Saturday, 17 December 2016

Strange Changes: an interview with Lu Hersey

Lu Hersey's debut novel, Deep Water, won the MsLexia 2012 Children's Novel Writing Award, in advance of its publication, and has since been well-received by readers and critics. The story is inspired by Celtic mythology and teenage transitional angst, both embodied by its protagonist Danni, a teenage girl with a fairly unremarkable background who is unaware of a fairly remarkable secret about her past. The story starts with a mysterious disappearance and appears to be a crime drama, then a creeping strangeness begins to pervade events as Danni deals with changes - both internal and external. Lu Hersey talks to Remy Dean about her inspirations and approaches to writing contemporary magical realism for the youth of today...

Lu Hersey, rooted in the past, looking to the future...
Deep Water has been described as a cross between The Wicker Man and Susan Cooper – would you say it falls within the ‘Folk Horror’ genre?

The story has a strong folkloric element, certainly, but I’ve never thought of it as horror. I’d describe it more as ‘kitchen sink paranormal’, if such a genre exists! However, I’m immensely flattered to have any comparison with Susan Cooper, and I guess there’s a fair bit of Wicker Man type stuff going on in the background too… Maybe it’s ‘Folk Horror’ after all and I just didn’t realise it?

You open Deep Water with a quote from Joseph Campbell - I teach A-Level Media Studies and we look at his Hero’s Journey ideas in relation to narrative structures.

Joseph Campbell is one of my heroes – though it was only after I’d written the book that I realised Deep Water fitted neatly into the twelve-point Hero’s Journey narrative structure!

What did you learn from him and how did you apply it?

When writing, I was actually more inspired by Campbell’s theory that we - as in the human race - created myths to explain things we don’t fully understand, but ‘know’ deep in our subconscious. I was also very drawn to his - and Jung’s - ideas on universal archetypes, and wanted to use the shapeshifter archetype as an extended metaphor for the changes everyone experiences in adolescence - Danni transforming to her selkie form reflects the massive physical and emotional changes all teens experience in puberty…

This is beginning to sound strangely like I had a master plan and knew what I was doing! The truth is I’ve always loved the selkie myth and just wanted to explore ways to bring it into a contemporary setting.

Why do you think contemporary teenagers are still interested in old folklore and myths?

I think teenagers are drawn to stories that explore all things dark and inexplicable, and of course many myths do exactly that. Campbell felt it was important to keep myths alive, while adapting them to suit the times we live in, and I think he’s right. There are some brilliant takes on ancient myth coming out right now. Claire Mcfall’s Ferryman and Julia Gray’s The Otherlife, for starters…

What were you reading when you were the age of your readership?

I read loads of different stuff, like most teenagers, ranging from Dickens to Marvel comics. But I was really drawn to writers like Tolkien, Alan Garner and Susan Cooper – and my all time favourite, Ursula Le Guin.

Who have been your favourite authors, and what makes them stand out to you?

That’s a really tough question! To make it simpler, I’ll stick with favourite authors of teen and children’s books…

Most recently I’ve particularly enjoyed books by Maria Turtschaninoff, S F Said, Suzanne Collins, Eugene Lambert, David Hofmeyr and Julie Bertagna - all very different, but each with the ability to create amazing worlds that you can totally believe in.

I also love the work of Sara Crowe, Holly Black and Anna McKerrow - weaving folklore and magic into their writing in a really engaging way. And I can’t possibly compile a list of favourite authors that doesn’t include David Almond, J K Rowling, Frances Hardinge and Neil Gaiman…

Outside fantasy and SF genres, I love writers who create beautifully written, gripping stories with characters you can really relate to, such as Liz Flanagan with Eden Summer, Fox Benwell - writing as Sarah Benwell - with Last Leaves Falling, and Clare Furniss with The Year of the Rat.

Deep Water is your debut novel and was remarkably well-received – how has this affected your attitude to writing and your approach to the follow-up, Broken Ground?

In some ways it’s given me the confidence to believe I’ve done it once, so surely I can do it again – though on a bad day I get terrible impostor syndrome and think maybe everyone made a big mistake…

I still haven’t completely finished my next book, Broken Ground - I must be on at least draft ten, by now! I honestly have no idea if anyone will like it when I’ve finished. I hope so…

Can you tell us about your writing process, do you have a regular regimen?

If only! I have a day-job working in a library, so writing time is limited and should be well structured - but of course it isn’t. Some weeks I’m compelled to write and manage 2000 words a day, then other times I struggle to get 300 words out in a week. I can’t do this thing of ‘just sit down and write, it doesn’t matter so long as you’re writing’ - it matters to me. What’s the point of writing 5000 words of total drivel? I’m hard on myself and edit constantly as I go along, even though I know it would be sensible to write a complete draft, however crap, and edit later.

I try and plan the whole book at the beginning, but that doesn’t entirely work either. The characters have a life of their own and take the plot away from the plan all the time - but I still find it useful to have an idea of what happens. I always know the beginning and the end, but the middle morphs and changes a lot.

Research seems to play an important part?

Yes, I’m nerdy about getting detail right, so I do a lot of research into all aspects of the story. Landscape, myth, history, folklore, magic…

Some of my research is probably just procrastination, especially stuff like compiling images on Pinterest - which I love - but a fair amount feeds into my subconscious and I weave it into the story later.

As an editor of The Scrawl, I was aware of a deficit of female writers in our content, but with this year’s overarching focus on YA fantasy authors, we seem to be redressing the balance… Historically, there have been Edith Nesbit, Philippa Pearce, Susan Cooper. Angela Carter, Tanith Lee… I suppose we could start the list with Mary Shelley! And now we have the likes of J K Rowling, Angie Sage, Stephenie Meyer, to name but a very few. 

I want to ask about your thoughts on gender and fantasy – do you perceive a difference in masculine and feminine approaches to the genre?

Yes, sometimes - but not always. If the author name wasn’t on the cover, could you guess the gender of the writer? It’s a very interesting exercise to read manuscripts without knowing. I help sift short stories for the Bristol Short Story Prize, where all entries are anonymous (the writer is allotted a number), and I can often correctly guess the gender of the writer – but sometimes I’m totally surprised. I think this transfers to all forms of writing, including fantasy/SF genres.

Obviously, winning the MsLexia award must have been a thrill and is of course a notable achievement - it is what drew you to our attention. I am reminded of Georgia O’Keeffe’s comment about being called, “the best woman painter,” by a critic, and being offended by this differentiation. I know this could be provocative, but by ‘compete’ I also imply that fair competition requires a ‘level playing field’ to start with - so, does excluding male writers from the running simply acknowledge that women are unable to compete with male counterparts? 

