Frances Hardinge's Fly by Night (HarperCollins) is a fantasy/comedy, centering on plucky heroine Mosca Mye and her passionate love of words. That passion is no coincidence, as Hardinge herself is a firm believer in the very real magic of the printed page.
"There is a great deal of me in Mosca," Hardinge says. "I have certainly given her my fanatical love of words and books. She also owes a little to a fierce, black-haired, black-eyed little girl I once encountered in a museum. She was telling her young friend with great detail and gusto about the way in which the ancient Egyptians used to pull mummies' brains out through their noses."
Fly by Night took a little more than a year to write—a particularly difficult year, as Hardinge was also working a fulltime job as a technical author and graphic designer, with a healthy commute to boot. In March 2005 she was downsized, and the very next day she received a call with feedback on her first draft—enabling her to devote her newly opened schedule to the necessary revisions.
"I had a hard deadline for the revisions, since I was due to set off on year-long trip around the world on October 1, 2005," she recalls. "As this deadline approached, my rewrites became increasingly frenzied. A couple of days before my flight, one last marked-up manuscript was brought to my door by motorcycle courier. I spent the penultimate day before my trip writing solidly from 7 a.m. to 4 a.m., and when I staggered blearily onto my flight I had no idea what changes I'd actually made."
One of the highlights of the book is Mosca's palpable love for words—she savors them like sweet treats, carving them on bits of bark so she won't forget them. (It is precisely this fascination with words that gets her into trouble when she decides to free a literate man from the town stocks, kicking the book's plot into gear.) Here again, the creator shows herself in the creation. "I've always been fascinated by fictional and historical figures who were word-wizards, people who could win a battle by making a speech, or change the shape of a country by writing a book," Hardinge says.
All that is not to say that humor is absent—quite the contrary, actually, as Hardinge uses her substantial literary gifts to reflect one of her other great loves: British humor. "I'm certainly a big fan of Monty Python and the Goon Show," she says. "I'm strongly attracted to the absurd, surreal and grotesque, particularly where the ludicrous has elements of seriousness or emotional resonance."
While the milieu of Fly by Night is certainly expansive enough for multiple sequels, that doesn't seem to be on tap—at least, not just yet. "I am certainly hoping to write further books in the same world, quite possibly involving Mosca Mye, but this probably won't happen for a year or two," Hardinge says. "I have just handed in a final version of a stand-alone novel in a contemporary setting, and I have started writing a third book set in a different fantasy world."