‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I’m asked that question at almost every author event. It’s a great question, but there’s no quick easy answer!
My ideas don’t come from a place. I don’t think it’s possible to draw a map of where ideas come from. Maybe we need a history of ideas, rather a geography of ideas? Because I can tell you the history of the Spellchasers idea coming to life in my head…
All stories start with a spark of an idea, usually a ‘what if…?’
But Molly’s story started with three different sparks, at three different times. Which is probably appropriate for a trilogy!
The first spark arrived when I was writing the third novel in the Fabled Beast Chronicles. That must have been in 2010 or 2011 – 6 or even 7 years ago. One of the new characters in Storm Singing was a mermaid called Serena. I had lots of fun writing her, partly because I was never entirely sure whether I liked her or not. And Serena was cursed. She was taking part in the same Sea Herald contest as my main character Rona, because she thought winning would help her to lift the curse on all mermaids. And one little line of Serena’s dialogue made me think about whether there was a right and wrong way to lift a curse, ie whether there were rules of curse-lifting, and I wondered if there was a story in that.
But I was still in the middle of editing Storm Singing and I knew there was another Fabled Beast Chronicles book to come, so I just scribbled the thought down and put it to one side.
So that was a wee spark, about the rules of curse-lifting. And it sat in my head for a while.
Then there was the moment that the story arrived. That wasn’t a spark, that was a firework, exploding in my head. I still remember how it felt.
It was in January, 2012, so just over 5 years ago. I was meant to be doing my tax return, but that’s really boring, so instead, I was having fun typing up a list of possible future book ideas. I found the little note I’d made about Serena’s curse, and I started to add it to the list, but as I typed, the sentence about rules of lifting curses became a question about ‘what if…?’ ‘What if there was a workshop about lifting curses, and what if lots of young cursed fabled beasts met on that workshop… ?’ And suddenly I wasn’t typing a list of possible future books, I was typing characters and curses. Then I started to see and hear what I thought might be the first scene, in a room with desks, and they were all snarking at each other and arguing about curses…
This is a blog post I wrote that day, showing just how excited I was… Rereading the post now is quite odd – I can still remember that physical sense of a story coming to life in my whole body, not just my head. (Also notice how I carefully didn’t give anything away about the details of the idea!)
So that was the point when I knew that this idea was strong enough to be a book.
But I was still finishing the Fabled Beast series and I knew I wanted to write Mind Blind next. So I put this idea to the side again. But I was really excited about it, and I was sure it was one I was going to write very very soon. However, at that point, the idea was based around a mermaid, not a hare. So it still wasn’t Molly’s story.
And then, the third spark:
In 2013, so almost 4 years ago, someone asked me to write a very short story about winter, to publicise a book of winter stories I was launching. The first image that came to mind for a winter tale was a hare’s pawprints in the snow. So I wrote a page about running like a hare, about being chased as a hare. And as I wrote, I knew this wasn’t a real hare, it was a person who had become a hare.That was when I knew who my main character was, and what her curse was. And I knew this book was no longer about a mermaid, which I’d honestly never been convinced about, it was about a human girl transformed into a hare.
That was also when I knew that I had to write this book as soon as I could. In fact, I never sent the winter hare story (I wrote something else about paper snow) because I knew this character’s adventure wasn’t a short story, it was a novel.
But soon, it wasn’t even a novel, because once I went on the curse-lifting workshop with Molly and the others, there was so much story, so much magic, so many questions to answer, that it become a trilogy.
And now you can read the trilogy (well, the first two parts anyway!)
So that, as far as I can remember it, is the history of how the idea for the Spellchasers trilogy arrived in my head and grew into the story I started to write. But it’s still not a complete answer to the ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ question, because every other novel idea has arrived in a completely different way!
Though one common factor is noticing the ideas when they arrive, and remembering to write them down. And the other common factor seems to be that writing stories (or even lists) gives me ideas for other stories! So that’s not a ‘where’, that’s a ‘when’ and a ‘how’ and maybe even a ‘why’…
Tom and Beth of the Scottish Book Trust’s events team
I’m just back from a week-long tour of Northern Ireland – the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour, organised by the wonderful Beth and Tom of the Scottish Book Trust, with the help of Book Trust Northern Ireland. And I had a brilliant time!
