I know, I know, it’s a bit early for Christmas stories. But Floris challenged me to write a very short story about what Molly would be doing on Christmas Day, 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!
A new book! With a new monster!
My first book of 2016 has just been published! The Secret of the Kelpie is a picture book retelling the story of the Scottish kelpie – the shape-shifting, child-eating water-horse.
I did the research and wrote the words, and the fiendishly talented Philip Longson did the gorgeous scary illustrations.
The Secret of the Kelpie is about a family who meet a beautiful horse by the side of a loch and realise too late that the horse is a kelpie who plans to drag them into the water, to drown them and eat them… So the littlest sister Flora has to discover the kelpie’s secret and try to save her big brothers and sisters.
I had to do lots of research to find out about the kelpie’s powers and the kelpie’s secret. And I found out that there are lots of different kelpie stories from lots of different parts of Scotland, and that kelpies in different places are different colours (white, gold, black…) and like to eat different people (children, fishermen, young women, married couples…) I discovered that some kelpies like their home comforts (one kidnapped a stone mason to build him a fireplace), that some kelpies are good at building themselves (there are bridges and churches and mills apparently built by kelpies), that some kelpies can grow bigger to fit more children on their backs and that some kelpies can be defeated by… actually, that’s a secret.
I was surprised to discover that not all kelpie stories are set by remote lochs in the Highland and Islands. There are great kelpie stories from the east too – from Angus and Aberdeenshire for example.
But now I had far too much kelpie research for one picture book. (Writers often end up with far more research than we need, unless we want our book to be a list, rather than a story.) But luckily, the research I did has also resulted in a MAP so that you can go on a kelpie hunt too!
My lovely publishers Floris have created an interactive map so that you can see all the locations in Scotland where kelpie stories are told, and click on the horse’s head in any location to read a snippet of the kelpie lore from that place.
So, why not find out about the kelpies nearest you, and see if you can go on a kelpie hunt during the Easter holidays or some weekend?
But if you meet a beautiful horse, be VERY VERY careful…
PS – But I have another even more exciting use for all my kelpie research, because one of the main characters in the Spellchasers trilogy (see previous blog post) is a kelpie, with a few different powers, and lots of different secrets! But you’ll have to wait til August to find out about him…
I can finally tell you all what I’ve been working on for the last three years. It’s a trilogy of adventure novels, called the Spellchasers Trilogy, and here’s the first cover:
What do you think? (The artwork is by Jordi Solano, and I think it’s fab!)
As you can see, the title of first book is:
The Beginner’s Guide to Curses
And I can reveal that the second and third titles are:
The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away
and The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat
I’ll be able to show you the covers for those soon (I hope!)
I can’t give you many details about the three novels just now, though I will almost certainly drop a few hints in the next few months. I can tell you there will be magic, and danger, and witches, and shapeshifting, and riddles, and chases, and a mysterious toad. And the story is set in Speyside, where I grew up.
The Beginner’s Guide To Curses comes out in August this year, The Shapeshifter’s Guide To Running Away will be published next spring, and The Witch’s Guide To Magical Combat will appear the autumn after that. So, they will all be out within about a year…
But if you think that’s far too long to wait, my publishers Floris Books are very kindly allowing a handful of young readers get a sneak peek of the book before it’s published, so if you’d like to read an early copy, head on over to Discover Kelpies blog, where I give a bit more info about the story, and where you can apply to get an early look at The Beginner’s Guide To Curses.
Now I’m off to finish the third book! (Just adding a bit more magic, and a bit more combat…)
I will be submitting the final draft of the first novel in my new trilogy to my editor next week. (And no, sorry, I can’t tell you the title. My publishers are going to reveal that in a burst of glitter and glory sometime soon…)
So I’ve spent this week doing some fairly odd last minute things to the book. The story is written. The words are all there. Now I’m catching daft mistakes, by double checking things I assumed were right when I wrote the first draft, and meant to check, but never quite got round to. And sometimes my assumptions are wrong.
