Lucy Christopher Is Off Hiking with Poisonous Snakes, BRB

Lucy Christopher is the author of the emotional, terrifying novel Stolen, a recent Printz Honor book. Gemma is abducted in a Bangkok airport by a man who’d been following her for years, then taken to the complete isolation of the Australian Outback. In Stolen, she confronts her kidnapper, a man she simultaneously despises and loves. Curious? You can begin reading Stolen for a limited time on Figment here. 

We managed to catch Lucy when she wasn’t traveling or hiking with machetes for a little question-and-answer–read on below! And make sure to come back next Tuesday, May 15 for an exciting live chat with Lucy and Maggie Stiefvater, all about character voice!

Describe Stolen in 5 words.

Sensual. Emotional. Thrilling. Mind-bending. Hot.

You’re a veritable globetrotter, having lived in Wales and Australia and an estimated 24 different houses. What has living a traveler’s life taught you? Has it informed your work?

In my experience, when a child moves a lot, whether from house to house or across oceans, her relationship to place becomes heightened. I was terrified of the Australian landscape when I first moved there from the United Kingdom when I was nine years old, but I was fascinated by it, too: It was so entirely different from anything I’d experienced while growing up in a small town in Wales. To fit in quickly, I became hyperaware of my new surroundings. Even though I was scared, I forced myself to explore with friends, read books about the continent, whatever I could do to adapt. I decided that to really be Australian, I needed to love the Australian landscape. So I did; or rather, I tried to. Eventually, I became obsessed with the place, and I think that’s apparent in Stolen. But I always saw Australia with an “outsider’s eye.” And that’s okay. I believe that all writers are immigrants: We jump into other people’s lives; we never really belong; and we write about strange, fictional lands. Being an immigrant to Australia taught me how I could simultaneously love and be frightened of something, a key theme in Stolen. Being an immigrant gave me many observational and people skills, too: incredibly useful for a writer.

You credit your master’s in creative writing with pushing you towards becoming a published author. Would you recommend that aspiring writers pursue masters’ degrees? What was the greatest thing it taught you?

I studied for my master’s degree at Bath Spa University in England, and then I went on to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing there, as well. There’s no doubt I got a huge amount out of earning my masters, and I’m sure I would not be the published writer I am now without it. The program taught me a lot. Before it, I had no idea if I wanted to write for adults, teens, or children. By the end, I had an entire finished manuscript (that later became my novel Flyaway), and I had also met the editor who would later sign me to publish my novels with Chicken House/Scholastic. Importantly, pursuing the degrees gave me a writing community to belong to: I still workshop with students I took the course with, and I now teach for this very same program. The best thing about it was that it offered me solid support, helping me to “be brave” and pursue what I wanted to do. I would recommend a well-taught and relevant Masters course to any aspiring writers.

In Stolen, Ty is a kidnapper and a criminal, yet he isn’t a black-and-white villain. What tips do you have for writers trying to create a complex antagonist?

As an author, you have a privileged position when it comes to understanding people: You get to go right up close to characters that you might normally be scared of, or not relate to, in real life. When you create a character—when you are inside their head, figuring out what makes them tick—I don’t think it’s possible to hate them entirely, no matter what they need to do in the story for the plot to work. Your characters are your children in one sense, and mothers still love “bad” children. The trick, I think, is working out what it is about these “bad” characters that you can love—despite everything—and then playing this off against the bad that they do.

Nature and the wilderness also figure prominently in your novels. Did you spend a lot of time outside when growing up? How is land and setting meant to function in your works?

It’s true that I can’t write a story without being interested in where it’s set, and nature does seem to be pretty crucial to my novels, always entwined with character and theme. Nearly all the important settings I write about are outside. I think this must be because my own most life-changing moments have taken place in, or somehow been connected to, nature. Camping in the Australian bush and trips to the Outback remain among my most vivid memories: mind-expanding times when I realized the world could be so much more beautiful, or so much more terrifying, than I’d previously thought. Spending time in the African bush after I’d finished university was also significant for me. There’s something about being in a remote wild space that feels right on a very deep level: Often, there’s no outside influence from phones or television, and no modern comforts. You must survive with only what, or who, you’ve brought along with you. This makes for emotionally “pure” moments—in my experience.

Outside is often where teens’ worlds expand, too, I think. In a local park or woods, or by going away on a camping trip: Being outdoors can allow teens some measure of independence, away from adult supervision. It gives them freedom to try new things—be it smoking cigarettes, experimenting with drugs, experiencing a first kiss, or abseiling down a mountain!

Tell us one of the craziest things that has happened to you while traveling.

There are many! Based on a local custom, I once smoked elephant dung—but it didn’t make me feel any different. And in Nigeria, where I was researching what I thought would be my third book (although later it wasn’t), my friend and I, along with a group of villagers, hiked up a dormant volcano deep in the jungle of Cross River National Park. We cut back vegetation with machetes, followed elephant pathways, waded through thick brown rivers, got eaten by every insect imaginable, and stood back as poisonous snakes crossed our path. Afterwards we were told that we were likely the only women—certainly the only white women—to ever make that hike.

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