Frances Hardinge: the Shape Shifter's Diary

Frances Hardinge is a writer who wears a black hat. She is also the award-winning author of many fantasy novels, including The Lie Tree which won the the 2015 Costa Book of the Year. Her latest amazement is Deeplight. She says:

Writing about your own day is not the only option. You can step inside another person’s head. You can imagine a life that isn’t yours. You can shape-shift and become someone else, just for a while.

As a twelve year old, Frances lost interest in her diary but found an extraordinary way to keep on. Here is her story:

When I was about twelve, my enthusiasm for my diary petered out. I kept forgetting to add entries, and often I couldn’t be bothered with it. Besides, I was incredibly shy, and I had started to feel self-conscious about putting my real thoughts down on paper.
I started a ‘diary’ again in my teens, but it was a very different beast. For one thing, it wasn’t about me.
It was the journal of a completely imaginary person that I’d invented. He wasn’t completely human, and neither were the enemies hunting him day and night. Because of his amnesia, he couldn’t remember why he was being chased, and wasn’t sure who to trust.
Oh, and he could turn himself into a fox.

Photo by John Anders Wiken

Fox had a very short temper, and months on the run had left him sleep-deprived, paranoid and jumpy. All these flaws made him fun to write. That was probably the first time I had used an ‘unreliable narrator’, somebody whose description of events couldn’t be trusted. It was really interesting writing from the point of view of somebody who was wrong about so many things.
The ‘journal’ was a mixture of supernatural thriller and detective story. The really fun part was hiding bits of my life in Fox’s diary entries. Sometimes he would be chased over the roofs in a town where I happened to be staying. Or he would briefly meet people that I knew in the real world. Or sometimes an event in his life would be a much weirder version of something that had actually happened to me.
I kept up Fox’s diaries for years. It didn’t matter if I missed a day, a week or even a month. I could always decide that this was because Fox had been taken prisoner, or because he had been running around in his fox-shape.
Don’t get me wrong - real world, accurate diaries are wonderful. When I read the diaries I wrote when I was ten, eleven or twelve, a window opens through time, letting me remember what I was doing back then, and how I felt.
I still like to keep a journal when I’m travelling somewhere exciting, to keep track of everything I’ve seen and done. Here are all the journals I filled up while I was backpacking round the world for a year. (I quite like paper journals for travelling, because you can stick things in them.)
I’ve kept these journals so that I can revisit all those places in my head. But I still have all of Fox’s diaries too.
If you don’t feel like writing about your own day, that’s not the only option. If you prefer, you can step inside another person’s head. You can imagine a life that isn’t yours. You can shape-shift and become someone else, just for a while.

Photos unless otherwise credited were provided by Frances Hardinge. No green-furred foxes were harmed in the taking of these photos.