How I Made Mattie Gokey

As I was emptying out my old house last month, I came across material I used when writing A Northern Light. It was like bumping into an old friend after a long absence, and I just had to sit down and visit for a bit.

Writing historical fiction means knowing your way around a lot of names and dates, acts and treaties. But if you really want to reach back and clasp hands with the ghosts, you need more – you need to know the songs those ghosts sang, the jokes they told, the novels they loved and the math books they hated. (Looking at you, Ms. Gokey!) You need to see them not as we do – from a distance of centuries, blurred by assumptions and generalizations – but as they saw themselves.

Chasing those ghosts is the hardest, and the best, part of the job.


  1. Sandi Augustine says:

    Hello- I just finished reading A Northern Light . I loved it! What a clever way to incorporate history, mystery, and women’s quest for knowledge and a place in society other than a child bearer ,cook, & wife.
    I loved the way you used words from the dictionary as chapter headings and also used them appropriately in telling the story. It was a very clever way of telling Mattie’s story.
    I enjoyed learning about customs back then and some of the old fashioned vocabulary.
    I was so glad that Mattie [SPOILER] – she so deserved it.
    I am so glad I discovered you and am looking forward to reading all of your books!
    Bravo to you !
    Have a happy and safe fall season.
    Sincerely, Sandi Augustine

    • Jennifer Donnelly says:

      Thank you so much, Sandi! (I hope you don’t mind that I made a small edit to your nice comment — you had a bit of a spoiler in there!!) 😉

  2. Lorna Sugden says:

    hi Jennifer,
    I read this story (a gatheing light in the uk) shortly before givng birth to my first child. It left me with enormous respect for the midwives that looked after me. I will always love this book, thank you!
    Lorna Sugden, UK.

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