I visited pupils from 13 different schools, in ten different events, ie two events a day from Monday to Friday. I read scenes from the first and sometimes the second Spellchasers books, and occasionally a bit of a Fabled Beast Chronicle too. I also chatted about how stories worked, and told a myth, legend or folktale in every school as well. I had a wonderful time in each school, and I can (almost) remember what we did in each session:
Holy Child Primary and St John’s Primary in Derry: our first school, so I took a risk and told a story about an Irish Celtic hero visiting Scotland. I got away with it, though it turns out I’ve been pronouncing Cuchullin wrong all these years…
Hollybush Primary in Culmore: This time I told a Scottish folktale, one I tell at home all the time, but it felt quite strange taking a Scottish story across the sea, almost like being an ambassador for Scottish trad tales! Also, it turns out that they don’t call potatoes ‘tatties’ in Northern Ireland…
St Joseph’s Primary in Dunloy: Their hall had a very echoey wooden floor and I was wearing very clunky boots, so after consulting the P4s (always wise people to consult) I took my boots off and did the whole session in my socks. I told a Viking myth, which meant that I got to be Loki in stocking soles and sneak around like a real god of mischief.
St Patrick’s Primary in Glenariff: they were reading Wolf Notes, and the hall was filled with wonderful pictures of wolves! (And centaurs…) Also, a pupil called Molly was our guide round the school, and she was remarkably relaxed about how badly I treat the Molly in Spellchasers…
St Comgall’s Primary in Antrim: This session started with a witch chasing a phoenix, and ended with an amazing Q&A session in which a P6 girl asked a question that I’ve never been asked before, and as I thought my way round an answer I found myself having an idea for a new novel while standing in front of 290 primary pupils…
Phoenix Integrated Primary in Cookstown and St Patrick’s Primary from Monymore: I couldn’t help myself. I was in a school called PHOENIX Primary, so I chatted to them about Catesby, the phoenix in Fabled Beast Chronicles, and we also come up with lots of exciting cliffhangers, not all of them about fiery birds!
Carrick Primary in Lurgan: The Carrick pupils created a story by trapping a tiger in a cage, but the tiger kept (almost) escaping. It was a relief that we reached the end of the story without anyone in the school getting eaten! Then, inspired by their tiger trapping, I told them a Hindu myth.
Templepatrick Primary and St Joesph’s Primary, Ballyclare: this was our biggest audience, with more than 300 children in one hall. They were incredibly well behaved and listened to each other’s ideas and questions so politely! We invented a chase in which a werewolf was trying to eat a rainbow elf. Did the elf get away safely? That’s the cliffhanger…
Lisburn Central Primary, Lisburn: I met some very imaginative pupils, who invented some great cliffhangers, and also come up with some very positive and cheerful endings for my favourite (but usually quite tragic) Viking myth.
St Mary’s Star of the Sea, Belfast: the very last school, with a very lovely warm welcome. (They brought us chocolate biscuits before we started…) It got a bit more dangerous once we started talking about stories, because we trapped a fairy godmother in a cave. With sharks. But it all ended happily, just like the tour!
I was asked wonderful questions in every single school. I can’t remember them all, because I concentrate on answering the questions, not scribbling them down. But I do remember the one which prompted a novel idea. And I’ll never forget the one which stumped me completely. Someone in the front row in St Patrick’s on Tuesday asked me:
‘If you had to kill one of Helen or Molly, who would you kill?’
I did try, but I just couldn’t answer it. So I wimped out and said I’d fight whichever baddie wanted me to make that choice, in order to give both my heroines time to get away…
The ten school events were the highlights of the tour, but we managed a few out-of-school highlights too:
Beth, Tom and I visited the Giant’s Causeway one evening as the sun went down.
And I found a 1000 year old fort, all grown over with grass, on a night-time walk in a town called Moira, and scrambled over it in the dark and the rain. (That prompted a few story ideas too.)
I must say that the Scottish Book Trust team were fantastic. Beth and Tom were extremely efficient and well organised, and looked after me very well (except when they took me to Dangerous Places) but they were also fun to spend 6 days with. We played several very serious games (or perhaps very silly games which we took very seriously) in the car. They taught me games involving actual horses and imaginary thimbles and I taught them one involving yellow cars.
They drove me around in a big car (small van?) which left Edinburgh full of boxes of books, and by the time we headed home was almost empty. Which I’m sure will make my publishers happy.
But the best thing about the van was the squirrel on the bonnet, and various other wonderful Scottish animals reading books painted on the sides – all created by the illustrator Sarah Macintyre. It was a lovely cheerful vehicle in which to visit all these villages, towns and cities.
And driving between the schools was wonderful, because Northern Ireland is very beautiful. It has lots of green fields and hills, but also dramatic glens and rocky coastlines.
It was a privilege to share stories with all those imaginative Northern Irish pupils, and to visit all their lovely welcoming schools. Thanks so much to everyone who put the tour together and who made it such a wonderful experience!
