We are so excited to share our interview from the latest issue of PaperBound with children’s author Gabriela Houston, whose new book The Wind Child is out now. Read on to discover more about this fantastic middle grade adventure and what inspired Gabriela to write it. You can catch even more great content in all our issues.
Your book, The Wind Child, is a beautiful, heartfelt tale of loss, adventure and belonging. Can you tell us a little more about the book and the inspiration behind it?
The Wind Child is a Slavic-folklore-inspired novel about Mara, the granddaughter of Stribog – God of Winter Winds – setting out on an epic journey with her bear-shifting best friend, to bring her father back from the dead.
I like to centre my writing around family and friendship love stories, rather than romantic love stories. In this novel, I wanted to explore the need to protect, which children often feel for their parents or guardians. Mara is a very lonely child. She knows she doesn’t quite match everyone’s expectations, on both sides of her family: god and human. So the relationship with her father, the one person who offers her the affection and reassurance she craves, was immensely important to the core of her identity.
Mara is untrusting and insecure, yet resourceful and endlessly stubborn. I wanted to explore the emotions a child like her might go through at the loss of the one person who gave her stability. Because of Mara’s heritage, the normal grieving process didn’t feel like the only option. Mara wouldn’t fear the gods – after all, she grew up among them. She wouldn’t care for what’s considered proper for the humans – she wasn’t fully one. She finds herself a loophole to try and do the unimaginable and defy death itself.
In the process of trying to bring her father back from the dead, Mara has to explore the duality of her nature, including all the aspects of it she’s been running from: she is half human-half god, but others only see one part of her. There is a struggle to prove herself, to prove that she can belong in both worlds. Her father is her link to humanity, but she believes that that nascent god nature inside her might be the key to saving him.
Torniv, Mara’s friend, also struggles with his dual identity, and he sees something in Mara, someone who can help him belong.
Mara and Torniv, the two main characters in The Wind Child, come up against deadly monsters and difficult challenges in this book. Did you plan the entire story out, or did the characters lead the way?
I never plan my stories in advance, as I like to get to know the characters first, and feel what’s natural to them before I make things happen. In terms of their adventures, my focus is on Mara and Torniv’s friendship – how those two lonely children find their way to trust each other. The creatures and the challenges they meet along the way expose their weaknesses, they feel the cracks in their armour. As they learn to understand each other more, Torniv and Mara begin to rely on their friendship. This learning to empathise and learning to trust is always gradual, and I wanted it to feel as organic as possible.
The Wind Child is said to have been shaped by your childhood and the landscape you grew up in. How does it feel to put these things on the page for readers to discover for themselves?
Writing Slavic-folklore-inspired fiction is, in a sense, a way for me to reach back towards my early childhood, to the stories I grew up with. Slavic mythology is still not as well-known as its Western counterparts, not even in the Slavic countries, and while I studied Greek and Norse mythologies at school and university, Slavic folklore remained confined to the space of fairy tales, of children’s bedtime stories.
Returning to it, and studying it critically for the first time, has been a real joy. It has such a sense of wonder to it, and it fits in so well with the landscapes I remember. It makes me so happy to be able to share this small part of my heritage with my own children and with all the readers who might not have come across Slavic stories before.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
For a long time it was my ambition to be a writer-illustrator, but while art will always be a part of my life, writing definitely comes easier to me. I dared not presume as to what success or lack thereof I might experience. But writing was just something I have always done, because not doing it would be unthinkable.
This is your first children’s novel. How does it feel to write for both children and adults?
I want to write all kind of books, for everyone to enjoy! I want to do novels, and comics, and illustrated novels, and picture books! It’s all storytelling, and my appetite for that is boundless!
Do you have any favourite characters from children’s literature and, if so, who are they?
Ronya, from Ronya, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren. I read that novel so many times as a child! Ronya is adventurous, and brave, and mischievous, but also fiercely loyal and loving. In a way, she encapsulated how I saw myself, and how I wanted to be. I envied her for the freedom and opportunities for reckless adventure, I suppose.
What’s next for you and your writing?
I have an adult novel project I’m working on right now, but I also have a children’s novel all finished, which I can’t talk about just yet! I hope to be able to show people more of Mara and Torniv for sure!
Gabriela Houston is a Polish writer based in London, UK. She writes Slavic-folklore-inspired fantasy. Her adult fantasy debut, The Second Bell, came out in March 2021 from Angry Robot Books, and her children’s fiction debut, The Wind Child, is out now from UCLan.
The Wind Child is out now from UCLan.
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