We’ve been very bookish here this week, which is kind of unusual. Next week, I expect things to settle back into a more normal routine. Blame the ALA awards plus me having a day off to get reading done plus the fact that I have discovered that I can totally read on the elliptical when I go to the gym, which means I have been knocking out huge chunks of books while exercising. That is basically my dream sort of exercising, right there. Burning calories while reading. Anyway, things should be a little more balanced next week.
A few weeks ago, I read The Giant-Slayer, which is a sweet book about children coping with a terrible disease through the power of story. I have thought more about this book since finishing it, and one of the things I especially liked was that the stories they told taught each other (and themselves) the truth about who they were and what they were made of. After I finished it, Iain Lawrence was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the book. As an extra bonus, he also mentions Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Did you always envision doing a combination historical fiction/fantasy, or did it start out as two separate stories that started to work together?
Iain Lawrence: The Giant-Slayer began as two very different projects. The basic tale of Collosso was one of the first things I wrote, more than a decade before The Giant-Slayer. In its earliest form it told the story of a wood nymph who was trying to protect the last herd of unicorns in the whole world, and of Khan, the hunter who was trying to kill them. Jimmy the Giant Killer was a secondary character, not a boy, but a very small man who drove a very big wagon. Khan teamed up with him to kill the giant called Collosso. My agent at the time didn’t care for the story at all, so I put it away in my box of failed projects. But I never got the characters out of my mind, and from time to time I wondered if I should try to rewrite the story.
For the second project, I was looking for a way to tie together linked stories. It was only a vague idea. I didn’t have any particular stories in mind, or any particular way to connect them. But when I saw an old photograph of five children in one enormous iron lung, I thought I’d found the perfect link. I imagined telling of each child’s experience with polio, and showing how five strangers could be brought together by the disease. But it was soon obvious, when I began the research, that the stories would be substantially the same. I don’t remember how I thought of having one character tell a story to the others, but it was a fortunate turn of mind that came a long time later.
Was polio a topic you were interested in writing about before you saw the picture of the children all together? Or did you happen across the picture and that inspired the story?
Iain Lawrence: The photograph was in Google images, and I’m quite sure that I deliberately searched for it. But I don’t remember why it was not with any thought of writing about polio.
Much of this book is set in a hospital. Have you ever had to spend much time in the hospital yourself?
Iain Lawrence: During most of my childhood, my father worked in hospitals. I was often taken to meet him at lunch or at the end of his day. So the sounds and smells – and some of the sights – of hospitals are very much a part of me.
What made you decide the enemy would be a giant rather than a dragon or a troll?
Iain Lawrence: I think the image of a tiny person driving a huge giant-killing wagon was the image that eventually inspired a whole novel. I saw the wagon first, with its team of a hundred oxen, its rock-crushing wheels, and its spidery tower where a little man could sit. I also liked the name Jimmy the Giant Killer. That was long before Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I worry now that people will think I was inspired by Buffy.
Thanks to Iain Lawrence for answering my questions! Find out more about his other books here.