Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Susan Cooper chat

We sat down for a chat...with Susan Cooper

Among this year’s Carnegie shortlisted books, Ghost Hawk perhaps has the standout character duo of them all and was one of my favourite books of last year. Its acclaimed author,  Susan Cooper, answers my questions about the novel (and her last answer brought a tear or two to my eye).

WSD: A lot has been made of the historical aspects of Ghost Hawk yet you view it as a fantasy. Can you say a little bit about mixing history and fantasy in fiction?

Susan Cooper: Ghost Hawk is basically a historical novel, but since one of its major characters is a ghost I suppose it has to be called a fantasy. A mongrel fantasy, perhaps.  I love dancing about in time - the "Dark Is Rising" books did it a lot - though it's hard work because you have to make sure your historical details are absolutely accurate. You can weave magic into the past, but you can't change the things that happened; that would be cheating.

WSD: In your Author's Note for Ghost Hawk, you hint at a vast admiration for Ursula le Guin. Can you say a bit about what le Guin means to you?

Susan Cooper: Well, she's a wonderful writer - especially "Earthsea" and those amazing dragons. We're quite different as writers -  like Alan Garner and Philip Pulllman I'm rooted in England's layers of time, whereas Ursula, like most American fantasists, invents totally separate worlds. But we're old friends.

WSD: You built a house on Little Hawk's island and this inspired your novel. Can you describe living on this island?

Susan Cooper: The saltmarsh is all round me, green in spring and golden in autumn, and at high tides the sea is all round me instead. Living here, you're haunted by the fact that the place has looked much like this since the last Ice Age, and that for thousands of years it was the hunting-ground of American Indians. Then the English settlers came 400 years ago, which is yesterday, and took it all.   I still wonder what really happened, every time I look out of the window. Look, here's what I see at sunrise.

Susan Cooper's sunrise - and what a sunrise it is!!

WSD: The relationship between Little Hawk and John is so vivid and is a real stand out feature, for me, of Ghost Hawk. What inspired or helped you to achieve this characterisation?

Susan Cooper: You've just made my week; that relationship is what the book was about from the beginning. The two of them just came into my head, as I sat there staring at the saltmarsh.  "Two boys", says my notebook, "because girls weren't free to act, then."     I wanted to tell the story of those two young minds, faced with the madness of the situation where a Thanksgiving dinner between friendly Indians and newly-arrived whites turns within sixty years to mutual slaughter; two friends, one on each side, trying to make a difference.  And failing - but it's always the trying that counts, and that will save us all in the end.  If we're lucky.


You can read M's review of Ghost Hawk here.


  1. The saltmarsh, the islands, so vividly described with such brevity - then revisited with extra detail throughout the narrative to paint the picture above. Wonderful! Brings the Native American history to life in an extraordinary way. Passed it straight to my son and we had an animated discussion about how to grow a tomahawk. Will put him onto the Dark is Rising series once he's finished.

    1. I really enjoyed Ghost Hawk. And isn't it wonderful when novels seep into your shared lives in what are often unexpected ways? Best of luck with that tomahawk!


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