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The Spellchasers trilogy – all together at last!

The Spellchasers trilogy now contains three books! (Maybe I’ve been misleading everyone by calling it a trilogy up til now, when there was only one book, then only two books?)

book fest event on stageBut now there are definitely three books, because I stood on stage at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Saturday, to read from and chat about The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat, the third book in the Spellchasers trilogy, then I signed quite a few shiny blue books in the signing tent afterwards.

So, the third book is out there. Young readers have started to read Molly’s last adventure. (And Beth, Innes, Atacama and the toad’s last adventure…) Which is incredibly exciting, for me anyway!

Does that mean The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat has been published? No, not quite yet. This book has three birthdays. It was launched at the Edinburgh Book Festival at the weekend, so there are copies in the kids’ book tent in Charlotte Square right now. The official publication day is this Thursday (17th August) so it will be available in real bookshops with solid walls from the end of this week. And there will be a launch party, for my family and friends to nibble crisps while I talk about how I wrote the book, at the start of September. Then the book will definitely be out there and available!

book-homeIt was an amazing experience, holding all three books up, and talking about the whole story all at once. It felt like reaching the end of my journey with Molly and the rest of the Spellchasers team.

It wasn’t easy though. I’ve realised that discussing a trilogy without giving away spoilers is very tricky. Some of the questions asked by audience members who’d read The Beginners’ Guide to Curses and The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away were very specific, so I  tied myself in knots not to give too much away to people who hadn’t read that far yet. The one about the toad’s back story and the one about Molly’s changing relationship with her curse were particularly hard to answer honestly without ruining the story!

But despite having to dance round spoilers, I had fun! It was wonderful to share a tent with so many adventure fans, and with all their imaginative ideas and knowledgeable questions. book fest queue

The signing queue was great too. It was quite long, but everyone was very patient and cheerful. I dedicated lots of books to keen Atacama and Beth fans, so clearly writing about big black cats with riddles and trees with attitude was a good plan! I also spoke to lots of kids who are already writing their own stories, so perhaps I’ll be enjoying their events at the Edinburgh Book Festival in a few years’ time…

So, now that the trilogy is complete, it’s time I made a tough decision. What story will I write next?

Archive for the 'Book festivals' Category

What is it about Vikings?

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?IMG_3279

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.)IMG_3295

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.IMG_3304

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.IMG_3274

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!


Archive for the 'Book festivals' Category

When a story becomes a book

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!

IMG_2785I’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.

Archive for the 'Book festivals' Category

The only thing I hate about being an author…

I love being an author. The best bit is writing stories and adventures, but I love lots of the other bits of being an author too. I enjoy redrafting and I really love working with editors. I love meeting readers and talking about my books too.
But the one bit of being an author that I really don’t enjoy is …
getting my photo taken!
At family birthday parties and on family holidays, I avoid being in photos (usually by taking them) but at book launches and book events, and for newspaper articles and book festival programmes, I find myself grinning at a camera on a regular basis.
That grin can get painful after a while. I bet it never looks natural.
And my hair… I always forget to brush it
And my clothes… I only have a couple of tops which are tidy enough to wear in public so they appear in rotation in all the photos…
So, I really don’t like getting my photo taken.
But now I’ve found the best way to do it. Share the picture with a DRAGON! Because then hardly anyone will pay any attention to me.
Or even better, share the pictures with a DRAGON and lots of school pupils, because then noone will pay any attention to me!

And I made this discovery during our recent Dragon Tour. The Fabled Beast Chronicles have splendid new covers, and the clever marketing people at Floris came up with the idea of a dragon tour to publicise the new covers. So Nuria designed and created a dragon costume for her car, and we drove to various schools all over Scotland and the north of England, then dressed the car as Sapphire at each school.

We started at Pirniehall School in Edinburgh, where we learnt how to dress a dragon VERY fast.
Pirniehall pupils

The same day, we flew up to Forthview Primary, where every single child from P1 to P7 came out into the carpark to pat and stroke and feel Sapphire’s scales and teeth!

Then we went to the Strathearn campus in Crieff, and children from Crieff Primary, Muthill Primary and Braco Primary schools met Sapphire.

Then our longest journey – up to Arduthie Primary in Stonehaven, where it was so windy we had to anchor the corners of the flames down with children!
Pupils at Arduthie (2)

Then we took the Fabled Beast Chronicles to Cumbria, first to Hunter Hall School which has RED SQUIRRELS on its school tie!
Hunter Hall pupils (2)

Then to Armathwaite School, where the amazingly confident and creative children spent the whole of their morning break and most of lunchtime playing with Sapphire
Pupils at Armathwaite 6 (2)

We might take the dragon tour to a couple of other parts of Scotland, once Sapphire has had time to recover (and dry out) but in the meantime: thanks so much to every school we visited, you were all fantastic! (And a huge thanks from me to Nuria – well done for creating such a wonderful dragon, and for all your wonderful dragon navigation!)
Nuria with Sapphire

But to be honest, I still don’t like getting my photo taken…

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Why read a manuscript when you can no longer change it?

Today, I’m going to sit down and read Mind Blind, my new teen thriller. Which isn’t that unusual. I’ve been reading, rereading, redrafting and tweaking Mind Blind constantly over the last few months.
But today, I can’t change anything. Mind Blind has already gone to the printers. It’s going to be available in bookshops on the 20th of March. Next month! Today I’m going to be reading the manuscript without the power to change anything, which will be a bit strange and frustrating.
So why am I reading it?
Because this time I’m not looking for things I can fix or improve, I’m looking for quotes and readings.
My relationship with Mind Blind is changing. For a long time I was writing the book: getting to know the characters, following new ideas, finding out what happens next. Then for months (most of last year!) I was redrafting and editing: working out the best way to tell the story. But now, I’m getting ready to promote the book: telling people about it, getting readers interested in it.
To do that, I need to find readings and quotes.
It’s an odd time. It feels like the book isn’t really mine any more. I’m a writer, but I can’t WRITE this book any more. I can’t come up with new ideas, I can’t change any words, or cut out any flabby bits. All I can do is help the book get out there and find readers. Because once a book stops being mine, when I can’t write it any more, it becomes the readers’ book instead.
So today, I’ll be rereading Mind Blind, looking for:
Sections to read during author events (in classrooms, in bookshops, in libraries, at book festivals etc)
Short quotes to give a flavour of the book
Sections to film on location
All of these readings need to be different – different lengths, focussed on different bits of the story – but they all need to have similarities too. All the readings must be exciting and self-contained, but they shouldn’t give away too much about the plot. They need to introduce the characters and their problems, but not give away how those problems are solved. They need to be short and punchy, and not need much explanation.
None of that is easy to find! So it means reading the book in a different way, almost with different eyes.
Also for the first time, I’ll be filming sections of Mind Blind in both London and Edinburgh, where the story is set, and that’s going to make things even more complicated. Normally I don’t choose readings from near the end of a book, but we’re planning to film in several locations in Leith which only appear in the final couple of fights and chases, so it’s going to be difficult to find readings which don’t contain spoilers!
But there is one other thing I will be looking for today, and it’s the most exciting thing of all. While I’m reading through Mind Blind, I might glimpse a few wee hints of story and characters and ideas that might, just might, point me in the direction of a sequel. And that would give me a whole new relationship, as a writer, with these characters.
So, here I go…
“I killed a girl today, just after the school bell…”

the first page of Mind Blind

the first page of Mind Blind

Archive for the 'Book festivals' Category

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