Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A with Emma Read, Author of ‘Milton The Mighty’.

Q&A with Emma Read, Author of ‘Milton The Mighty’.

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About Milton The Mighty 

Milton is a little spider with a big problem. 

When a piece of viral internet content names Milton as a killer, his life is in danger. This is not helped by his house human’s phobia, nor with the arrival of Felicity Thrubwell and her plans to annihilate spider-kind. 

Helped by his eight-legged friends and young human friend Zoe, Milton begins a campaign to clear his name. 

Milton The Mighty is filled with humour, determination and creepy-crawly fun. My full review will be available on Monday 3rd June 2019, but suffice it to say I loved the book. A lot. The characters learn that even the smallest of us can make a big difference. It reminded me of the books which were my very favourite as a child. 

I was delighted when Emma Read agreed to take part in a Q&A. Her answers offer a wonderful insight into the inspiration for her story, and the ways in which it grew as she wrote. Thank you, Emma, for your time. 

 

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Q&A with author Emma Read:

 

You wrote about something you’re scared of. Why did you do that?

That is a very good question and one I asked myself a lot as I was researching spiders from behind a cushion! I was originally pondering unwanted fame, such as being misrepresented on social media, or in the press. Once I’d created the character of Milton I fell in love with him and felt compelled to tell his story, despite his leggy-ness!

 

Did your feelings change as you wrote?

They really did. The more I learned about spiders, their incredible skills and beauty, I grew to love them. They are vitally important to our ecosystems and, besides having an intrinsic right to exist, they have the potential to improve human lives too. They really are teeny super-heroes!

 

Milton’s trouble begins with a piece of viral web content. Milton and Zoe also use the internet to help with their campaign? Why did you decide to include the human web in a story about spiders?

Web puns aside (although they do come in handy!) I wanted to help young children begin to understand that the internet is a powerful tool which can be used for right or wrong, depending on the user. So there’s a cautionary tale in there, amongst the humour and action! Also, Milton and Zoe have a message to share and what better way to do that than making connections, just like a spider-web.

 

Felicity Thrubwell’s vendetta against spiders is partly the result of a bad childhood experience. How do you think bad experiences can shape our behaviours?

Experience is how we learn – in childhood it shapes our brain, influencing the adults we become. It’s a huge subject! Animal phobias are apparently common following a negative experience as a child, and do affect behaviour. As a full-blown arachnophobe I would check the room before going to sleep, and simply not sleep in a room where I had seen spider.

 

What are your favourite facts about spiders?

I have loads! But here are three which are pretty cool: Spiders have blue blood; spiders live in every habitat on earth, except Antarctica; the average web of a garden spider contains about 30 metres of silk – that’s as long as a blue whale!

 

I first heard about Milton when you were shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award. How much did the story change between that time and publication and what were the major changes?

The first change was that Chicken House wanted more – hurray! The heart of the story remains, but Milton now faces additional peril at the hands of dastardly pest-controller, Felicity Thrubwell, a mishap with some rather naughty (and a just little bit deadly) cousins and a Spider-calla-friendship-istic-expi-arachnid-ocious finale! The manuscript which shortlisted for BCNA grew with the help of my amazing editors, from around 13K, ending up at roughly 30K. So there’s a lot more fun and excitement (and running and screaming!)

 

Zoe is ridiculed when she stands up for what she believes in. Do you have any thoughts for people who have experienced the same thing?

This element of Zoe’s story was inspired by a young Canadian called Sophia Spencer, who was bullied at school for liking bugs. She went on to co-author a paper in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America after support for her went viral on social media. It can be so hard to be different, especially when you’re young – I know, I yielded to peer-pressure when I was a child and gave myself a phobia of spiders that lasted decades. But what I say to my kids is: ‘If someone wants you to change you to suit them, and it feels wrong, then it probably is. Speak your own truth – whether you do it loudly or quietly, is up to you’.

 

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blog tour · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: Q&A with Kathryn Evans, author of Beauty Sleep.

Blog Tour: Q&A with Kathryn Evans, author of Beauty Sleep

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About Beauty Sleep

What happens when you wake up and find that forty years have passed? Do all sleeping beauties live happily ever after?

