Q&A with author Matilda Woods.
Set sail on an adventure to the sea and the stars.
For years, Oona Bright has dreamed of her own adventures. While her father is away at sea, Oona reads stories about the fabled beast, the Nardoo. She stows away on a whaling boat and sets off in search of the truth. Is the Nardoo real? Will she ever find out?
I am delighted to welcome author Matilda Woods to my blog to talk about magic, the sea and how girls can have adventures too.
- Tell us a little about The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator
The Girl, the Cat and the Navigator is about a girl called Oona who has always dreamed of going on a great adventure with her father who owns a whaling ship. Unfortunately, Oona’s father doesn’t think girls belong on ships: its too dangerous and wild and wet. To prove him wrong, Oona stows away when he sets out on the annual whaling hunt. Oona encounters all sorts of magical creatures on the hunt – some kind and some cruel. She also discovers a truth about her father which she never would have known if she had stayed on land. The story is set in an unnamed Nordic country in the 1900s and has elements of magical realism. It’s very much about taking chances, going after your dreams and being open to changing your mind about things as you grow older and see more of the world and the people (and creatures) in it.
- Why does the sea play a huge part in your stories? Also, the setting is cold (and wet!), why did you choose that setting rather than a similar climate to Australia?
I’ve always loved the sea and the connotations it has. For me, the sea makes me think of adventures, escape and going to new places. These have all been central elements of my first two books. I’m lucky (or, maybe, unlucky) to live in a part of Australia where we experience the extremes of all four seasons. We have really cold, wet and windy winters and summers so hot that even the blowflies slow down from the heat. I like to match each story with the season I think will be the best fit. So far, this has always been winter.
- Oona is a girl trying to prove herself so she can take part in activities that are normally prescribed for boys/men – do you think you ever came up against these challenges as a young girl?
I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy. I can think of a few times when I didn’t do things because they were seen as too much of a “boy/man” type of activity. In school I wanted to study engineering but I would have been the only girl in the class so I studied textiles instead. I also wanted to play cricket but there weren’t enough girls to start a girls team and the boys team (and their coach) didn’t want a mixed gender team. I think in both of those cases if I’d really wanted to pursue those options I could have done it, but I’m not sure if I was brave enough or passionate enough (about cricket and engineering) to fight for them.
- Who are your favourite writers? What are your favourite books?
The first book I fell in love with was The Twits by Roald Dahl. I thought it was disgusting and funny and brilliant. Our librarian read it to the whole class. We had library lessons once a week so I always wanted the weekends to end faster so I could hear what happened next. When I started reading books myself I really enjoyed anything by Tamora Pierce and I also loved the Harry Potter books. I also went through a phase where I loved reading biographies and non-fiction books, especially ones about ancient history, anthropology and animals. I also love mysteries – especially those written by Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle.
- How do you develop your characters? Are they based on real people/yourself?
Whenever I have an idea about a character – a name, trait, scene, physical description – I write it down in a notebook. When I’m developing a new story I flick through the notebook and pick all the ideas that I like. I group them together to form different characters. This is how I create the main characters in the story. Then, the secondary characters usually develop out of necessity e.g. in The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker I needed a character who would notice that Alberto was hiding a boy in his home. So, I created Rosa and Clara Finestra: two old ladies who are always spying on their neighbours over the back fence.
- There is a sense of magic that underlies the seemingly real world that you have created. Did you choose to write a magical realism story or was this something that happened organically?
When I wrote my first book – The Boy, the Bird and the Coffin Maker – I had never read anything in the genre of magical realism. In fact, I’d never even heard of that genre until someone said I wrote that type of story (and then I had to google the meaning to find out what it was). So in my first book that did happen organically. When I started writing my second book I was more aware of purposely making it fit into that genre. I really do love the genre – I love that it isn’t so far removed from reality that it’s all fantasy, and I love that it allows you to make impossible things happen within a world that feels real.
Many thanks to Laura Smythe PR, Scholastic UK and Matilda Woods for making this Q&A possible.