Elizabeth Wein writes fiction for young adults. She is the author of CODE NAME VERITY, as well as the THE LION HUNTERS cycle, set in Arthurian Britain and sixth century Ethiopia. Her most recent novel, ROSE UNDER FIRE, is the winner of the American Library Association’s Schneider Family Book Award. Originally from Pennsylvania, Elizabeth has lived in Scotland for over fourteen years. She is married and has two teenage children.
What are you reading right now?
I’m halfway through THE NEW MOON AND THE OLD by Dodie Smith. Dodie Smith, where have you been all my life? I love this book. It crept up on me how much I love this book. It is terribly, terribly English, exploring all these weird generational and class crossovers, and every quirky, likeable character is so much more nuanced than you realize at first. Plus she just writes so beautifully.
What first sparked your interest in writing?
Well, I liked reading, of course! I have wanted to write since I learned to read – since I first read a chapter book all by myself from beginning to end in one go. I was seven – the book was ELLEN TEBBITS by Beverly Cleary. When I finished, I closed the book, put it down, and thought, “I want to write stories like this.”
What do you love the most about writing? The least?
I hate when writing becomes a slog—when I get stuck and have to push through a scene that I’m not enjoying, when it feels wooden and forced. But the best thing about it is when you get a flash of inspiration and you realize your story is going to work. I love re-reading a good scene for the first time, when it’s still fresh, enjoying it as though someone else had written a story just for you.
Tell us a little about your writing process.
At the moment I am pretty scattered.
Normally I write out my first draft of a novel longhand, in lined notebooks. I tend to type it up chapter by chapter. Sometimes I use an outline, but not usually. Occasionally I have to make an outline for myself when I’ve already written half the novel and it starts to get out of control. For CODE NAME VERITY I put together a complicated timeline halfway through the writing process.
What are your passions?
I get more passionate over things I hate than things I love! I do a lot of ranting about high-heeled shoes, gun control, the appalling state of the teaching of English literature in Scotland, reinforced gender stereotyping, etc. The list of things that make me rant is quite long. Things that I love include: punting, certain random aspects of watching wildlife, aerobatics (seldom achieved!), the ocean, awesome conversations with my husband, my kids and my grandmother (she is 98!).
What inspires you?
Stories of people doing unusual things; people who successfully break the mold and change their own lives and others’ for the better.
Why young adult?
Because someone made up a shelving category called “young adult” and my books happen to be shelved there? That’s just how I write. I do think that my books qualify as young adult because my characters essentially are figuring out who they want to be when they grow up. That seems to me the essence of what makes a book YA.
How was CODE NAME VERITY born?
I’m going to cheat and direct you to another blog interview for this one – I’ve written about it pretty extensively already and this is an interesting post on the inspiration behind CNV! Click here to read the interview.
Did CODE NAME VERITY require a lot of research?
Of course it did, but I didn’t have to do as much as you might think—I knew quite a bit about the time period already. So what I ended up doing for CODE NAME VERITY was expanding my knowledge. I knew what I needed to check up on (say, the Air Transport Auxiliary, the Battle of Britain, a certain type of aircraft, Resistance activity in France), and then I’d go do some reading on whatever the subject was. I also read a lot of novels and watched a lot of movies that were made during the 1930s and during World War II, which is a great way to pick up little-known details of time and place.
I still haven’t figured out what a “Starboard Light Frappe” is, spotted on the menu for a Glasgow ice cream shop in the 1930s.
Was it difficult writing such an emotional novel?
I know that people say this novel kills them, but believe me, I feel sure I have suffered more over it than any reader ever has! I was an emotional wreck for three weeks after I finished writing it—I couldn’t look at a picture of the Eiffel Tower without bursting into tears! It was a wonderful experience but exhausting. When I finished, my husband said, “Please can you wait six months before you write another book?”
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
1) Write about something you’re passionate about.
2) Make a plan; pick away at it. Concentrate on completion.
3) If you want to write children’s books or YA, join the Society for Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators – it is a wonderful way to meet people (editors, agents & industry professionals as well as other writers). All my breaks came through this society.
4) Join a writers’ group if you can. It’s very helpful to have a support group.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
I have discovered lately that I really like to travel. You’d think I would know this about myself by now, but actually I’ve only just put my finger on it! I enjoy exploring, both home and away.
That’s also useful advice for aspiring authors—go find out more about your world. There is always something interesting to write about, sometimes just around the corner!