9781474954877-beauty-sleep-fc-wipIt was supposed to be the perfect solution. Laura was dying. The only chance to save her was to freeze her until medical science progressed enough for her to be cured. 

How would it really feel to wake up and find that forty years have passed? Laura not only deals with the trauma of building a new life. She is left with the mystery of her old one. 

If teenagers being frozen in time sounds like the stuff of sci-fi, you’ve missed the news stories about cryonics. It is now possible – for a large fee – for a body or a brain to be preserved until such time as the condition which killed it can be cured. There is no evidence that this will be certain. However, in 2016, a teenage girl’s dying wishes to have her body preserved made headlines. 

These kind of news stories open up a whole series of ‘what ifs’ which lead to stories. What if a girl in a similar situation didn’t know who she had been? What if some of her family were still alive? 

The questions raised about the ethics of the companies offering these services also provide rich material for storytellers.

I was delighted to be offered an opportunity to ask Kathryn Evans some questions and her answers have made me desperate to finish the book. Thanks to Kathryn for your time, and to Jessica at Usbourne for arranging this opportunity. 

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Q&A with Kathryn Evans

Was your story inspired more by Sleeping Beauty or by scientific progress?

I guess its scientific progress – I wanted to tell a story that looked at how change in modern life impacts on young people. By having Laura traverse two time periods while she was still a teenager, I was able to do that in a unique way. Cryogenics and the Sleeping Beauty story are just an obvious fit to me.

 

 How did you research Laura’s experience of returning to society forty years from when she went to sleep?

Have any real-life experiences come close to this? I did a lot of research into amnesia but there really wasn’t anything comparable to Laura’s experience. There are stories about people recovering from comas but their lives after the miracle of recovery are rarely documented in the public sphere. I used my own experience of the 1980’s and projected how I’d feel if I hadn’t lived through all the changes that have happened but was suddenly presented with them.

 

How do you imagine being a teenager at the point of going to sleep would shape Laura’s experience?

As a teenager, you expect to have your whole life ahead of you and suddenly, that door closes, and you don’t have any idea if you’ll survive beyond the next hour. It was so sad writing those scenes – not just because of Laura’s fears for herself but her for her little brother too. The one thing she did have was hope – hope that they’d be woken up. As she says, it was that, or die.

 

Fairy tales often have a darker element to the story. What is the darker side of Beauty Sleep?

Without any spoilers? That’s a hard one to answer – let’s just say I thought a lot about how good citizens could stand by in a holocaust and watch their friends and neighbours be victimised. About how we can ignore the harm that comes to others for our own benefit as long as we don’t have to see it in front of us. About how easily we learn to ignore the suffering of others if it’s an inconvenience to us.

 

With the chance to live again, Laura loses her old life. How much of our identity is formed by the people and places around us?

It’s everything – she’s suddenly rootless but she learns that to throw down new roots and that some of those tap into memories. Memory is a powerful way to hold onto people you’ve physically lost.

 

Aside from personal things like family and friends, what would you miss most if you woke up in the future? 

Aside from friends and family, it would depend on the world I woke up in. In a world without books, it would be books. In a world ravaged by disease, it’d be antibiotics. In a world with a climate damaged beyond repair it would be balmy spring days and birds singing and polar bears on ice caps. This is the problem with asking a writer a ‘what if’ kind of question, my brain is now in overdrive!

 

Q&A arranged as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions my own. Thanks to Usborne Books for arranging this and for sending a copy of the book.

Middle Grade Reviews · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: Q&A with author of ‘The Dog Runner’ Bren MacDibble

The Dog Runner

About The Dog Runner

The crops have failed and there isn’t enough food left to feed everybody alive. Food is at a premium, sold to the wealthiest for extortionate prices. Food parcels aren’t coming in as often as they once were. 

Ella and Emery are starving in the poorer part of the city. Emery’s Mum lives in the countryside where people are trying to reintroduce indigenous crops to the land. The children want to reach her, but to do that, they must cross vast areas of dry land. 

The only way their plan might work is with the help of their dogs. 

