Interviews

Interview with Michelle Kenney

We chatted with YA author Michelle Kenney about her trilogy, Book of Fire, in the Winter 2020 issue of PaperBound. Read on to discover more about Michelle’s books and what inspires her writing …

Tell us a little about The Book of Fire trilogy.

The Book of Fire YA fantasy trilogy follows wild girl Talia, surviving as a hunter-gatherer in a treehouse village valley, after a biochemical Great War has destroyed most of the world. The story focuses on two communities: a sealed off scientific population who believe the outside world to be poisoned, and a treehouse-dwelling community of foragers who believe they are the only Great War survivors – until a chance encounter changes everything…

The trilogy is rich in Roman mythology, science and history, with plenty of romance thrown in for good measure. The action is also set in and around a war-torn ruined Exeter! Often dubbed ‘The Hunger Games meets Mythology,’ or ‘Percy Jackson meets The Bone Season’.

The series has strong themes and raises questions about the frequent conflict between nature and science.

Inspiration for the series grew from a visit to the Colosseum in Rome where they were burning torches of lavender at the end of every stand. The tour guide explained it was an authentic detail from the real gladiatorial games, where the scent was used to cover the scent of bloodshed. It was a tiny gruesome seed that lodged in my head, and stayed with me for nearly 20 years, before it grew into a trilogy.

How important is setting to you and your books?

I deliberately chose Exeter for my setting because I wanted the landscape to be local and recognisable – partly because I like to ground my fantasy in a little reality, and partly because Exeter has a deep vein of Roman history I knew I could tap into and use. I love living in Devon and feel very lucky to have the moor, coast and historical cities like Exeter on my doorstep for inspiration.

As the trilogy progressed, I realised readers were enjoying the local setting as much as I was enjoying writing it, and it inspired me to research and include more local history and landmarks. These included the ruined Roman bathhouse beneath Cathedral Green, which I deliberately used as a backdrop to action in City of Dust, and of course Exeter City’s famous underground passages.

Do you think dystopian fiction is on the rise again?

I think dystopian fiction is always bubbling away beneath the surface. Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to imagine a dystopian world given recent world events, and this adds a factor of relatability at the moment too. The Book of Fire series imagines a world after a devastating Great War, and I’ve been surprised by the number of readers who’ve been in touch to say how the setting feels a little too raw and realistic to be entirely comfortable. However, this is a real measure of its success for me.

Book of Fire’s core themes: science vs nature, history vs future and questioning if we should, just because we can underpin the whole series; and every reader who reviews or gets in contact to say Talia represents so much more than a wild girl in a recovering world, makes me very happy.

What dystopian novels do you love?

So many! The Bone Season series, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games, 1984, Divergent, but perhaps the most influential for me was Robert C. O’Brien’s Z for Zachariah.

Z for Zachariah was the very first dystopian novel I ever read at the influential age of 13, and at that time it felt as though it changed everything. Before then, I’d read a usual range of popular childhood authors including C.S Lewis, Ursula Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Enid Blyton and Ruby Ferguson. But this one story turned everything on its head – a reimagining of a world after an apocalyptical war, where the race for survival is uppermost and no-one is who they seem, felt so exciting and unique. Afterwards, I actively sought books that gave that same thrill. I think part of the reason I love YA fantasy, is that it’s brave and unafraid of taking chances or asking the difficult questions.

Could you tell us a little about your writing journey?

I always scribbled stories as a child, and even had some short stories published in my local newspaper as a teenager/adult; however I didn’t start writing seriously until a traumatic event relating to the birth of my second child. While I always nursed secret hopes of getting published ‘one day’, the event was a wake-up call – a reminder that none of us are here forever, and fulfilling ambitions takes time and stamina! So I started writing seriously.

My first novel got an agent, but no deal. That same agent closed her business after a year, but by that point I had a second novel ‘Genetica’ and received four offers of representation within a week.

The initial feedback from publishers was great, but dystopia wasn’t in vogue and it went on the back burner while we worked on my next novel. Then, just as we were about to submit the new novel, a trilogy offer came in from HarperCollins HQ, a full twelve months after the original book was submitted! It was the most exciting moment of my writing journey.

