Archive for the 'trilogy' 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!)

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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 'trilogy' 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 'trilogy' 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 'trilogy' Category

My Spellchasers Year


2017 is going to be a very Spellchasers year for me.  It’s all going to be about Molly, her curse, her friends and, of course, her enemies.  There will be a fair bit of shapeshifting, and a certain amount of magical combat.

2017 might even be more of a Spellchasers year than 2016, even though last year was the launch of the trilogy.

a sneak peek of the shapeshifter's guide cover and spine

a sneak peek of the Shapeshifter’s Guide front cover and spine

The second book, The Shapeshifter’s Guide To Running Away, is at the printers RIGHT NOW, and will be published next month, with an official launch the month after. (I’m getting quite excited!)

And I’m currently editing the third book, The Witch’s Guide To Magical Combat, which will head off to the printers just before the summer holidays and be published in early autumn.

So, for me, this will be a very Spellchasers year. And for anyone who wants to read about Molly’s adventures, there will be two new books and the chance to find out how her story ends!

And then…? Well, then the trilogy will be finished.

Readers have months to wait, and lots to read about, before they can find out how Molly’s story ends.  But yesterday, while I was rereading and reconsidering the occasional verb in the final battle of Witch’s Guide, I suddenly realised that I’m nearly at the end of my journey with Molly and Innes and … everyone else (some of the ‘everyone else’s are characters that readers haven’t even met yet!)

I was reading a sentence in which Molly was walking towards danger, quite calmly, and I suddenly realised that I’m going to miss her. That she’s been a splendid heroine to work with, that I’ve had a great time with her, and that I’m going to miss having her in my head.

This sudden burst of emotion happened yesterday, ie in January, a whole 4 months before I proofread the third book for the last time, almost 8 months before it’s in the shops…  But I’ve been writing about Molly and her magical world for more than 3 years now, and those very few months feel like I haven’t got much more imaginative time left with her.  Soon, I’ll have finished creating and polishing her adventures, and she’ll be all yours!

Then I can start to write another adventure!

I’m looking forward to this Spellchasers year.  I’m looking forward to finding out what readers think of Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away and of Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat. But I’m also looking forward to whatever I do next…

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Archive for the 'trilogy' 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…

 

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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 'trilogy' Category

When a story becomes a book


There are so many exciting things about being a writer:

  • Having the initial idea
  • Writing the first line and the first scene
  • Meeting and getting to know your characters
  • When your characters come to life and do something unexpected
  • Writing shocking / surprising / challenging scenes
  • Working out how to get your characters out of a trap
  • Working out how to defeat the baddie
  • Getting to the end
  • Going back and slashing out lots of words to find the story inside the clutter
  • Getting first reactions from early readers…

All of those are fab.  And all of them are why I do this job.

But after all the excitement of writing a story, there’s a different sort of excitement. The moment a story becomes a book.

And here it is! Here is The Beginner’s Guide to Curses as an actual book!

IMG_2785I’ve held it. I’ve cuddled it. I’ve flicked through it to double-check a line that I needed to be sure of in order to get a scene right in the next book. I’ve read the first page out loud to kids in a bookshop.

So, it’s definitely a real book.

And I’ll be reading from it, chatting about it and signing it at the Edinburgh Book Festival on the 13th of August, if you want to come along.

Then after that, wherever you are, you should be able to get hold of a copy of your own!  (Or if you are very keen, you can pre-order it…)

Because of course the entire point of a story becoming a book is so that other people can read it!

And now – even more excitement. (Because being a writer is ALL about the excitement.) I can now also show you the covers for the other two books in the trilogy:

DonSpellchasers2-ShapeshiftersGuide

DonSpellchasers3-WitchsGuide

 

What do you think? I particularly like the looming baddies at the top of each book, and I love the fact that Molly and her friends are having to run faster every time to get away! (The artwork is by the brilliant Jordi Solano)

Now I’m off to put the finishing touches to The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away, then cut a few thousand words out of The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat, to get those stories ready to become lovely shiny books next spring and next autumn.


Archive for the 'trilogy' Category

Spellchasers – a chance for you to bring the story to life before anyone else!


Any book has at least two phases of life, maybe a bit like a caterpillar and a butterfly. Or in the case of my new trilogy, like a tadpole and a toad…

For me, as a writer, the book is most alive when I’m writing it, when I’m living inside the story, when I’m making decisions about what happens next, when I can still make changes.

IMG_2523And with my new book, Spellchasers: The Beginner’s Guide to Curses, that phase is very nearly over. I will get one more chance to look at it, not to change my mind about character names or fight scenes or magical plotlines, but just to check that no apostrophes have gone for a walk and that no spelling mistakes have snuck in. After that, my role as this book’s writer will be over.

