Archive for the 'Myths, legends, folklore' Category

Touring Northern Ireland


Tom and Beth of the Scottish Book Trust's events team

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 PrimaryHoly 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…

IMG_4085Lisburn 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.

And finally

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…

IMG_4034The 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.

IMG_4047But 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!


Archive for the 'Myths, legends, folklore' Category

Riddling Adventures


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.

FBC quadrantBut 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.

Dragons-Hoard-CVRI 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…BsG smaller

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.DonSpellchasers2-ShapeshiftersGuide17

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.

a cauldron full of riddle answers

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!)

 


Archive for the 'Myths, legends, folklore' Category

Pawprints in the Snow


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…

 

DonSpellchasersSeriesRGB

If you want to read more about Molly, and what she did BEFORE Christmas, have a look at The Beginner’s Guide to Curses!


Archive for the 'Myths, legends, folklore' 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:

Dragons-Hoard-CVR

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!

IMG_3267


Archive for the 'Myths, legends, folklore' Category

We’re all going on a kelpie hunt…


A new book!  With a new monster! kelpie

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.

SoK huge and hungryI 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!Banner-SecretKelpieMap

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…

 


Archive for the 'Myths, legends, folklore' Category

a few new books for 2016…


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!

secret of the kelpie

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!

dragons hoard draft

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…

IMG_1888

And there might be some novels soon too. And a few fairies on the radio. But all of that will be revealed later…


Archive for the 'Myths, legends, folklore' Category

Why do we love shapeshifters?


I LOVE stories about shapeshifters.

I’ve made up a few shapeshifter stories myself: Rona, the selkie in the Fabled Beast Chronicles, regularly shifts from girl to seal and back again. And Rona was the first character, apart from Helen, who got her own point of view chapters and heroic action, in Storm Singing. Those scenes were some of the most challenging I’ve ever written, because I had to imagine myself as a creature of a completely different shape, with completely different abilities. Also thinking about why and when Rona would choose to shift from one shape to another was fascinating. (It usually came down to the use of hands …)

Most of my shapeshifting knowledge and lore comes from old stories, and a remarkably high percentage of my favourite traditional tales are about shapeshifters. When I collected my favourite Scottish folktales and legends in Breaking the Spell, four out of the ten tales were about shapeshifting of some kind or another.IMG_1920

In Girls, Goddesses and Giants, my collection of heroine stories, my favourite baddie (who is defeated by my favourite heroine) is a shapeshifting demon.

And The Tale of Tam Linn, a retelling of my favourite Scottish fairy tale, illustrated by the magically talented Philip Longson, is also about shapeshifting – a boy who is stolen by the fairies, and then turned into lots of different Scottish animals (stag, wolf, wildcat…) to try to prevent a girl from rescuing him.

Now, I’ve followed the logic of that path, and written a whole collection of shapeshifters.

Serpents & Werewolves is a collection of fifteen of my favourite shapeshifter stories… illustrated by Francesca Greenwood’s stunning silhouettes. There’s a frog, who doesn’t get kissed, and a dragon, who does. There are several werewolves: a goodie werewolf (sort of), some baddie werewolves (definitely), and a werewolf cub, who was great fun to write. There are escaping fish and diving birds and tricky foxes, a very large serpent and a very tiny caterpillar, and all of them change shape as the story goes on…IMG_1947

As with all the collections I write, some of these stories are ones I’ve loved and told for years. But some of them are new discoveries for me, as I researched shapeshifting tales, looking for stories that I wanted to get to know, from lots of different places, about lots of different animals.

And I found, as always, that researching and writing a book threw up more questions than answers:

Why does almost every culture in the world have stories about people changing into animals, and animals changing into people?

Why do we want (or need) to imagine something human in animals, and something animal in humans?

Why do we like to imagine ourselves with the strengths (and weaknesses) of animals?

Is it shapeshifting a superpower or a curse?

At a logical level (because I like my magic logical…) if you shift into something much bigger or much smaller than your human self, where does the extra bulk come from, or go to?