I love riddles! And I don’t try to hide my love of riddles: I’ve put riddles in every single one of my novels so far…
I shamelessly used the Halloween guising scene in Mind Blind to slip in one of my favourite short riddles.
You to look at bit sideyways to find the riddle in Rocking Horse War.
But riddles are an essential part of the plot of the Fabled Beast Chronicles, with the task of solving or matching riddles of some kind in every single one of Helen’s adventures.
And riddles are an even more important part of the Spellchasers trilogy, because they are an essential part of the life, job and self-image of one of the most important Spellchaser’s characters: Atacama the sphinx.
I slip riddle tales into my folklore and legend collections too, like the Russian girl who solves the Tsar’s riddles in Horse of Fire, and Odin putting on a silly hat to solve a king’s riddles in Dragon’s Hoard…
Where do all these riddles come from? In the folktale and legend retellings, I often use or adapt the original riddles. But for the novels, I always write original riddles. I could probably add riddle-writing to my CV now, I’ve written so many…
But why do I write them? There are so many fantastic riddles out there (I know because kids often bamboozle me with ones I haven’t heard!) so why do I make up new riddles?
Because the riddles need to fit the story. Sometimes the answers are linked to the plot, sometimes the riddles are designed to allow the characters (usually Innes…) to argue about the answers. Also, I want to surprise readers, rather than give them a riddle they might already know.
Also, honestly, I like inventing new riddles. There’s a satisfaction to it, an elegance and a logic that you usually only get with numbers. I sometimes call it maths with words – two of my favourite things together! (Yes, I love maths. I did maths at university. I love algebra and circles and straight lines and triangles and problem-solving… ) Also, one of my daughters is a riddle-master, and sometimes we collaborate on the riddles, which is great fun.
But I don’t just write riddles for books. Last autumn I wrote five new riddles for The Beginner’s Guide to Curses launch, and was very impressed at how fast all the young adventure fans answered them.
And now I’ve written three more riddles (with the help of Atacama, of course) for a competition run by my publishers to win a signed copy of the next Spellchasers novel: The Shapeshifters Guide to Running Away.
I wonder if you can answer them? Good luck…
(I might be doing a few riddle-writing workshops once Shapeshifter’s Guide is published, so keep an eye on my diary if you want to learn my riddle-writing secrets!)
2017 is going to be a very Spellchasers year for me. It’s all going to be about Molly, her curse, her friends and, of course, her enemies. There will be a fair bit of shapeshifting, and a certain amount of magical combat.
2017 might even be more of a Spellchasers year than 2016, even though last year was the launch of the trilogy.
a sneak peek of the Shapeshifter’s Guide front cover and spine
The second book, The Shapeshifter’s Guide To Running Away, is at the printers RIGHT NOW, and will be published next month, with an official launch the month after. (I’m getting quite excited!)
And I’m currently editing the third book, The Witch’s Guide To Magical Combat, which will head off to the printers just before the summer holidays and be published in early autumn.
So, for me, this will be a very Spellchasers year. And for anyone who wants to read about Molly’s adventures, there will be two new books and the chance to find out how her story ends!
And then…? Well, then the trilogy will be finished.
Readers have months to wait, and lots to read about, before they can find out how Molly’s story ends. But yesterday, while I was rereading and reconsidering the occasional verb in the final battle of Witch’s Guide, I suddenly realised that I’m nearly at the end of my journey with Molly and Innes and … everyone else (some of the ‘everyone else’s are characters that readers haven’t even met yet!)
I was reading a sentence in which Molly was walking towards danger, quite calmly, and I suddenly realised that I’m going to miss her. That she’s been a splendid heroine to work with, that I’ve had a great time with her, and that I’m going to miss having her in my head.
This sudden burst of emotion happened yesterday, ie in January, a whole 4 months before I proofread the third book for the last time, almost 8 months before it’s in the shops… But I’ve been writing about Molly and her magical world for more than 3 years now, and those very few months feel like I haven’t got much more imaginative time left with her. Soon, I’ll have finished creating and polishing her adventures, and she’ll be all yours!
Then I can start to write another adventure!
I’m looking forward to this Spellchasers year. I’m looking forward to finding out what readers think of Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away and of Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat. But I’m also looking forward to whatever I do next…
Floris Books challenged me to write a very short story about what Molly would be doing on Christmas Day, for their blog, and I wrote exactly 70 words which ended on a cliffhanger, but then I wanted to know what happened next. So, here is what happens next!
(I’ve written it quite fast, just as I saw it happen in my head, and I’m currently working very hard on edits of Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away, so I haven’t spent much time tidying this little tale. If you notice any silly mistakes, my apologies!)