I was delighted to be offered the chance to ask author Bren MacDibble some questions about her story. Her debut nobel, How To Bee, was a big favourite of 2018 and I was particularly impressed by how she turned serious topics into compelling fiction. 

Thanks to Bren for your time and to Liz Scott for organising this opportunity. 

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Q&A with Bren MacDibble

Food production and land management play an important part in The Dog Runner. Why did you decide to write about these themes?

I’m very interested in where our food comes from and how we treat our environment, so when I wrote a story where a couple of kids take a dog cart across Australia, I made their reason for doing it to flee a famine-ravaged city, and it seemed natural to me, to take on a common threat to our food-security, which is wheat fungus, and expand that in my famine. We seem so disconnected from our food sources these days that we don’t understand how food is produced or the threats to our food from disease, lack of landcare or climate change. Australia is in a particularly strange place where we have a dry climate but we grow European foods, and yet the Aboriginal Peoples were growing and cultivating different grains, grinding flour and baking bread 600 years before the Egyptians. There is a wealth of knowledge and grain types that have previously been completely ignored, but which could be vital to our future as the planet warms.

 

What kind of books did you read to write this story? Was there anything you learned about for this first time?

I read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, (a children’s version of that came out recently), also The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage, both of these books talk about life and land use and land care before Australia was colonised. I was delighted to learn about all the methods of sustainably harvesting food: Fish nets that let the small fish through, and only killing large male kangaroos, and how the many peoples would travel to take advantage of seasonal harvests, like the protein-packed baked bogon moths.

 

The acknowledgments section mentions that you travelled as part of your research for The Dog Runner. How did this shape your work?

Yes, I received a travel grant from the Neilma Sidney Travel Fund. It was so good to visit the rail-trails and land the children travel across on their journey. Just to feel the heat and see the amazing colours of the dirt and study the plants other than grass that grow there, trying to imagine what that landscape would look like with even less vegetation. I also visited a mushroom tunnel, and a grassland regeneration project, and got to see sled dogs in action. Honestly, you think you know a little bit about a topic but when you visit people and talk to them, you learn so much more.

 

Ella and Emery travel across the land with the help of their dogs. Do you have any strong feelings about animals in children’s fiction? What is important when you write animal characters?

It’s easy to make animal characters too human, especially dogs who love to interact with humans, and one of these dogs is super smart, but I think it’s really important to show dogs being dogs. They have their needs and their limitations, they can supportive when the kids are down, or unpredictable and cause problems. Above all, the kids are ultimately responsible for the health and care of the dogs. They have to keep them safe and fed, and it’s a big responsibility in this book. Dogs are family, even when they’re naughty, and their needs can’t be ignored.

 

Ella’s Dad says that the people who survive extreme circumstances, such as a global food shortage, are the ones who learn to stand on their heads. Can you tell us a bit more about this idea?

He says when the world turns upside down the first ones to walk on their heads will survive. It’s a bit of an odd saying… but then he’s a dad, and we all know with Dadisms it’s the intent behind the saying that’s important. What he means is you have to be prepared to change immediately to suit the world you find yourself in. You can’t cling to your old ways and expect life to go back to normal. Survival is ultimately about being resourceful and thinking creatively about how to solve new problems. This is why it’s important to raise creative kids in an ever-changing world. Creativity may be the most important thing we can encourage in our kids, building, exploring, getting out in nature and just playing is super creative.

 

The book ends with a note of hope and makes references to seed banks. What could readers do now to care for the planet and support diverse food sources? 

 If you can source food that is produced without use of fertilisers and pesticides, buy this organically produced food as the land, insects and surrounding waterways are less damaged by natural processes, and you will encourage growth of this organic market. Eat what is grown locally and what is in season, learn some new recipes if you have to. If you eat meat, eat less red meat. Save beef for special occasions. Plant wildflowers, let grass grow long and have a few wild places for bugs, don’t spray weeds (dig them out by hand or put salt and boiling water on them if they’re in pavers) to keep the insects and bees healthy. Limit waste, especially plastic waste, and walk, cycle or take public transport more often.

 

Author Bio:

Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand, so is an expert about being a kid on the land. After 20 years in Melbourne, Bren recently sold everything, and now lives and works in a bus travelling around Australia. In 2018, How to Bee – her first novel for younger readers – won three major awards downunder and arrived in the UK. The Dog Runner, her second children’s novel, hits the shelves on 2nd May.