And what animal or bird what would I like to turn into… ?

My fascination with shapeshifting hasn’t ended yet! I’m still asking those questions, and I’m still writing about shapeshifters…

I can’t give too much away just yet, but in the trilogy of novels I’m working on, the main character is a slightly reluctant shapeshifter… So right now I am having great fun writing about creatures much smaller and much faster than I usually do.

So, there are more shapeshifters to come!

And if you want a wee taste of the stories in Serpents and Werewolves, here is a sample put online by my publishers….

SerpentsCover


Archive for the 'Myths, legends, folklore' Category

What Lari’s Doing Next… (Which is actually what Lari did earlier this year and last year and the year before!)


One of the weirder things about being a writer is the long delay between writing a book and the publication of the book. I have completely finished writing the words for at least (counting on my fingers) five books that won’t be out for months or even years, because they are still being illustrated or edited or just sitting waiting patiently in a queue to be published.

That means that when I finally launch a book, and chat to readers about that book, it might be a couple of years since I finished writing it. (And yes, I do reread my books before publication, so I don’t sound like I’ve forgotten them!)

It also means that there can be long gaps between new books, which makes it look like I’ve stopped writing (I haven’t), or lots of books at once, which makes it look like I’m suddenly churning books out (I’m not! I am just writing sort of steadily, most of the time…)

My most recent book (The Tale of Tam Linn, still one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever held in my hands) came out last year, and I’ve had a bit of a lull at the start of this year, but it’s all about to heat up again. I have quite a few books appearing on shelves in the next year or so, and I’m really excited about all of them.

So, here’s what next. Ranging from a book so nearly ready that we’ve actually got a cover, to a novel that I’ve not even started yet…serpent

Serpents & Werewolves, Stories of Animal Shapeshifters from Around the World.
Another collection of my favourite myths and legends, this time about shapeshifters. There are serpents and werewolves, but also dragons and swans and frogs…
This book is very nearly ready (look, we have a cover already!) and it will be published on the 10th of September 2015.

I’m also working on another collection of stories in the same series (along with Girls Goddesses and Giants, and Winter’s Tales). Wild Horses, Wings and Warriors (still a provisional title) will be a collection of horse myths and legends. No pony club stories, but lots of thundering hooves and battles! And perhaps a centaur.

tam-linnBut there’s more! Next spring there will be another Kelpies Traditional Tale picture book, illustrated by the amazing Philip Longson, who also illustrated The Tale of Tam Linn. I am so happy to be working with Philip again, and I can’t wait to see what he does with the monster in this story…

And even more… VIKINGS this time. breaking
The lovely Cate James and I, who worked together on Breaking the Spell, have another Frances Lincoln collaboration on the way.The Dragon’s Hoard is a collection of Viking sagas. There will be dragons, battles, boats and swords. And a swan. Also a zombie. (I didn’t expect the zombie.) I’ve finished the words, and Cate is working hard on the pictures, so this should be out in autumn 2016.

And still more. I’m also writing novels. Probably three novels. Possibly a trilogy. Likely to be set in the North East of Scotland. But whatever happens with all those probablies and possiblies and likelies, there will definitely be magic and danger.

So, that’s what’s next. I’d better get back to writing the books for 2017 and 2018…


Archive for the 'Myths, legends, folklore' Category

Why I don’t dress up for school Book Weeks


I spend a lot of time answering questions and encouraging story ideas from school children dressed as Thing 1 and Thing 2, various princesses, Mathilda, Frodo, centaurs (hello Yann), purple fairies (hello Lavender), Dorothy, Alice, the Cheshire Cat and an impressive number of Boys in Dresses.

Why? Because I’m often invited to schools during their Book Week and they often decide that the day I visit in the best day to Dress Up As Your Favourite Book Character. Which is lovely! I get a kick out of saying: great idea Gandalf, or fantastic question Hermione…

I don’t just speak to school halls filled with book characters on World Book Day or during Book Week Scotland, because lots of schools sensibly hold their book weeks at other times of the years. (It’s hard to get an author at short notice in early March and late November!)

