Archive for the 'Maze Running' Category

The history of an idea…


‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I’m asked that question at almost every author event. It’s a great question, but there’s no quick easy answer!

My ideas don’t come from a place. I don’t think it’s possible to draw a map of where ideas come from. Maybe we need a history of ideas, rather a geography of ideas? Because I can tell you the history of the Spellchasers idea coming to life in my head…

All stories start with a spark of an idea, usually a ‘what if…?’

But Molly’s story started with three different sparks, at three different times. Which is probably appropriate for a trilogy!fabled beast chronicles storm singing

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. IMG_4106I 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:
winter book spring flowers 2
In 2013, so almost 4 years ago, someone asked me to write a very short story about winter, to publicise a book of winter stories I was launching. The first image that came to mind for a winter tale was a hare’s pawprints in the snow. So I wrote a page about running like a hare, about being chased as a hare. And as I wrote, I knew this wasn’t a real hare, it was a person who had become a hare.That was when I knew who my main character was, and what her curse was. And I knew this book was no longer about a mermaid, which I’d honestly never been convinced about, it was about a human girl transformed into a hare.

That was also when I knew that I had to write this book as soon as I could. In fact, I never sent the winter hare story (I wrote something else about paper snow) because I knew this character’s adventure wasn’t a short story, it was a novel.

But soon, it wasn’t even a novel, because once I went on the curse-lifting workshop with Molly and the others, there was so much story, so much magic, so many questions to answer, that it become a trilogy.

And now you can read the trilogy (well, the first two parts anyway!)

DonSpellchasersSeriesRGB

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 'Maze Running' 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!

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Archive for the 'Maze Running' 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!
forthview

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

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…


Archive for the 'Maze Running' Category

Fabled Beast Chronicles – the shock of the new


The First Aid for Fairies series has a new name and a new set of covers!

And I’m not sure how I feel about that. I really love the covers of the books that I’ve been reading and talking about for years, and I’ve got so used to them that it’s hard to imagine those stories and those characters wearing any other covers.

But even though I still do a double take every time I look at the new covers, I think I’m already falling in love with them too. (Anyway, the new covers aren’t available until September, so I have plenty of time to get used to them!)

So, here they are, complete with their new name: Fabled Beasts Chronicles.

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The incredible artwork is by Manuel Sumberac, and the covers were designed by the very talented Leah McDowell. And they are certainly very glossy, very professional and absolutely fantastic.

The inside pages of the novels are also newly snazzy, with fancy chapter headings:
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This means that First Aid For Fairies And Other Fabled Beasts has now had THREE covers in its seven year history. Here they are:

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I’m going to be honest, and say that I never really liked the original cover for First Aid For Fairies And Other Fabled Beasts. I was sort of fond of it, because it was the cover of the very first book I ever had published. But I never thought it was right for the story. It seemed too pink and fluffy and girly and young for the cover of a book with minotaurs and snakes and battles in the dark of the night…

However I really did love the silhouettes and colours of the next set of covers. Also, these are the covers that most readers know, because from Wolf Notes onwards these covers appeared with each new book in the series.

But Floris Books wanted to bring all the books together with a series title because, after all, the First Aid For Fairies And Other Fabled Beasts series is quite long and unwieldy.

So, they came up with these new covers.

I’m going to admit I don’t even know who some of the characters ARE in the covers. Though to be fair, that was true of the first set too. Who is the bloke in the cloak on the rock on the Wolf Notes cover? Is he a one of the Celtic heroes? I’ve never been sure…

WolfNotescover (1)

So, on the newest First Aid cover, which of the girls is Helen, which is Rona?
fabled beast chronicles First Aid

I don’t know. But that’s ok. The covers are there to draw readers in, to give them a flavour of the adventure and magic inside, to attract their attention and to intrigue them enough to pick the books up and open them. And I think these covers do that job brilliantly.

My favourite is the Wolves Notes cover, with that incredible sword standoff between the wolves and Lee and Helen. (At least, I think it’s Lee and Helen. They’ve got excellent hair, whoever they are…)

fabled beast chronicles Wolf Notes

Which is your favourite new cover, and how do you think they compare to the previous covers? And do you associate other favourite books with specific covers, and get a shock when the publishers decide to update them?

Please let me know!

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Archive for the 'Maze Running' Category

Mind Blind – ticking none of the usual boxes


So, what is a Lari Don book then? 

