Interview with Caroline Hardaker, author of Composite Creatures
Please welcome Caroline Hardaker to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Composite Creatures is published on April 13, 2021 by Angry Robot.
Please join The Qwillery in wishing Caroline a very Happy Book Birthday!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Caroline: When I was very young, maybe 6 or 7, I wrote a series of mystery stories involving a group of kids, solving crimes. The main character was named Lime, and looked strangely like me… It was all very Famous Five inspired – lots of caves, smugglers, and picnics in the woods.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Caroline: Definitely a hybrid. I couldn’t just write without a rough idea of where I was going, a nd I couldn’t write creatively with a really strict structure of where I needed to get to! During the writing process unexpected things happen and new themes appear. So I tend to plan an outline but amend it as I write the first draft. Most often, the ending is completely different to how I planned it but I quite like that, it means the story has taken on a life of its own.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Caroline: It’s knowing where to stop, and feeling at peace with a finished manuscript. I could easily copy edit and proofread until my eyeballs fall out, tweaking syntax and word choices. I suppose that’s the poet in me, I’m always trying to get the rhythm of a sentence ‘just so’. But there comes a point – especially when you’re working to a publisher’s deadlines – when you have to turn away and say “I think it’s done now.” I still find that hard. A part of me doesn’t even want to open the book now because I’ll still be searching for things to improve. At some point I’ll look, and hopefully I’ll be as at peace as I’d like to be.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Caroline: Everything! Every book I read influences me in some way, from graphic novels through to the classics. Even when I haven’t really enjoyed a book there’s still something to learn from them, whether it’s plotting or even just some new vocabulary.
But I’m also very much inspired by films. I’m a very visual person, and imagine the story playing out like a film when I’m writing it, complete with camera angles and close up zooming shots of characters faces. I often make music playlists for different stories and play those on repeat while I write too, and they instantly get me into the right mood. It drives my husband mad though!
TQ: Describe Composite Creatures using only 5 words.
Caroline: Thoughtful. Haunting. Relatable. Speculative. Shocking.
TQ: Tell us something about Composite Creatures that is not found in the book description.
Caroline: In some ways, I think of the novel as a meditation on introspection and retrospection. The whole story is told by Norah, from an undisclosed time in her later life. She’s telling us things that happened a long time ago, and a reader should wonder WHY she’s even telling us at all.
I’m just so interested in the psychology of memory. How many of our memories are as we recall them to be? And why do we look backwards at all? Who are we trying to convince by replaying these scenes in our heads?
TQ: What inspired you to write Composite Creatures? What appeals to you about writing dystopian fiction?
Caroline: No matter what I write, it often ends up having a dystopian twist. When I was younger, I wrote a lot of fantasy stories, but when I picked up prose again in recent years I realised that I was far more interested in stories that were based in reality but had a speculative twist. Stories that could be real, or you could imagine happening very soon. Those were the ones that haunted me the longest.
As for what inspired this novel, I was asked to write several science fiction poems for a magazine in Edinburgh and was desperately looking around my living room for ideas. The stories and poems that affect me the most are the ones that twist elements of reality just a little – so that they’re strange but familiar. So I wrote one poem based on my pot plant, one on a tax bill, and then my giant cat waddled in and inspired the poem that ended up becoming Composite Creatures.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Composite Creatures?
Caroline: I read a lot about modern advances in genetic research and – to a degree – artificial intelligence. The novel takes place in a world poisoned by plastics, so I did a fair amount of online research into the future consequences of microplastic pollution and global warning. Quite a lot of bleak, doom-laden stuff!
Throughout drafting and redrafting, I kept up the research as the scientific landscape changes so quickly. And it’s a good job I did – as it started to look like the direction I was taking Composite Creatures in could almost be a possibility in the near future. But there’s a huge moral question there, and whether humanity goes down that road is still up for debate, thank goodness.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Composite Creatures.
Caroline: Angry Robot was amazing at getting me involved with the cover design. From initially creating a Pinterest board together to choosing a concept for the cover – I became a real part of the process. Once we knew roughly what we wanted, the team sent me a selection of illustrators to choose from, and when I saw Rohan Eason’s sketchy, twisty, surrealist style I knew he was the one who could bring the cover to life.
The cover does depict something from the novel, yes. It’s more than a single scene, and the reader will recognise it immediately from only a few chapters into the book. It’s a very important place in the story, for sure.
