Archive for the 'Fabled Beast Chronicles' Category
‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I’m asked that question at almost every author event. It’s a great question, but there’s no quick easy answer!
My ideas don’t come from a place. I don’t think it’s possible to draw a map of where ideas come from. Maybe we need a history of ideas, rather a geography of ideas? Because I can tell you the history of the Spellchasers idea coming to life in my head…
All stories start with a spark of an idea, usually a ‘what if…?’
The first spark arrived when I was writing the third novel in the Fabled Beast Chronicles. That must have been in 2010 or 2011 – 6 or even 7 years ago. One of the new characters in Storm Singing was a mermaid called Serena. I had lots of fun writing her, partly because I was never entirely sure whether I liked her or not. And Serena was cursed. She was taking part in the same Sea Herald contest as my main character Rona, because she thought winning would help her to lift the curse on all mermaids. And one little line of Serena’s dialogue made me think about whether there was a right and wrong way to lift a curse, ie whether there were rules of curse-lifting, and I wondered if there was a story in that.
But I was still in the middle of editing Storm Singing and I knew there was another Fabled Beast Chronicles book to come, so I just scribbled the thought down and put it to one side.
So that was a wee spark, about the rules of curse-lifting. And it sat in my head for a while.
Then there was the moment that the story arrived. That wasn’t a spark, that was a firework, exploding in my head. I still remember how it felt.
It was in January, 2012, so just over 5 years ago. I was meant to be doing my tax return, but that’s really boring, so instead, I was having fun typing up a list of possible future book ideas. I found the little note I’d made about Serena’s curse, and I started to add it to the list, but as I typed, the sentence about rules of lifting curses became a question about ‘what if…?’ ‘What if there was a workshop about lifting curses, and what if lots of young cursed fabled beasts met on that workshop… ?’ And suddenly I wasn’t typing a list of possible future books, I was typing characters and curses. Then I started to see and hear what I thought might be the first scene, in a room with desks, and they were all snarking at each other and arguing about curses…
This is a blog post I wrote that day, showing just how excited I was… Rereading the post now is quite odd – I can still remember that physical sense of a story coming to life in my whole body, not just my head. (Also notice how I carefully didn’t give anything away about the details of the idea!)
So that was the point when I knew that this idea was strong enough to be a book.
But I was still finishing the Fabled Beast series and I knew I wanted to write Mind Blind next. So I put this idea to the side again. But I was really excited about it, and I was sure it was one I was going to write very very soon. However, at that point, the idea was based around a mermaid, not a hare. So it still wasn’t Molly’s story.
And then, the third spark:
That was also when I knew that I had to write this book as soon as I could. In fact, I never sent the winter hare story (I wrote something else about paper snow) because I knew this character’s adventure wasn’t a short story, it was a novel.
But soon, it wasn’t even a novel, because once I went on the curse-lifting workshop with Molly and the others, there was so much story, so much magic, so many questions to answer, that it become a trilogy.
And now you can read the trilogy (well, the first two parts anyway!)
So that, as far as I can remember it, is the history of how the idea for the Spellchasers trilogy arrived in my head and grew into the story I started to write. But it’s still not a complete answer to the ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ question, because every other novel idea has arrived in a completely different way!
Though one common factor is noticing the ideas when they arrive, and remembering to write them down. And the other common factor seems to be that writing stories (or even lists) gives me ideas for other stories! So that’s not a ‘where’, that’s a ‘when’ and a ‘how’ and maybe even a ‘why’…
Archive for the 'Fabled Beast Chronicles' Category
I’m just back from a week-long tour of Northern Ireland – the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour, organised by the wonderful Beth and Tom of the Scottish Book Trust, with the help of Book Trust Northern Ireland. And I had a brilliant time!
I visited pupils from 13 different schools, in ten different events, ie two events a day from Monday to Friday. I read scenes from the first and sometimes the second Spellchasers books, and occasionally a bit of a Fabled Beast Chronicle too. I also chatted about how stories worked, and told a myth, legend or folktale in every school as well. I had a wonderful time in each school, and I can (almost) remember what we did in each session:
Holy Child Primary and St John’s Primary in Derry: our first school, so I took a risk and told a story about an Irish Celtic hero visiting Scotland. I got away with it, though it turns out I’ve been pronouncing Cuchullin wrong all these years…
Hollybush Primary in Culmore: This time I told a Scottish folktale, one I tell at home all the time, but it felt quite strange taking a Scottish story across the sea, almost like being an ambassador for Scottish trad tales! Also, it turns out that they don’t call potatoes ‘tatties’ in Northern Ireland…
St Joseph’s Primary in Dunloy: Their hall had a very echoey wooden floor and I was wearing very clunky boots, so after consulting the P4s (always wise people to consult) I took my boots off and did the whole session in my socks. I told a Viking myth, which meant that I got to be Loki in stocking soles and sneak around like a real god of mischief.
St Patrick’s Primary in Glenariff: they were reading Wolf Notes, and the hall was filled with wonderful pictures of wolves! (And centaurs…) Also, a pupil called Molly was our guide round the school, and she was remarkably relaxed about how badly I treat the Molly in Spellchasers…
St Comgall’s Primary in Antrim: This session started with a witch chasing a phoenix, and ended with an amazing Q&A session in which a P6 girl asked a question that I’ve never been asked before, and as I thought my way round an answer I found myself having an idea for a new novel while standing in front of 290 primary pupils…
Phoenix Integrated Primary in Cookstown and St Patrick’s Primary from Monymore: I couldn’t help myself. I was in a school called PHOENIX Primary, so I chatted to them about Catesby, the phoenix in Fabled Beast Chronicles, and we also come up with lots of exciting cliffhangers, not all of them about fiery birds!