I’ve written 21 books, 6 of them novels, so it’s probably fair to claim that I don’t write just one kind of book. But up until now, there have been a few recognisable threads running through most of my books – if it had magic and myth and fabled beasts and Scottish landscapes, then it might be a Lari Don book.

But now I’ve written something totally different to anything I’ve ever written before. Because Mind Blind, my first teen thriller, is published this week.

Mind Blind is for older readers. I’ve written picture books (about bottoms and wolves), I’ve written short chapter books (about tigers and wolves), I’ve written adventure books (about dragons and wolves), I’ve written collections of legends (about heroines and wolves). The nearest I’ve come in age so far is novellas for reluctant readers (no wolves, yet).

But I’ve not written a full length novel for older readers before and it was a very different book to write. I could do a lot of things I’ve never done before. Swear. Injure people. Kill people. Make texts and smart phones an important part of the plot. Use public transport rather than dragons.

And Mind Blind is about a boy.  A teenage boy. I’ve written as a boy before – a male phoenix and a blue loon in Maze Running – but only for a couple of chapters.  Becoming a teenage boy for months on end was an interesting experience.

Also Mind Blind is written in the first person, so we are inside Ciaran’s head, seeing the world through his eyes, all the time.  (Except when we’re inside Lucy’s head. This was meant to be a book about Ciaran, but Lucy became so important to the story, that almost half the novel is from her point of view… )

Ciaran Bain is not a goodie either, unlike Helen or Pearl in my other novels. He’s a criminal, he does a lot of dodgy and illegal and even cruel things. And yet I am asking the reader to care about him and what happens to him – which was a bit of a challenge!

So.  Mind Blind has no magic, it has lots of crime, and it has no lovely Scottish landscapes.  No mountains or forests or islands or caves or castles. Mind Blind happens on rooftops and at bus stations and in docklands.  It’s not even set completely in Scotland!  It starts in London, spends a fair amount of time on a bus (not a fun journey…) then finally ends up in Edinburgh and Leith for the last third of the book.

Mind Blind doesn’t tick any of my usual boxes. That is exactly why I wanted to write it. And exactly why I want to hear what you think of it!

(Though, as I write this, I realise there is one book which was almost the precursor to Mind Blind, in a tangential way: Drawing a Veil – a novella about a girl who decides to wear the hijab and how her best friend and classmates react. When I wrote it, I did keep thinking – gosh this is tough, solving plot problems without magic! The story also ends on a bridge in an industrial area, just like Mind Blind. In fact, both endings were inspired by the same bridge in Leith, but in both books the bridge has changed slightly to fit the plot. So anyone who’s read Drawing a Veil might have thought that I was heading for teen thriller territory. I didn’t realise it myself when I was writing about Amina though!)

I’m always keen to know what readers think about my books. Feedback is very important to writers, and especially so with Mind Blind – because it’s like my very first book all over again!

So, if it sounds like your sort of book, please go and read Mind Blind (paperback, ebook, from a shop, from the world-encirling amazon or even FOR FREE from your local library) and let me know what you think!

Many Mind Blinds in a box

Many Mind Blinds in a box

And here is Mind Blind IN A BOX even if it doesn’t tick the usual boxes!


