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Five Questions for Patricia Forde

Publishers' Previews

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2017 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Fall Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Photo: Philip Smyth.

In The List, apprentice wordsmith Letta’s duty is maintaining the meager catalogue of utilitarian words approved for use in Ark, the only human settlement to survive global flooding, or “The Melting.”

1. How far into the future do the events of The List take place?

The novel doesn’t say when it takes place for the same reason it never tells you exactly where the story is set: I wanted readers to feel slightly rudderless, just as the characters do.

2. Do you know which five hundred words are on the List?

Yes. In my research I found an online list of the five hundred most-used words in the English language. I swapped some out in order to include story-specific words such as wordsmith. An American linguist I consulted thought that it would be challenging for people to survive on just five hundred words, but not impossible.

3. If you could share one piece of music, literature, or art with Letta, what would it be?

I would have her listen to Pachelbel’s Canon in D, read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and view Monet’s Water Lilies.

4. The List was first published in your native Ireland in 2014. How has the relevance of the book’s environmental and social messages changed since then?

I am even more concerned now about the environment. Things have shifted politically, and not in a positive way. I also think language has become less valued. Things said today can be refuted and changed by their speakers tomorrow, as if the words that were uttered had no value at all.

5. Letta wants to add the word hope back on to the List. Which words do you think will be most important for us moving forward?

Love is a word we can’t be without, now or ever. Community is a word that is losing its power in many places, but it is crucial to our survival. And, finally, welcome would be a great word for any list, with all the trust it implies.

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