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Friday, 2 April 2010

Author Interview: Amanda Mitchison

Back in February I reviewed debut author Amanda Mitchison's novel Mission Telemark. It is a wonderful wartime story which sees four teens become spies. The full review is here.

The lovely Amanda has kindly agreed to take part in an author interview at The Bookette but before we get to the answers, here is the book summary from Amazon:

Mission Telemark
Released 1st March 2010 UK by Walker Books

Norway, December 1942.

Following the German occupation of the power plant at Vemork in southern Norway, the British government has become aware that Hitler is trying to find a way to use the heavy water it produces to make a nuclear weapon. One mission to destroy the power plant has already failed and time is running out. Now the Allies' fate rests in the hands of four teenagers - Jakob, Freddie, Ase and Lars - who must survive for weeks in the freezing conditions of the Hardanger Plateau before they launch a sabotage attempt that will decide the course of the war.

Stuck-in paper inserts bring to life the wartime experiences of these special Special Agents, from digging snow holes and butchering reindeer, to combat knives and behaviour under torture.

The interview:

Me: My favourite part of the Mission Telemark is the historical accuracy. I really felt as if I was living the mission with the characters. How did you go about researching the era in which the book is set and do you have a favourite fact that you discovered?

Amanda: I read and I read and I read. I started off by reading the accounts and memoirs of the original 1942 Telemark mission. I also read histories of the Special Operations Executive-the secret organisation set up by the British Army during the Second World War to train saboteurs and spies. One of the SOE trainers W.E. Fairbairn wrote his own manual on unarmed combat called 'Get Tough!' Some of what Colonel Armstrong says comes from that book.

I also went further afield-SAS survival manuals, First Aid Books, reprints of old SOE teaching notes and so on. Scandinavian children in the 1940s were brought up reading the adventures of the great arctic explorer Helge Ingstad. I bought his books second hand.
My favourite fact: when they are up in the hut in the Hardanger, Ase makes lamp oil by chewing up bits of reindeer fat and then spitting it all out into a saucer-that is exactly how the Canadian Inuit made lamp oil in the 19th century.

Me: I really liked the way that Mission Telemark had an appeal for both boys and girls. Did you set out to write a story that would have a broad appeal?

Amanda: I'm a girl, aren't I? There HAD to be a girl and she had to be really gutsy.

Me: Ase, Fred, Lars and Jakob are all great and very individual characters. I think my favourite is Ase (maybe because she is a girl). Was there a particular character that was more difficult to write than the others?

Amanda: Freddie and Ase were both based on real people and so weren't at all hard. With Lars I knew I wanted a troubled, difficult, complicated soul and he came together easily. But Jakob was my stumbling block.
Making a really 'good' person who is honest and nice and still thoroughly rounded and real was much harder.

Me: The illustrations in Mission Telemark are a beautiful addition to the book. How much involvement did you have in their design? Did you get to work closely with Richard Collingridge?

Amanda: Louise Jackson at Walker asked Richard to do the illustrations for us, because he has done wonderful atmospheric landscapes of snow and ice. (See his website: http://collingridge.co.uk/ ) I did send him some pictures of Scottish country houses because I had such a clear idea in my mind of the architecture of Drumincraig House, but otherwise I felt it better to give him space to work on his own.

Me: Mission Telemark is styled as a log of the mission. How early into the writing process did you make this decision? Was it an easy decision to make?

Amanda: You've touched a raw nerve! At first we weren't at all sure how to format the book. In the first draft I wrote Ase's log as a diary. But it was only after I had completed the book that it was decided to make the whole story into a log book and the editors at Walkers and I decided to make Jakob's parts a first person narrative. I had to extensively rework his share of the text, making the entries much shorter and the writing much more colloquial. I'm now convinced this was the right decision.

Me: And my final question which is a little odd, I admit. (I have a weird fascination with biscuits.) Do you have a favourite biscuit?

Amanda: Chocolate Bourbons. No doubt about it.
Thank you so much to Amanda for answering my questions. You can buy Mission Telemark on Amazon here or at Walker Books here.


Lauren said...

Thanks for an interesting interview. I always like to feel I've gotten a real insight into an author's writing process.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great interview.

Linna (21 ♡ pages) said...

Mission Telemark sounds like my type of book. I'm looking it up in my library's catalog right now (illustrations!)! This is a great interview- love the questions. Mmmmnn chocolate bourbons <3