Tell Me A Dragon

Tell Me A Dragon

Jackie Morris

Graffeg

Originally published in 2009, Tell Me A Dragon was recently re-released by Graffeg in a larger artist format. Following in the footsteps of The Ice Bear and The Snow Leopard, the book shows off the illustrations to the max (on art paper) and allows the freshly formatted words space to breathe.

Tell Me A Dragon stands proud next to similarly sized Lost Words and Snow Leopard

On her website, Jackie says “One day someone asked me, if I had a dragon, what would it be like. I realized that almost every day it would be different. Some days I would like a big dragon to fight battles for me, sometimes a small dragon to curl around my ear and tell me stories. Each day a different dragon, but each one mine. And so I wrote Tell Me a Dragon.” And so each double page spread documents a different type of dragon – from one as large as a village to a tiny dragon with whisper-thin wings, and from a snaggle-toothed dragon to a sea-dragon which races dolphins on the waves. Many teachers will be familiar with the book as it is used up, down and across the land to spark imagination and as an amazing stimulus for creative work in schools. Indeed, it was recently chosen as an essential picture book for Year 3 by Simon Smith (@smithsmm), Headteacher and Picture Book enthusiast (visit his blog). If you’re thinking of using it in the classroom then you should also seek out Pie Corbett’s teaching notes to accompany the book.

Who’s the Daddy? Larger format next to the original.

Otherwise, open the pages and drink in the gloriousness. Soak in the vibrancy of the colours and be washed by the words as they meander from the paper to your mind. Kit pored over the endpapers for hours imagining what would be borne of the eggs – radiant, rich and varied in shape and size. Nina sat and talked about her dragon, telling me of the adventures through the mountains, the snacks they would share, the parties they would hold. Noah took himself off to draw his own creations – an imagination in full flight, an awareness awoken.

Without a doubt this is a fabulous book with the power to invoke curiosity, creativity and comfort in all who pick her up.

Tell Me A Dragon is available from Graffeg, Solva Woollen Mill or your local independent bookshop. We are grateful to Graffeg for a copy of the book which was given in exchange for this honest review. Follow Jackie Morris on Twitter or visit her blog.

 

The Girl With The Dragon Heart

The Girl with the Dragon Heart

Stephanie Burgis

Bloomsbury

Review by Nina

Wow! This is a wonderful, magical, thrilling adventure – a compelling sequel to The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. In that first book, we were introduced to Aventurine, a dragon cruelly cursed by magical hot chocolate. Silke, the street girl who guides Aventurine plays second fiddle in the ‘Chocolate Heart’ but in this book she is determined to tread her own path and tell her own story. And what a story! It all centres on an awful secret that Silke and her brother Dieter have hidden for years. Silke’s secret is her motivation for getting into the Royal Palace and solving a great mystery. At the heart of this secret is the fairy kingdom of Elfenwald and its evil king and queen. As baddies, these two are wicked, scary, horrid and terrible – Stephanie’s characterisations are brilliant!

What I love about both these books is diving in and feeling a part of the world. It’s a magical city with a medieval flavour – the narrow backstreets of numerous districts, the market stalls, castle walls and riverbank camps – Stephanie Burgis builds the world using all the senses, enveloping the reader with the sights, sounds and smells (mostly chocolatey!) so that you really feel in the midst of the action. Add in fairies, goblins and dragons and this is a fantasy you will not want to miss. I highly recommend this book for age 8 and up.

From the Press Release…

Once upon a time, in a beautiful city famous for chocolate and protected by dragons, there was a girl so fearless that she dared to try to tell the greatest story of all: the truth.

Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that since arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announces it will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting fairies…

Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?

From the author of the magical The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart comes a second magical adventure perfect for fans of Cressida Cowell and Cornelia Funke.

About Stephanie

Stephanie Burgis is a dual citizen of the US and the UK and lives in South Wales with her husband and their children. The Girl with the Dragon Heart is Stephanie’s second novel for Bloomsbury. Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her website.

The Girl with the Dragon Heart is published on 9 August in paperback. Big thanks to Bloomsbury for our review copy – buy yours at your local independent bookshop or Hive.

