OMG! Elizabeth Knox read my blog!

Okay, I admit it. I am a daggy, daggy fan. I discovered Elizabeth Knox last year courtesy of Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner who gave me a copy of Vintner’s Luck, which made my head explode with pleasure. It had everything I want from a book: it was an historical featuring exquisite writing with lots of non-realist elements and it was wry-funny and smarter than Shane Warne on a cricket green. Just thinking about that book makes me happy. I haven’t been as excited about a new writer since I discovered Angela Carter and that was many, many, many years ago.

So imagine my over-the-top ecstatic joy when Elizabeth Knox wrote a comment on my blog! The one and the only. After recovering—OMG! Elizabeth Knox wrote a comment on my blog!—I began to write a response. Then I realised that her comment was buried under a post from the olden days. The whole world needs to know that Elizabeth Knox read my blog! Thus I have elevated it to this post. Elizabeth is responding to my saying that I loved her most recent book, Dreamhunter, but that it ends somewhat abruptly and there’s no indication anywhere on the book that it’s the first of two and what’s that about?

Hi Justine,

Thanks for the praise — it really puts lead in my pencil.

My Australian publishers thinking was this: dreamhunter would appeal to young adult and adult readers, fantasy and literary fiction readers, so a cover that gave no conclusive signals about genre would ensure it reached its widest audience. They explained all this to me. They decided, too, that Book One of Two or Book One of the Dreamhunter Duet (as it says on the UK edition) would give the game away. We talked about mentioning the One of Two thing on the back or in the blurb, then, well, my first copy turned up with nothing at all on it to indicate it was the first of two books. Needless to say I was a little alarmed.

But it isn’t the job of authors to make marketing decisions. I know that if I had to be responsible for those decisions I’d go bonkers

As for the cliff-hanger ending, it has nothing to do with marketing. Dreamhunter and Dreamquake are like one book cut in half. There’s a simple explanation for this. I set out to write the book intending it to be a work for young adults, in several parts. I got to the end of book one, Dreamhunter, and was still completely unsure whether or not I’d managed to produce a YA book, rather than something that was neither fish, fowl, nor good red meat. Part way through I had showed it to a fantasy editor at Randomhouse in the us, who assured me that, whatever it was, it wasn’t really fantasy. I gave it to my agent in London, who only knew that she liked it, not whether it was a YA book. I’m a reader of YA books. I know how they should read, and Dreamhunter worried me.

Anyway, Faber bought it, and an editor there gave me terrific advice about rewrites with the object of turning my dubious what-the-hell ms into a book for teen readers. It was only once I’d finished the rewrites that I had the confidence and experience to go on to finish the story (and to decide that it was two books, not three). The cliff-hanger ending wasn’t a problem for Julia, or to my editors in Australia. My US editor, Frances Foster at FSG, was uneasy about the precipitous tone but thought for a long time that a clear indication that the book was part one of two, and that two would be out only a year later, would take care of that. However, when she started line-editing (and read Katherine England’s review in the Australian magazine, Magpies) her worries came back and, since fsg are publishing a whole year after the UK and NZ/Australia, we had the option of transferring some of the beginning of Dreamquake to the end of FSG’s Dreamhunter—about five thousand words. The us edition does have a clearer sense of ending, and of the direction of the book. But I did need an editor to help me see the necessity for this.

No writer should ever underestimate the necessity of editors.

I heartily agree. My writing is so much better than it was before I was published and that’s solely because of the amazing editing I’ve had. Thank you Liesa Abrams and Eloise Flood!

What kind of advice did your Faber editor give you to make the tone more YA?

I agree that Dreamhunter doesn’t have the typical YA voice. (Don’t ask me to explain what I mean by that. I know it when I read it.) Like Margo Lanagan‘s Black Juice it could easily have been published as an adult novel. And like Margo’s book it works as literary and genre fiction. But that’s part of what I love about both books. It’s lovely to hear about editors being enthusiastic about those qualities.

You write in pencil?

I hope both books sell like hotcakes.


  1. Anonymous on #

    Can I buy it here yet?

  2. Anonymous on #

    Ooops. I mean here in America? I loved Vitners Luck too.

  3. lili on #

    bless the editors, for without them our books would forever be drafts…

    i admit that when i finished dreamhunter, i did the following:

    a) looked around to see if some extra pages had fallen out

    b) jumped up and down in a frustrated rage

    c) vowed never to read another book ever again

    d) reconsidered

    e) recognised that i must have really really loved the book for it to make me feel so strongly

    f) thought about how wily and tricksy publishers are, because now, not only will i buy the next book the day it comes out, even if it’s in hardback, i will also reread the first one, so i can get back in the mood

    g) decide that everyone knew what they were doing in the first place, and not to question the wisdom of writers, or their editors/publishers

    i could probably go through the alphabet, but that’s enough for now.

  4. Elizabeth Knox on #

    Hi Justine

    There were two vital bits of advice I got from my Faber editor about how to make Dreamhunter the ya book I intended it to be. one was to make sure there was as little distance as possible between the reader and protagonists. The reader had to know what the characters, especially rose and laura, were thinking and feeling. had to be with them, within them. the other thing my editor asked me to do was to write more dialogue. i love writing dialogue, but had learned writing adult literary fiction not to indulge myself too as much as i might have liked.

    yes, i write in pencil, lying in bed, usually pinned down by my three cats. i then dictate my first draft onto my computer using voice recognition software. so — low tech, then high tech.

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