Archive for the 'Maze Running' Category

Researching adventures at the right time of year


When I write adventures set in the Scottish landscape, I always research the place I’m writing about. Caves, mountains, castles, cliffs, rivers, seashores, mazes – I’ve visited them all, to make sure that I’m describing the atmosphere and the location correctly in the book. I do this when it’s a real place (Traquair Maze, Dunvegan Castle, Smoo Cave) or when it’s an invented place (Dorry Shee forest, the village of Clovenshaws, the campsite at Taltomie, the Keystone Peak.) And yes, I know, I can’t visit an imaginary place, but I visit places like it and I create patchwork of all of them.
So, I always visit the locations. If you live there or if you go there on holiday, and you’ve read one of my books, you should be able to recognise the location, and feel like the story could really happen there.
But the one thing I hardly ever do is visit the location at the right time of year. I always seem to be writing the novel urgently at one time of the year even though the story is set at another time of year, or else I can only get to the other end of the country to research during the school holidays but the story is set in term time…
I researched the caves and cliffs of Storm Singing, which is set in the autumn, in February (and that is a COLD time of year to be on the Sutherland coast…) I researched the forests and islands of Wolf Notes, which is set in the spring, in the autumn. I researched the waterfall scene in Maze Running, which is set in the spring, on Christmas Eve. That was cold too. I researched the mountains of Rocking Horse War, which is set in the summer (so that my characters didn’t freeze) in the late autumn, when my family and I nearly did freeze.
And for First Aid for Fairies, which is set in midwinter, we visited the Ring of Brodgar in the summer holidays. Which sounds like it might be the only time I didn’t make my family shiver while researching a novel, but actually, it was windy and cold in Orkney that day and we had to shelter behind the stones to eat our sandwiches…
However, despite the shivers and the extra gloves, researching at the wrong time of year is fine for paths, rocks, walls, caves and castles, which are there all year round. But it’s not ideal for local plants, flowers and trees, which change with the seasons.
In the adventure I’m writing right now, trees are very important to one of my characters, so I really wanted to discover exactly what the trees in the right area of Scotland are like at exactly the right time of year.
Both books I’m writing this month – the teen thriller I’m editing and the adventure book I’m about a quarter of the way through writing – are set in October. And this IS October. So I’m really lucky that when I’m checking what time it gets dark in Edinburgh next week, which is when the thriller is set, I’ll just be able to look out of my window. And when I wanted to know what a birch wood in Speyside looks like during the tattie holidays, I just went up last week, and took a few photos and a lot of notes (in the rain and wind, obviously!)
So, for the first time, these books will be researched, at least partly, in not just the right season, not just the right month, but even the right week! Which I hope will make the stories even more convincing. Even if all my notebooks are a bit soggy…
Now, I’ve done the research, I’d better get on with writing the adventure!

Meg's Widd, at exactly the right time of year!

Meg’s Widd, at exactly the right time of year!

A mysterious cave, at exactly the right time of year! (And it was raining, which is the best weather for the monster who might live here...)

A mysterious cave, at exactly the right time of year! (And it was raining, which is the best weather for the monster who might live here…)


Archive for the 'Maze Running' Category

What is it about wolves?


I’ve now written six books with wolves inside, five of which have a wolf on the cover, and two of which even have a wolf in the title.
Just last week, the wolfiest book of all was published. The Hungry Wolf is a retelling of all the best ‘daft wolf tries to eat clever lamb’ stories I could find, stunningly illustrated by Melanie Williamson.
But there are lots of wolves in my other books too:
There’s a helpful wolf in the last story in Girls, Goddesses and Giants, my recent collection of heroine stories.
There’s a smooth-talking sharp-toothed wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.
Sylvie, the rather snappy wolf girl, appears in both Wolf Notes, the second novel in the First Aid series, and Maze Running, the last of the series.
And I have a collection of Winter’s Tales coming out later this year (just in time for the first frost and snow!), which has a lovely lemon-yellow wolf on the cover and a howling wolf story inside.
There is no one other creature, apart from possibly 11 year old girls, that I have written about as often as I have written about wolves.
So what is it about wolves that draws me and so many other writers to them? (Many of my favourite kids’ books are about wolves, like Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother, or werewolves, like Roy Gill’s Daemon Parallel… To save me listing lots more, here are seven of my favourite wolf books for adults from the Scottish Book Trust website…)
So, what is it about wolves?
There are many theories about people’s fascination with wolves, but I think I know why I’m drawn as a writer to stories about wolves, why I love retelling ancient wolf stories and creating new wolf stories.
Wolves are both cool and scary. They are beautiful creatures, but they are also dangerous. And what’s so handy for writers is that EVERYONE has a reaction to wolves. Wolves are story shorthand for lots of useful, dramatic things. We don’t need to explain wolves. So wolves are a bit like dragons, which are also fascinating, beautiful and very dangerous. Perhaps wolves are the real world equivalent of dragons…
In stories, wolves can be equally convincing and equally useful to the plot as either a friend or an enemy (or, like Sylvie in Wolf Notes, as a mix of both.) So wolves can be tricksters: never entirely trustworthy, just as likely to be a baddie as a goodie, and very likely to move the story in unpredictable ways. That’s why one of my favourite mythical wolves is Fenrir, the son of Viking trickster god Loki.
One of the reasons I tell so many wolf stories is that so many cultures tell wolf stories. Almost every part of the world has had wolves as a main predator at some time, so wolves appear in lots of stories. This is another similarity between wolves and dragons, which are also an almost universal story baddie. (I know Irish dragon stories and Chinese dragon stories, Greek dragon stories and Scandinavian dragon stories; but I also know native American wolf stories and Viking wolf stories, Scottish wolf stories and Sanskrit wolf stories.) It is fascinating to see how the role and character of the wolf changes across cultures: almost always a baddie in Europe, often a wise goodie in native American culture.
I have a personal reason for feeling strongly about wolf stories too. I used to be scared of dogs, ‘cross the road if a dog was walking towards me on a lead’ type scared. Then I spent months researching wolves’ social organisation and intelligence for Wolf Notes. Once I understood a bit about wolves, I suddenly realised that I understood a bit about dogs too – mainly that they weren’t remotely interested in me because I was neither another dog nor their owner / pack leader – so I stopped being scared of them. Which just shows that writing books about wolves can change your life.
So, now I have six wolf books on my shelves. I wonder what wolf I will write next…
What animal are you particularly drawn to writing (or reading) about, and do you know why?