 

 

 

blog tour · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martain Howard.

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Blog Tour: The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martain Howard.

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About The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet by Martin Howard and Chris Mould. 

Are you ready for the adventure of a lifetime? 

Alfie Fleet is fed up of being poor. He wants some money to buy his Mum a foot spa for her birthday, and he wants it fast. His determination to make some cash brings him into the path of Professor Pewsley Bowell-Mouvemont, who wants to update his Cosmic Atlas. Think Bradshaws for the entire universe. 

Alfie and The Professor set off in Betsy (one special moped) for the adventure of a lifetime. They pass through Brains In Jars world, Outlandish and a run in with a dragon on their way through the universe. 

Is the humour too bonkers? Not in the slightest. It is wacky and wonderful, but it is so perfectly balanced with the story that we are invested in the plot and rooting for Alfie all the way. It must take real skill to inject this kind of humour and not overdo it. Funny books deserve more admiration and this one is top of my list to shout about. 

As I reviewed a proof copy, I have not seen all of Chris Mould’s illustrations, but my experience of his work tells me readers are in for a treat. He brings scenes to life as if he was a casual observer, and his people are full of character. 

I was delighted to be offered the chance to put some questions to author Martin Howard and to share them here on my blog. Thank you Martin for your time. 

 

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Q&A with author Martin Howard. 

 

Alfie and the Professor travel to all kinds of other places. What inspired the different worlds? Do you have any favourite fictional worlds?

Big question! HUUUUGE question. My favourite worlds have always been fantasy worlds – places like Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and many, many more. I am a massive fantasy geek. When I started writing The Cosmic Atlas I made a very conscious decision to mix and match sci-fi with fantasy. Because it involves travelling through space it’s really a sci-fi book, but I wanted to break with the idea that sci-fi worlds should be hi-tech worlds. As Alfie and the Professor use stone circles – a very old technology – to travel there’s no need for space ships (which are a very slow and dull way to get around) or robots or computers so my worlds could be much more rustic and magical. They’re inspired by all sorts of things: worlds I enjoyed as a child, artwork (I love Olivia Kemp’s drawings), places that exist in the real world or in history, space articles I’ve read and stuff plucked from my imagination. Obviously, they have to be funny but I hope they’re full of wonder, too – places readers would like to visit.

 

 The Professor says technology has killed general interest in cartography. How do you think technology has changed our relationship with maps?

I spent ages as a cub earning my map-reading badge by poring over Ordnance Survey maps. It really felt like I was exploring the landscape and there were always interesting landmarks to discover that you’d miss with a GPS tracker. Obviously, hi-tech gizmos are very handy but there’s something beautiful about real maps, and I especially love ancient charts where navigators would include mythical lands and creatures. Some great artists – like Leonardo da Vinci – produced maps and many are superb works of art in their own right. I love that that tradition lives on in books though. Most fantasy books include maps of their worlds, and – as with old maps of the real world – they are often drawn by truly great artists. I’m very lucky to have Chris Mould bringing my imaginary worlds to life.

 

Do you have any advice about writing humour in middle-grade fiction?

Oh wow, that’s a tricksy question. There are so many different kinds of humour in MG books at the moment, it’s like we’re in the middle of a Golden Age. There are amazing authors out there using comedy in different ways and I can only tell you what works for me:  having confidence in my own instincts and writing what I find funny. The Cosmic Atlas is a Middle-Grade book, but even though I’m a saggy old man of 49 I made myself laugh all the time while writing it. After reading it hundreds of times it still makes me giggle. Beyond that there are some things that will always make kids laugh – bums and fart gags – but you don’t have to use them. If you do, you can’t rely on them to carry a book, unless you’re writing the Big Book of Bums and Fart Gags. There has to be more than that and, personally, I try not to miss an opportunity to add more humour, whatever way I can – through odd characters, box texts, surprise visits from the narrator, unexpected twists or quirky use of language. There are moments when the humour has to take a back seat to developing the plot but even then there are opportunities to keep the comedy going. PG Wodehouse was amazing at that, even when he’s not being funny he’s being funny. I think not trying too hard is important too. Humour should flow and feel natural, not forced. I say all this as someone who is constantly striving to improve. It all comes down to developing your own voice and style of humour and that’s a never-ending journey. I have huge amounts of respect for anyone who can make readers laugh out loud though and I find it ma-hooosively annoying when people dismiss funny books as “unimportant”.

