Q & A

One of my favourite things at author events is answering questions from the audience, so I thought I’d put some questions and answers up on this website. I planned to put FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) up, so you could all read the answers to: how many books have you had published, when did you first write a book, and where do you get your ideas from? But then I thought maybe you’d prefer to hear the answers to those from me personally (because I do get asked them a lot!), so I decided to put up the most amazingly ORIGINAL questions I’ve ever been asked.

So these are my Favourite ever Asked Questions – from P5 at Inverkip Primary, in Inverclyde, a class I visited when they were reading First Aid for Fairies. They sent me some questions, not from the pupils, but from the characters in the novel – from Helen, from all the fabled beasts, and even from the baddie! I really enjoyed answering them, because it was like having a conversation with the characters (though it was more of an argument with Yann!) so I thought you might enjoy reading them. So here they are, with huge thanks to Mrs Findlay and the pupils of Inverkip Primary:

(But I do need to add a warning – a spoiler alert like in film reviews – that if you haven’t yet read First Aid for Fairies and Other Fabled Beasts, then my answers might give the ending away!)

• Questions from Helen
1. How do you know my name?
I didn’t to start with. I gave you all sorts of silly unsuitable names. But I didn’t really meet you and get to know you until I had a name that suited you.

2. Why am I brave?
Because you’re a heroine! But you aren’t stupidly brave – you always think about what you’re going to do before you do it. I think you are more determined than brave.

3. Why do I know first aid?
You didn’t know LOTS of first aid at the start – you knew where the equipment was and what it was for, and where to find more information, and your mum had clearly shown you some things, and made you learn others (artificial resuscitation etc) but you did pretty much learn on the job.

4. Why am I a human and not a fabled beast?
Because your mum and dad are human! And because I thought it would be a better way for the reader to see into the fabled beasts’ world through the eyes of a human, so you can ask all the questions they’d want the answers to.

5. Why am I a violinist?
Music is a gift valued in the legends and myths, so it gives you a skill the fabled beasts respect. But why violin? I don’t know! You must have chosen it over other instruments when you were wee – I’m not sure why. Easier to carry about than a piano or tuba or double bass though, so well done!

• Questions from Lavender
1. Why is my name Lavender?
Your name is Lavender because you’re a flower fairy and all flower fairies have flower names, and I chose a purple flower because my younger daughter’s favourite colour is purple. (But I then chose Lavender because not all lavender blossoms are purple – which is important later on.)

2. Why did you make me so kind?
Did I make you kind? I wasn’t really going for kind. I have a bit of an anti-fairy bias, and really didn’t want you cute or pink, so I aimed instead for clever, and possibly a bit sharp sometimes. You are also occasionally quite nervous, which given how small you are is fair enough! If you are kind, it’s just because you are basically a good and nice person!

3. Why did you decide to make me hate the colour purple?
If I had to wear the same colour EVERY DAY I’d hate it too. Also I’m not much into girly clothes descriptions in books, and I thought that if the only time I really mentioned your clothes was when you were being rude about them, that could be quite funny!

4. Why am I a fairy?
Because I wanted lots of different KINDS of fabled beasts – different sizes, different shapes, with different fables and stories and expectations. Also I wanted to have a title that alliterated (First Aid for Fairies and Other Fabled Beasts) – so I needed a fairy!

5. Why did you make me nearly drown?
I’m so sorry about that. Really sorry. Helen had to do some first aid on you at some point, and I wanted the visit to Orkney to be scary and dangerous so you all realised how hard the quest was going to be, so you nearly dying seemed the right thing to do there. And seagulls are horrid, especially if you’re so small. But you’re ok now, aren’t you?

• Questions from Rona
1. Why am I a selkie?
I wanted a friend for Helen – a fabled beast who seemed like a girl, her size, not too weird-shaped or scary, and also who shared her love of music. A selkie seemed perfect, and more Scottish than the rest of the fabled beasts too.

2. Why did you make me and Helen write a song?
I think you two decided to do that yourselves! I just wove it into the plot afterwards!

3. Why am I so brave?
Are you brave? Probably not as show-off brave as Yann, but you do stand up to him quite a lot, especially on Helen’s behalf at the start. I think all the characters in the book have to dig deep to find their strengths in this adventure.

