An introduction to Lissa Evans, author of the new novel Horten’s Incredible Illusions (Sterling, 2012). This book is the sequel to Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms, Evans’s first novel featuring young Stuart, and written with a middle-grade or junior high school audience in mind. Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms was short-listed for the Carnegie Medal, the Costa Book Awards, and UK Literacy Association’s Children’s Book Award, and long-listed for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Branford Boase Award. Her adult fiction includes the novels Spencer’s List and Odd One Out. As the cover blurb reveals, “Lissa Evans’s route to children’s fiction author is perhaps as roundabout as Stuart’s adventures in Beeton.” Evans embarked on a career in medicine, then moved briefly to stand-up comedy, and became a comedy producer in radio and television before finding her voice as an author.
Quick Facts on Lissa Evans
- Stuart Horten on Facebook
- Home: London, England
- Comfort food: Milk chocolate, preferably laced with caramel.
- Top reads: Five that spring to mind are Middlemarch by George Eliot, Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks, The Rings of Saturn by W G Sebald, 1984 by George Orwell, The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.
- Current reads: The Lower River by Paul Theroux
What are you working on at the moment?
A book for adults, set in 1940. My previous book for adults, Their Finest Hour and a Half was also set during the Second World War; it’s about the making of a feature film. I’m also fiddling around with ideas for my next children’s book.
What inspired you to write Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms and Horten’s Incredible Illusions?
1) The memory of moving house at the beginning of the summer holidays, when I was nine, to a town in which I knew no one. I spent the whole miserable summer hoping for something magical and wonderful to happen. It didn’t!
2) Seeing a small boy standing outside a coin-operated photo booth at my local station. I started wondering what would happen if he put in an old, peculiar coin that had been left to him by a relative. Would he get something that he hadn’t expected?
What do you hope readers will take away from these stories?
A sense of magic, and a big grin.
Whom do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?
Anyone who’s ever hoped that they’ll stumble across a little magic.
What kinds of books did you love most when you were Stuart Horten’s age?
“My favorite books were about
ordinary children getting tangled up in magic.”
I read practically everything in my local library, but my favourite books were about ordinary children getting tangled up in magic. I also loved books that made me laugh. (Hmmm, I’m sensing a theme here.)
Where and when do you prefer to write?
I’d really prefer to write in the early morning, but that’s mainly taken up with hauling children out of bed, getting breakfast down them, nagging them to clean their teeth, walking them to school (yes, you do have to bring a raincoat, what do you think those grey things up in the sky are, elephants?). So after dropping them off, I usually go to work at The London Library, a really beautiful, eccentric place with plenty of desk space, and hordes of writers and aspirant writers who’ve become my friends over years of eating lunchtime sandwiches in the square outside and moaning about plot difficulties.
After about 4pm I can’t write anything.
Where would you most want to live and write?
A huge country house in perpetual early summer, where somebody else is doing all the housework.
Do you listen to anything while you write?
I quite like listening to music, but it has to be wordless and slightly repetitive so that it doesn’t get in the way of what I’m trying to write.
Do you have a philosophy for how and why you write?
To write books that I would want to read.
How have your other careers, in medicine, television, and comedy, influenced your writing?
Medicine gave me a huge amount of intense experience at an age when I didn’t/couldn’t forget any of it. Television (and radio) allowed me to work with superb writers and to learn how to edit. Comedy taught me that there is nothing finer than to write a line that makes people laugh.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
Actually getting the words written. I spend such a lot of time self-editing that on a bad day I can end up producing nothing at all.
How have your goals as a writer changed over time?
They’ve always been: 1) to write the best book that I possibly can and 2) for people (as many people as possible) to read and enjoy what I write.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read widely but with discrimination, avoid cliché, and try and find your own voice (you’ll know when you’ve found it; it’ll just feel right).
What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?
“You can’t re-write a blank page.”
You can’t re-write a blank page. I can’t remember who told me this, but I remind myself of it every day.
Is there something that you wish readers would ask you about more often?
I love talking about comedy and comedy writing. People can be very dismissive of the comedy aspect of books, as if a funny passage isn’t ‘proper’ literature, but writing a funny line is much harder than writing a line of serious description; for a funny line to really do its job, it has to be perfect–perfect rhythm, perfect wording. Aside from Stuart’s adventures, I’ve written three adult books, all with essentially serious themes, but all with comedy aspects. It’s the way I write, and I honestly can’t think of anything nicer than making people laugh.
“I honestly can’t think of anything nicer
than making people laugh.”
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
Play Scrabble, walk the dog, make my children laugh.
About Lissa Evans
Trained as a doctor, Lissa quickly realized her own total inadequacy, became a comedy radio producer, moved to television, started directing, decided to finish off the book that she had started eight years previously, carried on writing, married the man who came to build her garden, and acquired a dog followed by two children.
[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Lissa Evans.” Words With Writers (September 4, 2012), https://wordswithwriters.com/2012/09/04/lissa-evans.]