Genetica became Book of Fire, the first book in the trilogy.

How valuable was it to have people to share your writing with?

Looking back, enrolling in the 2015 Curtis Brown Writing for Young Adults/Children course was one of the most valuable steps in my writing journey. More importantly than the writing wisdom and wizardry – though with Catherine Johnson as course leader there was plenty of that – I met a brilliant bunch of like-minded people who became the best friends and support network a writer could want.

Five years later we’re still in daily contact, sharing and supporting the highs and lows of each other’s journeys and lives. Some of us have agents and deals, some of us don’t, but it doesn’t matter because no-one’s success impinges anyone else’s, and everyone’s journey offers a chance to learn.

One of my cohort, Stuart White, started the hugely successful #WriteMentor, the online, accessible, support network for published and unpublished writers alike.

What’s your favourite ever book for young people?

Too hard! I do remember reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe very vividly, and being absolutely filled with wonder that someone had written a door to another world through the back of a wardrobe. It felt as though they’d read my mind, and heard the questions I whispered to myself when the lights were out. It still captures that essence of childhood magic for me.

Writing Prompt:

The Book of Fire series is full of Roman myths and legends! If you could recreate a beast of myth and legend, what would you create? What strengths/skills would it have and why?

Expand this into a map of your own mythological world. Where does your creature live? Who else lives there? Think about setting/time and add as much ‘world detail’ as you can.

We’d love to read what you come up with. Send your stories here: paperboundmagazine@outlook.com

We may even print it in a future issue!

Michelle is a firm believer in magic, and that ancient doorways to other worlds can still be found if we look hard enough. She is also a hopeless scribbleaholic and, when left to her own devices, likes nothing better than to dream up new fantasy worlds in the back of a dog-eared notebook. Doctors say they’re unlikely to find a cure any time soon.

The Book of Fire trilogy is published by HarperCollins HQStories and is available globally now (in English). The final book in the trilogy, Storm of Ash, was released earlier this year. Michelle is represented by Northbank Talent Management, and loves chatting all things book-related on her official website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Interviews

Interview with Caroline Logan

We chatted with author Caroline Logan about her YA fantasy series, The Four Treasures, in the Winter 2020 issue of PaperBound. Read on to discover more about Caroline’s books and what inspires her writing …

Can you tell us more about The Four Treasures series and what readers can expect?

A few years ago, I got an idea for a story based on Scottish legends. I read a lot of Young Adult Fantasy but hadn’t really seen mythology represented. Originally, the story was supposed to be covered over one book but once I started plotting it out, I knew it would take a series to do it justice. I immediately knew what would happen in the first and second books, but then I had to make a decision about whether it would be a trilogy or a quadrilogy. Around that time, I stumbled upon the legend of The Four Treasures (which is actually an Irish story) and since my lucky number is four, I took it as a sign and plotted the other two books. 

The first book, The Stone of Destiny, is about a quest to find a magical stone, to save the kingdom and guarantee the safety of the king. But it’s actually so much more than that and I think people are always surprised when they read it. It’s really about the main character, Ailsa, who has been shunned all of her life by superstitious neighbours. She saves a pair of selkies who convince her to help them find the stone. But, meanwhile, something terrifying is stalking Ailsa through the forests of Eilanmor. There’s friendship, romance, action, and many monsters (my favourite things to write).

Have you always wanted to become a writer? How did you start?

No, I never thought I’d become a writer. English wasn’t my strong suit in school – I was much more suited to maths, science and art. I didn’t like dissecting poetry and hated writing essays. It wasn’t until I got back into reading again that I started thinking about writing. I had a New Year’s Resolution to read a book a week. By the end of the year, I wanted to give my own story a try. 

I started by coming up with characters, a plot and by building my world. That’s the best bit of writing a book in my opinion. I watched Youtube videos on writing and read blog posts. Then I just started. I didn’t think I would ever finish and I especially didn’t think anyone would ever read it. But a few years later, here I am with one book out and another on the way!