TQ: In Composite Creatures who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Caroline: The main protagonist and voice of the novel, Norah, was the easiest I’d say. She’s a very everyday woman – in her early thirties, has a relatively dull job, and is just trying to keep her head down and get on with life. She’s relatable. She also struggles with some elements of her past that keep coming back to haunt her, and even though she tries to shake them off, they still follow her wherever she goes.
I wouldn’t like to imagine that I’m anything like Norah, or that I’d make the morally dubious choices she makes, but everything she does is understandable to me. It was easy for me to find reasons for her to justify what she’s doing.
As for the most difficult characters, I didn’t find any of them particularly difficult, but writing about the doctors at the private healthcare organisation had their challenges. It would have been easy to make them seem like cartoon villains, but the truth is that they aren’t. They’re real people too, just like Norah, with families and hopes for the future. They believe what they’re a part of is changing the world for the better. So I had to think about their dual nature whilst interpreting their behaviour through Norah’s eyes.
TQ: Does Composite Creatures touch on any social issues?
Caroline: Composite Creatures definitely tackles environmental issues in society. The novel explores a future where microplastic pollution and chemical contamination are years ahead of where we are now. The sky is lilac, and the soil burns the soles of your boots. But it’s also a world that functions similarly to our world today, only tweaked to compensate for these things. Through Norah’s eyes, we see how society struggles to relate to nature that poisons us. Imagine – if you lived in a world where wildlife was mostly found stuffed in community museums, how would you think about life that wasn’t human? Would you see it as just as worthy as ours, or less so?
TQ: Which question about Composite Creatures do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Caroline: The irony is, I really wish they’d ask about the character ‘Nut’ but you’d have to read it first to understand the question, and unless you’ve read it, I can’t really answer it either due to spoilers! But the question would be, “What does Nut look like?” And I’ll have to leave that one there…
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Composite Creatures.
Caroline: Here’s an extract from near the beginning of the story…
“Mum looked up to the sky for things I couldn’t understand, always through her old binoculars; heavy black things, held into shape by stitched skins. She liked to shock me with little facts, things like, “When I was little, the sky was full of diamonds that you could only see at night,” and “Me and your Gran used to lie on our backs and watch fluffy clouds go by. You could see shapes in them, and if you asked the sky a question, it sometimes told you the future.” The more stories she told, the less I believed her, and would gently push my hands in to her belly and say, “You’re fibbing, tell the truth.” But Mum would just shake her head so her red curls bounced over her face and promise that it was real, she’d seen it with her own eyes. One night, she even told me that, “the moon used to be as white as a pearl.” At the time, I didn’t know what a pearl was, which seemed to make her sadder. She pulled me to her side and pressed the binoculars to my face. “Keep looking, Norah. Up there in the dark. The birds – they might come back. They might.”
TQ: What's next?
Caroline: My second poetry collection, Little Quakes Every Day, was published a few months ago, so I’m at the clean slate stage with regards to poetry. After recently watching the film ‘The Lighthouse’ I’ve been getting stirrings to write a collection based on stories from isolated lighthouses around the world. I recently suggested it on Twitter and people seemed very keen to read it, so at some point I’ll be starting on that. It’ll be quite the escapist venture!
I’m currently working on my next novel, which should hopefully be finished later this year. I can’t say too much about it, but it’s a little more surreal than Composite Creatures but is still a haunting piece. I have no idea what readers will think of it, but it’s going to be exciting to find out!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Caroline: Thank you for having me!
Angry Robot, April 13, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook 400 pages
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
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Angry Robot, April 13, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook 400 pages
How close would you hold those you love, when the end comes? And what would you do for your own survival?In a society wher self-preservation is as much an art as a science, Norah and Arthur are learning how to co-exist in domestic bliss. Though they hardly know each other, everything seems to be going perfectly – from the home they’re building together to the ring on Norah’s finger.But survival in this world is a tricky thing, the air is thicker every day and illness creeps fast through the body. The earth is becoming increasingly hostile to live in.Fortunately, Easton Grove have the answer, a perfect little bundle of fur that Norah and Arthur can take home. All they have to do to live long, happy lives is keep it, or her, safe and close.File Under: Science Fiction [ Teratoma for One | Nine Lives | Cell Patchwork | Till Death ]
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo
Caroline Hardaker is a poet and novelist from the northeast of England. She has published two collections of poetry, and her work has appeared worldwide in print and on BBC radio. She is Writer in Residence for Newcastle Puppetry Festival and is currently collaborating with the Royal Northern College of Music to produce a cycle of songs to be performed throughout the year. She lives and writes in Newcastle.
Website ~ Twitter @carolinehwrites