Pawprints in the Snow
Molly’s paws make tiny dents on the crust of last night’s snow.
She had wished for a white Christmas, hoping to test her hare-speed on a new surface. She hadn’t wished for the beast behind her. The creature she’d found chewing her stocking this morning.
Now Molly hears heavy breathing and heavier feet. It’s catching up.
She feels hot breath on her neck; snow melts to water under her paws…
Molly leaps to the left, and her paws are back on cold crusty snow. She sprints and zig zags across the rugby pitch, trying to escape the heat and the heaviness, the flames and the fangs.
The noise of the feet falters, and stops.
But Molly can’t stop running, because now she can hear flapping above her. Her wide hare vision shows that her pursuer has lumbered into the air and is swooping down towards her.
Speed isn’t enough to beat this beast. Dodging and ducking won’t work either, if it can hover above her.
How can she beat a predator that can run and fly and melt the snow under her?
Molly sprints and leaps and sprints again, hoping to confuse it, hoping to escape its long claws and hot breath.
She was getting used to magic and monsters in the wild lands of the north, but she didn’t expect them to follow her south to the sensible streets of Edinburgh.
She especially didn’t expect to find a monster in her living room, chewing the end of her Christmas stocking.
When she walked into the living room, her first thought had been – don’t you dare eat my chocolate coins! Her second thought had been – I don’t want mum and dad to see this, and I don’t want this to see mum and dad. Her third thought had been – RUN! So she flung open the back door and shifted into a hare in one practised move.
It wasn’t until she was running down the back garden, drawing the beast away from both her chocolate coins and her parents, that she finally thought –
What’s a dragon doing in my living room?
But now, Molly wishes she’d found somewhere small to hide rather than somewhere wide to run. She’s circling and dodging and zigging and zagging across the school’s rugby field, and the dragon is swooping and diving and soaring above her.
But, so far, it’s not roasting her or biting her.
Molly realises it’s not a very big dragon. It seemed huge in the living room, but compared to the wyrm she’d met in Speyside in October, it’s really quite small.
Perhaps she could fight it off.
Not as a hare. Hares can only run and punch. As a girl. Girls can wield weapons.
So she runs for the nearest fence, dives between the black iron railings, and becomes a girl again as she skids along the icy ground.
That’s when she realises she’s still wearing her pyjamas, and rabbit-printed cotton doesn’t give much protection against ice or snow. Or dragons.
She leaps to her feet, grabs a long forked stick from the snowy ground and waves it at the pursuing dragon.
Who is no longer pursuing.
The golden dragon is perched on the tall spiked fence, back feet gripping the rail along the top, front feet tucked up almost like a squirrel’s paws. The metal fence is bending slightly under the dragon’s weight.
Molly shouts “Go away!” and waves her stick.
The dragon is the size of a lion, or a tiger. Much bigger than a dog, slightly smaller than a horse. Definitely smaller than the wyrm Molly chatted to in October. So Molly waves her stick again. “Go away!”
The dragon’s shoulders sag and its long spiky tail droops.
Then the dragon falls clumsily backwards off the fence, lands on the rugby pitch, and blasts a long line of flame from its mouth.
Molly backs off, planning to run the long way home, lock all the doors, and find the fire extinguisher from the kitchen.
But then she sees what the dragon is doing with the flame. The long thin precise flame is melting shapes in the snow that Molly had marked with her zig zag line of paw prints. The dragon is writing words in the snow.
HELP, CURSE-BREAKER, HELP ME
Molly doesn’t run away. She leans over the fence and asks, “You want me to help you?”
The dragon nods, and perks up a bit, its golden tail wagging like a retriever’s. Then it swoops low along the edge of the rugby pitch, melting the snow with a long pen-like line of flame.
HELP ME BREAK MY CURSE. CURSED BY ANGRY WITCH – IF I BURN ANYTHING ELSE THIS YEAR, I WILL BURST INTO FLAMES MYSELF, TURN TO SMOKE & BLOW AWAY IN THE WIND
Molly walks beside the fence, reading the whole long sentence. She frowns. “Burn anything else? What did you burn the first time?”
The dragon droops again. WITCH’S GARDEN SHED. ACCIDENT. HICCUPS
Molly nodded. “So you annoyed a witch, and she cursed you so that if you burn anything else in the next week, you’ll become smoke yourself?”
The dragon nods.
Molly shrugs. “So, just don’t burn anything…”
The dragon sighs, a little cloud of sparks. BUT I HICCUP AND COUGH AND SNEEZE AND SOMETIMES MY AIM ISN’T PREFECT. PERFECT. STILL LEARNING
“Then turn off your flames. Just til the end of the year.”