After that, it’s up to YOU!

After that, the book is only alive when you are reading it! (Or telling people about it, or drawing scenes from it, or acting it out in the garden on a sunny day, or imagining what might happen next after a cliffhanger, or wondering how you would cope if you had a magical curse thrown at you…) That’s when the book is at its most alive.

Normally the book would snooze for a while, in between me writing it, and readers reading it. The book would be waiting for the printer and the marketing people and the distributors and the book reviewers and all those other vital people to do their things.

But this particular book is so bouncy and alive, that it refuses to take a nap at all.Spellchasers #1

And so, Floris have decided to let a few, a very select few, readers have a look at Spellchasers: The Beginner’s Guide to Curses several months before it’s in the shops.

A few keen readers will get a chance to see a very early copy of the book (so early, it might not even be wearing its jacket…)

And you could be one of those readers!

All you have to do is tell my publishers why you want to get a sneak peek of the first Spellchasers adventure, and the winners will be the people who write in with the most creative reasons.

Here’s are all the details: the closing date, the email address, all of that sort of stuff.

So, if you want to bring Spellchasers: The Beginners’ Guide to Curses alive before anyone else, now’s your chance!


Archive for the 'trilogy' Category

Revealing – The Spellchasers Trilogy!


I can finally tell you all what I’ve been working on for the last three years. It’s a trilogy of adventure novels, called the Spellchasers Trilogy, and here’s the first cover:

Spellchasers #1

What do you think? (The artwork is by Jordi Solano, and I think it’s fab!)

As you can see, the title of first book is:
The Beginner’s Guide to Curses

And I can reveal that the second and third titles are:
The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away
and The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat

I’ll be able to show you the covers for those soon (I hope!)

I can’t give you many details about the three novels just now, though I will almost certainly drop a few hints in the next few months. I can tell you there will be magic, and danger, and witches, and shapeshifting, and riddles, and chases, and a mysterious toad. And the story is set in Speyside, where I grew up.

The Beginner’s Guide To Curses comes out in August this year, The Shapeshifter’s Guide To Running Away will be published next spring, and The Witch’s Guide To Magical Combat will appear the autumn after that. So, they will all be out within about a year…

But if you think that’s far too long to wait, my publishers Floris Books are very kindly allowing a handful of young readers get a sneak peek of the book before it’s published, so if you’d like to read an early copy, head on over to Discover Kelpies blog, where I give a bit more info about the story, and where you can apply to get an early look at The Beginner’s Guide To Curses.

Now I’m off to finish the third book! (Just adding a bit more magic, and a bit more combat…)


Archive for the 'trilogy' Category

The Toad Gait Scandal, and other last minute hiccups


I will be submitting the final draft of the first novel in my new trilogy to my editor next week. (And no, sorry, I can’t tell you the title. My publishers are going to reveal that in a burst of glitter and glory sometime soon…)

So I’ve spent this week doing some fairly odd last minute things to the book. The story is written. The words are all there. Now I’m catching daft mistakes, by double checking things I assumed were right when I wrote the first draft, and meant to check, but never quite got round to. And sometimes my assumptions are wrong.

For example, at the start of this week I found myself embroiled in:

The Toad Gait Scandal

One of the five main characters in this adventure is a toad. So I was checking whether toads inflate their throats when croaking (they do) when I noticed a tiny little line on a toad website about toads walking rather hopping. Which was a shock, because when I started writing this book, I assumed toads were basically warty frogs, and because I know frogs hop, I assumed toads hopped too. So in this book, my toad hops, leaps and jumps quite a lot. But at the time I noticed this awkward little line, I was dealing with croaks and throats. So I made a wee note to myself: ‘better check if toads really do walk rather than hop’

The next day, I saw the note and I thought, right, this will either take me 30 seconds or all day. If I find out that toads hop, there will be no changes required. But if I find out that toads don’t hop, I will have to go through the entire novel, all 60,000 words of it, and find every time this amphibian moves, then change the verb. And also possibly the whole page. Or whole chapter…

Because that’s the thing. Changing one word can unbalance or undermine a whole sentence, or a whole paragraph, or a whole scene. Writing a novel is like weaving a piece of fabric. If you pull on one thread, it can warp the pattern and create holes right across the loom. (And with a trilogy, it’s three times as complex…)

So, I took a deep breath, and googled how toads move.

And you can guess what happened. On several reputable wildlife and amphibian websites, I discovered that, even though frogs hop, toads walk. Yes. Go and look it up. They sort of crawl, in a sprawly fashion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a toad I met at Jupiter Artland when I was writing the first draft. (In a wonderful cave made of purple crystals.) This toad was very helpful about posing for a photo, but didn’t move around enough for me to realise that TOADS DON’T HOP!

