Acquisition Announcement and Interview with Caroline Hardaker (MOTHTOWN)
Caroline Hardaker lives in the north east of England and writes quite a lot of things. Caroline’s debut poetry collection, Bone Ovation (2017), and her first full length collection, Little Quakes Every Day (2020) were both published by Valley Press. Caroline’s debut novel, Composite Creatures, was published by Angry Robot in April 2021, and is nominated for Debut of the Year at The Kitschies 2022. Caroline’s poetry has been published worldwide, most recently in Magma, The Interpreter’s House, The Emma Press, Neon Magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, Eyewear Publishing’s Best New British and Irish Poets, and Contemporary British Poetry from Platypus Press.
Angry Robot are delighted to announce Caroline Hardarker’s Mothtown, a dark, allegorical tale that plays with our perceptions of the world, from Ed Wilson at Johnson & Alcock for world English & audio rights.
Hardaker is one of 5 authors nominated for the recently-announced Blackwell’s sponsored Kitschies Award for debut novel – for Composite Creatures; the winner will be announced on 12 October 2022. Mothtown is an unsettling, beautifully written, gripping novel that blends horror and literary fiction and will be published on 14 November 2023. Mothtown will feature some illustrations by Carnegie and Kate Greenaway award-winning illustrator Chris Riddell.
About the Book
David is growing up in a world where something is very badly wrong but everyone is protecting David from knowing what it is. People are going missing, bodies are showing up with wings, or bones in nests if you believe the rumours from the kids at school. David doesn’t really know because his parents turn off the news whenever he might get a handle on what is happening around him and his older sister just doesn’t seem interested in sharing. Most importantly for David the centre of his world – his grandfather – is gone. His parents say he is dead but why is his grandfather’s backpack and jumper missing from the house? Alongside this we have a man abandoned in a hostile landscape and trying to out run nature itself to get back home with some information. Mothtown is weird, horrifying and latches hold of you, sometimes it grows from within you.
Welcome back to the Hive, Caroline. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to you about your exciting new novel Mothtown, which will be published by Angry Robot on 14th November 2023! Firstly, can you tell us all about it? What can readers expect?
It’s so good to be back! Thank you for having me to visit!
I can’t believe Mothtown is almost ready to emerge from its cocoon. It’s possibly the strangest thing I’ve ever written, and so I’m still learning how to even articulate it to people!
Mothtown is a story about transformation. The book examines the feeling of being born in the wrong world. Of being different. It’s weird, surreal, and full of secrets. In many ways it’s completely different to my first novel, Composite Creatures, but it follows the same dark and rhythmic style.
With Mothtown, it’s safest to say that readers should expect the unexpected!
Just for fun, can you describe your book in five words?
Strange. Metamorphosis. Secrets. Mudmen. Moth-y.
Without getting too spoilery, can we know a touch more about these mudmen? They sound creepy!
They are a bit. In the book, they’re a common sight in certain villages and towns. They trudge the streets by night, dressed like the earth. They don’t speak or interact with anyone, yet they seem organised somehow. David – the protagonist – becomes a bit obsessed with them, as hopefully readers will too.
Ok, so what kind of world is Mothtown set in? Was there anything specific which inspired your worldbuilding?
Well this is part where it gets interesting. The story is set in two distinct places. The book mostly takes place in rural Yorkshire, England. Here, people of all ages are disappearing, strange half-bodies are being found on the hills, and silent mudmen stalk the evening streets. Neighbours don’t talk to each other and strangers are standing in the roads, screaming to be heard. Change is in the air. And meanwhile, an injured man is also crashing through the wild undergrowth of Mothtown, pursued by two strangers in grey. The book tells these two stories in parallel, and you have to read it to understand how they fit together.
That sounds so good, I love a book which has a strong mystery running throughout!
Writing it has been quite the journey. I initially set out with no plan at all, which at the time seemed exciting but now seems a bit mad. I wanted to tell a story about a man living in the wilderness and minimising his imprint on the world. This man’s goal was to disappear. And while I kept that goal for David, it became twisted in ways I could never have imagined.
Mothtown is a strange read. It’s going to provoke quite the reaction, I think!
Let’s discuss your characters! Can you tell us a bit more about your leading character David? And who was your favourite side character to write about and was there any character you found particularly tricky to craft?
David is the heart and soul of the story. Even as a young child he always felt different, but finds solace with his grandad, an astrophysicist experimenting at the fringes of what is known about dark matter. But when David’s grandad disappears during his last research trip, events are set in motion that change David’s world, forever.