The Train to Impossible Places

The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery

P.G. Bell

Usborne

Review by Noah

Mirror Magic Blog Tour

We were delighted to be given the opportunity to travel to Cardiff to meet with Claire Fayers and talk with her about her enchanting new novel, Mirror Magic. Noah takes the lead in this video, with the rest of the worms joining in with a ‘Would You Rather?’ section near the end. Thank you very very much to Claire for being such a great sport and taking the time to film with us.

Why not check out Noah’s written review of Mirror Magic here.

Mirror Magic

Mirror Magic

Claire Fayers

Cover Illustration by Becka Moor

Macmillan Children’s

Review by Noah

Mirror Magic is Claire Fayers’ third book and a departure from the Accidental Pirates series. I loved both of those books but Mirror Magic is absolutely wonderful – it will bring you close to tears and full of joy and happiness. The story, set in a kind of Victorian wonderland, will have you riveted to every page as you learn of the mysteries of disappearing enchanted items. Wyse is a border town and the last remaining place where fairy magic works. The town has a connection to the ‘unworld’ where magic reigns. This is pure escapism as Claire takes us on a fabulously imaginative adventure to worlds within worlds – full of charm, a touch of danger and a lot of mischief!

My favourite character was Mrs Footer, the source of many hilarious episodes in the book – I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say that she is turned into a dog quite early in the story. I loved the way that Mrs Footer mimicked and mirrored the emotions of the characters.

With this third book and next year’s Stormhound (previewed at the back of Mirror Magic), Claire Fayers is cementing herself as an entertaining and absorbing author. This is her best book yet – a brilliant read and totally awesome!

 

As part of the Mirror Magic Blog Tour, we met up with Claire to make a video. You can view that post here.

Thanks to Karen and Macmillan for sending us a copy of Mirror Magic. It is in shops now! You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Claire Fayers on Twitter, or visit her website

Empathy Day Blog Tour: Gill Lewis

To mark Empathy Day on June 12th, we are delighted to be participating in the Empathy Lab Blog Tour and even more delighted to be hosting one of our favourite authors, Gill Lewis. Empathy Day calls us all to READ – because reading in itself can make us more empathetic; SHARE – because sharing perspectives through books can connect us in new ways; and DO – put empathy into action and make a difference in your community.

Gill is previously on record as saying “Books are more important now than ever for us to understand other people’s lives. They allow us to hear the whole story and to walk in someone else’s shoes. Books can help us understand others and the world around us. Ultimately, they allow us to understand ourselves.” (A Day in the Life of Gill Lewis, retrieved from inkpellet.co.uk). In this blog, she explores having empathy for someone whose views you do not necessarily agree with.

Empathy… A Bridge Across the Divide

A Guest Blog by Gill Lewis

When I was researching for my book, Sky Dancer, a story about the environmental conflict surrounding driven grouse shooting in our uplands, I came across many distressing videos and images of persecuted birds of prey; poisoned eagles, shot hen harriers, bludgeoned buzzards and goshawks. The list went on and on.

I was appalled.

Why would anyone do such a thing?

We often use a rhetorical question to express our disgust and contempt. It entrenches us in our own viewpoint and alienates us from the other.

However, if we ask a genuine question: Why would anyone do such a thing? Why? Then we begin to put ourselves in a position to understand someone’s actions. Empathy is an important skill and the basis of understanding the motives of others. You don’t have to agree with someone or tolerate their views but you can attempt to understand why they have those views. Making the first step towards understanding does not mean you compromise your own beliefs, but that you are willing to listen. Listening is the first step towards dialogue, which can lead to potential resolution of a conflict or the changing of bigoted views or unjust practices.

A writer uses empathy all the time to understand each character’s viewpoint. A writer has to know, for example, why one character might hold racist beliefs. Most prejudice is born from fear; fear of losing power or control. It’s a survival mechanism to protect one’s own interests. Dialogue and understanding can reduce the fear and in doing so be pivotal in changing bigoted attitudes.

For Sky Dancer I wanted to understand why a gamekeeper might shoot a hen harrier, one of our wonderful iconic birds of prey. Why destroy something so beautiful, a part of nature? Why risk breaking the law in doing so?

Well, the answer lies in the driven grouse shooting industry. The Joint Raptor Study concluded that a driven grouse moor cannot be economically viable unless hen harriers are killed. Birds of prey are persecuted on many grouse moors to ensure the red grouse numbers are high enough for a shoot.