CAN’T. WHEN I BREATHE, I MAKE FIRE.
Molly remembers the questions she’d been set as homework on the curse-lifting workshop. “Did you say sorry to the witch?”
The dragon nods. SAID I HAD TO LEARN LESSON. AND CACKLED!
The dragon has now written on all the snow near the fence. So Molly climbs the fence, and walks with the golden dragon to a smooth white part of the pitch. Molly’s slippers flap soggily on her feet.
The dragon writes in the clean clear snow. I’M SCARED. MAKE ONE MISTAKE AND I’M SMOKE.
“Do you burn things deliberately?” asks Molly.
The dragon shakes its spiky sparkling head. NOT ANYONE ELSE’S THINGS. JUST MY TOAST AND MARSHMALLOWS. BUT … HICCUPS
“Is there any way to put your flames out and just not make any fire at all until the New Year?”
The dragon opens its mouth. Molly sees a bright orange flame burning at the back of its throat.
The dragon hiccups, a blast of flame jets out of its throat, and Molly drops to the ground, making a messy snow angel as she scrambles away.
The dragon writes OOPS
“Just as well you didn’t burn me, or that would have ruined both our Christmases.” Molly stands up and brushes snow off her damp pyjamas, her fingers tingling in the cold.
She smiles. “I have an idea! Would you let me try to put your fire out?”
The dragon nods.
“Ok, give me five minutes.”
As the dragon dances and skips around her, melting a spiral of clawed footprints into the snow, Molly makes snowballs, her fingers growing numb as she forms the icy shapes. Once she has built a white pyramid of snowballs, she says, “Open your mouth, please.”
The golden dragon opens its jaws wide. Molly stands as close as she can bear to the furnace heat coming out of its mouth. And she starts to throw snowballs in. Like one of those serving machines on a tennis court, she throws them in fast, one after the other, aiming for the back of the dragon’s throat, for the base of the orange flame.
She misses with one or two snowballs, some bouncing on the ground, one getting stuck in the dragon’s left nostril. But most of the snowballs hit the target.
The fire in the dragon’s throat fizzles and sizzles. Molly throws in even more snowballs. The fire gets dimmer and dimmer, then dies.
When Molly has used up all her snowballs, the dragon breathes out. And the air that hits Molly is warm, not flaming hot.
Molly nods. “Now you can’t make fire, so you won’t trigger the witch’s curse. If you feel your throat sparking up again this week, eat more snow. I’ll use you as snowball target practice again, if you want. So you can use the Scottish weather to get round the curse until Hogmanay.”
The dragon uses its claws to scratch in the bare grass of the pitch, where Molly had scooped up snow to make snowballs.
THANK YOU CURSE-BREAKER. THANK YOU!
As the dragon flies away, Molly shouts, “But don’t eat yellow snow. And don’t eat any snowmen either!”
Molly squelches home, in her soggy slippers, to see if there are any chocolate coins left in her stocking…
If you want to read more about Molly, and what she did BEFORE Christmas, have a look at The Beginner’s Guide to Curses!
Why do we love Vikings? Why are Viking–themed festivals, parties and superheroes so successful? Why are we almost as familiar with the Viking gods as we are with the Greek pantheon?
What is it about Vikings?
Is it the swords? The beards? The dragon-prowed longships? The helmets? (No horns please, if you want to be historically accurate.)
Or is it the stories?
I think it’s the stories.
I think Viking myths and legends contain some of the best, most exciting, most vivid, most original plots in the whole world of stories. (For example, Viking gods can die. That’s higher stakes than any Greek myth!)
I love Norse and Viking stories. I tell them as often as I can. Two of my favourite stories to tell to a hall full of 10 year olds are myths about the Viking gods: the story of Fenrir the world-destroying wolf, and the story of the sun god Baldur. I also love telling the stories of when Thor met the Midgard serpent, and when Ragnar Lodbrok met a pet dragon… I love Norse stories!
But I don’t just tell them out loud. I’ve written down some of my favourites in collections of myths and legends: Ragnar and Baldur both appear in Winter’s Tales. The Viking warrior Hervor and her cursed sword appear in Girls Goddesses and Giants. Loki gets into trouble in my shapeshifters collection Serpents & Werewolves.
Viking stories inspire my own fiction too. The entire plot of my final Fabled Beasts adventure, Maze Running, was inspired by one small moment in Baldur’s story.
So, I’ve been playing with, being inspired by, and retelling Viking stories for years.