I don’t think it’s about women not being able to compete with male counterparts - it’s more a confidence issue. Women often perceive themselves as somehow not good enough - even when they obviously are - and might not even consider entering a competition where they don’t think they stand a chance. For the same reason, you find most creative writing MA courses, or similar, have far more women students than men. Men generally believe in themselves and their abilities more than women do. Hopefully this will change over time.

And having said all of that, of course I wish that the competition had been open to everyone and that I’d won it anyway…

When did you know you were a writer? …and why did you pursue an MA?

I realised I was - potentially - a writer at primary school, when I found it much easier than other children in the class to write the script for the school play - it was only a puppet theatre thing. I loved writing the dialogue, and was genuinely surprised that no one else seemed to find it that easy.

Years later, I worked as an advertising copywriter, and although it paid reasonably well, it felt a bit like a Faustian pact, using my writing soul just to help sell stuff no one really needs. Writing commercial content for Tesco and similar companies wasn’t what I wanted to write at all, but I couldn’t see a way out. In the end I decided that in order to change direction and write a novel - which I’d always wanted to do, I had to give myself a really expensive deadline to force myself to do it - so I applied for the Creative Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Which reminds me, I should have included Julia Green, the wonderful course leader, in my favourite writers! Great stories, really beautifully written.

As a relatively ‘new novelist’, what advice would you share with aspiring writers of YA fantasy?

Possibly the same advice I’d give to any new writer, whatever the genre – that it’s really worth getting good quality feedback from an early stage. It’s a long, difficult road to publication and once you’ve got going, writing courses, such as those run by the Arvon Foundation or the Golden Egg Academy, are invaluable for improving your writing, finding inspiration, and meeting other writers.

If possible, do an MA in creative writing! At the very least, find a critique group that will be honest about your writing and where it needs improving. You don’t always have to take the advice, but working in a vacuum isn’t easy.

Thank you Lu Hersey for your considered responses

Lu Hersey was talking with Remy Dean

More info and updates at Lu Hersey's own weblog

Friday, 28 October 2016

Jonathan Stroud, Free Thinker

Jonathan Stroud is one of the UK's foremost writers of fantasy and supernatural fiction, for younger adults. Actually, that last bit is redundant. He is one of the leading voices in fantasy and supernatural fiction. Full stop. Since his debut novel in 1999, Buried Fire, he has created two well-loved and successful books series: the epic Bartimaeus Sequence of four books (so far) - following the millennia-spanning escapades of an ancient, wise-cracking djinni, and the Lockwood & Co. series - about a ghost- and ghoul-hunting hero in a  parallel paranormal version of Britain. What sets his stories aside is an easy, yet solid and well-paced style, along with consistently intriguing content born of a sophisticated imagination. There is always adventure, plenty of action, and genuine 'laugh-out-loud' moments of humour. 

Jonathan Stroud
With Halloween upon us, Jonathan Stroud talks to Remy Dean about writing and other forms of magic, as well as parenting and allowing children the Freedom to Think... 

REMY: I have been a creative arts lecturer to young adults in the 14 – 19 age range, for 16 years, and a father for 11 years... I have witnessed education veering away from any emphasis on creativity it may have once had. Creative subjects have become much more criteria-based to enable educationalists with dominant left-hemispheres to test and quantify creatives with highly functioning right-hemispheres.

With the introduction of tests for our children from 6 upwards - we now test and grade our children more than any other country. SATs for 11-year-olds are getting tougher and the level and density of A-Level content has increased dramatically. It seems to me that education is not only geared to emphasise non-creative subjects and actively suppress creative ones - the recent axing of Art History is a case-in-point, but also to create low self-esteem through early and repeated failure - and so discourage the pursuit of further and higher education, without mentioning the fees, loans, and so on…

Can you tell us a little bit about the ‘Freedom to Think’ initiative and how it fits into, compliments or challenges this contemporary model of education?

JONATHAN: My recent experience of education is from the outside, watching my two oldest children - currently 12 and 9 - as they seek to balance the demands of school with their own creative impulses. Already, they’re having to wrestle with homework, exams and tests, and I can see how these threaten to overwhelm their energies - at times you can see their creative verve wilting… though it always reasserts itself. As a parent I’m torn between wanting them to do well academically, and being determined to keep their creative fire alive.

My own career as an author has its roots in the writing, drawing. imagining that I did throughout my schooldays. I managed to sustain my creativity alongside all the academic work, but I think the pressures on children have increased markedly since. Freedom to Think is a response to this: it doesn’t in itself seek to overturn contemporary trends in education, but it does aim to promote the idea of a regular ‘breathing space’ for children, a time when they can drift, let their minds wander and (if they wish) follow their own creative paths. It’s in such moments that you are most likely to discover what really excites you, and thus who you really are.

Jonathan Stroud talking about 'Freedom to Think' at the Oxford Literary Festival,
earlier this year - click image for more info and another interview with Jonathan
Whist on the subject of parenting… how has being a father changed you - as a man and as a writer? How do you find the time, for one thing?

Ha ha! Time is certainly the most precious commodity for all writers, and having a newish small baby doesn’t exactly help… but that’s more than counterbalanced by the sudden opening up of new perspectives – on the world in general, and on you and your role in it. When you become a father you suddenly understand your own parents more clearly; you have a sudden revelation about your own mortality, and, to balance that, how parenthood is the nearest you’ll ever get to ensuring your own immortality. Profound stuff, if you can stomach the 5 a.m. awakenings…

Evidently, all those present enjoyed the panel you hosted at the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this year, where you encouraged your guests to talk about their approach to writing, though you did not discuss your own… I realise you have already been generous with such info on your website - particularly the origins of Bartimaeus. Do you have any writing rituals or regimen and have they changed with success?

I think being a successful writer - as with many jobs generally - relies on establishing a regular, predictable work pattern, in which you know what is required of you and you more or less force yourself to do it. Since going freelance 14 years ago, I’ve attempted to write a certain number of pages per day when I’m in the throes of a book. I usually fail, but the attempt galvanises me, and ensures a steady output. My own environment is incredibly tedious – study, silence, cups of tea, the minimum of distraction. All the excitement happens on the page.

What would you say were the main considerations when writing for a Young Adult audience and do they differ from other forms of mainstream fiction?

In principle writing Young Adult fiction should be no different from fiction generally, except that you perhaps have a slightly higher bar to attain, young readers being rather more critical and choosy than adult ones! I always seek to write something that the 12-year-old me would have loved, and which also pleases my jaded middle-aged self. If you can manage that dual perspective, you’re on to a winner.

What age is your typical reader, and what were you reading at that age?

I want my readers to range from 8 to 88, or more… so I aim for clarity of story-telling and for variety of content. When I was 12, I was in the throes of reading masses of whopping fantasy series. A couple of years on, I realised that most of them were sub-Tolkien and not really any good, so - despite writing it - I don’t read that much fantasy these days.