The gamekeepers’ job is in the name. It is to keep game in plentiful supply for a shoot. Many gamekeepers have long traditional family associations with the land and with the owner of a grouse moor. It’s a way of life. There is fierce pride in the job. Killing wildlife that preys on red grouse goes back to Victorian times. It’s a cultural norm. Many species such as crows, foxes, magpies, and weasels are now legally killed, and many, many birds of prey are illegally killed too.

If gamekeepers allow red grouse numbers to fall due to predation, they are at risk of losing their livelihood and way of life. To lose a way of life is to lose your identity and your sense of belonging in the world. No wonder it is something people would be fearful of and fight against. No wonder a gamekeeper wants to do his job well and maximize game. No wonder there is fierce resistance to those who want to ban driven grouse shooting.

Similarly, many grouse moor owners do not welcome hen harriers because their business is dependent upon high grouse numbers. Land ownership in the uplands is a complicated mix of tradition, class, wealth and politics. A landowner may fear loss of power and control, not only of the land, but also of their own status.

In Sky Dancer, I wanted to cross the bridge from my own viewpoint, one that sees persecution as abhorrent, and try to understand the stance of a gamekeeper involved in the shooting of a bird of prey. Joe, a gamekeeper’s son, narrates the story and through him we see his father’s and the wealthy landowner’s views, and we also see how Joe is challenged to think another way by a newcomer.

Aimee Nicholson, of the RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE Project with Gill Lewis on a school book tour in support of Sky Dancer last year.

By trying to understand both perspectives, I wanted to build up the arguments for driven grouse shooting and then tear them all down and show that driven grouse shooting is an outdated Victorian sport that has no place in conservation today.

Yet, in this story, I wanted to show that there is a viable alternative to driven grouse shooting that would benefit all. At the moment we, as taxpayers, pay vast subsidies to landowners to intensively manage the land via burning to produce swathes of heather for grouse. Much of our upland landscape of treeless, fire-scorched hillsides has been defined by it.  This land management is bad for the environment; it is detrimental to carbon capture, water and air quality and biodiversity. An alternative would be to re-wild our upland with mixed habitats of deciduous native woodland, blanket bog and heath. I’d prefer my taxes to pay for restoration of the natural world. Gamekeepers’ livelihoods needn’t be at risk either, as re-wilding would require wildlife rangers to protect wildlife and wild space, and not destroy it.

My opinion is that re-wilding is the viable option to break away from damaging Victorian practices. It would provide eco-tourism, mitigate flood risk and benefit carbon capture, water and air quality and achieve a biodiversity of such richness that which we can now only dream.

Empathy can build bridges and initiate dialogue.

Whether or not someone with an opposing opinion wants to meet you on that bridge is their choice. But by understanding another viewpoint, it allows you to reassess your own, clarify your own beliefs, sharpen your argument and give courage of your convictions to keep on fighting for what you believe.

 

Thank you to Gill Lewis for this thoughtful and thought-provoking blog. You can read our review of Sky Dancer here. You may also be interested in her latest book with Barrington Stoke, Run Wild, which also has a re-wilding theme. 

Run Wild

Run Wild

Gill Lewis

Barrington Stoke

Review by Nina and Daddy

Nina and I read this fabulous story from Gill Lewis over 4 nights. On finishing the book, I was met with a barrage of questions: What’s a cormorant?; Are there still wolves in the UK?; Where did you play when you were younger?; How many types of beetle are there?

In response, we checked out some YouTube videos, visited a local heronry, and I reminisced about the patch of common land outside my parents’ house where I would climb trees, build dens and concoct stories.

We also bought the book The Ways of the Wolf by Smriti Prasadam-Halls and Jonathan Woodward (published by Wren & Rook, an imprint of Hachette) which is a brilliant and beautiful complimentary non-fiction title endorsed by the UK Wolf Conservation Trust.

If Gill Lewis’ aim is to encourage future generations to engage with themes of conservation; to connect with (and be inquisitive about) nature; to think about the wild spaces in their communities, then Nina is proof that she has succeeded.

