Archive for the 'Readers' 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 'Readers' 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!)

 


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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…

DonSpellchasersSeriesRGB


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What is it about Vikings?


Why do we love Vikings? Why are Viking–themed festivals, parties and superheroes so successful? Why are we almost as familiar with the Viking gods as we are with the Greek pantheon?

What is it about Vikings?IMG_3279

Is it the swords? The beards? The dragon-prowed longships? The helmets? (No horns please, if you want to be historically accurate.)

Or is it the stories?

I think it’s the stories.

I think Viking myths and legends contain some of the best, most exciting, most vivid, most original plots in the whole world of stories. (For example, Viking gods can die. That’s higher stakes than any Greek myth!)

I love Norse and Viking stories. I tell them as often as I can. Two of my favourite stories to tell to a hall full of 10 year olds are myths about the Viking gods: the story of Fenrir the world-destroying wolf, and the story of the sun god Baldur. I also love telling the stories of when Thor met the Midgard serpent, and when Ragnar Lodbrok met a pet dragon… I love Norse stories!

But I don’t just tell them out loud. I’ve written down some of my favourites in collections of myths and legends: Ragnar and Baldur both appear in Winter’s Tales. The Viking warrior Hervor and her cursed sword appear in Girls Goddesses and Giants. Loki gets into trouble in my shapeshifters collection Serpents & Werewolves.

Viking stories inspire my own fiction too. The entire plot of my final Fabled Beasts adventure, Maze Running, was inspired by one small moment in Baldur’s story.

So, I’ve been playing with, being inspired by, and retelling Viking stories for years.

But I haven’t done a whole book about Vikings before. Until now! Here it is, The Dragon’s Hoard:

Dragons-Hoard-CVR

Isn’t it lovely?

And here’s how I finally got round to writing a book about Vikings:

I was chatting to Cate James, who illustrated the gorgeous collection of Scottish stories Breaking the Spell, when we were both appearing at the Wigtown Book Festival three years ago. We were keen to work together again, so we started brainstorming ideas. We came up with quite a few fun ideas (I hope they will all happen eventually!) One of our favourites was inspired by the fact that I had written a ‘Vikings invading Scotland’ story for Breaking the Spell, but it hadn’t made it into the final book (partly because it was a bit violent, but mainly because it was historical not magical so didn’t really fit with the other stories.)IMG_3295

I’d found that particular story, about the Earl of Orkney fighting a duel with the chief of Moray, in the Orkneyinga saga. The saga tale has the invading earl as the hero, but because I’m from Moray, I’ve always told it to kids from the other point of view, with the Moray warriors as heroes.

So I mentioned to Cate, over a cup of tea in Wigtown, that I was fairly sure there must be other excellent stories in the sagas, some of which might even be suitable for children. And it turns out that men with swords and scary monsters are two of Cate’s favourite things to draw, so we decided that I would look for a few more interesting saga tales, then we’d pitch the idea to our Breaking The Spell editor.

And I found SO MANY BRILLIANT STORES! Most of which I had never come across, even though I’ve been a fan of Norse and Viking stories for years.IMG_3304

When I put together a list of saga stories about swan warriors, dragons, riddles, saints, explorers, polar bears and zombies, the editor said YES!

So I spent months researching the Viking sagas to find the strongest stories, and Cate did lots of research into clothing, buildings, ships, weapons and helmets. (No horns!)

I found dozens of wonderful stories. Some of which were just too gory, bloody, vicious, nasty and revenge-driven for me to want to tell them to 10 year olds. (Or even my teenage daughters.) But there were still so many fantastic stories that I was really keen to tell.

Then I told them to classes (usually when I was doing author events about other books – I’m a bit sneaky that way) to find out which stories most intrigued and excited them.IMG_3274

Then I wrote the stories, and Cate drew the pictures, and now the book is ready! (That’s a short sentence, covering a lot of hard work…)

So, I’m really happy with our collection of Viking sagas. The book opens with a dragon and finishes with riddles, and there are Vikings on every page in between. What more could you want?

So, I’ve finally done a Viking book. But I don’t think I’ve got Vikings out of my system yet. I’m sure there are lots more Viking stories for me to discover and to share with you.

