Why I Bought The Snow Child by Mary-Anne Harrington (Eowyn’s UK Editor)

To celebrate the publication of the paperback of The Snow Child, Headline have invited me to host some exclusive content as part of Snow Day. Below is an account from Eowyn Ivey’s UK Editor, Mary-Anne Harrington about why she commissioned the novel. The Snow Child is a brilliant book and my REVIEW tells you why.

To anyone who asks me why I bought THE SNOW CHILD, I have two answers.  The first is pretty short: well, who wouldn’t?  It’s a true original, a one off, every inch the sort of book I went into publishing to work on.  Now that I know Eowyn at least a little I can see that it is a story that no one but she could have told, deeply rooted in her own very personal relationship with Alaska.  And readers spot this immediately – there’s that lovely thrill of discovery as you read it, which means you want to talk about it and pass it on the moment you finish it, if not before.

And the long version? Well, commissioning fiction is at times a deeply personal activity, informed by our extra-curricular reading and worlds.  And when Andrea Walker, who was then working on the Reagan Arthur imprint of our sister company, Little, Brown, in the US, sent me Eowyn’s manuscript back in 2010, she could not have sent it to an editor more primed to fall for it.  At that stage Andrea was very much under the spell and hoping to put together an offer speedily, so I knew I needed to read it quickly – not easy, as it was the evening the Orange Prize for fiction was announced.  So I dropped everything to simply read it in the office, an indulgence we editors very rarely permit ourselves.

When I finally allowed myself to succumb, I was amazed to find that this story resonated with me on so many levels.  First and foremost, although THE SNOW CHILD is a very different book in tone, it reminded me of the passion with which I had devoured Angela Carter’s books in my teens, particularly THE BLOODY CHAMBER, which my mother gave to me.  And there were also echoes of Willa Cather’s MY ANTONIA, which I had loved in my twenties for its sense of a wild and untamed landscape.

Unexpectedly, the books it echoed most closely, for me, were two illustrated children’s books I had been reading with my son.  OX CART MAN by Donald Hall describes with poetic economy a year in the life of a nineteenth-century homestead, and THE TOMTEN by Astrid Lindgren conjures a farm in the depths of a frozen winter, through which walks a magical little being, whispering to the children and animals of the promise of spring.  I’m not sure Eowyn has encountered these books – she has written widely about how her discovery of LITTLE DAUGHTER OF THE SNOW by Freya Littledale, a retelling of the Russian Snegurochka myth, was what got her started on Jack and Mabel’s story.  However, I have always loved the fact that her original inspiration came from a children’s book.  THE SNOW CHILD is very much a novel for adults, and its portrayal of the marriage at its heart is psychologically complex and wholly convincing – but the simplicity and directness which give it much of its power seems drawn directly from the best children’s fiction.

One of the most moving things about THE SNOW CHILD is the way Eowyn is able to conjure the double-edged nature of parenthood – the joy, but also the sense of foreboding, that the child who has been entrusted to your care is not, ultimately, your own.  Fairytales are stories to be shared on dark nights around a fireside, alive to the possibility of sadness, and yet lit with magic and hope.  This is precisely what THE SNOW CHLD offers, and why I think it has such a universal quality.  It’s also why I dare to hope that this is a book that will stand the test of time, and even be passed down from one generation to the next.  Perhaps it’s too early to talk of that sort of longevity, but it’s certainly a thrill to be publishing it in paperback today, and to know that this unique story is once again poised to find a place in new readers’ hearts.

2 thoughts on “Why I Bought The Snow Child by Mary-Anne Harrington (Eowyn’s UK Editor)

  1. Lindsay

    It’s lovely to read about how the editor fell in love with the book, and started it off on its journey to us, the readers. And I agree, it’s very exciting to think how many new readers will pick up the paperback today and in the coming weeks, and discover it for the first time!


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