How did you research the Bartimaeus books? Your description of Prague and Golden Lane sound like you visited the locations.

I did visit Prague for a couple of days way back when I was inter-railing around Europe at the start of the 1990s. I loved the city, and was fascinated by many of its locations, including the Jewish Cemetery, the castle and the old alchemists’ quarter in Golden Lane. When I came to write Bartimaeus 10 years or more later, it was easy to seize upon it as a good location. Most of my research comes of general reading of myth, legend and folklore down the years.

…and your knowledge of Qabalistic Ritual seemed fairly well-informed – I recall an account written by Aleister Crowley about his attempt to summon Choronzon, I think, and the entity - from his subconscious - the Other Place, wherever - was bantering in order to put him off, telling crude jokes and trying to throw sand over the lines of his magic circle to break out...

Do you have any belief in, or experience of, High Magick or aspects of the supernatural?

I’m remarkably, and probably fortunately, wholly unacquainted with the supernatural in any immediate sense, but having read Dr Faustus, the Arabian Nights and sundry folktales in which wizards have perilous dealings with devils, demons and other dubious types, it was good fun to mix a lot of this material into the Bartimaeus stories. The trick for me was to do it mainly from the djinni’s perspective, which undercuts the potential pomposity of the magicians and their ritualistic traditions.

Do you see links between magic and creativity?

I believe that Crowley was a - bad? - poet. The Romantic literary tradition was all about invoking and corralling the power of nature, and I guess many self-styled magicians were trying to do the same. People like Yeats certainly tried both methods. Earlier, Renaissance magicians such as Dr John Dee sought to invoke power through magical ritual, but also through the more rigorous methods of mathematics and science. On a prosaic, personal level, there is something magic about producing a bit of writing that didn’t exist before: but that ‘magic’ has its roots in long hours and hard work!

When I was reading the Bartimaeus books out loud, I found it helped to channel ‘Hacker’ - from CBBC - to get his mode of address… Do you ‘cast’ your books and did you expect Bartimaeus to have a Wigan accent?

Ha-ha! For me, Bart more or less had my voice, so he was a bit more home-counties! But you’re absolutely right that the voice was the core of him – he changed his shape repeatedly, so the way he talked was the one consistent thing. I don’t tend to ‘cast’ my books as I write them – to see a character as a particular actor risks skewing them out of true.

Pages from the graphic adaptation of the first novel in
the Bartimaeus Sequence : The Amulet of Samarkand
- click image for a look at how the comic was made -
I also enjoyed the Graphic Novel adaptation of The Amulet of Samarkand – are there any other graphic adaptations on the way? And what of films?

I’m glad you liked it! I think the adaptor [Andrew Donkin] and artist [Lee Sullivan with colours by Nicholas Chaplis] did a terrific job with it. There are no immediate plans for another graphic novel, though we’d all love to do one. It depends a bit on whether we get the Bartimaeus movie, which is still out there, being discussed, but hasn’t yet quite come off. I’m crossing my fingers that it’ll happen one day…

The ‘Freedom to Think’ event was focussed on early creative experiences and I think you may have answered this question during it: What was the first book you can remember reading that really absorbed you and carried you away to another place?

It’s hard to say what the very first one was. Put it this way - in my mum’s loft I discovered a version of Robin Hood and the Silver Arrow - which was a cool Ladybird book - that I’d written and drawn when I was about 5 on old pieces of wallpaper, so that story must be a contender!

Do you have a favourite book, or one you have returned to more than once?

It’s difficult to pick one out. One of my all-time faves is Treasure Island, which I regard as the fountainhead from which all YA fiction springs. It certainly has everything I’d aspire to: great story, exciting narrative, fantastic characters, beautifully written. What’s not to love?

Who have been your favourite authors and what have you learnt from them?

Italo Calvino, in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, extolled certain literary virtues, among them Lightness, Swiftness, Exactitude. Folk tales and fairy tales have these qualities, as Calvino well knew, and I think the writers I most admire all have them to some extent, as well as humour. My favourite fantasy writer, who survived my disillusionment, mid-teens, is Jack Vance, and I thoroughly recommend his Lyonesse and Dying Earth novels for some light, but magical, entertainment. In my ghost-story writing mode - I’ve been writing about ghosts for my Lockwood & Co. series for the last few years - I venerate the great M R James, the master of the English supernatural tale.

The Creeping Shadow is the fourth book in the
Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud
Well, as it is Samhain, can you tell us anything about your latest spooky book?

The latest Lockwood book is The Creeping Shadow, and features lots of spooky adventure, daring heroism and good jokes. A must for all the family!

Thank you, Jonathan Stroud!

Thank you! It was a pleasure.

-  Jonathan Stroud was talking to Remy Dean

For more Jonathan Stroud news and  info, 
check out his Official Website 

Click the Recruitment ad. below for an excellent Lockwood & Co. Case Book  (PDF)
filled with activities and resources, courtesy of World Book Day

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Red Sparrow Writers Brought to Book: Remy Dean, Kim Vertue and Zel Cariad

The Red Sparrow Press is a new publisher promising us 'great books for young aviators of the imagination' and will be launching their first titles later this year. A few weeks ago, The Scrawl found three Red Sparrow writers in one place - at the Sci-Fi Wales convention, in North Wales - two veteran authors and one brand-new voice… So, for this special edition of our regular Brought to Book section, we asked Remy Dean, Kim Vertue and Zel Cariad about the words that have influenced, inspired and entertained them over the years.

Kim Vertue, enyoying an ice cream at The Dragon Café
Remy Dean, kissing The Red Sparrow during a reading at Plas Tan y Bwlch
What was the first book you can remember reading that really absorbed you and carried you off elsewhere?

Remy: That would be Elephant Adventure by Willard Price. I can remember sitting in school, during a reading class and I was at the back reading a book of my choice. It was the first time that the words I was reading disappeared and I started seeing what I was reading instead. I was in the jungle and then I heard the teacher’s voice calling my name, because it was my turn to go the front of class to do the reading test. It was like being pulled out from a dream. That’s when I first had an inkling of the magic of good story-writing. I then devoured the whole Adventure series over the next few years, in the right order, some of them I read more than once. I named my first goldfish Hal and Roger after the Hunt brothers in the books.

Before that, I had the Paddington books read to me and they were great. My brother used to finish reading one and we would go straight round the library for the next.

Zel: Black Beauty, it was an abridged version, I can’t remember the story that well. I enjoyed being able to read it and I remember it was good and had a horse in it.

Kim: Heidi was the first book I read entirely on my own and enjoyed in a spirited away sense.  We lived among the slag heaps of the St Helens coal and glass-making industries, so the idea of all those big mountains captured my imagination.  Also it focusses a lot on learning to read, the magic of how those words suddenly start to make sense and come alive.  I liked the idea of sleeping in a hayloft, eating grilled goats cheese and looking after goats too.