Did you have to do a lot of research into Scottish myths and folklore, or history, to write these books?

I already knew quite a few myths but I had to dig a little deeper when writing the book. There are often different versions of the same story, so I just chose the ones I liked best. Sometimes I’ll add a twist to them, like the selkie’s water magic. Sometimes I’ll just make something up. When I was in primary school, my friends and I pretended there were bog monsters in the mud, waiting to steal your wellies, so I put them in the book. I reckon it still counts – I am Scottish after all, so I can make Scottish myths!

In terms of history, originally I was going to set the books in a certain time period, but nothing was really lining up and I wouldn’t have been able to give my characters kilts or have them eat curry. That’s why I decided to set it in a fictional land based on Scotland. I always joke that I just couldn’t be bothered researching all the history.

The main character in The Stone of Destiny, Ailsa, is treated differently from a young age because of the way she looks. Is there anything you hope readers can take from this?

I really wanted to have interesting, diverse characters to set them apart from other medieval based fantasy books. Though all my characters in book 1 are white, I hope they all have distinctive features and personalities. As we move through the books, we’ll start to meet people from different places other than Eilanmor and the cast will become even more diverse. Hopefully, it conveys the message that if you broaden your horizons and meet people from different places, with different sexualities and gender identities, and abilities, your life will be better for it.

When I was creating my main character, I wanted someone who felt like an outcast. The Changeling Mark was another myth I’d heard about and when I saw this picture of a beautiful woman with a birthmark on her face, it all just clicked into place. I think Ailsa’s struggle is something we can all identify with. I believe that everyone has the experience of feeling left out at some point in their lives, so hopefully I made a main character who was relatable and could show the reader that being yourself is better than being another face in the crowd.

What do you love most about writing? What comes next for you and your books?

I love coming up with plots and characters. I really don’t like the actual writing part that much but it’s just part of telling the story. I have a four book contract with Cranachan Publishing. The Cauldron of Life, the second in the series, was released in October. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing Book 3 which will be out in 2021.

I have a few side projects on the go, but I just don’t have the time for them right now. One is inspired by the Gorbals Vampire legend, another is a fairytale retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses set in Ancient Egypt, and the last is an adult Science Fiction Western that’s about a gang of female criminals on the hunt for treasure. Maybe when The Four Treasures Series is finished, I’ll be able to get on with those.

How will you be spending the winter season?

Playing with my dogs: Ranger and Scout. I know it’s a bit cringey, but they really are my babies. I’ll also be up to my eyes in school work. I’m a secondary biology teacher and I have a lot of senior classes this year. It’s been a challenge working through the pandemic but I’m so glad to see my students again. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in months.

Writing prompt:

You explore a hidden cave and discover two portals. One will take you to a beautiful place with a terrifying secret. The other will take you to a dangerous place with a great treasure.

Write about which one you would choose and what you see when you step through the door.

We’d love to read what you come up with. Send your stories here: paperboundmagazine@outlook.com

We may even print it in a future issue!

Caroline is a YA fantasy author. Her debut novel, The Stone of Destiny, is the first in The Four Treasures series. Caroline is a high school biology teacher who lives in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, with her husband. Before moving there, she lived and worked in Spain, Tenerife, Sri Lanka and the West Coast of Scotland. She graduated from The University of Glasgow with a bachelor’s degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology. In her spare time she tries to ski and paddle board, though she is happiest with a good book, a cup of tea and her dogs.

You can keep up to date with Caroline by visiting her website, or by following her on Twitter and Instagram.

The Stone of Destiny and The Cauldron of Life are both available to purchase now!

Don’t forget you can catch up with the latest issues of PaperBound Magazine here – and they’re all completely free!

Bookshelf

Our Winter Bookshelf

Take a look at our winter warmer bookshelf, filled with each of our own book recommendations for books to read in winter. From novels to short story collections, and middle grade to YA, we hope there’s something you can get stuck into over winter here, or maybe even find something new …

You can also see this page and lots more recommendations in our Winter 2020 Issue, which can be found here.