• Questions from Catesby
1. Why did you make me burn up in the Master of the Maze’s face?
That was your decision, Catesby, and a very brave one it was too. I wouldn’t have forced you to do that if you hadn’t been prepared to. But at least it wasn’t a death you faced, just a temporary time in an egg. I think we’d both have had second thoughts if you’d been risking death.

2. Why can’t I be understood by humans?
You’re talking using a beak! I don’t understand you either, if there isn’t a fabled beast there to translate. I had a rule (a bit of paper on my wall) when I was writing this book saying NO TALKING ANIMALS. For Wolf Notes the rule was NO GHOSTS. And for Storm Singing the rule is NO MIRACULOUS UNDERWATER BREATHING. I don’t like to make it easy for myself, my stories or my characters.

3. Why did you make me look like a bird of paradise?
I was just trying to describe your size and general fancy feathered-ness in a way that readers might understand.

• Questions from Sapphire
1. How can I fly when I’m so heavy?
Good question! You have wings with a huge span, and very strong muscles, and it’s not like you’re the first dragon to fly so I’m going with tradition here…

2. Why did you make the animals nearly blind me?
Ok. Sorry. Sorry! You were on an adventure! Getting the book back was never going to be easy. And I was trying to think of an original and unusual injury which Helen could heal and leave you with no long term effects. Sorry again. But no promises that I won’t injure you again in other books…

3. Why am I blue and called Sapphire?
My older daughter’s favourite colour is blue! And dragons like treasure so I picked the name of a blue jewel.

• Questions from Yann
1. Why did you make me so grumpy?
Come on, mate. I didn’t make you grumpy. You ARRIVED grumpy. It was nothing to do with me.

2. Why did you make me a centaur?
You’d prefer to be a unicorn? Communicating through hoofstamping, and tossing your mane? Pearl white and all shimmery?
As a centaur you’re cool, elegant, strong, fast, proud, a bit scary (or at least a bit off-putting) and because you have a boy’s head, you can talk (and talk and talk…)

3. Why did you let the weasel bite me?
Ok. I’m done apologising for the injuries in the book, ok. YOU stole the book, you set the whole thing in motion, you broke the rules and started the problem, long before Helen opened the door and the humans (including the writer) got involved. And then I organised the healing, did the research, and made sure no-one was permanently damaged, so just get over it. Ok?

4. Why did you let Helen come with us?
I didn’t. You did. To be honest, it would have been hard to keep the story going otherwise, but I do think you were all intrigued by her, and the fact she wasn’t pushy about it helped. But it was still your decision.

5. Why did we have to frighten “The Book”?
You were all daft and thoughtless and it was nothing to do with me.

6. Why did you let the Master of the Maze and his creatures break Catesby’s wing?
See answer #3 re apologies. Anyway I needed Helen back at the surgery so she could meet the Master, so poor Catesby did have to sacrifice himself for the plot.

7. Why does Helen have to be so helpful?
That annoys you doesn’t it? It makes her harder to dislike, and harder for you to claim that all humans are horrible. She’s just naturally helpful. Just like you’re naturally grumpy!

8. Why can’t I get along with Helen?
It’s not really your fault. You’ve been brought up to distrust all humans. I think you’re relatively relaxed with her compared to your dad!

9. Why did Helen have to be a girl?
Ah. I never considered her being a boy. I’m a girl, my kids are girls, and I always feel there aren’t enough decent books (which aren’t about clothes) with girls as main characters. So she was always going to be a girl. I will write a book with a boy as the main character eventually though. A boy, not a centaur!

10. Why did you make us do such a terrible thing to “The Book?
It wasn’t really that terrible was it? Daft, slightly selfish, and against the rules, but you didn’t mean any real harm. You didn’t think it through though, and probably deserved the fright you all got.

11. Why was I called Yann?
I have no idea. You arrived fully formed, a centaur with a name and an attitude. I don’t feel I made any decisions there at all. There was never a list of names for you like there was for pretty much everyone else. I wasn’t going to argue with you!

12. Did you have to make the human find “The Book”?
Did that annoy you too? It wasn’t just Helen on her own – you did it as a team!

13. Why is Catesby my only true friend?
You might be closest to him because you are both boys, but you are very close to the other fabled beasts too, Lavender, Sapphire and Rona. You are also incredibly loyal and protective of them all as well. But I don’t think we see you relax with them at all until the last scene.

