Spotlight on Alumni: Frances Hardinge (BA, 1992)

frances hardinge

I was brought up in a sequence of small, sinister English villages, and spent a number of formative years living in a Gothic-looking, mouse-infested hilltop house in Kent.

When I came to Oxford for a university interview, I fell instantly and utterly in love with the city. I didn't get in the first time, but by then I was so determined to come to Oxford that I took a year out and reapplied. This time I won a place at Somerville College, and felt instantly at home with its friendly, relaxed, outwardlooking character. I had always suffered from crippling shyness, but before long I had made friends, and found a strange, new confidence I had never known before.

I thoroughly enjoyed the English Literature and Language course, and threw myself into the reading schedule, sometimes with a bit too much gusto. (After I had read the entire poetic works of WB Yeats in a week, I remember my brain feeling a little numb and over-heated, though that may have been due to lack of sleep.) If Anglo-Saxon hadn't been a compulsory component I might not have chosen to study it, but then I would have missed out on a fascinating glimpse into the roots of English literature and culture, not to mention a harshly melodic and beautiful language.

Even after I finished my BA and Master of Studies, I remained in Oxford for many years, with a friend circle I had gained through university clubs and societies. A few of us set up a writers' group, and with this new incentive I started writing much more frequently and regularly.

Whilst working full time as a technical author for a software company I started writing my first children's novel, Fly by Night. I had little faith in it, but fortunately a good friend of mine named Rhiannon Lassiter persuaded me to submit the manuscript to Macmillan Children's Books, who accepted it. I have been writing fantastical books for children and young adults ever since, including Cuckoo Song, which won the Robert Holdstock award for Best Fantasy Novel at the British Fantasy Awards.

When my seventh book, The Lie Tree, won the Costa Book of the Year 2015, my life went delightfully insane. The Lie Tree proceeded to win the Boston Globe Horn Book Fiction Prize, the UKLA award for the 12+ category and the LA Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature. To my considerable surprise, I found myself appearing on television and at international literary festivals. Despite this, I have somehow found time to persuade my eighth book, A Skinful of Shadows, to exist. I am now working on another Young Adult fantasy novel, some of which is set underwater.

Frances Hardinge read English at Somerville College from 1992-95.