Friday, January 28, 2011

Author Interview: Kersten Hamilton (Tyger Tyger)

A writer needs a very tough skin. And she needs something to write about.

Fortunately, my impractical parents were also quite eccentric. My childhood can only be described as ‘exciting.’

I tracked caribou and arctic wolves across my family’s homestead in Alaska, caught tiny tree frogs in the swamps and rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, and chased dust devils and rattlesnakes across the high desert of New Mexico.

Against all odds, I survived my many misadventures. I was not electrocuted or drowned. Most of the bullets missed, and the incidents with bears, snakes, wolves, and angry moose were not fatal.

Before I settled down to have children I worked as a ranch hand, a wood cutter, a lumberjack, a census taker, a wrangler for wilderness guides, and an archeological surveyor.

Nowadays, when I'm not writing my favorite pastime is hunting dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts through the Ojito Wilderness and surrounding areas. The bones of huge monsters lie hidden in the deserts and badlands of New Mexico. I've found fragments of dinosaur bone, ammonites, an incredible acanthoceras from the Cretaceous, 8,000 year old camel bones, and possibly a pile of rhino remains.

From author's website.

Tyger Tyger is refreshingly unique in a YA landscape filled with vampires and werewolves. What inspired you to write this story about the dark world of the goblins?

I wasn’t looking for the next ‘big thing’ or even an under represented creature group when I wrote Tyger Tyger. I was remembering the time a goblin crept out of the dark and slipped her paw into my hand.

It happened when I was about ten years old. The creature’s name was Lina, and she came to life in a book by George MacDonald. Lina was a dog–like beastie with green eyes lit by amber fire, and a huge mouth with icicle–like teeth. Curdie, the hero of the story, could feel the real hand of any creature inside its flesh glove, and when Lina put her paw in his hand: “a shudder, as of terrified delight, ran through him…instead of the paw of a dog, such as it seemed to his eyes, he clasped in his great mining fist the soft, neat little hand of a child! The green eyes stared at him with their yellow light, and the mouth was turned up toward him with its constant half grin; but here was the child’s hand!”

When I read those lines I felt it. I felt the child’s hand inside a rough paw glove, and I knew I wanted to pull a child out of a goblin one day. Through the years, many stories, poems, myths and legends lent elements to the story growing inside me: the song of Tam Lin, a girl who musters all her courage to save her love who had been taken by the Sidhe; The Lords of the Grey and White Castles, a fairytale by Francis Brown, Ireland’s blind storyteller; and even a hint of the goblin from Harold Monro’s poem, Overheard on a Salt Marsh.

Tyger Tyger centers heavily on Irish lore. How did your interest in this mythology develop? Did you have to do a lot of research to incorporate the Irish legends into the story?

I did a great deal of research while I was writing. But I have been reading Celtic stories forever. I am Welsh/Irish myself, and the pull of the literature and music is almost enough to make me believe in racial memory. There is no other set of legends or body of music that haunts me in quite the same way.

Two of the books I like are: Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica: Hymns & Incantations, and James Macpherson’s The Poems of Ossian and Related Works. MacPherson mixes things up a bit, but it’s all in good fun. George MacDonald’s fairytales are excellent, too.

Aiden is an adorably quirky presence in the novel. Is he based on someone you know in real life? Do any of the other characters draw upon people you know?

I raised my own little brothers, and Aiden is very much like them. Several of the characters in Tyger Tyger are a little like me, and two are very like me. (I won’t tell you which two. You’ll have to guess!)

Finn is very much like my husband Mark. If the goblins were after me, I know they would have to come through Mark to get me.

But the evil Ms. Skinner is probably the most intentionally based on a person I have known —a person who abused their power.

When I was about ten, I befriended an abused dog. He was in bad shape, but I nursed him back to health and named him Joe. He was my best buddy. But because I couldn’t afford a license the dogcatcher took him away. He was a scrap of a dog that had no chance of being adopted by anyone else. The dogcatcher told me I had two weeks to get enough money to buy Joe a license or he would be put down.

I worked as hard as I could, earning money any way I could think of. My family didn’t have enough money to keep food on the table. There was no one else to help me. I didn’t earn enough.