The story of Run Wild centres on the pairing of brave and adventurous school friends Izzy and Asha. Banished from the local skate park by the Skull Brothers, they are forced to find their own place to play and practice their tricks. This new place is a rundown and off-limits gasworks. It is in this brownfield space that the young girls learn to take risks, to explore, discover new things and connect with the wild. It is in this space that they meet an injured wolf.

The characters then face a dilemma – do they try to help the wolf themselves or do they seek help for the wolf and reveal their secret and special hideout? This quandary brings them closer to the Skull Brothers and they work the problem out together. There is an especially compelling chapter where the children face-up to their headteacher and as Izzy is pleading with Mrs Stone you can hear every child in the land urging adults everywhere to “remember what it feels like to be running wild”. The book is a passionate argument not just for the rewilding of nature but for connecting children to the wild too. See this manifesto from The Wild Network, set up to remove the barriers to #wildtime:

Whilst the rewilding of children is a part of the story, the rewilding of nature is at it’s core. According to the charity Rewilding Britain, it is all about “bringing nature back to life and restoring living systems”. The charity signs up to several principles acknowledging that “people, communities and livelihoods are key”. Rewilding is a choice of land management – it relies on people deciding to explore an alternative future for the land and people. Thus the brownfield site of the old gasworks is at the centre of a bitter battle.

Barrington Stoke promise a series of special school events on the publication of Run Wild and finished copies will be in Barrington Stoke’s super readable typeset on off-white pages. This is a brilliant partnership that has got us really excited.

Run Wild is engaging, compelling and brilliantly written; as a storyteller, Gill Lewis should be cherished and revered. The message of ‘Run Wild’ is important, nay, essential and should be filed next to The Lost Words (Jackie Morris and Rob Macfarlane) and The Promise (Nicola Davies) as enchanting books with significant and important themes.

 

Thanks to Barrington Stoke for sending us a copy of Run Wild. It is published on July 15. You can buy it from Hive or better still, from your local bookshop.

You can follow Gill Lewis on Twitter, or visit her website. The book is endorsed by the charity, Rewilding Britain (who have a website and a twitter account). You should also check out The Wild Network.

The Clockwork Crow Cover Reveal

We are absolutely delighted to reveal the cover of Catherine Fisher’s new MG novel, The Clockwork Crow: a magical story of snow and stars. Published by Cardiff-based Firefly Press, and due out in October, this beautifully produced book will make a perfect Christmas gift.

The stunning cover, designed by Anne Glenn, is shown here in its full glory.

Catherine Fisher, author of the bestselling Snow-Walker trilogy, Incarceron and The Obsidian Mirror series, was the first Wales Young People’s Laureate and we were absolutely thrilled when we heard that Catherine and Firefly were working together – such an enchanting partnership. Catherine told us, “I’m very proud and pleased to be publishing a new story with Firefly. One of the best independent children’s publishers in the UK. And Welsh!”

Synopsis

When Seren Rhys is given a newspaper parcel by a stranger late at night in an empty train station, she has no idea what trouble it contains. She is on her way to a new life at the remote house of Plas-y-Fran in Wales, but when she gets there the happy family Christmas she had hoped for turns out to be an illusion. Because their son Tomos has been missing for a year and a day, and if the strange and dangerous Family have really taken him, who would be mad enough to try and get him back? 
Armed with a talking bird who might not be telling the truth, a magical snow-globe and her own indomitable courage, Seren sets off on a journey into a midnight world of snow and stars, to an ice palace unlocked only by a Door of Blood and Tears.

 

We also have an exclusive extract of the book, featuring Seren, the irresistible, headstrong protagonist.

The Clockwork Crow was lying on its side. One of its small bright eyes was looking straight at her. She snatched up the key, pushed it into the hole in the side of the bird and wound it up. The machinery grated, stiff and rusty. It was hard to get the key round more than a few turns. There was a loud whirr and clatter, and quite suddenly the Crow’s head moved. It creaked sideways. Its wings opened. It took one wobbly step. 
Then it looked at her with its shiny eye and opened its twisted beak. “Oil” it croaked. “I need oil.” 

 

The Clockwork Crow is a gripping Christmas tale of enchantment and belonging, set in a frost-bound mansion in snowy mid-Wales. It is due for publication on 4 October 2018, and will be available for pre-order on Firefly’s website or from your local independent bookshop.

 

We’d like to thank Firefly for inviting us to host this cover reveal for a very special and much-anticipated book from a master storyteller.