But I haven’t done a whole book about Vikings before. Until now! Here it is, The Dragon’s Hoard:
Isn’t it lovely?
And here’s how I finally got round to writing a book about Vikings:
I was chatting to Cate James, who illustrated the gorgeous collection of Scottish stories Breaking the Spell, when we were both appearing at the Wigtown Book Festival three years ago. We were keen to work together again, so we started brainstorming ideas. We came up with quite a few fun ideas (I hope they will all happen eventually!) One of our favourites was inspired by the fact that I had written a ‘Vikings invading Scotland’ story for Breaking the Spell, but it hadn’t made it into the final book (partly because it was a bit violent, but mainly because it was historical not magical so didn’t really fit with the other stories.)
I’d found that particular story, about the Earl of Orkney fighting a duel with the chief of Moray, in the Orkneyinga saga. The saga tale has the invading earl as the hero, but because I’m from Moray, I’ve always told it to kids from the other point of view, with the Moray warriors as heroes.
So I mentioned to Cate, over a cup of tea in Wigtown, that I was fairly sure there must be other excellent stories in the sagas, some of which might even be suitable for children. And it turns out that men with swords and scary monsters are two of Cate’s favourite things to draw, so we decided that I would look for a few more interesting saga tales, then we’d pitch the idea to our Breaking The Spell editor.
And I found SO MANY BRILLIANT STORES! Most of which I had never come across, even though I’ve been a fan of Norse and Viking stories for years.
When I put together a list of saga stories about swan warriors, dragons, riddles, saints, explorers, polar bears and zombies, the editor said YES!
So I spent months researching the Viking sagas to find the strongest stories, and Cate did lots of research into clothing, buildings, ships, weapons and helmets. (No horns!)
I found dozens of wonderful stories. Some of which were just too gory, bloody, vicious, nasty and revenge-driven for me to want to tell them to 10 year olds. (Or even my teenage daughters.) But there were still so many fantastic stories that I was really keen to tell.
Then I told them to classes (usually when I was doing author events about other books – I’m a bit sneaky that way) to find out which stories most intrigued and excited them.
Then I wrote the stories, and Cate drew the pictures, and now the book is ready! (That’s a short sentence, covering a lot of hard work…)
So, I’m really happy with our collection of Viking sagas. The book opens with a dragon and finishes with riddles, and there are Vikings on every page in between. What more could you want?
So, I’ve finally done a Viking book. But I don’t think I’ve got Vikings out of my system yet. I’m sure there are lots more Viking stories for me to discover and to share with you.
In the meantime, I’d love to know what you think of The Dragon’s Hoard, and I’m really looking forward to sharing these Viking saga stories with lots of young Viking fans!
PS – I should just say, this way of working – with me and Cate coming up with the idea together, pitching it together and working together – is VERY RARE. Normally I never even meet the artists who illustrate my words. But I like this way of doing it!
I had the oddest feeling as I was writing the Spellchasers trilogy. Whenever I injured my characters, I kept expecting Helen to turn up, and start to do her first aid thing.
I am still quite happy with my decision to end the Fabled Beast Chronicles and to start writing another set of magical adventures. I might (maybe, perhaps) return to Helen, her music and her world in another book, sometime far in the future. But right now I’m delighted to be in Molly’s world, with shapeshifting and races, curses and crows.
Of course there are a few minor similarities in the two worlds I’ve created.
There’s my persistent habit of having a horse-boy as a sidekick. In the Fabled Beasts series, there’s Yann, the centaur, half horse and half boy. And in Spellchasers, there’s Innes, the kelpie shapeshifter, who can be either horse or boy.
Ok, I admit it. I like to write characters who can gallop, kick hard, and who aren’t always friendly and polite. But Innes and Yann are very different people, with very different problems, and very different ways of dealing with those problems. Not the same horse-boy at all.
And there are Scotland’s hills, rivers, trees and weather. But Fabled Beasts was mostly about places I love visiting on holiday: Orkney, Skye, Sutherland etc, whereas Spellchasers is set in Speyside, in the town where I grew up and went to school. So that was VERY different to research and to write.
There are baddies, of course. But because it’s a trilogy, the baddies in Spellchasers all have a connection to each other. So even though I do introduce a new villain in each new book, the old threat from the previous book might still be hanging around. The same dark magic just keeps getting darker and more dangerous…
And of course, there’s a group of friends. But there are no dragons or selkies or phoenixes in Spellchasers. This time there’s that kelpie, a dryad, a sphinx, and a toad. Though I have to admit that flower fairies appear in a cameo role in Spellchasers. But I know Lavender will be horrified by what I do to them.