Carrick Primary in Lurgan: The Carrick pupils created a story by trapping a tiger in a cage, but the tiger kept (almost) escaping. It was a relief that we reached the end of the story without anyone in the school getting eaten! Then, inspired by their tiger trapping, I told them a Hindu myth.
Templepatrick Primary and St Joesph’s Primary, Ballyclare: this was our biggest audience, with more than 300 children in one hall. They were incredibly well behaved and listened to each other’s ideas and questions so politely! We invented a chase in which a werewolf was trying to eat a rainbow elf. Did the elf get away safely? That’s the cliffhanger…
Lisburn Central Primary, Lisburn: I met some very imaginative pupils, who invented some great cliffhangers, and also come up with some very positive and cheerful endings for my favourite (but usually quite tragic) Viking myth.
St Mary’s Star of the Sea, Belfast: the very last school, with a very lovely warm welcome. (They brought us chocolate biscuits before we started…) It got a bit more dangerous once we started talking about stories, because we trapped a fairy godmother in a cave. With sharks. But it all ended happily, just like the tour!
I was asked wonderful questions in every single school. I can’t remember them all, because I concentrate on answering the questions, not scribbling them down. But I do remember the one which prompted a novel idea. And I’ll never forget the one which stumped me completely. Someone in the front row in St Patrick’s on Tuesday asked me:
‘If you had to kill one of Helen or Molly, who would you kill?’
I did try, but I just couldn’t answer it. So I wimped out and said I’d fight whichever baddie wanted me to make that choice, in order to give both my heroines time to get away…
Beth, Tom and I visited the Giant’s Causeway one evening as the sun went down.
And I found a 1000 year old fort, all grown over with grass, on a night-time walk in a town called Moira, and scrambled over it in the dark and the rain. (That prompted a few story ideas too.)
I must say that the Scottish Book Trust team were fantastic. Beth and Tom were extremely efficient and well organised, and looked after me very well (except when they took me to Dangerous Places) but they were also fun to spend 6 days with. We played several very serious games (or perhaps very silly games which we took very seriously) in the car. They taught me games involving actual horses and imaginary thimbles and I taught them one involving yellow cars.
They drove me around in a big car (small van?) which left Edinburgh full of boxes of books, and by the time we headed home was almost empty. Which I’m sure will make my publishers happy.
But the best thing about the van was the squirrel on the bonnet, and various other wonderful Scottish animals reading books painted on the sides – all created by the illustrator Sarah Macintyre. It was a lovely cheerful vehicle in which to visit all these villages, towns and cities.
And driving between the schools was wonderful, because Northern Ireland is very beautiful. It has lots of green fields and hills, but also dramatic glens and rocky coastlines.
It was a privilege to share stories with all those imaginative Northern Irish pupils, and to visit all their lovely welcoming schools. Thanks so much to everyone who put the tour together and who made it such a wonderful experience!
Archive for the 'Fabled Beast Chronicles' Category
I love riddles! And I don’t try to hide my love of riddles: I’ve put riddles in every single one of my novels so far…
I shamelessly used the Halloween guising scene in Mind Blind to slip in one of my favourite short riddles.
You to look at bit sideyways to find the riddle in Rocking Horse War.
But riddles are an essential part of the plot of the Fabled Beast Chronicles, with the task of solving or matching riddles of some kind in every single one of Helen’s adventures.
And riddles are an even more important part of the Spellchasers trilogy, because they are an essential part of the life, job and self-image of one of the most important Spellchaser’s characters: Atacama the sphinx.
I slip riddle tales into my folklore and legend collections too, like the Russian girl who solves the Tsar’s riddles in Horse of Fire, and Odin putting on a silly hat to solve a king’s riddles in Dragon’s Hoard…
Where do all these riddles come from? In the folktale and legend retellings, I often use or adapt the original riddles. But for the novels, I always write original riddles. I could probably add riddle-writing to my CV now, I’ve written so many…
But why do I write them? There are so many fantastic riddles out there (I know because kids often bamboozle me with ones I haven’t heard!) so why do I make up new riddles?
Because the riddles need to fit the story. Sometimes the answers are linked to the plot, sometimes the riddles are designed to allow the characters (usually Innes…) to argue about the answers. Also, I want to surprise readers, rather than give them a riddle they might already know.
Also, honestly, I like inventing new riddles. There’s a satisfaction to it, an elegance and a logic that you usually only get with numbers. I sometimes call it maths with words – two of my favourite things together! (Yes, I love maths. I did maths at university. I love algebra and circles and straight lines and triangles and problem-solving… ) Also, one of my daughters is a riddle-master, and sometimes we collaborate on the riddles, which is great fun.
But I don’t just write riddles for books. Last autumn I wrote five new riddles for The Beginner’s Guide to Curses launch, and was very impressed at how fast all the young adventure fans answered them.
And now I’ve written three more riddles (with the help of Atacama, of course) for a competition run by my publishers to win a signed copy of the next Spellchasers novel: The Shapeshifters Guide to Running Away.
I wonder if you can answer them? Good luck…
(I might be doing a few riddle-writing workshops once Shapeshifter’s Guide is published, so keep an eye on my diary if you want to learn my riddle-writing secrets!)
Archive for the 'Fabled Beast Chronicles' Category
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?
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.
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.
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 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 'Fabled Beast Chronicles' Category
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 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…
Archive for the 'Fabled Beast Chronicles' Category
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.
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…
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….