About The Author
Erin Morgenstern is a writer and artist from Massachusetts. She describes all her work as 'fairy tales in one way or another' and cites Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Stephen King and J K Rowling as her main literary influences.
Her debut novel, The Night Circus, has been the subject of feverish excitement amongst critics and bloggers for months, and is already garnering hugely enthusiastic reviews. It began as a children's book, but when Erin found that it wasn't working as she had envisaged, she rewrote it for an adult audience. Film rights to the book have already been sold.
The setting is an extraordinary circus, housed within black and white canvas tents, that seems to appear and disappear without warning, in which the spectacular performers amaze audiences with their breathtaking feats. But two young magicians in the troupe, Celia and Marco, are being pitted against each other in a contest for which they have been trained from birth, a contest which it is expected only one of them can survive. When the two fall in love, they must find a way to stay together while fulfilling their destiny.
The Night Circus is a highly original and thoroughly gripping novel, with vivid descriptions that immerse the reader in the extraordinary fantasy world Erin has created.
In this exclusive interview, Erin talks about the relationship of words to images, her literary influences and the circus skills she'd most like to possess.
* Erin will be discussing her fin-de-siècle fantasia of magic and mischief at our Cabot Circus, Bristol store on October 10th. This is her only event outside London so join us at Foyles for a night at the circus!
* Explore the world of The Night Circus in a fabulous online storytelling experience:
* Read the first chapter here
* Author photo (c) Kelly Davidson
Questions & Answers
The circus, and indeed all of the book, is incredibly visual. How much has your art influenced your writing?
I'm a very visual person so I think that influences everything I do, whether it's painting or writing. I see everything in my head, I'm always thinking about how the light catches things or releases them into shadow. I think the fact that I've always been an artist working in one medium or another makes me pay more attention to the visual aspects of writing, especially considering it can be difficult to relay images with words.
Which came first, the idea for the plot or the idea for the circus?
The circus came first, it was an imaginary location discovered while working on a different, now abandoned novel and it captured my attention instantly as an extraordinary place. The plot was layered over the striped tents in revision after revision.
Without wanting to give anything away to those who haven't read the book, it's very difficult all the way through to know whether it's going to end happily or sadly. When you were writing it did you have a clear idea of the end or did it evolve as you wrote?
Once the pieces of the plot started to settle into their proper places I knew there was only one way for everything to end, only one direction for each path to take. I'm delighted that it's not as obvious when reading as it was for me while writing.
How much did your characters take on a life of their own or did you feel they were very set from the start?
I think they always had lives of their own but it took me a while to get to know them. I pushed them around places they didn't really want to go and in the process I learned more about them and why they were the way they were and eventually they settled properly into themselves. A lot of personality traits were set from the beginning but the nuances were developed over time.
How you tell the story moves around through time quite a bit. Did you write it like that or did it start very linear and then you crafted it that way to unfurl the story better?
It started even less linear than the final version, I'd wanted the book to feel like the circus, with different bits of story presented like the different tents. So in the very beginning it was much more scattered through time and different characters. As I gave it more structure the story became more linear but with two distinct timelines that overlapped.
It's easy for a reader to spot possible influences from Nights at the Circus to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell to Carter Beats the Devil to The Time Traveler's Wife. Did you feel consciously or unconsciously influenced by any particular books or writers?
I think I take flavors from almost everything I read, and I know there are a multitude of authors who have shaped me as a writer, so I think there are likely a slew of unconscious influences. I think there was a conscious Shakespearean influence along with some intentional nods to Dickens and Roald Dahl. I also took some stylistic inspiration from one of my very favorite books, Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman, with its wonderful vignettes.
If you could have one of the circus skills that feature in The Night Circus which would it be?
Well I'm tempted to say I'd like Celia's manipulation skills for the possibilities they'd unlock, but I have a feeling they'd weigh too heavily on me. I might be better off with Poppet & Widget's kitten-taming skills, though I've also always wanted to learn to spin fire, too. This question is hard.
You've never left the US yet the circus travels all over the world and much of the book is set in London; how did you go about the research?
I didn't do that much research, actually, I wanted to capture the feel of places more than make them geographically or historically accurate. I ended up adding a few elements to suggest a place or a city instead of trying to describe them in great detail. And I had a sense of a lot of places from books and films even though I haven't traveled to them myself, and of course the internet is magical for showing you pictures of things, so if I wanted to know what Munich looked like at sunset I could ask Google and it would show me.
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