Welsh Legend in Susan Cooper’s The Grey King and Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider

A Guest Blog by Dr Dimitra Fimi

In my recent book, Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) I explored children’s and young adult fantasies ranging from the 1960s to today, discussing their inspirations in “Celtic” myth, both Irish and Welsh. Among my chosen texts are two much-loved Tir na n-Og Award winners: Susan Cooper’s The Grey King (1976) and Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider (1987). In this post, I’d like to share some examples of Welsh legend and folklore that inspired central elements in both novels.

Susan Cooper’s The Grey King

Susan Cooper’s The Grey King (and, later, Silver on the Tree), offers us a vision of “the Arthur of the Welsh”. One of the texts I consider central for Cooper’s re-imagining of Arthur is the Latin Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons) of c. 800, often attributed to Nennius. The “mirabilia,” a list of “wonders” of Britain appended to the main text of the Historia, give us a sense of the traditions of Arthur in medieval Welsh folklore. There are two main Arthurian references in the “mirabilia”: Arthur’s dog, Cafall, and Arthur’s son. Both became central ideas in The Grey King.

In the “mirabilia”, Arthur’s son’s name is Amr, while in another medieval text, the Welsh Triads, his name is Lachau or Lacheu. Not much is known about this shadowy figure, but Bromwich (whose book on the Triads Susan Cooper read) hypothesises that “Lacheu appears to have belonged to an early stratum of Arthurian tradition in Wales.” In making Bran Davies the son of Arthur, therefore, Cooper is not quite inventing a new tradition, as breathing new life into a very old one. 

Cafall is the name of Arthur’s dog not only in the “mirabilia” section of the Historia Brittonum, but also in the tale of “Culhwch and Olwen” found in the Mabinogion. In both texts, Cafall takes part in the hunting of the legendary boar Troyt/Twrch Trwyth by Arthur and his men. Inside Craig yr Aderyn, when Will, Bran and Cafall stand before the Three Lords, the true identity of one of the Lords is revealed because he exclaims his recognition of the dog:

The lord in the sea-blue robe leaned forward a little from his throne; they glimpsed a keen, strong face and a pointed grey beard. He said, astonishingly, ‘Cafall?’
At Bran’s side the white dog stood erect and quivering. He did not move an inch forward, as if obeying some inner instruction that told him his place, but his tail waved furiously from side to side as it never waved for anyone but Bran. He gave a soft, small whine.
White teeth glinted in the hooded face. ‘He is well named. Well named.

Whether Cafall is Arthur’s own dog reborn, or he just senses the presence of his modern master’s father, is left deliberately ambiguous in this extract. Nevertheless, Bran’s persona here as a modern incarnation of Arthur, the hero who will defend Britain against the Dark once more, is strengthened by the presence of Cafall.

Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider

In Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider young Gwyn discovers he is a magician. As Gwyn turns nine, his Nain reveals a secret ancestry and points to a new destiny for him:

‘Time to find out if you are a magician, Gwydion Gwyn!’ said Nain… ‘Time to remember your ancestors: Math, Lord of Gwynedd, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy!’

Nain’s words usher characters from Mabinogion into the text. Math is the King of Gwynedd in one of the earliest tales, the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, while Gwydion and Gilfaethwy are his nephews. Nimmo’s portrayal of Gwydion erases the most disturbing elements of his mythical character, thus turning him into a benign supernatural ancestor-figure. Indeed, Gwyn soon finds out that his real name is Gwydion, and that Gwyn serves as a sort of diminutive. 

Nain enables the first flowering of Gwyn’s magical powers by offering him five unusual gifts for his birthday, which he is encouraged to “give to the wind” and get a magical response, for good or ill. Three of these gifts, a tin whistle, a piece of seaweed, and a broken horse, provide direct links with the Mabinogion. 

When Gwyn offers the tin whistle to the wind, he receives a silver pipe. When Arianwen, the eponymous snow spider, spins a cobweb image of a snow-covered city, inhabited by pale-faced children, Gwyn realises that he can hear the bells of the city and the voices of the children through the pipe. Nain exclaims: “Even when men whispered, Math could hear them; he could hear voices beyond any mortal ear! The pipe is from him!” Indeed, in the Mabinogion Math has a “special attribute,” “whatever whispering goes on between people – no matter how quiet – once the wind catches hold of it then Math will know about it.”

