Archive for August, 2012

Peas, bottoms, cliffs and mazes – the strange things children’s authors do…

Do you think children’s writers just sit at a desk and write? It’s much more fun and much dafter than that!
If you read my blog regularly, you’ll already know that children’s authors have to do some fairly strange things. But recently, my life has been getting even weirder. You can now find me on YouTube, flicking peas off the top of melting ice-cream, right across my own kitchen.
I spent a whole day with Chani and Benedicte from my publishers Floris, filming peas floating in glasses of orange juice and peas sitting on top of ice-cream… Why? Because they thought it would be fun for people to see me act out the story of Orange Juice Peas, my new picture book.
I’m used to reading the story out loud, but I’m usually in a classroom, library or theatre, so I don’t often have a fridge, a freezer and a bag of peas handy. But we thought that if we filmed it in my kitchen, we could do the whole thing for real. So we did. And it was very odd, and huge fun, and I suggest you have a look and let me know what you think!
But that may not be the oddest thing I’ve done while researching, writing or promoting my books. I’ve also:

– allowed a fairy to guide me through a maze;
– let the BBC get me lost in the very same maze;
– told a Viking legend in a cave;
– walked sunwise round a small hill in the Eildons looking for a magic door, on the same day that I’d been threatened by the Faery Queen on Twitter;
– shouted “Bottom!” loudly in the poshest, quietest bit of the Edinburgh Central Library;
– read from Wolf Notes in the gardens of a castle, rather than indoors, because the staff were a little nervous that the relevant chapters were about breaking in and stealing from their castle;
– phoned up a university to find a vet who could tell me how to heal an injured dragon;
– contacted a tropical fish society to ask about mermaids’ tails;
– tried out some exotic herbs and spices to find out what a witch would use to flavour the children she was going to eat;
– clambered along a clifftop in a howling gale;
– timed a frond of bracken travelling down seven waterfalls, in the Pentlands, on Christmas Eve;
– waggled my bottom at children on a regular basis, which may be why many infants now call me The Big Bottom Lady (because of the book title, obviously, not the size of my bottom!)
– learnt how to read (some) cuneiform writing, and invented my own Sumerian monsters;
– run down the same hill as Tam O’Shanter, like I was being chased by witches, when in fact I was being watched by puzzled American tourists.

Those are some of the daft and dangerous things I’ve done so far as a writer. I wonder what I’ll do now, to research my next book?

Archive for August, 2012

Who is your favourite Fabled Beast?

At the Edinburgh Book Festival earlier this week, I was sitting at a signing table looking at a long line of First Aid For Fairies fans (I knew they were fans, because most of them were cuddling a stack of slightly dog-eared books) and I had to think of something personal, interesting and appropriate to write in each book.
Because Maze Running is the last of the series, I asked most of the readers “Who’s your favourite character?” so that I could write in their book: “Thanks for coming on x’s last adventure.”
I’ve been asking that question in all the events I’ve done this summer, and I’ve been surprised to discover that pretty much every character has fans. In a line of readers there will almost certainly be Helen fans, Yann fans, Sapphire fans, Rona fans, Lavender fans, Catesby fans… There might be fewer Sylvie, Lee, Serena and Tangaroa fans, because they don’t appear in as many books. But even so, I think almost every character in the series is somebody’s favourite. At the Maze Running launch, I even met a boy whose favourite character was the Master of the Maze!
And I’ve met, or seen pictures of, children dressed as various First Aid For Fairies characters for World Book Day (I’ve met Helen, Lee, Lavender and Rona, but I wonder if there have been any others? Any phoenixes? Any centaurs? In fact, I hereby promise to send a free signed book to the first person who can prove they’ve successfully dressed up as Yann!)
I have my own favourite characters too. But I wonder whether I like my characters for the same reasons readers do?
Do some readers like Lavender or Rona because they like the idea of being a fairy or a selkie? Do some readers like Sapphire because all dragons are cool? (As well being as fiery hot…) So now my signing queues could get even longer, because I might start asking not just: “Who’s your favourite character?” but also: “Why?”
As a writer, I like my characters for lots of different reasons. For example, a particular character might be very useful when I’m writing the story: Sapphire is incredibly handy as transport, Yann is great for kicking doors in, Lavender is very easy to injure (sorry), Sylvie can be relied on to disagree with pretty much anyone. And there wouldn’t be a First Aid for Fairies series at all without Helen to be our guide in that world, or all those nasty baddies making the adventures necessary.
But I don’t just use my characters to push the story along, I enjoy their company too. So my truly favourite characters are the ones whose voices I can hear in my head, who seem to come alive as I write and who surprise me by doing things I don’t expect. For that reason, Yann is my absolute favourite because he argues with me all the time (I can sometimes actually hear him shout at me) and I’m also very fond of Lee, because I never quite trust (or understand) his motives or indeed his world, which is a very interesting position for a writer. And outside the First Aid For Fairies series, I love Emmie in Rocking Horse War, who changed that entire story by putting her hands on her hips and giving me a cheeky smile.
So, who are your favourite fabled beast characters, and why? And do you think writers and readers like characters for different reasons?

Maze Running signing queue at Edinburgh Book Festival 2012