Frequently Asked Questions
On my childhood
What were you like as a kid?
There’s a lot of information about my childhood (and about my life generally) in: About Franny
Did you write a lot when you were a kid?
Yes, I did write a lot. I wrote a novel when I was in fourth grade (or most of one, anyway), and I’ve found lots of poetry from middle school and high school. I liked writing Haiku, and I loved writing limericks and other funny poems.
Did you plan to be an author when you were a kid?
No. I always knew I loved reading, but it never occurred to me I might become an author. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I was such a terrible student, and I thought that to be an author, you should at least know how to spell. (Not true.)
On books and reading
What were your favorite books when you were a kid?
I read all the time when I was a kid. I read when I should have been doing my homework. I read when I should have been listening in class. After all, time is precious—no reason to waste it. (But my teachers, somehow, did not see it that way.)
I read a lot of books kids still read today. Some favorites were the Green Gables books, the Little House books, the Narnia Chronicles, the Wrinkle in Time books. Other favorites, though, were by British authors. You’ll find some of these in American libraries and bookstores, but others are either out of print or only published in Britain. Some of them were funny (hilarious!) fantasy-adventures, such as The Land of Green Ginger (Noel Langley), Once on a Time (A.A. Milne), Carbonel (Barbara Sleigh), and The Magic Pudding (Norman Lindsay). Others, more serious, were The Twilight of Magic (Hugh Lofting), The Dolls’ House (Rumer Godden), The Princess and the Goblin (George MacDonald), and Mistress Masham’s Repose (T.H. White). I see that I could go on and on, so I’ll have to make myself stop, but I can’t neglect to mention two more favorites (American and funny) that I read again and again: Black and Blue Magic (Zilpha Keatley Snyder) and The Pushcart War (Jean Merrill).
Really, I’m going to stop, but I guess I have to mention the myths and fairytales I so loved—I devoured Norse myths, for example, and all the colors of the Andrew Lang fairytale collections. I was especially fond of Hans Christian Andersen (in particular, The Snow Queen and The Little Mermaid). And the fantasies of E. Nesbit and Edward Eager… Okay, I’m done now.
(And the Moomintroll books…)
What do you like to read now?
I like exactly the same kinds of books, but of course, lots of new books have been published since I was a kid. I have discovered the wonderful Diana Wynne Jones; I especially like her Fire and Hemlock, Dogsbody, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Another few examples are Which Witch (Eva Ibbotson); Playing Beatie Bow (Ruth Park); The Perilous Gard (Elizabeth Marie Pope); and Beauty (Robin McKinley).
What’s your favorite book?
I can’t answer that. There are so many books I love—and so many different kinds of books. It’s like asking me to choose between pizza and ice cream. How could I possibly choose between them? They’re so delicious, each in its own way: hot and cold, salty and sweet. I’ll take them both, thanks!
On writing books
How many books have you written?
I have written four books. Well Wished was published in 1997; The Folk Keeper was published in 1999. Then came Big Bad Bunny, a picture book, in 2008. My latest, Chime, which is my first novel for young adults, came out in 2011.
Which of your own books do you like the best?
I can’t answer that question, either. That’s like asking which of my two kids I like the best. Each is different, each is delightful and maddening in their own way! I love each for who they are, and I love them equally. It is the same for my books.
How long does it take you to write your books?
I am a very slow writer. Well Wished took me more than seven years. The Folk Keeper was faster—about four years. But don’t let that scare you (this for those of you who want to write). Remember: there are many writers who write excellent novels much more quickly than I do. They may write a novel a year, or even several novels. Each writer has a unique process; there is no right or wrong way. If you want to be a writer, you’ll find your own pace.
How long did it take you to get published?
I started writing in 1983. My first novel, Well Wished, was published in 1997. But I spent a lot of that time, especially the early years, learning to write; I didn’t send out many manuscripts to publishers—just a handful of submissions during the 1980s. (And how lucky for the reading public that those manuscripts were never published!) I only started submitting seriously in the early 1990s with a draft of Well Wished.
On facts (and fancies)
What is the geographical setting for your books? What is the time period?
I like what one reviewer said of my writing: “Billingsley has done an admirable job of fully evoking a fantasy place and time that feels almost as real as here and almost as current as not so long ago.” (Janice Del Negro reviewing Well Wished in The Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books.) She summed up beautifully what I try to do. I think of my books as being set in a world very much like our own, but overlaid with magical elements.
You never really describe the Folk in The Folk Keeper. What do they look like?
It is true that I only hint at what the Folk look like (all “wet mouth and teeth”). This, I decided, was more effective than describing them in detail. If I only hint at the Folk, the reader’s imagination will fill in those details. The reader will make the Folk into his or her own worst nightmare. The unknown is worse than the known, isn’t it? The shadow that moves in the corner is more terrifying than the reality behind it. That is why I left it up to the reader to decide what the Folk look like.