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Lily Hyde is a British freelance writer and journalist based in Kiev, and has been covering cultural and social issues in the former Soviet Union for several years. Her journalism and travel writing have been widely published in the international press, including Newsweek, Marie Claire and New Internationalist. She also works as a consultant on HIV/AIDS and public health information. She has had short stories published but Riding Icarus is her first novel.
1. From where did you get your inspiration in writing Riding Icarus?
There were two main inspirations. One is the area of Kiev I was living in which is precisely the landscape of the book – sunny meadows and half-abandoned allotments, stray dogs, Mercedes cars and battered trolleybuses, overflowing markets and all. Many things have altered almost unrecognisably in Kiev since I started writing Riding Icarus (for instance, top-of-the-range Mercedes are now two-a-penny) but this area is still almost unchanged. The other is a collection of tales by Nikolai Gogol called Village Evenings Near Dikanka. They are funny, frightening, magical and humdrum all at once, describing Ukrainian village life nearly two centuries ago as well as many traditional Ukrainian myths and legends.
2. Did you write it for yourself or for an imaginary reader?
Neither – it was written for my sister, who was ten when I started (she’s now nearly 20!). Because I was living in Kiev I didn’t see her very often, and it was a way of keeping in touch and telling her something about life in Ukraine. I sent her each chapter as I finished it but sometimes she had to wait an awfully long time for the next instalment.
3. While much of Riding Icarus is about magic it also includes a good deal about real life and real problems. Was it difficult to combine these two elements in one narrative?
I think there’s magic to be found in most things so I didn’t find it hard at all – I just hope it works as one narrative. Ukraine especially for me has always been a place that mixes real, wonderful enchantment with a lot of genuine hardship and horror. The latter might not seem a suitable subject for a children’s book, but I didn’t want to write only about the funny and enchanting side because although Riding Icarus is in many ways a fairytale I think all true fairytales are grounded in reality. Many children everywhere suffer hardship but sometimes hope and belief in magic really can offer a way out of trouble (I just wish they did as often as happens in books).
4. Did you come up with the plot first or did the characters appear to you first?
The characters – in this case, Icarus the trolleybus was the first character! Then obviously someone had to live inside Icarus, and along came Masha and her grandmother.
5. Did you know the ending of the story before you started writing the book?
I started writing it such a long time ago that I really can’t remember! I hope I at least roughly knew the end by chapter three or so, because otherwise I don’t know what I thought I was doing sending it to my sister chapter by chapter.
6. Do you plan out the skeleton of a story first before writing the first page of a novel or do you start with a blank page in front of you?
I don’t write a plan – it’s much more exciting starting with a blank page (or computer screen in my case). Then it’s really a bit like magic when the words come along… And those words might take me somewhere quite different from where I was expecting – like a ride in Icarus the trolleybus really. But I do mull ideas over in my head for a long time first, so I have a mental framework.
7. What other authors do you think the readers of Riding Icarus will enjoy?
Anon. – author of all the best folk and fairytales! I’d like to recommend the Gogol stories I mentioned above but I’m not sure how many of them are available in English. Some of his later stories are more famous; for instance The Nose, which is about a man who wakes up one morning to find out his nose has gone off and started living an independent life without him!
Some children’s authors I love and which I’m sure influenced Riding Icarus are Joan Aiken, Elizabeth Goudge and Pat O’Shea (The Hounds of the Morrigan). Then, when I reached about seventeen and onwards, Angela Carter, Russell Hoban, Mikhail Bulgakov…