Katya Balen chats playing with language in October, October


October, October, written in lyrical prose, is a feast for the senses.

October and her dad live in the woods. They know the trees and the rocks and the lake and stars like best friends. They live in the woods and they are wild. And that’s the way it is. Until the year October turns eleven. That’s the year October rescues a baby owl. It’s the year Dad falls out of the biggest tree in their woods. The year the woman who calls herself October’s mother comes back. The year everything changes…

We had the honour of chatting with Katya Balen on her beautifully written novel

Congratulations on being shortlisted! Can you share with us the inspiration behind the story?

Thank you so much!

The inspiration behind October, October is the fact that my father-in-law does actually live off-grid in 40 acres of woodland. It’s this strange and perfect little pocket of the world, and he grows a lot of his own food, heat his house with a woodburner, makes electricity from solar panels. I love it there, but I also wondered what the impact would be if a child had grown up there and never known a different life.

Why did you pick an owl instead of other animals? What’s the significance behind the owl?

I knew I wanted it to be a bird because they represent a wildness and a freedom that linked to October. They connect the earth and the sky, and in some ways this seemed to connect the idea of where someone truly belongs, and if that can be more than one place, and if different places can make you belong in different ways. I thought about using a crow or a jackdaw, but ultimately an owl just seemed to fit with the setting. I’m not sure I can explain it any better than that!

Your writing is so poetic, even just the fact that October’s parents often call her October, October instead of October makes the words more beautiful. Can you share with us the key to creating such elegant descriptions?

Thank you, that’s such a nice thing to say! I think I try to come up with similes and metaphors that veer away from the expected. I like playing with language and fitting together different words in ways they might not have been used before, and I also find not thinking about what I’m writing often helps new expressions to flow. I think listening to gentle music helps with switching off a certain part of my brain.

The book also features many different typesetting styles. How do you decide where to use them?

I use them to create a certain effect – the idea of space or loneliness or fury or joy. I try not to overuse them though, because then I think the effect dulls.

October, October by Katya Balen (Bloomsbury) has been shortlisted for the 2022 Yoto Carnegie Medal. The winners of the Yoto Carnegie Greenaway Awards 2022 will be announced on 16 June. For more information visit carnegiegreenaway.org.uk.

Grab your copy here.

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