The Narnia books were great too.  Our teacher read the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to the class and I read the Silver Chair on my own straight way.  I liked the misfit heroes involved - Puddleglum of course – and the insight into the common fairy tale idea of being enchanted.  It was very difficult to break the enchantment of the silver chair and, for once, free a Prince rather than a Princess. I read the rest of the Narnia books in quick succession after that and I think Voyage of the Dawn Treader remains my favourite.

I loved Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby which I read when I was about ten.  It struck me as a more ‘grown up’ book even though it was in a learn to read series, and it was so clear yet poetic in its description of the Australian bush that I have wanted to visit there for real ever since!  I also love the way the speed and strength and sheer exhuberance of Thowra, the Silver Brumby, is described.  It reflects the way you feel as a kid when you just have to run everywhere and you feel pretty darn invincible.

Do you have a favourite book, perhaps that you have returned to more than once over the years?

Zel: All the My Little Pony book series, I probably have read Rainbow Dash and the Daring Do Double Dare a few times, and also the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic comics, the first four-parter, The Return of Queen Chrysalis, and Zen and the Art of Gazebo Repair are my favourite stories… Princess Luna’s continually changing T-shirts! Ha, ha… ‘Best!’

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Panels from The Return of Queen Chrysalis (left)
and Zen and the Art of Gazebo Repair 
I really love my Dragonology books! The Field Guide to Dragons is wonderful, I like how it documents dragons just like they are real, which maybe they are! Also, the Drogonology Chronicles - series of novels - which are great adventures. The illustrations, too, fantastic pencil drawings!

Oh, and the How to Train Your Dragon series… So basically, Ponies and Dragons for me!

And, The Land of Neverbelieve by Norman Messenger is a book I like a lot, the illustrations are nice and the ideas are great – really imaginative, I never get bored with that one, it’s like a world. I also keep going back to my factual books about science, animals and the real world.

Remy: I have a few favourites! Watership Down – I read that about three times a year as I was growing up – definitely more than a dozen times. I could speak fluent lapine and I used to play bob-stones with my pet rabbit. Recently, I read it to my daughter, twice, so far. I think it is the best Fantasy story ever written, and an inspiration to any writer of imaginative fiction.

When I was around seven or eight, my brother read Jonathan Livingston Seagull to me in one sitting, and it affected me profoundly. It is a book I returned to later and re-read many times as a college student. I use to buy extra copies to loan out or give to friends. It’s about the nature of reality, what it means to be free and transcending the bounds of physical limitations through imagination. I read it to my father during his final days, when he was in hospital… just before he transcended his physical limitations.

My brother also read the The Flies in the Market Place to me, from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, when I was very young - he didn’t mind challenging me and my little mind at all – and Nietsche has been a friend to me ever since. I have read most of his key works and they took me on a path right back to William Blake!

Songs of Innocence and Experience, I have already written a piece about why William Blake and this book are very important to me… You can read that on the I’m Hot Goat weblog.

Ham on Rye, by Charles Bukowski… pretty much anything by Charles Bukowski. I discovered him through the film, Tales of Ordinary Madness, starring Ben Gazzara in a definitive performance. I always saw and heard Ben Gazzara whenever I imagined Henry Chinaski… Then, a neighbour of mine lent me Ham on Rye when I was a living in Stoke-on-Trent. I had never read anything like that. The prose is the clearest, most beautiful word-wielding I know of. Even the most lowlife, unpleasant passages have that ‘twinkle in the eye’ that make them readable. No other writer does that as well. The humour and humanity really leap off the page. Also, I believe that Bukowski is a philosopher, the most original and alternative philosopher this side of Nietsche…

Marco Ferreri, Ben Gazzara and Charles Bukowski making Tales of Ordinary Madness (1981)
Snail, by Richard Miller, which could well be my favourite book of all, if I was really forced to select just one. Again, I first came across Snail in my formative years. I was a student, working on my final degree projects, which included a short film about teenagers ‘discovering themselves’ and racing snails. The college had taken a group of us to help with the re-design of The Brewery Arts Centre in Keswick, which, for some reason had a display case of model and soft-toy snails! So the synchronicity was really kicking-in there. Then I came across the book, simply titled Snail. I knew nothing about it, never heard of Richard Miller at that point, but there was a quote from William Burroughs on the cover and art by Clive Barker, and so with that and all the snail synchronicity I took a chance and bought it and it was a total delight - intelligent, flippant, funny, profound. Richard Miller is a truly great and hugely underrated writer!

Kim: I read Wuthering Heights when I was about 12 and have re-read it regularly since, each time with fresh understanding of the characters. It is still vibrant and gothic and unique. I love the use of main narrator Ellen Dean to portray the passion and tragedy which plays out between Cathy and Heathcliff and those in their wake.  It is ultimately a happier ending for their heirs which offers hope for the human condition. I am a great fan of Emily Bronte’s nature poetry too, and love the fact that like Emily Dickinson she wrote it mainly for herself, to better understand her own environment and inner world.

I regularly re read Picture of Dorian Gray each time with fresh insight. Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales too. Also Dracula, Poe, and I have re -read the Sherlock Holmes stories a couple of times…  I should update my Victorian Gothic taste! I have a fondness for Colette and Daphne du Maurier - Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel - although I have not re-read them for some time.

What is the most recent book you have read and thoroughly enjoyed?

Zel: Apart from My Little Pony books, I would say the Bartimaeus sequence by Jonathan Stroud. They are funny in parts and exciting too. I liked the characters, especially Bartimaeus himself, the wise-cracking immortal demon…

Remy: Yes, I think I have to agree with Zel on that one. I recently read the Bartimaeus books as part of the research before I interviewed Jonathan Stroud… for The Scrawl!

One of Shaun Tan's evocative illustrations for Tales of Outer Suburbia
Before that, Shaun Tan’s Tales From Outer Suburbia, profound and poetic short stories which brilliantly stitch together narrative image and text, I don’t think anyone else has done it so effectively, not since Blake. Shaun Tan has become one of my favourite contemporary creatives.

Kim: I really enjoyed the Bartimaeus books too!  A brilliant entertaining read.  Bartimaeus rocks.  I also enjoyed William Gibson’s The Peripheral, what a great tour of ‘what might be’…with characters you really want to win through.  Also Iain Banks, The Player of Games - working my way through the Culture novels again - for its breadth of vision... and Peter Hamilton’s The Great North Road. A true epic fantasy of future tech space exploration and detective story interlinked.

You have all recently ventured into co-written territories… What was the co-writing process like for This?

Zel: It was fun because I basically got to listen to it as it developed and say when I thought things didn’t work or if an idea needed improving, but that was very rare, because it was written well. Generally, we just chatted about story ideas on dog-walks and took a lot of inspiration from our surroundings, mountains, woods and lakes… I came up with a few random bits, I remember describing the attack of the snaky brambles. Oh, and Lucky too, who I think is a really important main character.

