As the paperback is featured in our recent bumper issue, we interview M. A. Kuzniar, author of Midnight In Everwood, about her magical seasonal tale!
1. Midnight In Everwood is a retelling of The Nutcracker. What was it about The Nutcracker that caught your attention for the inspiration for a book?
I love the ballet and I adore Christmas so The Nutcracker has always had a very special place in my heart. When it comes to writing my books, I’m always drawn to the setting first, that’s what gets my imagination ticking and whirring away! So, when I sat down to ponder which fairy tales I wanted to rewrite, The Land of Sweets immediately called to me. It’s such an enchanting and nostalgic place with plenty of whimsy, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I began writing what would become Midnight in Everwood that same day.
2. In a retelling, how did you decide what to take from the source and what to entirely make your own?
I took the iconic elements of The Nutcracker, both settings like the Edwardian family Christmas and the Land of Sweets, and characters like the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince himself, and made sure to include all of them. I also wanted the story to have an element of nostalgia and childlike wonder contained within it as that’s how watching the ballet feels to me, so I added little details like working gingerbread trains chugging along candy cane tracks and miniature reindeer, to conjure those feelings within my readers.
However, my characters are often quite different at heart to those that dance on stage or that can be found in E.T.A Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and my plot is my own, although if you are a fellow lover of The Nutcracker, you will be able to spot little references and Easter Eggs from the ballet in my book!
3. This story is both sugary sweet and darkly sinister at the same time. How did you find striking the balance between the whimsy and this dark undercurrent?
While researching my book, one of the first things I did was read the original story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A Hoffman and I was initially surprised that the kindly, grandfatherly figure of Dr Drosselmeier had very different roots! Hoffman portrayed him as more of a sinister character and I delighted in drawing out this darkness, both in my version of Drosselmeier, and another significant character in Midnight in Everwood. That darker edge undercuts the sugary sweetness and prevents it from being too saccharine – although there’s a frozen sugar palace in Everwood, it’s rotten to the core, and that duality was interesting to play with as a writer.
4. It’s quite a difference to your other book series, The Ship of Shadows, which is for middle grade children. Did you find the writing process very different writing for different audiences and ages?
My writing process is always the same, no matter which age or genre I’m writing for or in. I tend to stick to the same writing routine and write the same amount of drafts no matter what I’m currently writing. Of course, it’s nice that children’s books are a bit shorter but it’s a huge misconception that that makes them easier to write! I love writing for both children and adults and I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to tell more of my stories.
5. Midnight In Everwood has some of my favourite cosy, Christmassy descriptions. What’s your favourite Christmas-time food or drink treat?
Every year I buy a gorgeously indulgent chocolate yule log with a proper fresh cream filling and a thick layer of chocolate buttercream on top, and my husband and I have a couple of slices every weekend in December while watching something festive next to our Christmas tree. I like to add a dollop of Baileys clotted cream if I’m feeling especially decadent. This is a newer tradition but it quickly became a firm favourite!
6. This book is filled with dancing. Is dancing something that means a lot to you?
It does. As I mentioned earlier, I love ballet. It’s always held a special place in my heart and though I take adult beginner classes, I’m not very good at it myself! But there is something especially rewarding about pursuing something that you enjoy, even if you’re terrible at it. It’s very freeing to do something just for the fun of it.
7. What do you most want people to feel or take away from reading Midnight In Everwood?
I believe stories can mean something different to each reader and that’s a beautiful thing. I hope that my readers take away whatever they needed most from Midnight in Everwood, whether that’s the importance of following their dreams, or if they’ve been transported to a magical world, where they’ve enjoyed a slice of delicious escapism.
8. A lot of our readers are also writers or aspiring writers. What did you find was your biggest hurdle in getting published, and how did you overcome it?
Rejection is always difficult, whether that’s from agents you’re querying or editors your agent is submitting your latest book to. Unfortunately, that’s something that crops up again and again in every publishing journey and I don’t think you can overcome it entirely, but you can grow more practised at managing it. It will always sting but you start to develop your own coping mechanisms for dealing with it (I am a big advocate of the 24-hour wallow!), and for me, having some successes here and there helped to balance it all out. As did sudden reminders that you never know what the future holds if you refuse to give up – Midnight in Everwood was first written for younger audiences but it didn’t find a home until I rewrote it for adults.
9. Which is your favourite piece of music from The Nutcracker?
Ooh that’s a hard question! I adore both the Overture and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, but the piece I most often had on repeat while writing my book was The Magic Spell Begins, particularly the part from 4.20 onwards, as it perfectly suited the romance in Midnight in Everwood.
10. Can you tell us anything about any upcoming WIPs?
I will be able to share a lot more very soon, but I have lots of secret projects in the works that I’m very excited about! My next book is like The Great Gatsby meets Swan Lake and it’s very snowy and magical and romantic. It’s set across the 1920s and the cover is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
An extract reading from Midnight In Everwood!
To get more great book recommendations, we have a double helping of our book page in the current bumper issue of The People’s Friend. Available in most major supermarkets and newsagents, or buy online. You can subscribe to The People’s Friend to make sure you never miss out on an issue as they’re delivered straight to your door.
Read more book recommendations from the “Friend”.