Treat time everyone. Today I am tickled to offer you an interview with the lovely and talented Adrienne Kress, author of Alex and the Ironic Gentleman and the upcoming Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate. Welcome to Adrienne!
What inspires you (situations / works of art / places / foods / people)?
Really – everything. But I would say out of that rather large category, films are a huge inspiration for me. I am quite the film buff, and when I see something in a movie that just gives me butterflies, I totally have to write about it. There are also the odd interactions between strangers that I witness in various public places that can get the creative juices flowing. People in general are just so interesting. I love to people watch and give them character traits. My favourite game is “cast the passing stranger in a period film”. For some reason a lot of people look like monks to me.
Is your writing space a place of loveliness? Describe where you work.
I think it is a place of loveliness. Some may think it is a place of messiness. I feel very comfortable in it, and that’s what matters most. When I was looking for an apartment to rent when I moved back to Toronto, I really made sure to picture where I would be writing. It was important that I had a separate area for that, to distinguish between a work space and rest space (something I think that is very important when you work from home).
Name 2 writers whom you admire – one writer for grown-ups, one writer for the littl’uns.
Only two? Okay. Fine. If you insist. Douglas Adams totally changed the way I looked at writing books, and he is just plain hilarious. So I guess he can be my adult choice. For the littl’uns. . . I seriously don’t know. I am a huge children’s lit fan and each author brings their own unique voice. Love Norman Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth), and of course A A Milne, J M Barrie and Lewis Carroll. Have to say, though it may sound obvious, I have a great deal of admiration for JK Rowling, not simply as an author but for someone who knows how to maintain grace under pressure, and keep her private life private. She is a pretty admirable woman and I would love to meet her.
Top 3 Kids’ lit titles you’re desperate to read right now.
Oy. Again, many to choose from. Actually I’ll tell you one series I am really interested in reading is the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. I first noticed it because, and this is so not the usual reason, the artist who designed my cover (John Rocco) did those ones as well. But I hear it is all about Greek gods and stuff and I love that stuff. I also haven’t had a chance to make my way through all of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, so that’s another one. I also have two titles by friends I can’t wait to read, one that came out this past March: Hazel’s Phantasmagoria by Leander Deeny. And a YA by my friend Lesley Livingston coming out in January: Wondrous Strange.
If you could live inside a kids’ book, which book would you choose?
Again, obvious, but Harry Potter. Ever since I was little I was obsessed with boarding school books. I just always wanted to be in one (a boarding school that is). And to be in a boarding school where you also get to do magic . . . dude. I wouldn’t like all that end of the world stuff though. Maybe I could be in the Harry Potter world post Voldemort. Though if we are doing the age thing correctly, I am technically the same age as Harry (we are both born in 1980) so I would have been around for all that. Not sure I would have been cool enough to hang out with them though. Probably would have admired them all from afar.
I’ve read about how your dad read to you when you were a kid, and how that has influenced your journey as a writer. For all those parents out there who might need a little inspiration in the read-aloud department, could you explain why that experience mattered to you then, and matters now?
It has influenced me a great deal. I was never naturally inclined to read, still am not. Don’t get me wrong I love books, but sometimes I forget that I love books. Strange, I know. But for relaxation I would choose going to a movie or watching television before reading. It isn’t a natural choice for me to pick up a book. So my dad reading to me really made books special. It also introduced me to a lot of books I might never have read otherwise, Dickens and Douglas Adams. As a writer writing children’s books it also is always in the back of my head that someone may be reading the story aloud, so I want to have fun with words, make sure that the activity of reading the book aloud is a pleasant experience.
Having a parent read to you also makes books a very pleasant ally. You have all these excellent memories of books, because they were a part of growing up and spending time with your parents. Books therefore can never be scary, or too big, or too many words. They can be challenging, but not intimidating. They are happy things.
What led you to write Alex and the Ironic Gentleman?
I was initially inspired to write Alex while I was living in London, UK, specifically when I taking weekend break in the town of Bath. I’ve always had something on the go writing wise – plays, short stories, and I’ve always wanted to write a cozy mystery, but I’ve learned I am not very good at writing cozy mysteries. But I had never considered writing a children’s book before. I’m not sure if it was Bath that made me want to write that kind of book, or just the getting away from the city and having a chance to think. But suddenly the decision to write a children’s book just sort of happened while I was there as I was doing a lot of walking and thinking and stuff.
I am a huge children’s lit buff, total Harry Potterphile, and wrote my thesis in my last year of high school English comparing Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Let’s just say I have read many great books in the genre. And I suddenly thought to myself, “Well I bet I could write one of these books.” Not because it was easy, but because I knew the genre so well.
Well whatever inspired the initial decision, it was definitely Bath that inspired so many particular details about the book. The doorknob shop was based on a doorknob shop I passed on my walk, the bridge that Alex and her uncle live on is based on the bridge in Bath with all the shops on it (which in turn is based on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy) and so on.
Then as I thought more about the structure of the novel, I decided that Alex was going to be a love letter, an homage, to all my favourite children’s books. So the first Act, up until Alex leaves on her adventure, I consider very Roald Dahl (to me the Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society totally typify the sort grotesque characters he liked to write). Then Alex’s journey to Port Cullis is Alice in Wonderland, where she meets some interesting characters in a forest and has miniature adventures where she needs to solve problems before moving on. Lewis Carroll made fun of the world of his time in Alice, and I try to do something similar with this section. Lord Poppinjay, for example, is a composite of all the bosses I had as a temp. The third Act, Port Cullis and onwards, is Peter Pan, at least the part with the pirates. It also owes a lot to Treasure Island. There are other authors I reference as well throughout the book: the chapters all begin with “In which . . .” which is a reference to A A Milne for example.
I just really love these books, they were a huge influence on me growing up, and I kind of wanted to say thank you to them with Alex.