Remy: Zel is my resident expert of all things fairy and dragon-related. Her main roles were creative consultant and first reader. Basically we discussed ideas on walks, and then I wrote chunks and did test readings, when Zel would let me know if it sounded alright and if it was believable enough… if something needed to be explained more clearly, or if I had over-egged anything. She also ensured I described characters and places in enough detail to paint the picture, but still left enough room for imagination. One thing she does really well is ask the right questions.

...and for Welcome to the Dragon Café?

Kim: Co-writng on the Dragon Café has been great fun. I enjoyed how Zel and I snow-balled some quite wacky ideas into even funnier ones!  She really helps with her feedback on what works and how much extra description I need to give for it to unfold like it does in our heads. Remy is great with his encouragement and feedback too.

Which writers have you learnt the most from?

Remy: John Foxx, particularly the work with his band, Ultravox! He more-or-less invented the ‘New Romantic’ identity – ‘riding intercity trains, dressed in European grey’. I love the pictures his words can conjure up and how his lyric patterns just trip along – he taught me a lot about how to use the form of a word to help with the flow of a phrase.

A rhythmic pattern of words - John Foxx in the days of  Ultravox!
I am probably informed more by song-writers, Scott Walker, David McComb, Dave Graney, Ian Anderson, Kate Bush, Lydia Lunch… As for ‘writers’, then Bukowski - his prose has elegant simplicity and crystal clarity, without trading-in any of its poetic beauty... and, I have read so much Graham Masterton over the years that I may have absorbed something from him - by 'osmosis'.

Kim: All of the above feature large as my influence and sound track too… I love how songs can kick start the imagination when you least expect it.

I have a great debt to the clear elegant prose of writers like Bukowski and Hemmingway.  Also the stream of consciousness of Virgina Woolf’s The Waves, and the be-bop prose of Jack Kerouac – On the Road and Maggie Cassidy among others. Emily Bronte of course! James Clavell – I loved Shogun, its breadth and generosity. Also, Len Deighton – I love his spy thrillers, particularly the Samson Trilogy. The vitality of his prose and character portrayal is a real inspiration. The list could go on!

What are you working on at the moment?

Remy: Still recovering from writing the final draft of This – which should be available after Halloween this Autumn. Just underway with the next book, titled, That. They’re the first two in the This, That and the Other trilogy, which is an epic fairy tale fantasy that can be enjoyed by younger readers too. I am also developing my 'Corky, the Cicorc Conwy' story as a children's picture book.

And, for grown-ups, I am looking into finding an outlet for Dark Arts. It was developed as a six-part television drama, a couple of years ago, with the BBC in mind. So far, it is in the form of teleplays, but it’s going to work well as a series of short stories, or novels… Dark Arts is a period piece, set between the Wars, and deals with art, magic, horror and psychiatry… Think of a Hammer Films production of Brideshead Revisited, adapted by H P Lovecraft!

Zel: Helping with That, and I am always planning my own stories and comics. I have even finished a few of them! My latest series is currently broadcasting in my own head…

Kim: Finishing up on revisions for Welcome to the Dragon Café for release soon, yay! Other ideas constantly bubbling away too…including a story for young adult readers, Supermoon, and some Science Fiction.

Thank you Zel, Kim and Remy!

Non-fiction books by Remy Dean include biographies and critiques of Nick Cave, Henry Rollins, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Suede, Lydia Lunch, Celine Dion(!) and more recently the web-active history of art textbook, Evolution of Western Art.

His works of fiction for grown-ups include Scraps, a novel, Final Bough, a tale of the supernatural, and the recent short story collection, The Race Glass.

This going to be epic!
The new novel by Remy Dean with Zel Cariad
His forthcoming novel, This, is an epic fairy-tale-fantasy and is his first book for children and young adults. He is currently Writer in Residence at Plas Tan y Bwlch, the Snowdonia National Park's Study Centre.

Kim Vertue has written a novel and several short stories under different pen-names which have all been published internationally and in translation. She has also written for magazines and contributed to weblogs. Welcome to the Dragon Café is her first book for children and will be published soon by The Red Sparrow Press…

Zel Cariad is eleven-years old and is currently acting as creative consultant and first reader for Remy and Kim.

For more info and updates, check out The Red Sparrow Press website

and have a look at the offical Remy Dean author website

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Angie Sage & The Magnificent Seven

Blur or Oasis?

Harry or Septimus? 

Both seem to have their equally fervent and loyal fan-bases, but there is, of course, plenty of overlap in their readership. The Septimus Heap books have enough darke doom and peril to veer towards the gothic aspects of Harry Potter, yet enough wacky weirdness to steer them along the borders of Gormenghast grotesque. Even the Dickensian character names, evoke Peake’s world - Titus Groan could, believably, live down the street from the Heaps - no relation to Uriah?  

The main arc follows the story of a boy growing up and finding out that he has unusual magical talents and then embarking on special training as apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard, Marcia Overstrand. Along the way, he befriends a dog, a message rat, a boggart, a boat that was once a dragon, and a dragon who was once a stone… and there are witches and ghosts, and quake ooze brownies… well, enough said – this is Fantasy. 

As a rule, the Septimus Heap series manages to avoid many of the usual Fantasy genre pitfalls. It does not often get bogged down in merely describing the made-up world we are drawn into – if there are secret passages in the castle walls, then those secret passages will have a narrative role to play. If a character wears shoes made from purple python skin, then this detail will help to reveal relations between characters and establish a back-story. No gore or gratuitous cruelty, but a peppering of peril and suspense. We are not made to revel in nastiness, although the villains are rather nasty – and there are moments of genuine ‘horror’, but usually tempered with a light touch of humour to follow. It is probably the humour, and unbridled imagination, that elevates these books above much of the current fantasy fair foisted upon young adults.

Angie Sage, creator of Septimus Heap
Angie Sage has been writing the world of Septimus Heap for over twelve years and the series comprises of seven (that is 7) Septimus Heap novels. Plus a trilogy of sequel stories, the Todhunter Moon books. Oh, and two companion volumes - one of short stories and the other is a sort of ‘guide book’… So that is a dozen in as many years! Plus! The Araminta Spook series, for younger readers.

Araminta Spook a fun and spooky series of books...
Angie Sage talked to Remy Dean about her writing, suitably starting off with some Septimus questions:

They say there are only seven basic plots – and that Shakespeare already did them all. Fittingly, there were seven books in the Septimus sequence, but now there is an eighth in The Darke Toad, and in a way the story continues with the Todhunter Moon books. How do you hope to keep your ideas fresh and avoid repetition?