Also, the Spellchasers team aren’t actually Molly’s friends. They have the same goal, and they work together, but that doesn’t mean they’re friends. So I didn’t trust the Spellchasers team in the way I could always trust Rona and Sapphire and even Yann… Especially Yann.
So, Spellchasers and Fabled Beasts are very different. I wanted to write something different, and I hope I have. I hope I’ve created a new adventure in a new world.
But is it a different world, or is it the same world? I wondered about that, as I was creating Molly’s world. And perhaps it could be the same world. There’s nothing in the magic or the plot of Spellchasers that says it isn’t the same world as Fabled Beasts. Nothing happens in these adventures, that would be impossible in the world that Helen and Yann adventured in. And of course, The Beginner’s Guide to Curses is set in a part of Scotland that Yann and Helen never visited, so it could even be happening at the same time!
But there is one major difference between the world of the Spellchasers and the world of the Fabled Beasts. In Spellchasers, some of the magical beings aren’t too worried about hiding their existence or identity. Innes and Beth go to the local primary school, and some of their classmates (the ones whose families tell the old stories) know they are a kelpie and a dryad, who look after the rivers and the trees. And Molly’s entirely human aunt knows where to find a local witch when Molly needs help with a magical problem.
So, some perceptive human residents of Craigvenie know a bit about the magic around them. And that never happened in the Fabled Beast Chronicles. Yann and the rest went to great efforts to hide their homes and their existence. The Fabled Beasts’ adventures could have been happening right here, right now, in a world where we tell magical stories but don’t believe in magic next door.
So perhaps the world of Spellchasers is the same as the world of Fabled Beasts, perhaps Helen and Molly might meet some day. Or, perhaps Spellchasers is set in a world a little bit more magical than our world, one where your neighbour might be magical and you might KNOW!
But whether it’s the same world or not, it’s certainly a world with danger and fights and injuries. And there were times, when I was writing the first draft and someone got hurt, that I wanted, even expected, Helen to turn up with her first aid kit and take over!
I did miss Helen’s first aid skills, her common sense, and her experience balancing the magical and human world. The first two books in the Spellchasers trilogy take place over just ten days, and the third is set only a few months later. Even by the end of the trilogy, Molly is still trying to work out how this magical world she’s fallen into works. I’m sure she’d have benefited from what Helen learnt in a couple of years of adventuring, and she’d certainly have benefitted from the first aid kit…
But Molly has one advantage that Helen doesn’t. Speed. Molly is really really really fast on her feet. (Or on her paws!) And that was so much fun to write!
So, I can’t wait to find out what you think of Molly’s world, and the magic Molly encounters…
There are so many exciting things about being a writer:
- Having the initial idea
- Writing the first line and the first scene
- Meeting and getting to know your characters
- When your characters come to life and do something unexpected
- Writing shocking / surprising / challenging scenes
- Working out how to get your characters out of a trap
- Working out how to defeat the baddie
- Getting to the end
- Going back and slashing out lots of words to find the story inside the clutter
- Getting first reactions from early readers…
All of those are fab. And all of them are why I do this job.
But after all the excitement of writing a story, there’s a different sort of excitement. The moment a story becomes a book.
And here it is! Here is The Beginner’s Guide to Curses as an actual book!
I’ve held it. I’ve cuddled it. I’ve flicked through it to double-check a line that I needed to be sure of in order to get a scene right in the next book. I’ve read the first page out loud to kids in a bookshop.
So, it’s definitely a real book.
And I’ll be reading from it, chatting about it and signing it at the Edinburgh Book Festival on the 13th of August, if you want to come along.
Then after that, wherever you are, you should be able to get hold of a copy of your own! (Or if you are very keen, you can pre-order it…)
Because of course the entire point of a story becoming a book is so that other people can read it!
And now – even more excitement. (Because being a writer is ALL about the excitement.) I can now also show you the covers for the other two books in the trilogy:
What do you think? I particularly like the looming baddies at the top of each book, and I love the fact that Molly and her friends are having to run faster every time to get away! (The artwork is by the brilliant Jordi Solano)
Now I’m off to put the finishing touches to The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away, then cut a few thousand words out of The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat, to get those stories ready to become lovely shiny books next spring and next autumn.
I just put a Fabled Beasts event up on my website diary (Falkirk Waterstones, Sat 16th July, hope to see you there!) at which I will probably read from First Aid For Fairies or perhaps Storm Singing, then chat about fabled beasts and how to write adventures.
I do lots of Fabled Beasts events. I really enjoy them. And I’ve just realised that I’m about to stop doing them.
