The Kidlit Interview Series
Katherine is a Fellow in English Literature at All Souls College in Oxford; her research is in Renaissance literature and she also teaches a bit of feminist theory. She wire-walks, and loves heights. Her first book, The Girl Savage, is about a girl growing up half-wild in Zimbabwe, where she spent her childhood; Rooftoppers is about a gang of children living secret lives on the rooftops of Paris, and a girl searching for her mother, chasing snatches of music across the city.
John Donne, who is the subject of my doctorate, was a ferociously clever man - he'd be brilliant company and I think he'd have good strategies for evading the undead. Or Beckett, I think, would be both wily and fighty - and, as he went down, he would say things like this: 'No, I regret nothing, all I regret is having been born, dying is such a long tiresome business I always found.'
2) Look, I got a time machine on eBay! Where do you want to go? (Said time machine may possibly malfunction and leave you there. Possibly. It was *very* cheap.)
I'm torn! Going back to the sixteenth century to meet Donne and Shakespeare would be glorious and would also make my research project *much* easier. But it would have to be the future, five hundred years from now. I hope and believe we'll be free from institutional sexism and racism, and also that those skintight zip-front silver jumpsuits will at last have come into fashion.
3) What’s your favourite thing about writing for kids?
Kids are brilliant readers; they carry their favourite books close to their hearts, and they invest the world you've written with details of their own - a lovely kid once told me her favourite scene was when Sophie and Matteo waltz on the rooftops; which doesn't actually happen. And the books I loved when I was about 10-12 shaped my vision of what bravery and kindness might look like.
4) A witch has cast a spell on you (sorry about that) and you’ve woken up as a character in a children’s book – what’s your special talent or power?
I'd like to live in Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci series: in real life I'm quite scruffy but I'd like to be a nine-lifed enchanter with an immaculate dress-sense.
5) What’s the scariest or strangest thing you’ve ever done?
As you might know - because I bang on about it ceaselessly - I love climbing and being up high. I've been on the rooftops of about half the Oxford colleges, and a few beautiful buildings in London. And just recently I flew circuits in a tiny two-seater bi-plane in Zimbabwe - it was old and the wind came in through the cracks, but I was knocked breathless with the joy of it.
6) What’s something you wish you’d known about publishing when you started out?
I wrote my first book at 21, and if I'd been a bit older I think I would have been less startled and dismayed to find out that publishing is very much an industry, and has imperatives of its own. I love the actual writing, and I adore meeting the kids; but the PR bit can be hard. One of the reasons I love climbing beyond the eyeline is that I love to be invisible and see without being seen, so self-promotion was always going to be a fraught business.
7) What would your daemon be?
I get asked this quite a lot on school visits - I find it's almost impossible not to sound grandiose or vain or David Brent-ish! I'd love to say a bird, but I'm not a good enough person for a bird yet: probably, realistically, some kind of squirrel.
8) My book doesn’t have dragons, but it does have... feeding the birds whilst tightrope-walking high above Paris in the moonlight.