a pack of wolves

a pack of wolves


Archive for the 'Maze Running' Category

Choosing your favourite characters and making centaurs’ rear ends


I’ve met lots of kids dressed up as their favourite book characters in the last couple of weeks, for World Book Day and for Comic Relief. And one of the questions I’m asked most often during school visits is: who’s my favourite character in the books I write?
So I’ve been thinking about how we choose our favourite characters, and whether readers and writers like different characters for different reasons.
Do readers choose their favourite characters because those characters are like them, or very unlike them? Do readers choose the characters who are the funniest or bravest (or the easiest to dress up as?) Do readers choose characters they’d like as a friend?
Do writers like the characters who are most fun to write, or the characters who are most challenging and difficult to write? Do writers like the characters who keep the story moving, or who can be relied on to make any dialogue sparky?
I know readers have very strong relationships with their favourite characters, because I often get emails from readers demanding to know why I’ve done particularly terrible things to the characters. (The best example of this is a series of questions from a class in Inverclyde – you can read how defensive I got about all those injuries in First Aid for Fairies!)
I’m not sure writers make a decision to have a favourite character. I’m often surprised at which character turns out to be my favourite. Emmie is probably my favourite character in Rocking Horse War, and that wasn’t meant to happen at all. She was meant to be a minor character, but she just took over, which took me by surprise and makes her one of my favourite characters ever to write.
My favourite character in the First Aid series is Yann the centaur. That wasn’t the plan either! He was grumpy and aggressive and not very nice to Helen when I first met him. He argues with me in my head when I’m writing, and he can be very touchy and rude to other characters as well. He’s inconveniently honest (which I played with in Storm Singing) and unnecessarily keen on action and violence (which I did my best to deny him for most of Maze Running) and I’m absolutely sure that if I met him in real life he’d be angry with me about how often I’ve injured his friends and how I use his strengths against him to make my stories stronger. And I don’t really want to meet an angry centaur! But he’s definitely my favourite character, and that wasn’t a choice, it’s just what happened as I wrote the books.
However, I’m glad I don’t have to dress up as a centaur!
I’ve met people dressed as Lavender the fairy (purple dress and wings), Rona the selkie (silky dress and sealskin) and Helen (first aid kit and violin).
But I’d never met anyone dressed as Yann, and I wondered if that was because he wasn’t anyone else’s favourite character (perhaps I’ve done too good a job of making him grumpy and aggressive?) or if it was simply because it’s not easy to dress as a centaur!
So you can imagine how pleased I was when I met a boy at Flora Stevenson Primary on World Book Day who was dressed up as Yann. And he had the best horse’s bottom I have ever seen! (Even better than a real theatrical centaur costume which I saw at the Lyceum a couple of years ago.) He couldn’t sit down in it though. (I find that with Yann as well. He stomps about in a mood while everyone else is sitting down chilling out…)
I was delighted that a real reader of my books also likes Yann best, and very impressed that he (and his parents!) had put so much effort into a centaur costume. Here it is:

the Flora Stevenson centaur!

How do you choose your favourite characters? Does having a favourite character in one book make you want to read more about them in another book? (Is that why series are so popular?) And when you’re writing a story, are you ever surprised at which character you end up liking the best?