 

When writing about the strange and wonderful things in Outlandish, how did you ensure the story remained believable?

You ask hard questions! Can I have one about biscuits instead? No? Okaaaay then. In any sci-fi or fantasy book that’s stretching the imagination and creating weird worlds it’s important that readers don’t feel lost. That means characters they can identify with who have goals they can believe in. In The Cosmic Atlas, Alfie and Derek – the younger characters – are both much less bonkers than the adult characters (though they both have a sense of humour) and Alfie in particular has a very believable primary goal: to get home to his mum. So long as the reader can understand their main protagonist’s motivation I think writers are pretty free to be as creative as they like with everything else. Pheww, I totally deserve a biscuit-based question now.

 

What should be included in a good travel guide? If you were setting off on an adventure to another world, what would you want to know?

I am very fond of a good travel guide. I have a collection of DK Eyewitness guides on my bookshelf and they’re brilliant, endlessly enjoyable books. Flicking through them and deciding what to see is like having a mini holiday in your head. I also love reading travel books – Bill Bryson’s spring to mind – and watching travel TV shows. A good guide gives you a real feel for a place: it’s history, culture, people and – of course – the best places to have a good time. That’s something I’ve tried to bring to The Cosmic Atlas. I love good food so my perfect guide to other worlds would probably be heavily restaurant-based, but as I also enjoy lazing around on sun-loungers, reading (preferably while getting a massage) that’s the sort of information I’d be looking for, too. There’s a world called Blyssss in The Cosmic Atlas which is my perfect holiday destination. Sun, beaches, spa treatments, fresh baskets of puppies and kittens delivered to your room daily, and a butler who will win the lottery for you while you have a pedicure …

 

And I’ve run out of questions. Since Louise failed to ask, I would like to add that I am very fond of a custard cream and also thank her hugely for having me. This is my first blog tour and I am hugely grateful for the support. I hope it turns into a long and happy friendship.

Mart

 

Huge thanks again for your wonderful answers, and for giving us a great insight into your work. 

Louise 

 

The Cosmic Atlas Of Alfie Fleet is available in paperback (Oxford University Press, £6.99).

Find out more at Oxford University Press.

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: Q&A with Lucy Strange, author of Our Castle By The Sea.

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Our Castle By The Sea is the story of Pet, a girl who lives in a lighthouse during the second world war. Everyone in Pet’s costal village wants to do their bit for the war effort. Some people think this means rounding up anyone who could be German or Italian. When Pet’s mother is accused of being a spy, Pet thinks she is going to lose everything that matters to her. 

The story plays out against the legend of the Daughters Of Stone. Pet doesn’t think she could ever stand up and be brave like the girls in the legend but her character is about to be tested. 

I loved Lucy Strange’s first novel, a brave and beautiful story about the way people with mental health conditions have faced gaslighting and manipulation. Both of Lucy’s novels take subjects which with think of as historical and make us question whether those attitudes are really confined to the past. They are the sort of books which make even the quietest of people feel brave enough to form their own views and make a stand. 

I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to ask Lucy some questions, and her answers are spectacular. Thank you very much to Lucy for your time. BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586

Q. Our Castle By The Sea begins with a local myth. Do you have a favourite folk tale?

A. The Daughters of Stone in the book are partly inspired by the Merry Maidens in Cornwall and Long Meg and her Daughters in Cumbria. Long Meg was said to be a witch who danced with her female followers on a Sunday – they were turned to stone as punishment, and the Merry Maidens were cursed in the same way for their lack of piety. The Daughters in my story are turned to stone for a much more heroic reason . . .  We have so many wonderfully dark and strange myths in Britain – they are an absolute gold mine for storytellers like me

 

Q. Your story examines the threat of a far-right ideology and the suspicion of people other than ourselves. Why did you choose to write this story? Was there any part of the theme you particularly wanted to examine?