14. Did you make me moody because I didn’t like Helen? If yes, why is that?
You arrived moody. I think you just are moody most of the time. But particularly this midwinter week, because you are guilty about breaking the rules and making such a daft and dangerous mistake, and worried about your friends and your world. And it’s easier to take it out on Helen than anyone else. But you also do your best to sort it out, and you (almost) chill out at the end.

15. Why am I the only moody one in the group?
Well, Lavender bursts into tears sometimes. And everyone else puts their point of view in the occasional argument. But I think you are the one who feels like you’re in charge, so you feel a lot of responsibility, and that makes you tense and grumpy.

16. What do you think the best part of being a centaur is?
Galloping! Freedom and speed and the ground under your hooves and the wind in your hair!

17. Why do I mistrust humans so much?
Because your dad has told you to every day of your life. And they are the biggest threat to your world. It’s actually sensible to be wary of them.

18. What does the future hold for me?
I know, but I’m not going to tell you. Sorry! That’s the power an author has over her characters! I can make stuff happen to you, and then you’ll have to decide how to react. And yes, I’ll probably need to apologise to everyone again soon…

19. Does the Master of the Maze strike again? If so, where and when?
I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. I think I will have the same goodies in every book, but different baddies.

• Questions from Master of the Maze (the baddie!) –

1. Why did you make my servants fauns, weasels and seagulls?
Fauns because I was thinking about Greek mythological half-man half-animals. And they are usually thought of as goodies (eg Narnia) but they actually weren’t always in the myths, so I liked the idea of them as baddies. Weasels because I find them fascinating, and they are VICIOUS. Seagulls because they were quite obvious for a last minute draft of nasties on an island, and because they are really big and scary when you see them close up.

2. Why was I the bad one?
Sorry. But someone has to be the baddie. And if you hadn’t wanted to be, you could have tried, like other characters do, to change my mind. But you enjoyed it, didn’t you? All that roaring and stamping and flinging your horns about. You wouldn’t want to be some soft nice goodie, would you?

3. Why did I need to be the one everyone hates and fears?
Probably because you wanted to rule the world, and because your servants keep attacking and hurting the fabled beasts, and that’s no way to make friends.

4. Why did the rest get “The Book” and not me?
Because the book wanted them to. It wanted to go home. And they worked hard and together for it.

5. Why did you not make me the smart one?
You’re not exactly stupid. But you are no match for a P7 girl and her fabled friends…

6. Why did you not make Helen on my side?
She would never have give you help or loyalty, not once she knew what you wanted, nor when she knew you were attacking and hurting others. She nearly left the fabled beasts when Yann was cruel to a weasel, so she could never have worked with you!

7. Do you like me in the story?
No. But I did enjoy writing you. Especially the scene with you and Helen and the pink teddy. (The teddy was your idea, which is another reason why Helen would never have been on your side. Cruelty to cuddly toys is not a good way to make friends.)

8. Why did you make me a Minotaur?
I was thinking about various mythological half beasts, and the minotaur is the best baddie of them all. Big and scary and heavy and with built-in weapons (those horns) and also with a nasty reputation from thousands of years ago.

9. Did you decide the bad guy would be a Minotaur from the beginning?
Yes, I think so.

10. What character would you like to be in the novel?
I already got to choose being the narrator – the one who gets to tell the story! But I suspect I am most like Helen’s mum in real life – a bit overworked and hattered. I wish I’d been like Helen when I was a girl, but I never got the chance. I never opened my door and found a centaur there. I suppose I did though, didn’t I – that’s how I wrote the book!

I loved answering these questions. It made me think very hard about my relationship with my characters. I realised that as a writer I can do things TO my characters, like injure them (no more apologies, guys) without their permission – that’s my choice and my decision, and done for the good of the story; but I can’t make them do something themselves that is against their will, against their character. So I didn’t need Catesby to agree to his wing breaking, but I couldn’t have forced him to sacrifice himself against the Master if it hadn’t been in his character already to be that brave and quick-thinking. I had never really known that before, so questions from readers can help me work out more about how I write.

If you want to ask me any questions (from yourself, or from any of my characters) then please email me.