So, one quick assumption I made years ago about how toads move, from my basic (basically wrong…) general knowledge about frogs and toads, resulted in a whole day’s work this week.

Hence, the Toad Gait Scandal.

Other things I’ve checked this week:
Do hares make a noise when they are scared?
Do pike eat eels?
What size is a crow’s egg?
How long are the October school holidays in various council areas?
When were the prime witch-burning years in Scotland?
What’s the best way to dig up tatties?
Does ‘law’ mean ‘hill’ in Doric as well as in Scots?
None of them resulted in nearly so many changes as the Toad Gait Scandal, because most of my assumptions were correct…

But there was one other double check which resulted in even more than a day’s work, because it affected all three books of the trilogy. I had to double check a hare’s field of vision. I knew it would be wide, but I hadn’t realised how wide. It turns out that hares can see almost the whole 360 degrees around them, with just small blindspots to the front and back. Which makes them very hard to sneak up on, and meant I had to rewrite almost all my chase scenes.

Perhaps I have a blindspot about wildlife research?
Perhaps I shouldn’t jump (or indeed hop) to so many conclusions about animals without checking my facts?
Perhaps I should leave the puns alone? (Though calling that frustrating day’s work the Toad Gait Scandal did make me smile…)

So, that’s the fact checking done. Now I just need to have one more readthrough for silly typos, then the book will be ready for my editor next week. Which is very exciting. But even more exciting is that in a few months, the book will be ready for YOU!


Archive for the 'trilogy' Category

Is writing a book just like telling a big lie?


The best question I’ve been asked by a young reader at a book signing this year:

“Is writing a book just like telling a big lie?”

I answered, “YES! Yes it is! It’s fantastic! And you completely get away with it, because you’ve ADMITTED you’re telling a big lie! Because that’s what ‘once upon a time’ means…”

“Making stuff up is lying,” I said cheerfully, “and I’m quite open and clear and delighted about that! So yes, writing a book is exactly like telling a big lie!”

And my answer made him happy. (Or, at least, made him go away looking thoughtful…)

But was my answer correct?

Do I really think that I’m lying when I’m writing a novel?

Because, in my heart, I believe I tell the truth in my books. I set up a system of magic, and I stick to it rigorously. I create characters, and I let them do what is right for them (which is often extremely inconvenient.) I sometimes have discussions (arguments!) with editors, when I’m fighting for what feels TRUE for that story. I might say “no, we can’t do that, because Yann would never do that, or Helen would never say that.” And my editor knows what I mean – even though these characters are just words on a page, they still have to act consistently, in a way that seems true to the reader.

So there is truth, in that long, extended, totally made up lie.First Aid for Fairies

For example, at the very end of First Aid for Fairies, one of my characters does something extremely brave, essentially sacrificing himself to save his friends from a monster. I set that scene up. I sent the monster after them, I locked the door to block their exit. I created the (entirely fictional!) situation. But I couldn’t have forced the character to make that choice, to do that dangerous and brave thing. That could only happen, and could only feel true within the huge lie of the novel, because he was a character whose loyalty and bravery we already believed in.

And in the novel I’m finishing just now, I have a huge decision to make, about a choice the main character is going to make at the very end of the story. But even though I’m the writer, I’m not going to make that choice. Molly is going to make that choice, because it has to be the choice that is true to her, true to the character that I admit I’ve made up, but who has become real over the course of the three books I’ve written about her.

So, yes, a novel is a lie, but I think it’s an honest lie.

It’s also a lie that a writer puts a lot of effort into making convincing, at exactly the same time as admitting it is a big lie… (Look at this shiny cover! Look at these chapter headings! This is a story! It’s not real!) But we still need our stories to feel real, to feel true.

That’s why I do so much location research, to make my books seem real. Even if I’m writing about magic spells and monsters, I need the book to have convincing settings and characters. I need the lie to feel true, so that you the reader care about the story, care about the characters, and keep reading to find out what happens next. Because while you are reading, it feels real. Even though you know it’s not real. It’s a big lie, and you know it’s a big lie, but you still enjoy it!

If it didn’t feel real, because you know that location and you know the cave doesn’t go that deep into the earth, or the castle door doesn’t look like that, then suddenly you’d be reminded that it was a big lie, which would knock you out of the story.

So that’s why even though a novel is a big lie, and even though I ADMIT it’s a big lie, I still make sure it’s a convincing big lie…

If stories are big lies, then they are big lies that we as writers make as true as we can, and big lies that we as readers seem to need…

Right, I’m off to write another chapter of a great big huge exciting lie… What a brilliant job!