A. When I found out about the treatment of ‘enemy aliens’ in this country and the Second World War internment camps, I felt that it was a story that needed to be told – an aspect of the war that many younger readers would not know about. I was keen to explore the feelings of anger and fear that so many British people would have experienced at this time – terrified of a Nazi invasion – and what that meant for people such as Mutti – my protagonist’s mother, who happens to be German. It was important to me to explore the feelings of prejudice and xenophobia that are of course so heightened by conflict. When a nation becomes ‘the enemy’ (through war or politics or propaganda), it is all too easy to dehumanise the individual human beings who happen to belong to that nation. It would be nice to think that in the last seventy-five years, we have developed a more sophisticated and compassionate approach, but I think we’ve still got some way to go . . .

 

Q. What draws you to historical fiction?

A. I love the fact that you are never working on a blank canvas. Real events from history provide the sparks for your story. The historical period gives you a detailed and colourful background for your story and adds layers of tension to the narrative. It can be restrictive too of course, as you have to ensure the timeline of the story fits with the timeline of real events, and you have to watch out for anachronisms – but I love the challenge of it.

 

Q. What sort of research did you do around the time period? How did this influence your story?

A. I did a great deal of research on the first two years of the Second World War – in libraries and on the internet. I also read lots of interviews with elderly residents in Kent who had lived through the war and had wonderful and terrifying tales to tell about the things they experienced. I needed enough first-hand accounts to make my narrator’s world felt real and concrete, but it’s also important not to overdo the period detail as it can feel false. Stories have their own life-force, and it can be tricky when a story pulls you away from the historical truths of the period: as a writer, you have to try to be true to your characters at the same time as keeping faith with the historical context.

 

Q. Please can you tell us about your writing process? How do you turn an idea into a novel?

A. I tend to develop the narrative one thread at a time, starting with the main plot and then weaving other ideas around it. I always plan very carefully and tend to write one chapter at a time, making sure I’m happy with it before I move on. Of course, I don’t always stick to the plan – characters can be unpredictable at times! – and I always go back and change things / add things in / delete scenes, but you can’t really do this until you’ve finished a full draft. It’s only then that the true shape of the story emerges. I often get stuck, and when this happens I usually go for a walk or do some housework. Sometimes you can stare at the laptop screen for hours, but it’s only when you get up and do something else that your subconscious gets a chance to fix the problem

 

Q. How do you give your characters a memorable voice?

A. I think the trick here is to try to be as authentic as possible. I always check that everything my character is saying and doing feels RIGHT for them, otherwise they simply won’t be convincing as a character and you’ll lose your reader. It’s vital for your central character to be three-dimensional and real to you as a writer before you put pen to paper. Sometimes I think my background in acting helps, as I often find myself trying out facial expressions and gestures as I write.

 

OUR CASTLE BY THE SEA by Lucy Strange out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Lucy Strange on twitter @theLucyStrange

 

Thanks to Lucy Strange and Laura Smythe PR for your time.

 

 

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Author Q&A: HS Norup – author of The Missing Barbegazi.

Author Q&A: HS Norup, author of The Missing Barbegazi, talks about mountains, fairytales and Christmas traditions.

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The moutains which inspired H S Norup’s writing 
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HS Norup 

The Missing Barbegazi is one of my middle-grade hits of 2018. It is the story of a friendship between a girl and a mythical, fairylike creature which lives in the mountains. The story is about family, friendship and trust and it is set in the days shortly after Christmas. If you are looking for a magical story to read in the build-up to Christmas, I can’t reccomend this enough. 

I was delighted when author HS Norup agreed to answer some questions about her work, about the snowy landscape which inspired her setting and about fairytales in general. It is a pleasure to share her answers. Thank you Helle for your time. 

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Q: Barbegazi are mythical creatures who come out at first snowfall but are rarely sighted by humans. Did you want to write about Barbegazi, or did these creatures fit into your story?

