The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of The Door That Lead to Where
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Birmingham, raised in London and went to quite a few schools due to the fact I was dyslexic. It’s one part of life I have no regrets about leaving. I remember it exceedingly well and didn’t like being a child. We’re all brought up by giants, some more monstrous than others. In the end we become giants and the art is not to forget what it felt like to live under them.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
We all have dreams. We have dreams that our parents put on us when we are young, we have conventional dreams that we think we should have, and then we have the main dream, the thing we really want to do, which we sort of know from the beginning. What I told people at the age of twelve was that I wanted to be an artist. At eighteen, I told people I wanted to go to theatre school, and be the best set designer in the country. What I wanted to be at thirty was a children’s illustrator, and what I never told a soul ever, was my main dream, and that was to be a writer and tell my stories.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
That I would find the love of my life. I didn’t, but I did have three wonderful children and other amazing things have happened to me, but the love of my life never appeared. Maybe it did in a way in the sense that it is now writing.
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Edith Sitwell’s Facade. I first heard it with my father in his study and I just adored the jamboree of words, the jumble of sounds, and the joy of language. Mixed with William Walton’s music I thought it was absolutely fabulous. I think a book that had a profound effect on me was The Lost Domain by Alain Fournier. It is a coming-of-age story, is completely magical, and is a book that made me want to be a child again just so that I could read it for the first time again. The illustrator and writer who had a profound effect was Edward Gorey. I discovered him when I was 16 and that love has never waned.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
They weren’t necessarily open to me. I am severely dyslexic and to this day people find the idea of writers being dyslexic a contradiction. I was very artistic though, and went into theatre mainly because I love story. I couldn’t imagine working without a story. I was very lucky to have been taken to the theatre a great deal when I was younger and I had a huge love of the theatre. When I went into illustration, I still thought the main dream I had to be a writer was impossible and I would never achieve it.
6. Please tell us about your novel, The Door That Led to Where
I always start a book with a question, even if it’s just to myself. The question I asked was: Would three boys, who I would call ‘Govian failures’ after our ex-education minister Michael Gove, fare better if they went back to 1830s England, than they would do here in the present? I was thinking about a particular lad who had been educated from age three to five, and then again from fifteen to seventeen, who was mainly self taught. He wanted to be a correspondent at the Houses of Parliament, and I was wondering if he stood a chance of getting a job at, say, The Times. Would they even let him though the front door? The resounding answer was no, they wouldn’t. That young man happened to be Charles Dickens. Where are they young men of today who are the future Dickenses, and are we over looking them in favour of a tick-box education? In London particularly boys at the age of seventeen are either mummified or villainised. The one thing they’re not seen as is young men. I think we make a terrible mistake in doing this. We leave too many pathways open for fanaticism, radicalisation and anything that would give a young man a sense of power and respect.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I always hope that if my work does anything it encourages people to ask questions, to think a bit more about where we are going. If it does that I feel I have achieved quite a lot.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I absolutely adore Angela Carter, I love magical surrealism in all its formats. And I would have to say the book that’s been my bible has been the Grimms’ Fariy Tales. I think basically all my stories are fairy tales. The other writer that I stand in awe of is Charles Dickens.
My goals are to have good, original ideas, and try and stay true to the world novel, which in the 18th century meant something new and unexpected; a novelty. I still think my ambition is to have original ideas and thoughts and to play as much with language as I can. As well as the vague hope that one day I might win the Carnegie Medal, which I am absolutely over the moon to have done.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
My main advice is to not get published too young. There is a horrifying trend at the moment of finding two year olds who are trying to write Proust. I would encourage everyone to grow up, work on their ideas and publish them a little later. When people ask me about how to become a writer, I always suggest that they read Stephen King’s On Writing. It is one of the best books he ever wrote, and is also a very true and direct story about being an author and what that might entail. I also think you need to read a great deal, and try not to use the word ‘like’, if you can help it. I have a slight aversion to ‘like’. If I read a book and in the first paragraph there is a ‘like’, I think to myself, can I manage another 300 pages? I think that a ‘like’ asks you to stand outside the story, when you should feel like you are all the way inside it. The other thing I feel very strongly about is that you don’t need an adjective with ‘said’. Whatever is being said has to hold all the power.
Sally, thank you for playing.
by Sally Gardner
When the present offers no hope for the future, the answers may lie in the past.
AJ Flynn has just failed all but one of his GCSEs, and his future is looking far from rosy. So when he is offered a junior position at a London law firm he hopes his life is about to change – but he could never have imagined how much.
Tidying up the archive one day, AJ finds an old key, mysteriously labelled with his name and date of birth – and he becomes determined to find the door that fits the key. And so begins an amazing journey to a very real and tangible past – 1830, to be precise – where the streets of modern Clerkenwell are replaced with cobbles and carts, and the law can be twisted to suit a villain’s means. Although life in 1830 is cheap, AJ and his friends quickly find that their own lives have much more value. They’ve gone from sad youth statistics to young men with purpose – and at the heart of everything lies a crime that only they can solve. But with enemies all around, can they unravel the mysteries of the past, before it unravels them?
A fast-paced mystery novel by one of the UK’s finest writers, The Door That Led To Where will delight, surprise and mesmerise all those who read it.
About the Author
Sally Gardner grew up and still lives in London. Being dyslexic, she did not learn to read or write until she was fourteen and had been thrown out of several schools, labeled unteachable, and sent to a school for maladjusted children. Despite this, she gained a degree with highest honors at a leading London art college, followed by a scholarship to a theater school, and then went on to become a very successful costume designer, working on some notable productions.