What I love about writing a series is that with each book I get to know the characters a little better. Also I can build on the things that have happened in previous books so I hope I’m able to write more complex situations and characters too. I’m not sure how it works, but that seems to be enough to keep ideas fresh and interesting. I don’t do a lot of plotting – apart from a few way points plus the ending - as I find it best to get ideas from the characters and the situations they are in. I think that keeps things interesting too.

Did you know you were going to write so many related stories in such an epic trajectory? …and did you have a planned-out arc for all the books? If so, how similar or different are the final results to that planned arc?

I was planning on writing a trilogy! But the world just kind of grew and so many interesting people began to arrive in it. So why leave? I didn’t have an arc planned at all, I felt it was a bit like life really. It was just going to happen and I’d do my best to make it interesting.

What location research did you find necessary? I ask because it seems the Badlands may have been inspired by where I live – in Blaenau Ffestiniog! Have you ever visited?

I did draw quite a lot from where I was living at the time I wrote Magyk – near a creek in Cornwall. So that is definitely where the Marram Marshes come from, especially the muddy bits at the end of the creek when the tide goes out. Also the little channels that are left. I did take a canoe along them and managed to get stuck and thought at the time how great it would be if they actual went somewhere exciting.

The Castle was an amalgamation of all the castles I’ve visited and made into the kind of place I would like to live. Quite a bit of wish-fulfillment there, I think.

And yes, the Badlands are indeed all those slate quarries around Blaenau Ffestiniog! I went there years and years ago as a kid and it has stayed with me. I actually loved the place and thought it was so atmospheric.

…and the characters that inhabit these environments, where do they come from?

People … I am really not sure where they come from. I don’t consciously base them on anyone I know. They just arrive, usually complete with their names, which is very convenient.

Which character has the most Angie Sage in them?

Well … I suspect I am a peculiar mixture of Marcia, Septimus and Beetle. If you’re going for only one, then it has to be Marcia. Of course.

Was DomDaniel originally named ‘Daniel Doom’ in the first draft?

I got the name DomDaniel from the wonderful Roget’s Thesaurus. I looked up synonyms for ‘Hell’ and there it was. I do like the idea of Daniel Doom though.

The Septimus Heap story is epic Fantasy
I have been reading quite a bit of Fantasy for children and YA recently (as father of an eleven-year-old) and find that there is often what seems to be needless horror, cruelty and gory gruesomeness. Do you have any thoughts on such content? Because, in your own writing, you achieve suspense without resorting to such techniques, relying on the horror being recounted by a character – which then adds an emotional dimension – or laced with humour, occasionally bordering on slapstick…

I had no idea how hard-core some of the new stuff could be until I shared an event with another author and read her book. I was really shocked by the content and actually had to stop reading. I know I’m a bit squeamish about violence and cruelty but this seemed to revel in the nastiness. So yes, I know what you mean. And I think it is a great shame. Because I feel there is a danger that young readers can become hardened to these things and lose their emotional response to real suffering.

I’ve had some criticism for diluting the nasty stuff in Septimus with humour because it takes the edge off it. But it does mean that you can create a greater shock with the occasional nasty incident: like Marcellus cutting off Merrin’s thumb. Sometimes less is more…

Do you think there is a difference between fantasy written by men and women?

I’m not sure as I honestly don’t read fantasy! I love writing about different worlds but what really interests me is the people who live in them. But is that because I’m a woman? Hmm …

Did you even consider gendered pseudonyms - such as 'Andy Sage'? 

It didn’t occur to me at the time but now I do wish I had just stuck to initials. I think some boys are put off reading something by a female writer. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. I have plans for a YA/adult trilogy and I intend to be just A.A. Sage for that.

When is your best writing time? 

I write best first thing in the morning before the day starts to get complicated.

Do you listen to music as you write?

Unfortunately, I find music distracting, much as I would love to listen to it.

Do you write long-hand and then key it in?

I just can’t think in longhand and I only began to write when I got my first computer. Once I’ve started on a book properly I make a schedule with a word count target for every day. If I don’t do that then it just doesn’t get done. I try to write 1000 words a day and write straight onto my laptop.

How conscious of targeting your audience are you during the writing stages?

I’m not really conscious of it when I am actually writing, but there are things—sex and violence basically—that I won’t write about as the books do need to be suitable for nine years upwards. However, I’m quite happy to put in stuff that maybe will be a little over the heads of the younger readers, but will be appreciated by older ones. There has to be something for the grown-ups too! And many fans who re-read the series in their late teens tell me they see so much more in it when they are older, which I’m really pleased about.

Are you allowed to say anything more about possible screen adaptations of the books?

We sold the film rights to Septimus Heap to Warner Brothers it must be about seven years ago now. There was quite a lot of development work at the time but then it just got dropped. And that’s about it, sad to say. I think it happens to a lot of books. I do think that such a complex world is pretty difficult to make into a film, however, I am convinced that it would be a brilliant TV series. The Septimus Heap box set is something I would love to see. However, all that rests with Warner Brothers…

What was the first book you can remember reading that really hooked you and carried you off into its world?

I think that has to be Titus Groan by Mervin Peake. It was the weirdest world I had ever come across. The world was so immersive and the characters were compelling too.

Sir Christopher Lee as Flay in the BBC adaptation of Gorermenghast (2000)
- click picture above to read the exclusive Scrawl interview with him -
What were you reading when you were the age of your readership?

It was a long time ago now so these are going to seem rather ancient.

When I was age of my younger readers it was E. Nesbit, Elizabeth Gouge, Rosemary Sutcliffe. And yes, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven too. Also anything by Arthur Conan Doyle. And lots of myths and legends: King Arthur, Robin Hood, Greek and Roman...

There wasn’t so much aimed at young teens then, so I pretty much went straight onto grown-up stuff. I read a real mixture of everything: John Wyndham, Alistair McLean, Dostoevsky, Evelyn Waugh, the lot.

When did you think, ‘not only am I a reader, I am going to be a writer’?

There was never a moment really. It just crept up on me. But I now realise I have always read books with half on eye on how they were written. And did used to wonder if it was something I could ever do.

What have been your favourite books or authors, and what did you learn from them?

I read mainly literary and historical fiction, - I never read fantasy - but sometimes good sci-fi. Favourite authors at the moment would include, Rose Tremain, Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson.

However, I am like a goldfish when it comes to books - apart from a few favourites - I find I’ve forgotten them five minutes later. I guess that comes of reading too many, too fast. This makes it hard to say exactly what I’ve learnt from whom, but I think I’ve just soaked up stuff over the years…Overall, the most important thing I’ve learnt for my writing is that it is the characters who tell the story.

After a long and successful writing career, do you have any tips or in-a-nut-shell words of wisdom you can share with aspiring writers of fantasy?

Find your own world! And, I guess, don’t read the competition. And if you do, don’t worry about it. Everyone has their own story to tell.