In the meantime, I’d love to know what you think of The Dragon’s Hoard, and I’m really looking forward to sharing these Viking saga stories with lots of young Viking fans!

PS – I should just say, this way of working – with me and Cate coming up with the idea together, pitching it together and working together – is VERY RARE. Normally I never even meet the artists who illustrate my words. But I like this way of doing it!

IMG_3267


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Molly’s World vs Helen’s World


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.

DonSpellchasersSeriesRGB

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.
FBC covers
But is it a different world, or is it the same world? I wondered about that, as I was creating Molly’s world. And perhaps it could be the same world. There’s nothing in the magic or the plot of Spellchasers that says it isn’t the same world as Fabled Beasts. Nothing happens in these adventures, that would be impossible in the world that Helen and Yann adventured in. And of course, The Beginner’s Guide to Curses is set in a part of Scotland that Yann and Helen never visited, so it could even be happening at the same time!

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…


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Bye Bye Fabled Beasts


I just put a Fabled Beasts event up on my website diary (Falkirk Waterstones, Sat 16th July, hope to see you there!) at which I will probably read from First Aid For Fairies or perhaps Storm Singing, then chat about fabled beasts and how to write adventures.

I do lots of Fabled Beasts events. I really enjoy them. And I’ve just realised that I’m about to stop doing them.

I thought I’d said goodbye to Helen, Yann, Rona and the other Fabled Beast Chronicles characters a few years ago, when Maze Running was published.

But I’ve just realised that the real goodbye is this summer.

Because, even though Maze Running was published a few years ago, whenever I’m invited to speak to pupils or readers of the right age group, I always start my event with a reading from the Fabled Beast Chronicles, then a chat about how I wrote Helen’s adventures (unless I’m specifically asked to do something else by the organisers.) But that’s all going to stop. Very soon. August, in fact.
IMG_2618
I’m really really really excited that the first book in the Spellchasers trilogy is coming out in September. And I’m so looking forward to introducing readers to Molly, Innes, Beth and the other characters, and the danger I put them in, and the magic that surrounds them.

But doing lots of Spellchasers events means I won’t be doing Fabled Beast events any more.

If I visit a P5 class next autumn, I will be reading from Beginner’s Guide to Curses. Next spring, I will be reading for Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away. And from autumn 2017, I will be reading from Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat. As soon as the first book of the trilogy is launched, Spellchasing will be my default event. Obviously if I’m specifically asked to do a Fabled Beasts event, for a class who are doing a project on it, for example, I will be genuinely delighted to do that. But otherwise, all my adventure novel events will be based on Spellchasers.

And that’s fantastic.

But it is also a little bit sad.

my favourite reading...

my favourite reading…

I’ve just looked at my calendar. I think I’m doing two more events where I will read from the Fabled Beast Chronicles. That’s only two more times that I’ll be able to read my favourite scene from all four books (the cave scene from Storm Singing, with the definitely vain and possibly murderous mermaids.)

Only two more times. And that’s it. Then it’s all about Molly and curses and shapeshifters and spellchasing. And it’s good bye to fabled beasts and centaurs and phoenixes and minotaurs. Sigh. But, if I hadn’t wanted this, I should have kept writing the Fabled Beast series, and not allowed myself to get excited about any other ideas. But I wanted to meet new characters, I wanted to play with new magic and new dangers. This was my choice. So, I should stride ahead cheerfully into the Spellchasers world, and not look back to the Fabled Beasts world.

But it does feel a bit odd. There are lots of books I’ve written that I almost never read from now. Books that I’m really proud of, but that I hardly ever revisit. However,
the Fabled Beasts series has been the backbone of most of my events, for my whole writing life. Moving on to Spellchasers is the start of something new and exciting. But it’s the end of something too…

I’m really keen to introduce lots of new readers to the world of Spellchasers, so you can meet Molly, Innes, Beth and Atacama. And the toad (not that we know who the toad is…)

But I do hope that, once in a little while, I get the occasional excuse to read from a Fabled Beast Chronicles book too.


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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!


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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…)


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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!


Archive for the 'Readers' Category

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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