Interview with Katherine Rundell

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Talking over a crackly line on her veranda at her family home in a suburb of Harari, Katherine Rundell describes her favourite place to write, “the colours are so beautiful here, there are guinea fowl at the bottom of the garden and a boggy swamp where huge black storks come flying into in the evenings. Thankfully the internet is very shaky here so there is very little to distract me.”

She writes on a “battered old laptop which I carry around everywhere with me,” But she also has a trusted notepad on her at all times. “It is interesting how the mind slows when writing by hand. I type much quicker than I write and it is a very good discipline to work your thought process on to a different texture. The thing with writing is that there are some days where you feel like the worst idiot in the world and days where the story flows and takes you somewhere magical.”

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She writes about where she knows and what she loves and urges us all to take any opportunity to travel anywhere we can, “it can give you the perfect fodder for a story”. Her cousins are from St Petersburg which she “knows a little and oves a lot”. Her grandfather was married to a Russian Finn and as a child she spent a lot of time in St Petersburg. She explored the Amazon researching The Explorer which was vital to her writing.

She insists however that it is imagination that takes you further than you can ever go in reality. Everyone who wants to write stories must keep feeding that imagination, by reading, listening or simply watching the world go by.

Her love of the circus and ability to ‘roofwalk’ gave her the inspiration for Rooftoppers. It “gives you a feeling that you can see the world and the world can’t see you – it offers another perspective on things. Clarification perhaps.” She learnt to walk on stilts at an after-school circus skills club where she made friends with unicyclists and spent her afternoons tumbling and jumping. “There is something about the circus, the smell of the sawdust, the harem scarem oddness of it that most appeals.”

She reckons Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights is one of the most perfect books in literature. “It is profoundly wise and sophisticated and instead of reining himself in for his readers, he stretches ever higher.” Katherine’s stories in turn are taking another generation of readers to new heights. Katherine’s books are published by Bloomsbury.