Thank you very much, Angie Sage!

Thank you – for some subtle and thought provoking questions.

Angie Sage was talking with Remy Dean.

For more news, up-dates and info, check out the official Angie Sage website

Monday, 22 August 2016

P J Roscoe - Brought to Book

What was the first book you can remember reading that really grabbed you and carried you along?

Probably the Famous Five by Enid Blyton. I was about seven and my older brother, by two years, had the whole series and I remember watching him reading them and re-reading them once he’d finished. So I picked one up and never looked back! It brought us closer together as children as we’d act out the stories – I was always George! I loved how the mystery unfolded and of course, the baddies were always caught!

Do you have a favourite book, or one that you have re-read a few times?

Cross Stitch by Diana Gabalden. I have read this book at least ten times over twenty years! It has everything I love – Scotland, Highlanders, magic, standing stones and a good love story. Now they have made it into a series called Outlander on television. This is the first in the series. The first three are fantastic, but sadly, it’s gone on too long now and the story moved to America, which lost my interest. So, in my head, the characters moved to America and that was that!

P J Roscoe - looking to the past for the future...
What was the most recent book you read and thoroughly enjoyed?

An Unhallowed Grave by Kate Ellis. I met her at a book evening. I’d never read a murder mystery before but I love watching Midsomer Murders and Miss Marple, so I gave it a go. It was very similar to watching Midsomer Murders, except reading the story instead of watching it! Very easy to ‘see’ the characters playing out the scenes and although I guessed the ending, it was still a good book.

Who have been your favourite authors, and what have you learnt from them?

Barbara Erskine has always been a favourite, along with Diana Gabalden for fictional books, but mainly I read non-fiction as I haven’t had the time to read novels, so dipping into informative books or spiritual magazines have become the norm.

Lovely frocks! The television adaptation of Diana Gabalden's Outlander series
I’m not sure I learned anything from the authors, though a review of Echoes, by a local bookshop gave me the biggest compliment by saying, ‘This book is perfect for Barbara Erskine fans!’ So, perhaps on a sub-conscious level I picked up something?

Do you have a writing ritual, regimen or a tried and tested process?

No! I don’t really have that luxury. I have a child with special needs, so I can only write when she is at school. She goes in her taxi, I walk the dog, grab a large coffee and get to work for a few hours, quick lunch, then back at it, until half hour before child comes home to prepare myself to change from writer back to Mum!

I don’t aim to write a particular amount per day - Monday to Friday - and I keep weekends free, unless editing and there’s a time limit. Along with writing and researching, I’m answering e-mails, getting out there in social media land, interviews and general stuff.

Did you ponder the ‘first name or initials’ decision and was the choice of P J to avoid gender prejudices? 

It was always going to be P J Roscoe. When I first began, I considered being elusive and mysterious and no one ever knowing who I was! I liked the idea of my readers never knowing if I was male or female, but that quickly fell by the roadside as I did interviews and pictures were needed! I use Paula J Roscoe for my faerie books to distinguish between my adult, supernatural thrillers that have sex and violence, and those aimed at young readers.

You have written two books for ‘grown-ups’ and one for younger children… how does your approach and/or frame of mind differ when writing for these different audiences? 

I’m not sure anything changes. I wrote Echoes many years ago, before my daughter was born, then it was placed in a drawer for years until I finally pulled it out again.

Adventure of Faerie Folk, volume one
I wrote 15 faerie stories for my daughter when she was young, and they will now become the Adventures of Faerie Folk series, over time. I wanted to teach children morals and to live in harmony with each other.

I write whatever comes to mind at the time. I have so many short stories resting in a file, waiting to decide what to do with them! I have two books out in Autumn 2016 and another in 2017, and I’m researching the prequel to Echoes, titled When Roses Fall.

I sit, I write, and see what comes out. My head is full of ideas for stories for young and old, so never had writer’s block, I just can’t type fast enough!

What would you like to have learnt about writing and publishing earlier in your career?

Everything! I knew nothing when I started and would feel utterly broken on receiving a rejection for Echoes, but once I wrote historical articles for a magazine and every one was published, I was elated, but paid very poorly! I did a distance writing course that gave me a chance to try every type of writing – poetry, journalism, fiction, et cetera, but it became obvious very quickly, fiction and history/supernatural was my forte. Writing for women’s magazines was definitely not!

I wish I hadn’t spent so much time, money and energy on terrible book covers. My first one for Echoes was my attempt at being clever! It was a simple abstract image, which was important to the story, black on a white background. I wanted readers to judge the book, not the cover - which, once they read the story, it would mean something – it didn’t work! Except in competitions, where they judged the story and it won three awards in two years.

I wish I was better at marketing and getting my books out there – which is happening, but slowly. I just don’t always have the time to twitter seven times a day and stuff!

What motivates you to write?

My head. If I don’t write, my head is going to explode – I’m fairly positive on that! I have so many stories waiting to come out. I love my imagination and I love telling stories. When I write, I am truly happy as I delve into another world, meet new characters and share their adventure – I guess that motivates me, along with the hope that one day soon, I will live off the proceeds of sales and take the pressure off my darling husband who constantly supports me in my dream job.

Thank you, P J Roscoe!

Thank you, Remy for interviewing me. Many blessings.

For her next book, a novella titled, Diary of Margery Blake, Roscoe is moving away from paranormal thrillers, she explained, “It’s life seen through the secret diary of a young 19th century bride. Married off to a man she barely knows, she learns that ‘husband’ is merely another title for owner, beater, brute and bully as she endures his rights to her body in order to produce an heir. It was a strange experience, almost as if I was possessed by the energy of this woman – the novella wrote itself more or less. If I ever find out that a Margery Blake really lived, then there’s your supernatural element!”

You can already purchase Diary of Margery Blake from Amazon, ahead of its launch on 17 September 2016, at Wrexham Waterstones, 11:30-14:00.

Back in the paranormal time-slip genre, Between Worlds is due out December 2016, through Crimson Cloak publishing and Ingrams, and her previously self-published novel, Echoes, has just been picked up by Doce Blant Publishing, and is expected to be re-launched before the year is out.

For more news and info, check out the official P J Roscoe website...

 P J Roscoe was talking with Remy Dean

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Real Wild Child – an interview with the adventurous Abi Elphinstone

Abi Elphistone writes children’s fiction which draws strongly upon the Brothers Grimm, shamanic and folklore traditions, and reflects her love of nature. This imagery, mixed with rugged outdoor adventure, could become a cult to those middle-grade readers with whom it strikes a chord! 

Her debut novel, The Dreamsnatcher, tells the story of the gypsy child Moll and the wild cat, Gryff, who befriends her as they take on the dark magic of the Dream Snatcher and finally discover the truth of what happened to her parents. The interplay between the young characters and the adults around them gives a softer grounding to the epic journey undertaken.  

