Ginny and Penelope Skinner’s Briony Hatch is a warm and wickedly funny graphic novel about a (temporarily) displaced teen who tries to escape reality by immersing herself in fantasy fiction while her parents’ marriage crumbles and her so-called friends obsess about boys and self-image. Mark Reynolds fires off some questions about the book and the sisters’ wider projects.
How did Briony Hatch come about? How long did it take to complete, and what pitfalls or wrong turns did you encounter along the way?
We’d done lots of short graphic stories together, and self-published a longer three-part story. We decided we felt ready to work on a full-length novel, and this coincided with a conversation with Limehouse Books. We made Briony Hatch in a relatively short time, over the space of around two years in total from initial idea to publication. Our pitfalls have previously been a tendency to over-complicate, for example once we made a short story which we decided should also be a puzzle. It was neither an interesting story nor a pleasing puzzle. When we made Briony Hatch, we kept reminding each other to “keep it simple” and that mostly kept us on the right track.
To what extent did you develop the stories in the Starling Black series that preoccupies Briony?
We created the basics of a fantasy series that we knew we’d have been obsessed with as teenagers. It’s inspired by a kind of combination of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels and Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series. The chapters of Briony Hatch are named after the titles of the Starling Black novels, but we don’t have the whole series stashed in a drawer somewhere ready to send to Bloomsbury. Though we haven’t ruled that out as a future project…
What are the closing lines in the final Starling Black book?
“And so at last and together they reached the final pinnacle; the summit of the highest peak. There were no words between them and yet nothing was left unsaid. Their souls spoke to one another in a new language. Starling knew that this moment had been waiting for them, and that it would continue to exist long after their mortal vessels had moved on from this place. As it had always been prophesied: because they came here in her destiny.”
So many… here’s a list of some: Lord of the Rings; Magic Kingdom for Sale/Sold series; Dark is Rising; Dragonlance; the computer games Dungeon Master and Monkey Island; Wizard of Earthsea; Conan the Barbarian; anything by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman…
Who did you used to pretend to be?
Long after we should have stopped pretending to be anyone, we’d act out the Inigo Montoya-Westley swordfighting scene from The Princess Bride. We knew all the words and all the moves (we used rulers). We also had our own secret society with our cousins. We were called ‘The Dahoojii’, we each had our own kingdoms and we were notorious for our cunning. We once wrote to Terry Pratchett to ask him to write a book about us. The next book he published was called Small Gods, which we were convinced was going to be about us. It wasn’t.
Did you make stories together when you were growing up?
Yes. But we didn’t necessarily always know they were stories… see above.
How many of the Harry Potter books have you read, and at what age should people stop reading them?
Penny – Four. I stopped reading them because they got too heavy to carry on the tube, but I might go back to them.
Ginny – I’ve read them all, and I’m going to read them to my kids.
You are never too old to read any book. And you should never stop reading.
Are you in a better place today than when you were 15?
Being 15 is tough in its own particular way. The self-consciousness which comes with puberty means you spend a lot of energy trying to pass yourself off as ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’. By the time you’re an adult, no matter how hard things get, you’ve learned that no one feels ‘normal’, everyone’s just pretending.
What do you find most boring about being an adult?
“Reading a fantasy novel is not an acceptable alternative to getting shitfaced and shagging boys” according to Briony’s official best friend Julia Bridges. Do you suppose she’d ever change her mind about that?
Hopefully Julia and Briony will each get their fair share of both reading novels and shagging, in their own time. They are just at different stages.
Briony is diagnosed with “calcification of the pineal gland”. Why did you pick that particular complaint, and what is the remedy?
Because the mysterious pineal gland is believed to be connected to the Third Eye. The remedy is humming, fiction, and limiting your intake of fluoride.
You’ve been developing a TV series called Golden Hill for Objective Productions and Channel 4. How far down the line is it?
We are about 18 months into a development process, and have recently handed in the final draft of a pilot script. We are currently waiting to hear if it that pilot will be made next year.
How would you pitch (or how have you pitched) the series in 25 words or less?
X Files meets Educating Essex.
What else are you working on individually?
Ginny – I am working on my solo graphic novel White Stag; planning an exhibition of my paintings for next year, and writing a computer game called Revenations.
Penny – I am hoping to finish two play commissions before the end of year, as well as working on Mary Stuart, a film about… Mary Stuart. And a film script of my play The Village Bike.
What else are you working on together?
We are working on a pitch for a new TV idea, and are already planning our next graphic novel.
Penny, will you be involved in the production of The Village Bike in New York next spring (starring Maggie Gyllenhaal1)? And will you be at the première?
Yes, I hope to go out to New York for some of the rehearsals and for press night.
You were also a writer on Kevin Macdonald’s blockbuster adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. How would you summarise that experience?
How I Live Now was my first experience writing film, and I think I was really lucky in that it has actually got made, and seeing it on the big screen is amazing.
Finally, please each draw a picture of your sister in the style of Briony Hatch.
Ginny by Penny (right): Here is what Ginny would look like as drawn by Briony Hatch.
Briony Hatch is published by Limehouse Books.
Mark Reynolds is a freelance editor and writer and a co-founder of Bookanista.
1 Maggie Gyllenhaal has since withdrawn from the project, and the lead role will now be performed by Frances Ha‘s Greta Gerwig