Liz Hyder
Photo by Ashleigh Cadet

Liz Hyder is a writer and creative workshop leader. She has been part of Writing West Midlands's Room 204 writer development programme since 2016. In early 2018, she won The Bridge Award/Moniack Mhor's Emerging Writer Award. Bearmouth, her debut novel for young adults, was published by Pushkin Press and won the Branford Boase Award and the Waterstones Children's Book Award for Older Readers. It is also published in America, France, Norway, Italy and the Czech Republic as well as the UK and Commonwealth.

Liz's debut book for adults, The Gifts, is published by Manilla Press (UK) and Sourcebooks (US) and was runner-up of the McKitterick Prize. The Illusions, her second book for adults, published with Manilla Press in 2023. Her new young adult book, The Twelve, is published by Pushkin Press in October 2024.

Liz trained with Spread the Word in London to run creative writing workshops and has since run workshops everywhere from schools and mosques to libraries. She led Writing West Midlands' young writers group, Spark, in Shrewsbury from 2016-19. Previously, she's developed a pilot series with Channel 4 Scotland, collaborated with the E17 Shadow Puppet Theatre for the Cultural Olympiad and been runner-up of the Roy W Dean Writers' Grant (International Writing Award).

As a freelance award-winning PR Consultant working in the arts (publishing, theatre, broadcast and festivals), Liz has worked with household name authors, broadcasters, performers and presenters over the past 15 years. She worked in BBC publicity for six years on everything from EastEnders, Holby and Casualty to Radio 4 and arts TV. Since going freelance, she has been shortlisted for and won various PPC (Publishers' Publicity Circle) Awards. Since 2016, she's been the film co-ordinator at Hay Festival scheduling and organising interviews with the great and good from the worlds of literature, science, history, politics and more.

A past member of the National Youth Theatre, Liz has a BA in Drama from the University of Bristol and is on the board of Wales Arts Review. Originally from North-East London, she has lived in South Shropshire for over a decade.

Q&A with Liz

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Anywhere and everywhere! The initial seed of the idea that was to become Bearmouth came from a trip down Llanfair Slate Caverns in North Wales. I came face-to-face with some of the horrors of what it was really like for children to work in that environment day after day and it set me on a path that led to my creation of a fictional Victorian-esque coal-mine in which, like the pit ponies, the workers both live and work in this dark, dangerous and oppressive environment.

For The Gifts, the idea first came about from an image that I had of a woman, alone in the woods not far from where I live in Shropshire, growing wings from her back. It’s a visceral and shocking image as well as extraordinarily beautiful. Bearmouth is an intense first-person narrative set in a very enclosed space and I wanted to write something very different after it, a story told on a much grander scale with women at its heart. I wanted to write something that was both historical fiction in a world that feels entirely real but with an element of the unreal, imagined history if you like.

Who are your favourite authors?

I genuinely believe that we are in a golden age of storytelling at the moment not just in books but in TV, film and theatre too. It feels churlish to pick as there are so many authors who I admire and that inspire me. My favourite authors for children and young people at the moment would definitely include Michelle Paver, Philip Reeve, Eowyn Ivey, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Marcus Sedgwick, Frances Hardinge, Katya Balen and Catherine Johnson to name but a few! I love illustrators and artists too, particularly the works of Jackie Morris, William Grill, Chris Riddell and Nadia Shireen but I recently discovered Halima Cassell’s extraordinarily beautiful sculptures, I could gaze at them all day making up stories about each and every one of them. I will read anything and everything by Daisy Johnson, Robert Macfarlane, David Sedaris, Derren Brown (trust me, he’s one of the wittiest writers around) and Natalie Haynes, incredible word-weavers and storytellers all. I have a big soft spot for TV too, particularly anything by or starring Michaela Coel or written by Sally Wainwright, Stefan Golaszewski or Russell T Davies. There are tons of fantastic writers for the stage at the moment too, writers like Hannah Khalil and Rabiah Hussain.

What do you do in your spare time?

I’ve got a rather unruly garden and I love spending time pottering in it, it’s a work in progress and probably always will be. I also love long walks in the hills. I’m lucky that, from my front door, I can be out in quiet country lanes in under a quarter of an hour. I’ve always been interested in nature and wildlife and to be able to get much-needed thinking time whilst surrounded by interesting wildlife and beautiful views is a real luxury — I do try and make the most of it. I also listen to music a lot, anything from Ezra Furman and Rozi Plain to Cate Le Bon and Michael Kiwanuka. I love old trad jazz and some of the 40s dance bands too and I find going to see live performances of anything — music, theatre, performance art — really inspiring. I've recently started drawing again too, using ink brushes. My friend Naomi believes that the more art forms you engage with, the more your own creativity blossoms. I think that's true — I hope so anyway!

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Everyone always says to read and write a lot — I think that’s true but only up to a point. I’d also suggest that you might want to evaluate what you like and don’t like — why didn’t you like that TV series? What was it about that character that made you feel cold towards them? What made you fall in love with that other character? The more questions that you ask of how and why you react in a certain way, the better you will become at evaluating and editing your own work. I also think that you should look up and out too, look at storytellers and writers in different genres, read and watch outside of your comfort zone, listen to lyrics, watch poets perform, explore unfamiliar landscapes. Stories come in many shapes and sizes and the more you allow yourself to absorb different art-forms, the wider your influences will be.