A: When I began writing THE MISSING BARBEGAZI, I had never heard of barbegazi. I wanted to tell the story of an eleven-year-old girl, Tessa, who was desperate to win a ski race. A story set entirely in the real world without any magic or mythical creatures. But I had not written more than one chapter before Tessa met a strange furry creature in the snow. After some research, I discovered that the creature Tessa had encountered was a barbegazi. And everything about them fit perfectly into the story.

 

Q: Aside from the Barbegazi, do you have any favourite stories set in snowy landscapes? What is it you love about these stories?

A: Snow is magical! I still get excited every winter when I see the first snowflakes floating down, and there’s nothing quite like waking up to a newborn glittering world after a night of snowfall. In a novel, the dangers of snow and cold weather immediately raises the stakes. A landscape covered in snow can become a character in its own right and influence the story through the opposition or help it gives the protagonist, as is the case in THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper. Other favourite stories that are set in the snow includes: C.S. Lewis’s THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, Philip Pullman’s NORTHERN LIGHTS, Sinéad O’Hart’s THE EYE OF THE NORTH, Vashti Hardy’s BRIGHTSTORM, Piers Torday’s THERE MAY BE A CASTLE, and Katherine Rundell’s THE WOLF WILDER.

 

Q: Mountains play a huge part in your story. Why did you choose this setting?

A: I love the mountains and find them immensely fascinating—perhaps because I grew up by the sea in a flat country. From afar, the mountains present this beautiful, serene panorama, but up close they are wild and unforgiving. Add snow, and the mountains become both more beautiful and more dangerous. I have a deep respect for these dangers, especially avalanches, and they played a role in the story even before I discovered the avalanche-surfing barbegazi.

 

Q: You write about a world which is very like ours, except for the magical creatures who live in the mountains. What drew you to magical realism and how do you think fantasy elements help us to tell a story?

A: I have always loved reading magical realism and low fantasy stories. The idea that there might be magical or otherworldly creatures around us is both enticing and scary. I can’t go for a walk in the forest without secretly looking for fairies and I’m still afraid of the dark—my imagination often runs wild. I think fantasy elements can help us create story worlds that are fresh and interesting. At the same time, the presence of fantasy elements signals to the reader that this is a pretend world, which they can safely explore along with the protagonist.

 

Q: Family plays a huge part in The Missing Barbegazi. Tell us a little about how the two main characters fit into their families.

A: Tessa and Gawion are tweens (although Gawion is 154 years old) and both are part of loving families, but with very different family structures. Tessa’s parents are divorced, but she and her mum lives in the same house as her grandmother (and until recently her grandfather) and near other relatives, so she has a wide family network around her. Gawion’s family lives in complete isolations, far from other barbegazi, so they are a very close-knit family, and Gawion’s twin sister is his only friend. It’s important for the plot that they are isolated, but it’s also a situation I know well and wanted to describe. Whenever we, as a family, have moved to a new country, we have experienced 6-12 months of being each other’s only friends, and, since we left Denmark a long time ago, we have not had any family network to depend on. All family structures have positive and negative sides, and it’s important to show diversity without judgement in children’s fiction.

 

Q: Your story is set in the days after Christmas – the days when the presents have been unwrapped and the crackers have been pulled. Was there a reason you set your story after Christmas, and not during the festivities?

A: There are a couple of reasons I didn’t include the Christmas festivities, but the main reason is that it would have distracted from the story I wanted to tell. Tessa’s grandfather died shortly before Christmas, and the family is grieving, so I can’t imagine their Christmas was a jolly affair. Also, for many of the locals in a skiing resort, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, is the busiest week of the whole year. Tessa’s mum and Uncle Harry were both working over Christmas, catering to the needs of guests instead of their own families, but I’m sure Aunt Annie took good care of Tessa, Felix and Oma.

 

Q: Fun: Favourite cracker joke? Best Christmas jumper?

A: We have neither Christmas cracker jokes nor jumpers in Denmark, so I can’t really answer these questions, but we have other fun traditions. We celebrate on Christmas Eve. For dessert we always have Risalamande, a kind of rice pudding with almond slivers and one whole almond. Whoever finds the whole almond receives a small gift, but the fun lies in hiding the almond if you have found it or pretending to have found it if you haven’t. After dinner and before opening presents, we all dance around the Christmas tree, singing first psalms then jolly songs, usually ending with the whole family chasing each other around the house.

