Livi Michael has written nineteen novels for people of all ages. She teaches literature and creative writing at the Manchester Metropolitan University.
About Me & Writing
I was born near Manchester and still live there to this day with my two sons. Before writing for children I wrote four novels for adults:
- Under a Thin Moon (1992) Secker & Warburg
- Their Angel Reach (1994) Secker & Warburg
- All the Dark Air (1997) Vintage
- Inheritance (2000) Viking, Penguin.
These novels won various awards, including the Arthur Welton Award and the Faber Prize, and were shortlisted for the Mind, John Steinbeck and John Llewellyn Rhys Awards. But none of them were anywhere near as much fun as:–
Writing for Children
Which I began in the year 2000, when my younger son Ben was seven. For his Christmas present I had bought him a hamster, and when I asked him what he wanted to call it, he unhesitatingly said,
Now Frank was an adventurous hamster, and something of an escapologist. Even when we taped the lid of his cage down he managed to get out, and we spent many an hour moving the furniture around and taking apart the kitchen units in order to find him. Other people began to tell me amazing stories about missing hamsters who turned up in their neighbour’s houses, for instance, or in houses many streets away.
There was even a story on the news about a hamster who had been found in his little plastic globe, belting down the M6 towards Birmingham! So I sat in the evenings watching Frank (who woke up late) making his bids to escape, which was much more interesting than telly. And I began to ask myself the following questions:
- Why did Frank want to get away?
- Where did he think he was going?
- What did he want to do when he got there?
And around this time a friend loaned me a book about hamsters which told me that until 1930 all Syrian hamsters (like Frank) had lived wild and free in the deserts of Syria, until a scientist found a mother and her 12 cubs, and bred all the hamsters that we keep as pets today from these original 13. Furthermore, the web sites I visited suggested that hamsters no longer live in the wild, but are now wholly domestic creatures, living in cages in human homes.
So in a relatively short space of time the experience of the hamster race has undergone an epic shift. There are many differences between the experience of living in the desert and the experience of living in a cage
in my front room.
I began to wonder if there was some memory or instinct left in Frank from the time when all hamsters lived wild and free, and whether, in fact, he was actually trying to get back to his ancient territory beneath the Syrian sands.
…And so the first Frank book was born!
The second most frequently asked question by children at readings: how did I get to be a writer?
Well, it all started when I was about seven. I produced a series of what I thought were terrifically good poems about fairies and announced my intention to become an author. The response was disappointing.
“Authoress, you duckhead,” my friend said.
Now at this time I lived seven floors up in a block of flats. I spent much of my time on the balcony, leaning out at dangerous angles and attempting to touch the moon and the stars.
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!
Many harsh things have been said about the tower block estates, some of them by me, but I do remember the vivid sense of being part of the sky. On one occasion, for instance, I saw a massive cloud descending towards earth. The underside of the cloud was heavy and grey, but the top was suffused with light, and I held my breath as the cloud descended, fully expecting to see a part of heaven, and perhaps catch hold of an angel, but sadly it didn’t descend far enough.
I also remember watching the first moon landing on TV, and the series ‘Star Trek’, so that I can honestly say I spent most of my childhood in outer space, moving to Middle Earth when I was about ten. I am still very keen on astronomy, just like Guy.
Also, it is now known that the part of the brain responsible for balance, the cerebellum, affects the development of language, so it is possible that all the hours I spent dangling over my balcony, risking life and limb, had an effect on my literary leanings! But again, this is not something I can recommend.
On a more practical level, I carried on writing in fits and starts, got discouraged with myself for never finishing anything, and eventually when I did finish something, typed it up and sent it to an agent. Or to four agents, in fact, who promptly sent it back. To which I responded in the calm and mature way I encourage in other aspiring writers (flinging myself to the floor and crying loudly). But the fifth agent accepted my novel, and that same week the manuscript of Under a Thin Moon was accepted by two major publishers!
These days I divide my time between writing and teaching at the Manchester Metropolitan University. Watching television programmes about astronomy has replaced my earlier desire to be an intergalactic traveller. I swim to combat my otherwise inactive lifestyle and I read, of course. Most recently I have read Summertime by j M Coetzee and More Than This by Patrick Ness – both fantastic.
Most unusual question I have ever been asked at a reading:
Are you Roald Dahl?