The next gift, and the vision Gwyn receives in return, also come directly from the Fourth Branch. Just like Gwydion fashions a ship out of seaweed, Gwyn’s piece of seaweed brings an enormous silver ship, engraved with strange shapes and floating in the sky. 

Nain’s fifth gift to Gwyn, the broken horse, introduces the tragic tale of Branwen from the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, which later becomes the central structure of the third book in the series, The Chestnut Soldier. The broken horse is described as having no ears and tail, and bearing a tiny label around its neck that reads “Dim hon!” (“Not this!”). Despite Nain’s warning, Gwyn carelessly lets the horse be taken by the wind and a terrible power of chaos is let loose. Gwyn eventually realises that the horse has released a “demon” from the same Mabinogion tale: he turns out to be Efnisien, Branwen’s half-brother, whose outrageous act of maiming Matholwch’s horses is reflected in the state of the toy horse: “Then he went for the horses, and cut their lips to the teeth, and their ears down to their heads, and their tails to their backs; and where he could get a grip on the eyelids, he cut them to the bone.” In a way, this is the moment of “recognition” in this fantasy novel. Gwyn now knows that he needs to capture Efnisien’s demonic spirit and imprison him again, safely in the toy horse, before any further damage is done. He succeeds in taming the legendary past, and at the same time in controlling his own power and in maturing as a young boy and a magician.

Worthy Tir na n-Og Winners

Both Susan Cooper and Jenny Nimmo engage with Welsh traditions and folklore. They don’t just “borrow”, they re-invent, re-shape, and adapt. They make medieval Welsh legend relevant and enchanting for new generations of children, and – in the process – succeed in creating that all-important “authentic Welsh background” that has made them worthy winners of the Tir na n-Og Award. 

We’d like to say a big thank you to Dr Dimitra Fimi for taking the time to contribute this guest blog. We are in awe.

Dr Dimitra Fimi is a Senior Lecturer in English at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Her first monograph, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) won the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies. She co-edited the first critical edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “A Secret Vice”, in which Tolkien theorizes his language invention (A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, HarperCollins, 2016). The book won the Tolkien Society Award for Best Book. Her latest monograph, Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), was runner up for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award. She has published widely in journals and edited collections. She lectures on fantasy literature, science fiction, children’s literature, and medievalism. She contributes regularly to radio and TV programmes (BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Wales, History Channel, BBC4). You can find out more on her website.

Readers of this blog may also be interested to note that Dr Fimi will be tutoring a course at Ty Newydd with Catherine Fisher entitled ‘(Re)telling traditional narratives:myth, legend, fairy tale’ on the weekend of Friday 20 July.

Frances Thomas

Frances’ most recent winner, Finding Minerva

As part of our Tir na n-Og Award Celebrations, we are delighted to have been able to interview author Frances Thomas, winner of the Tir na n-Og Award four times! Her first children’s book, The Blindfold Track, was published in 1980 and won the 1981 Award. The Region of the Summer Stars won in 1986; Who Stole a Bloater? in 1992 and Finding Minerva in 2008.

Frances was born during the War in Aberdare, South Wales, where her mother had gone to escape the bombs. Her mother’s family was Irish and English, her father’s Welsh. She returned to the family home in London, where she grew up. A few years ago, she moved to Mid Wales where she lives very happily, she says, trying to learn Welsh, going for walks on the hills, writing and painting.

Her books have been translated into ten languages and she has been published by Bloomsbury, Macmillan, Red Fox, Gomer and Seren Books, amongst others.

You have won the Tir na n-Og Award an incredible four times. More than any other author. What does that mean to you?

I was surprised and overjoyed to win the Tir na nOg; it’s gratifying to know that people have read and appreciated my work. Otherwise writing can be a somewhat lonely existence.

You have been nominated 6 times – what draws you to write books set in Wales?

There are various reasons why I write about Wales – I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years, family holidays and travel. And for the last fifteen years we’ve lived in Mid-Wales. Partly of course because Wales is so beautiful – the view from my window inspires me every day. And there’s such a rich store of mythology and story to draw on. How could I not want to write about it?

Which other authors of Wales do you admire?