I thought I’d said goodbye to Helen, Yann, Rona and the other Fabled Beast Chronicles characters a few years ago, when Maze Running was published.
But I’ve just realised that the real goodbye is this summer.
Because, even though Maze Running was published a few years ago, whenever I’m invited to speak to pupils or readers of the right age group, I always start my event with a reading from the Fabled Beast Chronicles, then a chat about how I wrote Helen’s adventures (unless I’m specifically asked to do something else by the organisers.) But that’s all going to stop. Very soon. August, in fact.
I’m really really really excited that the first book in the Spellchasers trilogy is coming out in September. And I’m so looking forward to introducing readers to Molly, Innes, Beth and the other characters, and the danger I put them in, and the magic that surrounds them.
But doing lots of Spellchasers events means I won’t be doing Fabled Beast events any more.
If I visit a P5 class next autumn, I will be reading from Beginner’s Guide to Curses. Next spring, I will be reading for Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away. And from autumn 2017, I will be reading from Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat. As soon as the first book of the trilogy is launched, Spellchasing will be my default event. Obviously if I’m specifically asked to do a Fabled Beasts event, for a class who are doing a project on it, for example, I will be genuinely delighted to do that. But otherwise, all my adventure novel events will be based on Spellchasers.
And that’s fantastic.
But it is also a little bit sad.
my favourite reading…
I’ve just looked at my calendar. I think I’m doing two more events where I will read from the Fabled Beast Chronicles. That’s only two more times that I’ll be able to read my favourite scene from all four books (the cave scene from Storm Singing, with the definitely vain and possibly murderous mermaids.)
Only two more times. And that’s it. Then it’s all about Molly and curses and shapeshifters and spellchasing. And it’s good bye to fabled beasts and centaurs and phoenixes and minotaurs. Sigh. But, if I hadn’t wanted this, I should have kept writing the Fabled Beast series, and not allowed myself to get excited about any other ideas. But I wanted to meet new characters, I wanted to play with new magic and new dangers. This was my choice. So, I should stride ahead cheerfully into the Spellchasers world, and not look back to the Fabled Beasts world.
But it does feel a bit odd. There are lots of books I’ve written that I almost never read from now. Books that I’m really proud of, but that I hardly ever revisit. However,
the Fabled Beasts series has been the backbone of most of my events, for my whole writing life. Moving on to Spellchasers is the start of something new and exciting. But it’s the end of something too…
I’m really keen to introduce lots of new readers to the world of Spellchasers, so you can meet Molly, Innes, Beth and Atacama. And the toad (not that we know who the toad is…)
But I do hope that, once in a little while, I get the occasional excuse to read from a Fabled Beast Chronicles book too.
Any book has at least two phases of life, maybe a bit like a caterpillar and a butterfly. Or in the case of my new trilogy, like a tadpole and a toad…
For me, as a writer, the book is most alive when I’m writing it, when I’m living inside the story, when I’m making decisions about what happens next, when I can still make changes.
And with my new book, Spellchasers: The Beginner’s Guide to Curses, that phase is very nearly over. I will get one more chance to look at it, not to change my mind about character names or fight scenes or magical plotlines, but just to check that no apostrophes have gone for a walk and that no spelling mistakes have snuck in. After that, my role as this book’s writer will be over.
After that, it’s up to YOU!
After that, the book is only alive when you are reading it! (Or telling people about it, or drawing scenes from it, or acting it out in the garden on a sunny day, or imagining what might happen next after a cliffhanger, or wondering how you would cope if you had a magical curse thrown at you…) That’s when the book is at its most alive.
Normally the book would snooze for a while, in between me writing it, and readers reading it. The book would be waiting for the printer and the marketing people and the distributors and the book reviewers and all those other vital people to do their things.
But this particular book is so bouncy and alive, that it refuses to take a nap at all.
And so, Floris have decided to let a few, a very select few, readers have a look at Spellchasers: The Beginner’s Guide to Curses several months before it’s in the shops.
A few keen readers will get a chance to see a very early copy of the book (so early, it might not even be wearing its jacket…)
And you could be one of those readers!
All you have to do is tell my publishers why you want to get a sneak peek of the first Spellchasers adventure, and the winners will be the people who write in with the most creative reasons.
Here’s are all the details: the closing date, the email address, all of that sort of stuff.
So, if you want to bring Spellchasers: The Beginners’ Guide to Curses alive before anyone else, now’s your chance!
I’m children’s writer, and I write this blog mainly for children – readers, young writers, school classes, book groups etc, who want to understand how a writer writes. Everyone else welcome too though! And please do comment if you have any questions, or want me to blog about anything specific.