On the day they killed Joe, I was sitting on a rooftop wishing I was strong enough to fight the world and save him. Smart enough to have thought of some way to earn the money. But I wasn’t.

That dogcatcher who exercised power with no heart became my personal model of human evil. He crops up in books now and then.

Finn is such a great hero – a truly good guy with a rough edge. What characteristics do you think are vital to a compelling YA hero? Who are some of your favorites?

If I am going to loan my heart to a guy – even a fictional guy—then he’s got to be Ah-maze-ing! Smart, sexy and courageious.

Finn is my favorite, of course!

What was your biggest challenge in writing this novel?

Writing Tyger Tyger was the most fun I have had in ages. The most challenging part of it all was pulling my brain out of the book to deal with real life.

The world of the goblins is very dark. Did you have a soundtrack you listened to in order to achieve the right mindset while you were writing? What were some of the key songs?

Teagan’s song has always been “Fix You” by Coldplay: because of this line: “lights will guide you home…and ignite your bones…and I will try to fix you.” That’s Teagan’s heart for the world!

Finn’s song is Teardrop, sung by Newton Faulkner, because for Finn “love is a doing word.”

Teagan and Finn together have a song: Run by Snow Patrol: “Light up, light up as if you have a choice…even if you cannot hear my voice.”

Aiden’s song can only be Orange Nickelodeon by the Irish Rovers, but I can’t find it on the net. I have it on vinyl. :)

Thomas’ (who plays a big part in Forests of the Night) song is Viva la Vida by Coldplay:

Finally, John Paul Wylltson and Aileen.

John Paul’s song is 100 years by Five for Fighting:

Aileen’s song is Dante’s prayer by Loreena Mckennitt:

How would you react if you suddenly discovered that a whole world of the sinister and supernatural exists all around us?

Ummmm… there is a supernatural world all around us. I’ve interacted with it all my life. :)

On your website, your bio mentions that you had a very adventurous childhood. Did your experiences influence Tyger Tyger?

Adventures are more fun to read about than they are to live. There were times when I was very hungry, very cold, very afraid, and very alone. Sometimes I was all of those things at once. I was often in very dangerous situations.

And, yes, that all helped in writing Tyger Tyger!

Did your previous experience writing children’s books influence the way you approached this novel? Do you prefer writing children’s books or YA? Why?

Believe it or not, writing YA it is much easier than writing picture books. Many people think that picture books are ‘easy’ because they are short. That’s not true. In a picture book you must have all of the same elements of story and character, but you only have a few hundred words (at most!) to work with. Picture book readers have less life experience to bring to the book with them and that makes writing more difficult as well.

What is a random fact reader’s probably don’t know about you?

I worked as a camp wrangler in the Pecos Wilderness. A Texas hunter once offered me $200 to catch and kill a pair of chipmunks for him so he could mount them on his mantle. Pft. I said no.

What can you tell us about future installments in the Goblin Wars series?

Book two, In the Forests of the Night, is darker, sexier and scarier.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

After book two of Goblin Wars, I will be working on an early MG steampunk series. Then, an older MG dealing with suicide, Catholicism, immigration issues, and undead school administrators. I will probably write a picture book or two; then, it is back to the YA world for the third book in the Goblin Wars trilogy...Thank you for interviewing me, Casey!

For more about this author, please visit:

Thank you, Kersten, for taking the time to answer my questions! I can't wait for this "darker, sexier and scarier" sequel!


Looksie Lovitz said...

I loved Tyger Tyger. Great interview!

Ria said...

I really enjoyed reading Tyger Tyger - my only complaint with it was that the author didn't give many hints on how to actually pronounce half the Gaelic words being used.

A. Knight said...


My interest is DEFINITELY piqued with this novel. I wasn't sure I was ever going to take the time out to read it, BUT I know I am now.

Sounds dark, creepy-ish. Sexy.

I want to read this now!

Thanks, Casey, for sharing!

Asher K.

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Great interview! :) I loved reading Tyger Tyger and I have to purchase a hard copy to keep on my shelf to share with all my friends. :) Thanks for the great interview. I'm really looking forward to the next book.

And that dog catcher was just out and out cruel! It's a shame. Poor puppy.

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