Lucy Hope writes books about children having adventures in dark gothic settings, inspired by the house she grew up in North Wales, though now she lives in the Cotswolds. After jobs ranging from managing telecoms products to working in schools, she did a master's degree in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa university. Wren is her latest novel.
Wren (Nosy Crow)
Look out for a house that sings, a girl who wants to fly and a family secret in this atmospheric gothic novel about being true to ourselves, no matter how difficult that might seem. Lucy Hope tells us more about her new book, Wren, and the childhood home that helps inspire her novels.
Q&A with Lucy Hope
1. Your debut book, Fledgling, was published last year - how are you enjoying life as an author?
I love being an author! Life has been pretty hectic since the publication of Fledgling as I started writing Wren as soon as it was published. I'm now busy with my third book and am hoping to have a first draft written by the end of the year.
In the early months after Fledgling came out, I visited lots of bookshops and have also been lucky enough to go to local schools to talk to children about how Fledgling came about and the inspirations behind it. Soon I'll be visiting bookshops in Wales, where Wren is set, and in the Cotswolds, where I currently live, to sign copies of Wren, which I'm really looking forward to.
2. How would you describe your books and your writing?
Ooh, this is such a great question! I'm definitely drawn to writing historical fiction, and love adding gothic details to my stories to add atmosphere. Also, I can't resist thinking up surprising and unusual characters. For me, every character in my books, however small their role, deserves to be interesting and quirky, just like a living, breathing person. My characters are always bold and confident and do things I'd never dare to attempt. I sometimes wonder if my main characters (who so far have all been female) are how I would like to be if I could re-invent myself and become a bit braver!
I also love to surprise the reader with unexpected twists and turns, and if a plot twist jumps into my head as I'm writing, then I grab it with both hands. If I can surprise my reader or make them gasp, then my work as an author is done!
3. What inspired your latest story, Wren, and what happens in the novel?
The setting was the thing that inspired Wren more than anything else. I grew up in North Wales and used to visit Anglesey and the North Wales coast for holidays and family days out. Even as a child I loved how you could look across the Menai Strait (the narrow stretch of sea that runs between Anglesey and the mainland) and gape in awe at the Snowdonia mountain range on the other side. It's a stunning landscape, and with Telford's Menai Suspension Bridge, an imposing feat of Victorian engineering, stretching across the water, I couldn't resist setting my second book there.
Wren lives in an ancient house on Anglesey overlooking the Menai Strait. The house seems to sing at night as if calling to someone far away, and strange cracks keep appearing in its thick stone walls. Wren lives with her pa, her brother Tudur, and her Aunty Efa who moved into the family home when Wren's mother was killed in an accident that left her aunt paralysed. Wren's pa finds his daughter difficult to control; she's wild like her ma, and dreams of one day being able to fly like a bird.
When Pa decides to enrol her in the infamous Anglesey Institution for the Re-education of Young Women, Wren sets about building a flying machine to escape the clutches of her oppressive home life. As she begins work with the help of her friend, Medwyn, Wren realises that there is something very, very wrong with her house, and sets about unearthing a horrifying family secret that has been kept deeply buried for generations.
4. Can you tell us a little about Wren's setting - a peculiar, gothic house that seems to be alive, and why you've set it in Wales?
I set the story in North Wales because it's where I spent my childhood, and the area still feels like home to me, even though I now live in the Cotswolds. Wren's house was inspired by my childhood home - a 15th century fortified building with six-foot thick walls, battlements and a dungeon on the border between Wales and England. It was built by my ancestors to protect themselves from English attacks and remains an immensely sturdy structure with a tower at one end, just like Wren's house. My brother lives there now, and it remains a place that's very special to me. He now runs the house as a B&B which gives guests the opportunity to spend time in a unique Welsh house that's steeped in history. This is a picture of it:
5. Were you drawn to Welsh legends as a child, and were there any you drew on for this book?
I don't remember being specifically drawn to Welsh legends, but I did grow up surrounded by the stories of my ancestors, particularly my many-greats uncle, a Welsh chieftan called Rheinallt ap Gruffudd ap Bleddyn, who lived in my childhood home centuries before me. During his life there was frequent conflict between the Welsh and the English, with one event culminating in him hanging the mayor of Chester from a hook in the stone vaulted dining room ceiling after the mayor came into Wales to plunder his land. The hook remains to this day as a reminder of the house's troubled past. I'm sure growing up hearing stories about Rheinallt influenced the character of Wren's many greats grandfather with the prominent chin!
6. Why is your main character called Wren?
I've always loved the name Wren, and it felt right to call my main character after the tiny but powerful songbird known for flying fast. I loved writing her, perhaps because she's the girl I wish I'd been when I was her age. She arrived in my mind fully formed - curious, intelligent, kind, determined, and logical and with a strong sense of what's right, and I fell in love with her and her grand plans from the moment she tumbled out of my mind and onto the page.
7. Wren, like Fledgling, features characters who fly. Why do you think you're drawn to writing about flight in your stories?
That's a great question! Many of my relatives (three great uncles and a grandfather) were pilots, and by coincidence I'm also married to a pilot! I don't know why but I've always been slightly obsessed with vintage aeroplanes, and have spent a lot of time over the years in aviation museums. One great uncle even attempted to fly solo across the Atlantic in a little Puss Moth in 1930, and I grew up feeling extraordinary pride in his adventures.
I was luckily enough to go flying in a 1930s Tiger Moth in South Africa in 2016 and it was one of the most exhilarating and unforgettable experiences of my life. For Wren, I did quite a bit of research about early flight, and was fascinated to read the story of Monsieur Le Bris in France who built one of the world's first flying machines (a glider) when the idea of flight was just a theoretical dream. I've always been amazed by how brave the earliest pilots were - and how they were prepared to take to the skies and literally just see what happened! I find the history of flight utterly fascinating, and would love to write a non-fiction book on the subject one day.
8. Other than a great adventure story, what would you like your readers to take from Wren's story?
I'd mostly like my readers to enjoy a story about a girl having an amazing adventure! But after that, there are all sorts of things readers might take away from the book. Wren is essentially a story about a girl who has a strong sense of who and what she is, and doesn't like to take no for an answer. She is determined to be her true self, and does her utmost not to let anyone get in her way. If this helps readers feel more confident about being the person they believe they are (even if that doesn't conform with society's expectations) then that would be a good thing.
Unfortunately for Wren, she lives at a time when society had very different expectations about the 'behaviour' of girls and women and the sorts of things that would interest them. If one girl is inspired to take up STEM subjects in secondary school because of reading Wren, then that would make me very happy!
9. Where and when did you write Wren? What kind of environment helps you to write?
I do actually have a lovely study in which to write, with an old desk, and a super-comfy desk chair. However, I'm a bit like a cat in that I tend to sit all over the house - either at the dining room table, in my bed, on the sofa, wherever takes my fancy on a particular day. I do love the idea of writing in busy cafes as some writers do, but I think I'd get far too distracted by the cakes and the noisy coffee machines!
10. What are you writing currently - and what do you enjoy doing when you're not at your desk?
I'm currently writing a new story, which is a little bit different from Wren and Fledgling. It's still historical, but is far less gothic. It features another very strong main character, who like Wren is very determined to get what she wants. It's much faster-paced and has quite a different feel altogether.
When I'm not at my desk, I like to take my dog, Bronte, on long walks in the country. I have a 20-year-old camper van and love to go off on adventures around the UK, but particularly in Wales. I also love visiting coffee shops with friends, cooking and socialising, and of course, reading all the books I can get my hands on!