn’t quite feel so overwhelmed.
Louie spends many years perfecting her craft before she is ready to share it with the world. Do you have any secret talents you would like to share with us? 😉
If I told you they’d no longer be secret, would they? 😉
While undoubtedly born with a natural talent, I loved that Louie did not just rely on her talent to achieve her dreams. It took practice, self-confidence, determination and commitment to the cause. In our society of instant gratification, reality TV stars and the desire to be famous for five minutes, how important do you think it is for young people, especially girls, to have positive role models like Louie in their life?
This is a very important question on a huge, huge issue. I’d like to think Louie embodies the qualities you mention, yet she’s also flawed. She has to work for what she wants, often doubting herself in the process. She’s an ordinary person doing extraordinary things. It’s vital for girls-and boys- to have positive female role models.
Who are your favourite literary role models?
I do have a soft spot for characters who defy the odds. Jane Eyre isn’t pretty or accomplished, but she knows her own mind. Katniss Everdeen isn’t privileged or highly trained yet she’s a survivor. Hazel Grace Lancaster is terminally ill and still manages to fall in love. It’s a satisfying arc.
Do you envision revisiting any of your characters? In particular, Daisy would love to know if you would ever write a sequel to Frost Hollow Hall?
You’re not the first to ask that question, Daisy! At the moment there are no plans for a Frost Hollow Hall sequel. But, never say never. In the final chapter I did deliberately keep a few story threads open…
Your debut novel Frost Hollow Hall is a ghost story and your current work in progress, “In Darkling Wood” (TBC) also appears to contain a supernatural element. What is it about the supernatural that interests you as a writer? And on a personal level would you believe in Kit (Frost Hollow Hall) if you saw him as a ghost?
As a child I loved anything spooky or ‘unexplained’- obviously, I still do! I think it comes with having an active imagination, the idea that we don’t ‘know’ everything and that some things are beyond our understanding.
Would I believe in Kit Barrington? Absolutely. I’ve never fallen into a frozen lake, but once when I was very ill, I had a dream about a work colleague who had just died. He sat on my bed and told me I was going to be all right. This was my inspiration for how Kit appears in Tilly’s dreams.
Are you able to tell us anything about your current work in progress?
‘Alice’s little brother Theo is dangerously sick. When a donor is found, he’s rushed into hospital for a heart transplant and Alice goes to stay with Nell, the grandmother she barely knows. Darkling Cottage is a strange old place, surrounded on all sides by an even stranger wood.
Meanwhile Flo is writing letters to her older brother Alfred. It’s November 1918. The war is over at last. She can’t wait for him to come home. There’s something in the wood she’s dying to show him. No one else will believe what she’s seen….’
The first wobbly draft is nearly complete.
Frost Hollow Hall won The North East Book Award 2013. It was longlisted for the Brandford Boase Award 2014 and The Leeds Book Award. It was named a top book of 2013 by The Daily Telegraph, and was a LoveReadingForKids Book of the Year 2013.
When she isn’t writing, Emma Carroll teaches English part-time at a secondary school in Devon. She graduated with distinction from Bath Spa University’s MA in Writing For Young People. ‘Frost Hollow Hall’ is Emma’s debut novel for Faber. Her second, The Girl Who Walked On Air is out in August 2014. It is set in a Victorian circus. She is currently working on a third book based on the Cottingley Fairies story.
In another life Emma wishes she’d written ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. She lives in the Somerset hills with her husband and two terriers. To learn more about Emma and her work visit her website here
Questions by Daisy and Caroline
A huge thank you to Emma for taking the time to answer our questions. The Girl Who Walks On Air will be published by Faber and Faber on the 7th of August.
To learn more about the fantastic #CountDownTo7thAugust blog tour and to take a look at the full schedule visit the Count Down YA website here.