For example, at the start of this week I found myself embroiled in:
The Toad Gait Scandal
One of the five main characters in this adventure is a toad. So I was checking whether toads inflate their throats when croaking (they do) when I noticed a tiny little line on a toad website about toads walking rather hopping. Which was a shock, because when I started writing this book, I assumed toads were basically warty frogs, and because I know frogs hop, I assumed toads hopped too. So in this book, my toad hops, leaps and jumps quite a lot. But at the time I noticed this awkward little line, I was dealing with croaks and throats. So I made a wee note to myself: ‘better check if toads really do walk rather than hop’
The next day, I saw the note and I thought, right, this will either take me 30 seconds or all day. If I find out that toads hop, there will be no changes required. But if I find out that toads don’t hop, I will have to go through the entire novel, all 60,000 words of it, and find every time this amphibian moves, then change the verb. And also possibly the whole page. Or whole chapter…
Because that’s the thing. Changing one word can unbalance or undermine a whole sentence, or a whole paragraph, or a whole scene. Writing a novel is like weaving a piece of fabric. If you pull on one thread, it can warp the pattern and create holes right across the loom. (And with a trilogy, it’s three times as complex…)
So, I took a deep breath, and googled how toads move.
And you can guess what happened. On several reputable wildlife and amphibian websites, I discovered that, even though frogs hop, toads walk. Yes. Go and look it up. They sort of crawl, in a sprawly fashion.
Here’s a toad I met at Jupiter Artland when I was writing the first draft. (In a wonderful cave made of purple crystals.) This toad was very helpful about posing for a photo, but didn’t move around enough for me to realise that TOADS DON’T HOP!
So, one quick assumption I made years ago about how toads move, from my basic (basically wrong…) general knowledge about frogs and toads, resulted in a whole day’s work this week.
Hence, the Toad Gait Scandal.
Other things I’ve checked this week:
Do hares make a noise when they are scared?
Do pike eat eels?
What size is a crow’s egg?
How long are the October school holidays in various council areas?
When were the prime witch-burning years in Scotland?
What’s the best way to dig up tatties?
Does ‘law’ mean ‘hill’ in Doric as well as in Scots?
None of them resulted in nearly so many changes as the Toad Gait Scandal, because most of my assumptions were correct…
But there was one other double check which resulted in even more than a day’s work, because it affected all three books of the trilogy. I had to double check a hare’s field of vision. I knew it would be wide, but I hadn’t realised how wide. It turns out that hares can see almost the whole 360 degrees around them, with just small blindspots to the front and back. Which makes them very hard to sneak up on, and meant I had to rewrite almost all my chase scenes.
Perhaps I have a blindspot about wildlife research?
Perhaps I shouldn’t jump (or indeed hop) to so many conclusions about animals without checking my facts?
Perhaps I should leave the puns alone? (Though calling that frustrating day’s work the Toad Gait Scandal did make me smile…)
So, that’s the fact checking done. Now I just need to have one more readthrough for silly typos, then the book will be ready for my editor next week. Which is very exciting. But even more exciting is that in a few months, the book will be ready for YOU!
Happy New Year!
I’m very much looking forward to 2016, because I have a few lovely new books to share with you!
It’s a bit of a mix this year: a picture book, a couple of collections and perhaps, maybe, if I get it finished in time… a novel! Here’s a sneak preview of what’s coming up (the ones I’m allowed to tell you about, anyway):
The Secret of the Kelpie – March
Every Scottish loch has its dark cold depths, and every Scottish loch has its kelpie… A retelling of the legend of the kelpie, the shapeshifting monster that lives in the water and steals children on the shores of the loch. I love kelpie stories, and this is my distillation of all the best and scariest bits of kelpie stories from all over Scotland. And it’s illustrated by the amazing Philip Longson. I’ve seen the inside illustrations, so I know that when this comes out in March, you are going to be amazed at this beautiful terrifying monster. In the meantime, here’s the cover!
The Dragon’s Hoard – September
Viking stories. But probably not the ones you know… These are my retellings of the Icelandic sagas, the stories told and written down in Iceland hundreds of years ago, the stories the Vikings told about themselves. This book (which took a LOT of research to get right) contains monsters, heroes, heroines, battles, duels, a zombie and a polar bear. Also riddles and babysitting… Cate James (who also did a lot of research!) has brought the spiky sharp bloody tales to life wonderfully, and I’m really looking forward to sharing these saga stories with readers and audiences!
The Horse of Fire – Autumn
I don’t have a cover yet, but this is a companion book to Girls Goddesses & Giants, Serpents & Werewolves and Winter Tales, so I’m sure it will have a lovely papercut horse by Francesca Greenwood on the cover! The Horse of Fire is a collection of horse stories, but it’s not pony club tales. This is filled with quests, dragons, winged horses, unicorns and centaurs. Also, horse dung…
And there might be some novels soon too. And a few fairies on the radio. But all of that will be revealed later…
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.