There are many writers for children in Wales whose work I admire; Catherine Fisher, Jenny Sullivan, Jenny Nimmo, Paul Manship, Phil Carradice; they’re all very different writers, but full of imagination and inventiveness. I wish their books could be more widely available in the rest of the UK.

Many of your books could be classified as historical fiction. What is your favourite period in history? And why do you suppose historical fiction is so popular with readers?

As a child, Frances loved the novels of Rosemary Sutcliff

As a child I devoured historical fiction; Rosemary Sutcliffe and Geoffrey Trease were my idols. It’s a little less popular now, I’m afraid, especially for young people’s books; publishers don’t seem to think it sells (of course it doesn’t if they don’t publish it). My most recent books are a series of four set in the period of the Trojan War – part history, part myth. I’m fascinated by all those long ago dark periods, and love trying to shine some light on them. And the dark ages aren’t really dark when you examine them…

Of more modern periods I love the seventeenth century, a kind of turning point between the old and the modern, when we suddenly find we can recognise the people and their ideas and desires, at the same time being aware of their difference from us. Many of the ideas and scientific theories that we take for granted now had their origins in the seventeenth century. And there were some marvellous poets writing then – Donne, Herbert, Traherne. I once set a story in that period (not published of course because Historical Novels Don’t Sell but I hope it might see the light of day some time.)

Hilary Mantel has proved that historical fiction can be both well written and popular; she manages to shine a light on the politics and political machinations of the present day, and also to delve into the strangeness and difference of the past in a way that makes it accessible to her readers and highly enjoyable.

Your books are well-known for their vivid, evocative descriptions. Do you have any advice for budding writers wanting to improve their descriptions?

The Region of the Summer Stars won the Tir na n-Og in 1986

I think the only way to write successful descriptions is just to observe and observe. You turn yourself into a perpetually open eye, looking hard at what you see, even if what you’re looking at seems banal and everyday, and trying to pin down the exact words. And keep those words as simple as you can; you don’t want to be overladen with flowery elaborate language. I might be wrong but I have a feeling that today’s school pupils are being encouraged to fish out fancy words, rather than using the simple. strong, expressive words that make our language so rich and subtle. And if you can’t be present at a scene, set your imagination to work on it – as a child I believed that Rosemary Sutcliffe must have travelled extensively to write the descriptions that brought her historical backgrounds so vividly to life – it wasn’t until I was older than I realised she was almost completely crippled, and that many of those descriptions came from her imagination. Everyone has imagination – it just needs to be switched on.

Taliesin, The Blindfold Track and Regions of the Summer Stars include elements of Welsh legend / Mabinogion – as do other Tir na n-Og winners – Jenny Nimmo, Susan Cooper and Catherine Fisher. Why do you think the reimagining of these stories has had such widespread appeal?

The Welsh legends are just so exciting, so mysterious and so full of stories. And there must be many others which were never written down or which haven’t survived – who, for example, was Dylan, Son of the Sea, mentioned so tantalisingly in the Mabinogion? This gives writers a chance to poke about in those murky areas and find out stuff that they can set their imaginations to work on.

Which Welsh character from folklore do you most identify with and why?

Morgan le Fay, a bewitching character from Arthurian legend

I’m rather fascinated by Morgan Le Fay, a clever, talented girl maligned by being seen as a witch by male interpreters of her story. I did start a story about her some years ago, but my Welsh publisher at the time said they didn’t want any more stories about mythology and legends, so I shelved it. I think the reasoning was that they wanted more emphasis on contemporary themes. But it did seem that some perfectly good babies were being thrown out with the bathwater. Hmmn – I’ve thought about that story since, and wondered how it was going to work out (curiosity about how your own story is going to end is one of the motives that impels writers to keep going). So I think I might just take it off the shelf and dust it down. We’ll see.

 

We are delighted that Frances Thomas took the time to answer our questions and allowed us to celebrate her achievement in being the most crowned author of the Tir na n-Og Awards. You can find out more about Frances at her website, and you could also follow her on Twitter. Her most recent novels can be found here. The links to her Tir na n-Og winning books are shown below.

The Blindfold Track (1981)

Region of the Summer Stars (1986)

Who Stole a Bloater? (1992), Seren Books

Finding Minerva (2008), Gwasg Gomer