Archive for January, 2012

Happy Year of the Dragon!

The start of the Year of the Dragon has made me think about dragons. Though I don’t really need to be encouraged to think about dragons – the book I’m deep in the middle of editing has seven speaking dragon parts, and any number of minor spear-carrying dragons.  But this seems like a good time to celebrate other people’s dragons too!

My favourite dragon books include:

The wonderful heartrending dragon in CS Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which is my earliest dragon memory.

The amazing How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell, the funniest, cleverest, most exciting series of dragon books ever.  Though I’m not sure I’d want Toothless under my helmet.

Philip Reeves’ No Such Thing As Dragons, which is dark, spiky, tantalisingly short, and a fabulous novel for slightly older readers.

And the very similarly titled, but for much smaller people: There’s No Such Thing As A Dragon by Jack Kent.

I also love the splendidly distant dragons in Vivien French’s Flight of Dragons.

I have mixed feelings about Eragon and its sequels, partly because they are almost too big to hold, but also because I thought I’d been really original, creating a friendly female dragon, making her blue and calling her Sapphire.  Then shortly after First Aid for Fairies was published, I read Eragon, and met his friendly blue female dragon, called Saphira.  I’m very relieved about that final vowel.

I have a couple of favourite dragon reference books too (I’m not sure if you can call them non-fiction!)

My first dragon collection was A Book of Dragons, edited by Roger Lancelyn Green (though I see it has my wee brother’s name on the first page, in pencil. Perhaps I could rub that out, because he’s not getting it back now!)

And more recently, I’ve loved the wonderful tactile Dragonology books by Dr Ernest Drake (which aren’t mine either – they belong to my kids.)

And finally, my favourite dragon myths.

I’ve enjoyed telling dragon myths for years, partly because they come with inbuilt excitement (a dragon! fire! teeth!), partly because they come from all over the world, and partly because it feels right to share dragon stories when I’m doing author sessions about the novels with Sapphire in them.

My favourite dragon stories to share include:

A seven-headed Chinese dragon

A Greek dragon who kept a shepherd boy company on the hills

A Viking dragon defeated by a sheepskin

A Polish dragon, also defeated by a sheepskin (some dragons are easily fooled)

A Persian dragon who teased a horse

A Georgian dragon who was sung to sleep

And an Irish dragon who lost his tongue

(If you want to find out more about these dragons, you’ll have to ask me to come and tell you the stories!)

Dragons are universal, appearing as the monster of choice in many cultures and countries, so I’m fascinated by theories about where our dragon stories come from.  Do we need monsters for our heroes to prove themselves against? Did our ancestors need explanations for those big fossilised bones and teeth? Or maybe, just maybe, these stories are about real dragons, and they’re still out there, somewhere…

What are your favourite dragon books and stories? Please let me know!

(And here is the dragon who sits beside my computer – hand made for me by a Sapphire fan!)


Archive for January, 2012

What if…? The birth of an idea, and how it felt

Today, I had an idea for a book.  I thought “What if…?” and sudddenly there was the idea.

And because I scribbled down what happened at the time, I thought I would share it with you, because one of the questions I get asked most often is ‘where do you get your ideas from?’

I was meant to be doing boring businessy stuff (it’s the tax return deadline at the end of the month) so I thought I’d take a break from adding up numbers and make a list of the books I’d like to write next.  Not the next book (that’s First Aid 4) and not the one after that (I’ve started researching it) but what will I write after that.  I started making a list of the ideas I’d had, to see which one seemed most fun.  And as I typed an idea I’d got from one line of a previous novel, and always meant to follow up…

…it suddenly happened.

I found myself typing a line which started “what if they all…” and then a whole sentence and a question mark.

And I felt it.  I actually FELT it.  An idea.

My pulse got faster.  My hands went a little bit cold.  I sat up straighter.

I felt physically quite strange.  Like I’d been running too fast, or just started a fever, or almost fallen over an edge but just caught myself in time.

My body actually reacted to this idea.

Then the idea took off.  I stopped writing a list and started writing a book.

I started thinking of characters (and here is one answer to where do ideas come from  – one of the characters seems to have leapt directly out of a nonfiction book I got for Christmas, so if I’d been reading a different book this week, this idea would have been different.)

Once I started thinking of characters, I started hearing their voices. I heard them talk to each other, insult each other, ask each other questions. They were meeting for the first time, and they didn’t really like each other.

Then I thought about names, because I can’t get to know characters until they have names.  But names are tough. Every name has to mean something. And all the names I wanted for these characters were great for them, but didn’t work in a cast of characters.  My first attempt all had Ss in them.  Every name started with S, ended with S or had S in the middle. Reading the book out loud would have sounded like snakes telling stories.  Then my next attempt had all the names ending in A.  That wasn’t any better. So I got distracted by looking up lists of names on the internet

Then I had to stop, to be a mum, and take my daughter up to her sports club. So I got a fresh notebook and a pen, and I scribbled all the way up the road and through the park.

By this time, I was seeing the characters, not just hearing them. Maybe getting out into the fresh air helped.  I could see a boy with long damp hair, a woman with a shivering animal in her arms.  Wooden desks, and a large creature with a stony face in the corner…

So now I have a first scene, I have a problem to be solved, I have characters I already feel a connection to.   I don’t have time to WRITE it yet, but never mind. It’s there. I’m excited about it, and I’ll write it soon!

So THAT is how I get ideas.  When I should be doing something else. From the magic words ‘What if…’ From passing thoughts I had when I was editing other books.  And from whatever is around me or rattling round my head at the time.

The fact that I had such a strong reaction to this idea, and got so involved with the characters and the story, gives me confidence that it’s a strong idea.  I have ideas every day, I scribble dozens down when I’m listening to the radio, or chatting, or reading, or cooking. But very few of them become books. But I think this one will.  I do hope so…