Getting Lost Helped V.E. Schwab Find the Idea for Her 20th Book

SHED DREAD Ten years ago, at the suggestion of a friend who is no longer a friend, the fantasy author V.E. Schwab relocated from Nashville to Liverpool, England, where she paid 200 pounds per month to live in an unheated garden shed furnished with a single bed and a metal bar for hanging clothes. There was no plumbing. Her landlord was a former prison warden who also owned a neighboring house that was “benignly haunted” by a man who had lived there for 40 years. Schwab says, “You could literally hear his footsteps moving through the halls and down the stairs a few times a day.”

Understandably, the then 23-year-old seized any opportunity for a change of scenery. One day, she hitched a ride with an acquaintance to the Lake District, where she found herself with a free day in the “very remote, beautiful little village” of Ambleside. She says, “I got purposefully lost, something my mother had always told me to do. You know, don’t get too lost, but don’t go with directions in mind.”

Schwab ended up on a six-hour hike into the hills, where she had an epiphany: “I keenly remember sitting down on top of a very tall rise, damp and tired, and thinking to myself, I bet this is what immortality feels like. I wasn’t lonely, but I was deeply aware of my aloneness in that moment.” She had already published one book, “The Near Witch,” and was working on her second, “The Archive.” Suddenly Schwab started to percolate another idea altogether, about what it would be like to live forever: “By the time I got down from that hill, I had the beginning seeds of an idea. It would take me eight years until I actually had the guts to start writing.”

Those seeds sprouted into Schwab’s 20th book, “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue,” which she describes as “a tale of stubborn hope and defiant joy, about how far we will go to leave a mark on a world that is intent on forgetting us.” The novel is now at No. 4 on the hardcover fiction list.

“It took a full decade. I knew I had one shot at telling this story, and I knew I wasn’t ready, so I’d check in with it every few years,” Schwab says. “I think of an idea like a beautiful glass orb full of light. The act of writing it down is smashing that glass orb against the nearest wall. The act of revising is scooping up those shards and trying to make it vaguely orb-shaped again. You’re always going to lose something in the transmutation from one thing to the other. I was scared of the loss.”

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