David’s story is one of transformation. He starts out by setting out to discover what happened to his grandad, but eventually, discovering who he is beneath his skin becomes just as important.
All the characters in the book had their challenges to write, they always do! But that’s part of the fun. The more complicated they are, the more real they are. For Mothtown, I’d say that the character Michael was the trickiest to craft. Michael is… Well… An interesting man. He has a lot of secrets. A lot of faces. And you can never be sure which face you’re seeing at any one time. He embodies a lot of contradictions, and means many different things to David. He casts shadows over many areas of David’s life, for better or for worse.
It must have been fun to write a character who’s got different sides to him though?
Oh definitely! I love a character study. People are like landscapes. Multi-layered. We all have our histories, hopes, fears, dreams. The deeper you delve the more secrets there are. And with characters like Michael, sometimes thinks get very metaphysical indeed.
Your debut novel, Composite Creatures was a fantastic blend of dystopian and subtle horror, with your signature poetic prose. Can we expect this blend of genres in Mothtown too? And what draws you to writing horror and surreal literary fiction?
Yes yes yes! I’d say readers can expect all of that and more with Mothtown.
I probably don’t do myself any favours by writing books like Composite Creatures and Mothtown, as they’re not the easiest to talk about without giving away the twists and turns. But it’s fair to say Mothtown definitely has its fair share of body horror, poetic prose, and surreal literary fiction. It sits like a gargoyle in the borderlands between science fiction and fantasy, between poetry and prose. It’s a hybrid creature.
What draws me to writing stuff like this? I don’t know! I do enjoy reading books that take me in directions I didn’t foresee. I love experimental literature that tells old stories in new ways. Tales that are totally imaginative in their style and tone. And when I set out to write a book, doing something totally new is always high on my list of goals. And you know what? It’s the most fun to do!
That’s the key thing, enjoying what you write!
And Caroline, congratulations on being nominated in The Kitschies award for Composite Creatures! How did you feel when you first found out you were nominated?
I nearly BURST!
Haha, I bet! I squealed when I saw the Twitter post on it!
I heard the news when I was on the train to London FantasyCon, and I spent the rest of the train journey in a complete stupor, grinning like an idiot as I replied to messages and flailed my arms around in glee. About an hour or so into the train journey, I decided to paint my nails as I’d originally intended which was a mistake. I ended up slapping the varnish all over my hands! Still, it was a reflection of my elation.
Being nominated for an award is something I never thought would happen to me in a million years, never mind for my debut novel. Being shortlisted is something I’ll hold onto when I’m tired after a long day and need a morale boost before plopping myself in front of the computer again for another writing stint.
Now, here’s a question I’ve been dying to ask! Mothtown will feature some illustrations by the award-winning Chris Riddell, which is so exciting! What was it like collaborating with Chris? And how did you both go about deciding which scenes to illustrate?
It’s been INCREDIBLE. Chris Riddell has been one of my absolute favourite illustrators for many years, and has worked with some of my favourite authors too. I can’t believe I’m fortunate enough to be working with him! Luckily Chris and I have very similar tastes, so we’ve seen eye-to-eye on lots of creative things. He has such a long legacy of storytelling that I’m learning from all the time. But that’s how we grow, isn’t it?
It absolutely is!
The illustrations Chris has worked on are stunning. Absolutely breathtaking. We’ve had lots of Zoom chats about the book and its illustrations, but it’s Chris himself that directed the parts of the story that deserved embellishment. Certain moments in the story are particularly visceral, and he was keen to explore how David experienced them. In that way, the illustrations are part of the storytelling.
Did you feel Chris captured the characters exactly how you pictured them to look like?
I do! He read the book before I completed the final draft, so he always had pretty strong feelings about the characters. Zoom chats were very handy to explore the ins and outs of the characters. I was so excited to see them visualised, and Chris’s style is absolutely perfect for the slightly off-kilter world in the novel.
I wish I could show you the illustrations, but they’re shrouded in secrecy. But that fits with the book, really. Mothtown is full of secrets.
Lastly, what do you hope readers take away from Mothtown?
I always want my stories to stay with people. To stick to them, long after they’ve closed the covers. I hope Mothtown touches people who can relate to David. Most of us have felt like standing in the road, desperate for someone to listen to us and see us how we really are. The world can be a lonely place. So I hope readers remember David and his journey to the truth, because we all feel just as lost as he does sometimes, don’t we?
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Thank you for having me – and I hope you enjoy the book!
To find out more information about Mothtown and its release, visit the Angry Robot website or sign up for their newsletter!