© PaperBound Magazine

Interviews

Interview with author Damaris Young

We spoke to author Damaris Young about her new novel The Creature Keeper in our Winter 2020 issue. Read on to discover more, or head over to our issues page to read the interview inside PaperBound Magazine itself.

Tell us a little about your new book The Creature Keeper. What made you decide to write it?

When animal lover Cora learns that Direspire’s mysterious owner is looking for a new Creature Keeper, she realises this might just be the chance she’s looking for to save her parents’ farm. But Direspire Hall is a spooky place, and the strange creatures who live there are nothing like Cora is expecting. As Cora settles into her new life, it soon becomes clear that Direspire has its secrets, and that somebody will do whatever it takes to keep them…

Growing up, I was always more comfortable around animals, and sometimes I struggled to talk to people. I wanted to write a story about a young girl who, just like me, feels a connection to animals, and send her on a journey of self-discovery and adventure, where she learns to find her voice.

What does your typical writing day look like?

The first thing I do is take my two dogs for a long walk near the river, which helps wake my brain up. When I get home, I’ll make breakfast, toast and a cup of coffee, and take it up to my home office. I usually write for a few hours, before finishing off the day by catching up on admin. I send out author letters to schools, sign bookplates, write articles for blog posts, and prepare for virtual workshops. I love connecting with schools and readers, it is one of the best parts of the job.

Your book The Creature Keeper has been described as having a ‘creepy gothic setting’. How important is setting to your writing?

The setting is incredibly important to my writing and I will treat it as a character, with its own quirks, personality and different moods. In The Switching Hour, the setting of the drought-stricken land became the antagonist that thwarted Amaya on her mission to save her brother. In The Creature Keeper, Direspire Hall is found near the coast and ‘The sea, the one that bordered our part of the world, wasn’t like any other. It had a mind of its own. Ma said it had eyes and ears and even teeth, and that it would gobble you up if you weren’t careful.’ The setting is wild and unpredictable, not unlike the creatures Cora discovers in Direspire hall.

What other middle grade novels do you love? What is it about them that you enjoyed?

I’m currently reading When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten, set on a small Caribbean island. I love the strong sense of place, and the clever, and perceptive protagonist, Clara. I’m also a huge fan of the author Kirsty Applebaum, and her new story Troofriend is excellent! It follows a robot manufactured to be a child’s companion, and the curious and clever robot stole my heart from the very first page.

You’ve completed a writing course; how valuable was it to have people to share your writing with?

Being able to share your work with other writers and critique each other’s stories is invaluable. Writing a book is tough, and it is easy to lose motivation. Having other writers who support and encourage you is essential, as is being able to celebrate each other’s successes!

What other things do you enjoy when you’re not writing books?

I’ve recently started to learn cross-stitch, and it’s a great way to relax your mind! This year has been particularly challenging for lots of people’s mental health and being able to do something creative and relatively simple, like cross-stitch, has helped me.

If you could share one piece of writing advice with our readers, what would it be?

Don’t compare yourself and your writing to anyone else. When I started on my writing journey I often felt like a chameleon as I tried to emulate the writers I admired. I wasn’t allowing myself to find my voice as a writer, and I caused myself no end of frustration when I couldn’t get it ‘right’.

Once I stopped comparing myself to others (although full disclosure, I do still sometimes find myself slipping into those bad habits) I began to celebrate what made my writing unique.

Writing prompt:

In my new book The Creature Keeper, Cora looks after extraordinary creatures that are extremely rare. When writing your story, imagine your character comes across a rare or endangered creature. What is it? Write an adventure, helping the creature get back to its natural habitat.

We’d love to read what you come up with. Send your stories here: paperboundmagazine@outlook.com

We may even print it in a future issue!

Damaris studied on the Writing for Young People MA at Bath Spa University, where she wrote her debut novel, The Switching Hour. She is passionate about inspiring and empowering young readers with knowledge and action about climate change, as well as encouraging a love of the natural world with her stories. You can catch up with Damaris on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

The Switching Hour and The Creature Keeper are published by Scholastic UK and both books are available now!