Snow and sky have long been part of Lisa Lueddecke’s imagination; she lived in Iceland as a child and has travelled to Denmark, Norway and Sweden in recent years. Her debut novel, A Shiver of Snow and Sky, which was published by Scholastic in October, is full of freezing landscapes and starry nights. Anna James interviewed Lisa about her book for Books for Keeps.
A Shiver of Snow and Sky follows seventeen-year-old Ósa who lives in a tiny village on the fictional island of Skane under the ever-changing lights in the sky. The lights look much like the northern lights in our world but in Skane they are how their goddess communicates with them and can signify much more sinister things. When the lights are green it means all is well, blue means a snow storm is imminent and red, which is rare, means danger is on the way. For Lueddecke, the story began with this image, back in 2014: ‘I had in my head of the island and the red lights in the sky, and something dreadful descending and the world and the story blossomed from there. Details changed, but the story was largely the same from the beginning.’
The last time the lights were red on Skane was as Ósa was born, and the plague that it foretold killed her mother, leaving her father and elder sister bereft and resentful of Ósa. The book opens with the lights turning red once more, throwing the village into terror, and when the Ør, a terrifying race of monstrous beings who make necklaces from the teeth of their victims, send scouts to Skane, it looks unlikely that they will survive. But something stirs in Ósa and she sets off into the mountains to plead with the Goddess on her people’s behalf armed with only her determination and her ability read the stars. ‘I have been obsessed with astronomy since I was very young,’ Lueddecke explains, ‘So when I wrote Ósa I wanted her to have the same love I had. My favourite nights are the cold winter ones, where the stars are brilliant and clear and you can sit outside and stare at them for hours on end.’
The idea had been brewing in Lueddecke’s mind for around eight months before she started writing ‘furiously over about three to four weeks’ and produced what become her first draft. ‘It was just rough, but it gave me something to work on, and I was obsessed with it the whole time, I wrote for hours and hours on end, read it aloud to my sisters for feedback and then carried on writing into the night. While I’ve always been passionate about writing, I’ve never had such an obsession with writing as I did for those few weeks.’ The frenzied nature of the initial draft meant that there wasn’t a big plan going into it: ‘I wrote every chapter from the hip, because I wanted to feel like I was discovering the story, and make it feel like anything could happen, because I thought that might translate through to the readers. I would literally just start typing, and that really worked for me.’
Once she’d polished it, Lueddecke signed with Silvia Molteni at PFD in winter 2015, before selling the book to Lauren Fortune at Scholastic in spring 2016: ‘Lauren is possibly my favourite human. She loved the book and the world, and we really agreed on pretty much everything. It’s great to have a relationship with your editor where you can chat openly about revisions and whatnot without being nervous, and I definitely have that with Lauren. At the end of the day, we both wanted the book to be great.’
Lueddecke feels very at home as a YA writer: ‘It was YA from the start because I knew Ósa very quickly – I think it’s important for teens to see things they can relate to from people their own age, even if it’s a fantasy novel with an unfamiliar setting and fantastical creatures. I think teens are so much smarter and more aware than they often get credit for, and they know when a writer is being condescending. I’ve heard adults say things like, ‘That book is good but we need a YA version’ or ‘Someone should write X but shorter for teens’ and it makes me sad because all the teens I know are smart and can read books that are considered to be well beyond their ‘age range’. While YA books can and should have themes that teens can relate to, that doesn’t mean it has to be dumbed down.’
Ósa grapples with a lot of things teenagers are unlikely to encounter; ice dragons, ancient curses and giants to name a few, but also some more familiar problems: guilt, forgiveness, and finding your own path. ‘If reader could take away one thing,’ Lueddecke says, ‘It would be the idea that it is important to always believe in yourself, even if you feel like others do not. Big things have been accomplished by people who thought they were too small to do them.’
A Shiver of Snow and Sky is published by Scholastic, 978-1-4071-7403-7, £7.99pbk
Anna James is a journalist, scout and event chair. Her debut novel, Pages & Co, will be published in 2018 by HarperCollins Children’s Books.