When I’m standing up in front of pupils in fabulous costumes, I sometimes feel guilty that I haven’t dressed up myself. It’s not as if I don’t have favourite book characters…

But when I’m doing an author event, I am never just one person. I am me, obviously, chatting about how I write. But I’m also lots of other characters, when I’m reading from my own books, and when I’m telling the stories which inspire me.

For example, earlier this week, I visited an Edinburgh primary school filled with pupils (and teachers) in brilliant homemade outfits. I was just wearing my usual boring black and grey clothes, so I felt a bit underdressed! But in few hours I spent at the school, I was:

A mermaid
A girl drowning in a cave
A girl falling down a mountain
An untrustworthy magician
A Viking hero
A bossy king
A scared boy
A monster eating a bull
A shape-shifting demon (which involved brief moments as a caterpillar, a T Rex, a lion and a buffalo)
Several really annoyed gods
And a ten-armed Hindu heroine
(and that’s just what I can remember!)

Dressing up as Durga might be a bit distracting...

dressing up as Durga might be a bit distracting…

And I suspect it’s easier to be a lion and a mermaid and a god, if I’m wearing boring jeans and a cardi, rather than dressed as Gair from the Power of Three, or Annabeth from The Heroes of Olympus, or Janet from Tam Linn, or Francesca Greenwood’s amazing Durga from Girls Goddesses and Giants

So, that’s why I don’t dress up for all the Book Weeks I get invited to! But I’m always happy to see your costumes…

(And yes, if you’re wondering, getting to become a god, a heroine, a monster and a caterpillar even briefly as part of a normal working day, is one of the many reasons I love my job.)


Archive for the 'Myths, legends, folklore' Category

Looking Forward To 2015 – Another Writing Year


So, the kids are back to school. It’s the start of another writing year!

I don’t have many books being published this year, but I am working on quite a few books for the next couple of years. (Being a writer is not about instant gratification.)

I don’t have a novel coming out in 2015 (sorry!) mostly because I moved house (twice…) in 2013, then spent a fair chunk of 2014 campaigning in the Independence referendum. But I am working on an adventure novel right now, and I hope there will be exciting news about that sometime in 2015.

The next thing I’ll be doing for the novel is work out how to get my characters home after a shoreline battle, so that they can have an argument and answer a riddle.

Girls Goddesses GiantsI do have one book coming out in the autumn of 2015 though – a collection of shapeshifter stories (werewolves, snakes, hawks, foxes, caterpillars…) These are the old stories that inspire the magic and characters and action in my novels. I’m sure this book will be gorgeous because it’s being published by the same people who worked with me on Girls Goddesses and Giants, and on Winter’s Tales.

The next thing I’ll be doing for this collection is a very careful edit of a story about a frog.

spell2I’m also working on another collection which I’m very excited about – retellings of stories from the Viking sagas, with dragons and warriors and magic and polar bears. It’s been a real challenge to find the right stories (I read a lot of sagas in 2014…) The best thing about this book is working with one of my favourite artists, Cate James, who illustrated the wonderful Breaking the Spell. These Vikings are going to look fantastic!

The next thing I’ll be doing for this collection is whittle down the very long list of stories I’ve found, to focus on the absolutely best ones for the book. Oh, and have a cup of tea with Cate.

DonTale-of-Tam-LinnAnd I’m also very excited about a picture book I’m working on – another Traditional Tales retelling for Floris books, likely to be out in 2016. The Tale of Tam Linn is such a gloriously beautiful book, so I hope we can do something just as special with the kelpie tale I’m working on right now.

The next thing I’ll be doing for this picture book is read every single word out loud, to make sure it works in the air as well as on the page.

I have several other books on the go too, and I’m sure I’ll be able to tell you about them soon!

I hope you all have a creative and story-filled 2015! I’m off to meet some deadlines…