Abi Elphinstone & The Dreamsnatcher
Kim Vertue asks Abi Elphistone a few questions...

At a recent ‘Freedom to Think’ event, you talked about how you set about writing a story and what has inspired you throughout your life, particularly your childhood in Scotland where you spent much time, “running wild across highland glens.” 

The ‘Freedom to Think’ initiative seems to encourage adults, and institutions such as schools, to allow our busy youngsters more ‘downtime’ to day-dream, and generally muck about, in order to foster creative thinking. This something that is reflected in your own up-bringing - can you remember some of the freedoms you were allowed as a child that fostered your imagination?

I didn’t grow up with parents who pushed for me to be in the top sets or who insisted on extra tuition in the holidays to improve my spelling and vocabulary. Instead my parents gave me space. They let me scramble across the Scottish moors, build dens in the woods and jump into icy rivers. I think that out of this freedom I learnt to imagine. And I realise now that the wild woodland world in my first book, The Dreamsnatcher, is almost an extension of my childhood - minus the tree ghouls …and witch-doctors. The time I had back then to ‘be bored’ and to daydream was when I ‘created’.

Are there any particular stories you were told or were read to you when very young that inspired your love of stories? 

I loved reading fairytales as a child – and I still do now. In fact, before I write any book, I read a fairytale. I find them the most powerful, and magical, form of storytelling. The language is often simple but the themes are complex and they provide invaluable motifs to draw on. My parents used to read to me every night - Brothers Grimm fairytales, the Narnia books and the Roald Dahl books, mostly.

You have also talked about how stories are not only found in the form of texts. Were pictures, or music often your way into stories?

Definitely pictures. I’m dyslexic so I’m a visual learner. I draw maps of scenes before I write them and I often turn to photography books - especially the Planet Earth ones - if I’m stuck on describing a scene.

Did you tell stories back to others or to yourself when you were young, perhaps to counteract boredom if the weather was too bad for outdoor play, or when in bed waiting for sleep? 

I did a lot of dressing-up as a child and together with my siblings, we wrote and performed plays in the garden. We also wrote newspapers and tried to sell them to our parents… Most days, I had a narrative playing out in my head – especially when I walked over the moors or built a den in the woods – but often that’s where the stories stayed. It was only in my twenties that I started writing my stories down.

I started writing when I was 23, alongside a teaching job. I used to finish my GCSE marking at 9pm then I’d switch to writing until 11 p.m. But it wasn’t until I was 29 and on my fourth book that I got my first book deal with Simon & Schuster.

When you first began to read books independently, which was the first book, or books, that really grabbed you and took you on a journey?  

The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy were the first chapter books that got me hooked on independent reading. I think it was the superb world building of Miss Cackle’s Academy For Witches – I wanted to be a part of it – and the fact that the heroine, Mildred Hubble, wasn’t the prettiest or the cleverest girl in the class but she was still the heroine of the story. And from there I read all the Just William books then I moved on to Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights.

Do you have an all-time favourite book or writer, one you have returned to, re-read or has somehow contributed to who you are?

One of my favourite books of all time is Philip Pullman’s The Northern Lights. Lyra Belacqua taught me to be brave as a child and I think that image of her riding an armoured polar bear over the Arctic ice plains is one of the most memorable moments in any children’s book. That and Lucy Pevensie pushing open the wardrobe door. I also adored David Almond’s Skellig and Katherine Rundell’s The Wolf Wilder – the prose in both books is beautifully lyrical. And I love the tension and detail in Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness books.

Which is the most recent book you have discovered, read and really enjoyed?

Probably The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell. The language is beautiful, the heroine is fierce and there are wolves – one of my favourite animals.

On your website you have a ‘playlist’ of some of the music you were listening to whilst writing The Dreamsnatcher – we also spotted the Leonard Cohen reference, ‘there is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in’…

Yes, I love that Leonard Cohen lyric! I also pinched some of Trent Reznor’s lyrics by way of Johnny Cash’s version of his song, Hurt, for The Shadow Keeper ending. I don’t usually listen to music when I write but if I’m working on a climactic scene I often put on the Narnia battle music or the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack!

In your ‘Freedom to Think’ talk, you described your approach to writing and it was somewhat different to the other writers sharing the stage. You seem to place an emphasis on ‘adventures’ as part of your creative process. Can you tell us a little bit about how travel and primary experience inspire your writing?

I grew up in the wilds of Scotland. Some days I’d go searching for golden eagles up the glen with my Dad and we’d spot them in their eyries on the highest crags. Other days the eagles didn’t show and we’d just stand in the middle of the moors, surrounded by the stags and the cairns and the mighty lochs, and I remember marvelling at it all, at the sheer wilderness spread out before me. And I think the sense of wonder I experienced back then at those remote and almost forgotten places made me want to write wild, outdoor adventures years later – and with that has come some very exciting book research trips…

Abi Elphinstone on an Icelandic advemture
I’ve lived with the Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia, and watched killer whales dive in the Arctic, for upcoming stories… I’ve abseiled into jungle caves for The Shadow Keeper and I’ve spent time with a wonderful Romany gypsy who taught me how to carve catapults from ash and sculpt bows from yew for The Dreamsnatcher. I find that book research adventures not only provide me with invaluable details for my stories but they also remind me of the sense of wonder at the heart of our world.

Did you enjoy the experience of discussing your writing method in front of an audience?

It was such a treat to speak alongside Jonathan Stroud at the Oxford Literature Festival – I adore his books – and I think his 'Freedom To Think' campaign is fantastic. Hopefully I’ll be teaming up with Jonathan for some more events in the future.

Do you follow a tried and trusted writing regimen, or is it always evolving?

Every day varies and I often have school visits (I did 97 of those last year and am doing over 150 this year!) so on those days I write on buses and trains to my events. But when I have a day to write at home, I get up at 6:15 a.m. and write in my shed in the garden until it’s time for bed. I usually break for twenty minutes or so for lunch but otherwise I just get stuck in. I lose all sense of time when I’m in my shed!

What advice, or ‘words-of-wisdom’, can you share with aspiring writers?

I had 96 rejections from literary agents on the three books I wrote before my debut was published, so I’d urge aspiring writers to keep trying, keep honing their craft, even in the face of repeated rejection.

So, what next from Abi Elphinstone?

I have a short story coming out this November, called The Snow Dragon, then the third book in The Dreamsnatcher series comes out in February. After that, I’m writing an Arctic book – possibly a standalone – and at the moment all I know is that there will be a girl called Eska, a golden eagle called Balapan and an ice fortress ruled by an evil composer. After that, I’ve got plans for another series: remote settings, fierce kids and wild animals.

Thank you, Abi Elphinstone!

Abi Elphinstone was talking with Kim Vertue