Archive for the 'Maze Running' Category

Author Q&A: being polite to a hedge and embarrassed about researching mermaids


I answer lots of questions about writing: questions from readers, questions from teachers, questions from journalists, even questions from publishers.
Usually when I’m answering questions at author events, I’m too busy thinking about my answers and trying to be both honest and interesting, while also trying not to fall off a stage or stand on the kids at the front, that I don’t really listen to my own answers. Sometimes afterwards I can’t even remember what the questions were, let alone what answers I gave, because it was all so fast and furious and exciting.
And once I’ve answered questions from journalists, I never read the articles or listen to the interviews. I just give them to a trusted family member or friend, and ask them to check I didn’t say anything really embarrassing.
But I’ve had to watch an interview recently – a rather beautiful interview filmed by my publishers for their website, with me standing in front of the maze which stars in the first chapters of Maze Running, and answering lots of questions about writing the First Aid series. I had to watch it to let Floris know I was happy with it before they made it public.
It was really interesting to see how I reacted to some of the questions. I wasn’t worried about standing on any kids (though there was a danger I might fall off the terrace into the maze!) and I knew the lovely Benedicte would let me have another go if I fluffed an answer, so this is probably about as relaxed as you’ll see me talking about writing.
And I found out a few things about myself as a writer.
Firstly, I found out that I’d be useless on a real quest (I said I’d take a pen and paper with me in case I had an idea for another book. So apparently I’d treat a real quest as a way of getting ideas to write a pretend quest. That would be quite annoying for everyone else on the quest…)
I also discovered that I am naturally polite to landscapes. I felt I had to say that my favourite location was Traquair just in case the maze was offended while I talking about it. It is a really good location, and perfect for the start of that book, but I’ve set books in caves and on cliffs, and those are pretty exciting to research and write about. But I didn’t like to mention that in the interview, in case the maze went in the huff.
I did look a little embarrassed about conning academics with questions about fish and seals when really I was researching mermaids and selkies. (Warning, professors – watch out for sneaky authors!
And you can tell that I really care about the characters. I talk about Yann, Helen, Sylvie, Lavender and even the Master as if they were real people. Which of course they are, in my head.
And probably the greatest truth about writing that I utter in the entire interview is one which I must remember when I’m auditioning those ideas for the next novel: “You can’t have a story until you have a baddie!”
But you can tell how relaxed I was at answering questions from someone I like and trust, because if you watch the whole interview you’ll catch me admitting to not getting it quite right in the first novel (though notice I try to blame my heroine rather than myself…)
I enjoy answering questions about writing because I sometimes discover new things about my own writing process (and occasionally I even remember afterwards!) But most importantly, when readers ask questions, I find out what you like in stories, so that’s what I go home to write! (I wonder if I can tell what my publishers would like me to write next, from the questions in this interview? Maybe I should watch it again…)
Anyway, have a look at the interview, and let me know if I said anything really daft! Perhaps you could consider what questions you would ask yourself about your own writing, and what you think you’d find out?
And has anyone else ever felt the need to be polite to a hedge?


Archive for the 'Maze Running' Category

Book Trailers – What Are They For?


When my publishers first mentioned a book trailer for Maze Running I was a bit worried – I thought I’d have to script it, or at the very least appear in it. But it’s been a very painless process: Floris Books wrote it, filmed it and edited it themselves, with no involvement from me at all. And now the Maze Running trailer is up on Youtube, I’m really pleased with it. I think it’s a combination of wonderfully simple and excitingly pacy. (Here it is…)
I’m a fan of trailers. When I go to the cinema, I always make sure I’m settled down in plenty of time to see the trailers, so I can enjoy a little taster of films I’ll probably never have time to go and see. And I’ll even admit to wasting a bit of writing time recently watching every available version of the Hobbit trailer online.
A film trailer is usually (not always, but usually) a good way to decide if you’ll enjoy the full film, because you get a sense of the content and the style of the film.
But is a trailer a good way to decide if you’ll like a book? If you like the look of the trailer, or the background music, or a voice-over, then you might decide to read the book, but none of those elements will appear in the book (which is simply words on a page, not pictures on a screen or music in an earphone.)
And if you don’t like the music or the camera angles, could the trailer put you off the book? And would that be daft, because the book trailer isn’t made up of bits of the book in the way that a film trailer is made up of bits of the film?
So is a trailer a useful way to judge a book?
Probably it’s no dafter a way to judge a book than by its cover, given that the cover artist often hasn’t even read the book! Or by its blurb, which isn’t usually written by the author.
Are any of these useful ways to pick a book? Or are they all just ways for a book to catch your eye, then the story inside must live up to the cover, blurb or trailer’s promise?
Are book trailers just another way for publishers and authors to try to give books a presence online (like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs like this…) and does all this (very time consuming!) online activity actually help readers choose books?

So what do you think of the current trend of trailers for books?

Have you ever gone out and bought a book simply because of a trailer?

What do you think of the Maze Running trailer?

And what other book trailers have you enjoyed?