Thursday, August 30, 2007

RADAR: Interview with Helen Dunmore

Welcome to Day 3 of my series of RADAR posts on the Ingo series. Today I have the great honor of interviewing Helen Dunmore--renowned novelist, poet, and children's writer--about the Ingo series. So, please, extend a warm welcome and promise you'll read the Ingo books.

KH: I think the Ingo series is one of the most innovative series I've read for young readers in recent years. When I read Amanda Craig's rave review in the Times, I knew I had to order the book from the U.K. Can you tell us what drew you to the oceans as a setting for the Ingo series?

Helen Dunmore: A love of the sea; knowledge of the Cornish coast; the excitement of the unknown.

KH: When Ingo was first published, marketing information mentioned that the Ingo series was to be a trilogy. Upon reading the third volume of the series, The Deep, it's clear that there is at least one more volume in store. How many volumes will comprise the Ingo series and what do we have to look forward to in number 4?

Helen Dunmore: You are right, there is a final book to come. Originally I thought that the INGO books would be a trilogy, but as I worked in THE DEEP it became clear that there would have to be a fourth book. The story needed to work itself out fully; the characters still had so much to experience. The more I wrote about Ingo, the more there was to discover. The final book, THE CROSSING OF INGO, will be published in May 2008 (UK date).

KH: Your hero, Sapphire, is strongly torn between the earth and the seas. She can swim with the Mer, converse with whales and other sea creatures, and live for days under the water. Can she also converse with creatures of the earth?

Helen Dunmore: Not in the same way. She understands her dog Sadie intuitively, but she cannot talk to Sadie in the same way as she can talk to the whale. Conor is different: for example, he can talk to the bees.

KH: Sapphire's brother Conor is more strongly connected to the earth than is Sapphire. Nonetheless, he can also swim with the Mer and is drawn quite strongly to a Mer girl, Elvira. I'm a little worried about Conor's attraction to Elvira--she seems dangerous. Should we be concerned, or are we seeing the world through Sapphire's eyes?

Helen Dunmore: Sapphire is very troubled by her brother's attraction to Elvira, as you say. Perhaps she feels that her brother is bewitched by Elvira...perhaps she is also a little jealous, because she and Conor are so close. However Conor, like his sister, has free will and must make his own choices.

KH: There is a genetic component to Sapphire, Conor, and their father's abilities to live in Ingo (the world of the Mer under the seas). Is this an extremely rare ability in your design, or are there other families like Sapphire's living amongst us?

Helen Dunmore: There are others--Gloria Fortune is one example of a person who has Mer blood without being fully aware of it. Some become aware, others never do.

KH: There is a strong environmental message to the Ingo series, one that emphasizes the connection between the land and the sea. When you began writing Ingo did you have environmental concerns in mind or did they just develop organically?

Helen Dunmore: I would say that these themes developed naturally. In part I am sure it comes from living on an island where nowhere is far from the sea. The sea's immense power can blind us to the fragility of a coral reef or a sustainable seal population. Humans do have a tendency to see the rest of the world in terms of resources, either tapped or untapped. But I don't think fiction is there to preach--it is there to bring worlds alive.

KH: Sapphire (or Sapphy) is one of the most realistic preteen heroes I've encountered in a long time. She's not overly precocious, is not always self-aware, and often acts on impulse. At the same time, she's brave, cares deeply for her brother, family, people of earth, and the Mer. Does Sapphy have a model, or is she entirely imagined?

Helen Dunmore: Sapphy is imagined, although I have drawn on certain characteristics which I've known in real people. It has been fascinating to get to know all the characters in depth, over a number of books, and also over a period of time. It is very important to me that Sapphire, Conor, Elvira, Faro and many other characters are growing up fast and changing all the time. Characters sometimes surprise the author, I find.

KH: Most children in the U.K. have a concrete idea about what Cornwall looks like. How would you tell children in the U.S. to imagine a place like Cornwall?

Helen Dunmore: You need to imagine a long, narrow peninsula of land jutting out into the deep Atlantic. About 250,000 people live in Cornwall. It is a Celtic country, with a Celtic language (Cornish). Although Cornish is not widely spoken now, place-names are Cornish. The coastline is wild and rocky, the sea is often stormy and unpredictable, especially in the part of Cornwall where the books are set. There are high cliffs, rocky coves, and wide sandy beaches for surfing. There are seals, dolphins, basking sharks and countless sea-birds. It is a coast where shipwrecks are common, and many lives are owed to the life-boat service. The sea around Cornwall is extraordinarily beautiful, dark green, blue and turquoise, but it demands respect. On land, the fields are small and in West Penwith are defined by granite hedges which have often been in place since the Bronze Age. Standing stones are evidence of pre-Christian worship, and there are many ruins of tin mines. Tin mining, fishing and farming were the main industries in Cornwall for thousands of years, but these days tourism dominates. Cornwall is busy in summer; but if you are prepared to walk and climb you can still find quiet coves like the ones in the Ingo books, where there might be a seal or two.

KH: As you write in so many genres for so many different audiences, how do you decide what to write when?

Helen Dunmore: I suspect that the poems or the story decide.

KH: What will the next volume in the Ingo series be called and when (oh, when!) will it be released?

Helen Dunmore: THE CROSSING OF INGO, May 2008.
Recommendations from Under the Radar: Day 4

A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: Friends for Life and Life Without Friends both by Ellen Emerson White

Shaken & Stirred: The Changeover and Catalogue of the Universe, both by Margaret Mahy

Jen Robinson's Book Page: The Treasures of Weatherby by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Bildungsroman: Swollen by Melissa Lion

Finding Wonderland: Lucy the Giant by Sherry L. Smith

Miss Erin: A discussion of Erec Rex: The Dragon's Eye and an interview with author Kaza Kingsley

7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Billie Standish Was Here by Nancy Crocker

Fuse Number 8: The Noisy Counting Book by Susan Schade

Chasing Ray: Juniper, Genetian and Rosemary by Pamela Dean

lectitans: Who Pppplugged Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf

Writing and Ruminating: Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown

Semicolon: Christian fiction

MotherReader: It's Kind of a Funny Story