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My Writing Life: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Author Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  • 27 November, 2023

Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a poet and novelist. Her debut, The Girl of Ink & Stars, won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017 and the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year. Her second standalone story, The Island at the End of Everything, was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award and the Costa Children’s Book Award and long-listed for the CILIP Carnegie Medal. Her third book, The Way Past Winter, was the Blackwell’s Children’s Book of the Year 2018.

Her debut YA title, The Deathless Girls, was long-listed for the Diverse Book Awards 2020 and shortlisted for the YA Book Prize and the Foyles Children’s Book of the Year. Her first book for adults, The Mercies, debuted at number 1 on The Times Bestseller Chart and No.5 on the Sunday Times Bestseller List. It was named an NYT Notable Book of the Year and won a Betty Trask Award. In the Shadow of the Wolf Queen is the first in a fantasy trilogy and is out now.

1. What book should every writer read?

No book can be universally useful or interesting – apart from Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott. Lamott’s exploration of writing and the writing life is exacting, witty, and wise. It also places extra emphasis on the piece of writing advice I clutch at in my most desperate times: putting one word after another.

2. What is the one thing you wish someone had told you before you started your writing career?

Expect a lot from your writing, little from your books. It’s so easy to get caught up in the giddy joys of awards and sales – but when they inevitably fall away, it’s you and your words. I feel very lucky to still have a career after a decade, and to be surrounded by teams that encourage and support my books, but it’s all beyond my control except the story on the page.

3. What is the best advice you’ve ever received about your writing?

My creative writing tutor, novelist Rebecca Abrams, supervised the chapters that would go on to become my first novel. She was full of wisdom about historical fiction and advised me to build a sense of the world from the materials a character tastes, touches, and sees. This intimate way of evoking a grander scale of time has stayed with me through every book.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the giddy joys of awards and sales – but when they inevitably fall away it’s you and your words.

4. What is the most underestimated challenge about being a professional writer?

Underestimated, it may not be, but making a living is forever tenuous. Perhaps less discussed is how hostile our financial institutions are towards self-employed people, particularly self-employed creatives. I spent a frustrating hour on the phone to my bank recently explaining that I couldn’t even give them a ballpark figure for my forthcoming year’s income as I have no idea what my royalties or book deals will be.

5. What was the proudest moment of your writing career?

Recently at the Edinburgh Book Festival, a girl, perhaps sixteen, approached with a copy of The Deathless Girls and told me it was the first queer book she’d read and the first that made her feel seen and gave her hope for finding love in the future. I asked who I should dedicate the book to, and she said to leave it blank for now because she’s not out to her family yet, who still uses her deadname. She promised to come and see me again when she can tell the world who she truly is, and I can write her name in the book. That, or having fantasy writer Garth Nix say In the Shadow of the Wolf Queen was “destined to be a classic”.

6. What is your typical writing day like?

I had a baby seven months ago, so my life before feels like a distant memory. So much time! I would spend months just thinking, reading, seeing friends, pottering about. And then a deadline would approach, and I’d sit at my desk and feverishly write, as though possessed, for days, weeks, months, surviving off toast and gnocchi until the draft was written. Now, who knows? I dream of sitting at my desk and falling into telling a story again, but currently, I feel as though part of my heart lives outside my body and is babbling downstairs. I know it’ll get there, but when I do, I doubt it will be typical.

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