 

Q: Which animal would you have on the front of a Christmas card?

A: Mountain goats! We sometimes see them in the snow, springing around the steepest mountain sides, defying gravity. They’re more interesting than reindeer and deserve to be on Christmas cards.

 

Many thanks to HS Norup for taking the time to answer my questions. The Missing Barbegazi is available from Pushkin Press.

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Author Amy Wilson talks Snowglobe, fairytales and creating magical settings.

IMG_E6003The first book I reviewed for BookMurmuration became a lifelong favourite. A Girl Called Owl is a story of frost magic, the search for family-identity and a hidden world where a magical council controls the seasons. 

Amy Wilson has now published three books, each as fantastic as the other. Her latest novel, Snowglobeis a story of three magical sisters, manipulation and the importance of grabbing life with two hands. Like all her novels, it is set in a world with hidden pockets of magic and wonder. 

I am delighted that Amy has agreed to take part in a Q&A about magic and fairytales and all things winter. Her answers will leave you daydreaming and grabbing for a pen to write your own magical tales. It is a pleasure to have Amy here on my blog. BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Your debut novel, A Girl Called Owl, takes us into Jack Frost’s wintery world and your latest story Snowglobe features a room full of magical snowglobes. Why are you drawn to snowy landscapes?

I love the blank page of a snow-filled street. The sense of possibility and magic that comes with all the ordinary being hidden away. And the danger that comes with the beauty feels like such a truth. Many of us are lucky enough that we spend most of our lives cushioned from the harsh extremities of the world. Snow – winter – reminds me that we are still, always, at the mercy of our environment.

 

Do you have any favourite stories set in snowy worlds? What do you love about these stories?

CS Lewis’ Narnia stands out immediately. I have such a sense of the wild and the cold, and the snap of branches underfoot. The danger, and the suffering of those who need spring so desperately. I love the heart of the characters, the friendship offered when there is little else to give. I’ve recently read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and I suppose it seems natural that I would love it, but I LOVED it so much. I loved the old myths and legends, the wilderness, the magic. All of it!

 

Snowglobe and A Far Away Magic feature houses with magical secrets. The houses are unique to your stories. Please do you have any tips about creating magical houses as settings?

See them as a character. These houses have been around for longer than the characters themselves, and if there is magic in your world, and in your characters, then that magic may have infused the place. See normal things: a kitchen sink, a clock, a chest of drawers, with infinite possibilities. Even a settee is capable of much, in a magical house. And we all know about wardrobes…

 

The magic in your stories is subtle – other people in the same world may not be aware it exists. Why do write magic in this way?

I want it to be so nearly real that you can truly be there, even if you’re sitting on the train reading. Like shadows in the corners of your eyes, or the mist rolling over the fields in the very early morning that could be more than it looks. Powers that work like a sneeze, or the tingling of skin with a shock. The sensations are real, it’s just a question of taking that one step further, and then wondering, if that did really happen, if I could do things that we believe are impossible, would other people believe it? Or would they just blink and think they’re tired? Would they see it? I think that even if it were real, some people perhaps wouldn’t see it because they don’t open their eyes to see the magic that is in the world, they’ve trained their minds in other ways.

 

Snow melts shortly after it settles, especially in the UK. If you were given magic to turn a snowflake into an object you could keep, what would that object be? Please can you describe it for us? 

I would turn it into a unicorn – a Pegasus actually, because it would have wings, and we’d travel the world, at night, and have the most incredible adventures. And then one day we’d find a whole heard of snow-Pegasus’ and I’d have to leave her there but every winter she’d come and graze in my garden, and give my children rides up to the stars.

 

If you could choose any magical power, what would it be and why? 

I’d like to talk with trees. I’d like to hear their voices, to know what they think of the world.

 

Win a copy of Snowglobe – thanks to the lovely people at Macmillan Children’s Books UK, I have three copies of Snowglobe to give away to readers in the UK or Ireland. Check out my Twitter feed for a chance to win. Competition ends 16.12.2018 at 11.59pm.

A huge thanks to Amy Wilson and Jo Hardacre for your time.