WHY I WROTE CORALINE M ORE THAN TEN YEARS
ago I started to write a children’s book. It was for my daughter,
Holly, who was five years old. I wanted it to have a girl as a heroine, and I wanted it to be
When I was a boy I lived in a house that had been made when a larger house had been divided
up. The irregular shape of the house meant that one door of the house opened onto a stark brick
wall. I would open it from time to time, always suspicious that one day the brick wall would be
gone, and a corridor would be there instead.
I started to write a story about a girl named Coraline. I thought that the story would be five or ten
pages long. The story itself had other plans.
We moved to America. The story, which I had been writing in my own time, between things that
people were waiting for, ground to a halt.
Years passed. One day I looked up and noticed that Holly was now in her teens, and her younger
sister, Maddy, was the same age Holly had been when I had started it for her. I sent the story so
far to Jennifer Hershey, my editor at HarperCollins. She read it. “I love it,” she said. “What
I suggested she give me a contract, and we would both find out. She agreed enthusiastically.
I bought a notebook, and started to write in it. It sat on my bedside table, and for the next couple
of years I would scrawl fifty words, sometimes a hundred words, every night, before I went to
sleep. A three-day train journey across America was an opportunity to work, uninterrupted, on
Coraline. Getting stuck on American Gods, a long novel I was working on, gave me the
opportunity I needed to finish Coraline’s story. A year later I wrote a chapter I had meant to
write but had never got around to, and Coraline was finished.
Where it all came from—the other mother with her button eyes, the rats, the hand, the sad voices
of the ghost-children—I have no real idea. It built itself and told itself, a word at a time.
A decade before, I had begun to write the story of Coraline, who was small for her age, and
would find herself in darkest danger. By the time I finished writing, Coraline had seen what lay
behind mirrors, and had a close call with a bad hand, and had come face-to-face with her other
mother; she had rescued her true parents from a fate worse than death and triumphed against
It was a story, I learned when people began to read it, that children experienced as an adventure,
but which gave adults nightmares. It’s the strangest book I’ve written, it took the longest time to
write, and it’s the book I’m proudest of.