Author Q&A: Claire Fayers

Claire Fayers is the celebrated author of two books about the Accidental Pirates – ‘Voyage to Magical North’ and ‘The Journey to Dragon Island’. The first instalment is highly praised and recently made the shortlist of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ annual award. The much-anticipated second book in the trilogy is just available in the shops and had us spellbound from the outset.

Claire is very keen on her allotment and also enjoys skiing, flying kites and music – particularly cello and piano.

Born and raised in South Wales, Claire used to work at the Cardiff University science library; she also wrote short stories for women’s magazines before weighing anchor and writing her brilliant books for children. So avast shipmates, and greet your captain…

You’ve just launched ‘Dragon Island’. How do you feel when you release a book into the wild?

Excited. Terrified. When my first book came out last year I felt like the biggest fraud imaginable because every other author was so professional and capable, and then there was me floundering about incompetently. Now that I have two books out, I’m feeling less like a beginner, though still not quite like a proper author yet!

What are you reading at the moment?

Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds by Horatio Clare. It’s a terrific read, funny and adventurous whilst dealing with some very serious issues about family, friendship and the environment. And it had a German time-travelling spider – what more could you want?

Where and when do you write?

I have an office at home with a desk that I bought off ebay with my first advance payment. I do most of my writing in the mornings and keep the afternoons free for editing, admin and watering my allotment. This year I’ve been meeting a friend for writing sessions twice a week. We go to a local coffee shop where we sit in near silence and drink vast amounts of coffee, hunched over laptops for two hours. It is fantastic for productivity.

Who or what inspires you?

My books are firmly inspired by the stories I loved as a child. I read voraciously – sci-fi, fantasy, myth and legend, adventure and comedy. And then there were the films with special effects by Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts is my all-time favourite.) The best inspiration happens when completely random ideas collide and turn into something quite unexpected. When I’m starting to write a new book, I spend a few hours making a list of everything I’d like to include, then I try to connect them. Like pirates, librarians and penguins.

What is your favourite children’s book of all time?

Such a difficult question! My favourite book changes daily depending on my mood, the weather and what I’m currently reading. But, as a prototype of all those books I’ve ever loved, I’m going with Enid Blyton’s wishing chair stories. They have adventure, danger, humour, magic, travel to strange places, and the hero is even called Peter. I can still remember my teacher reading the books to us in primary school, one chapter a day, and I was always desperate to know what happened next.

How long did it take you to write Dragon Island?

It took about six months to write the first draft, then another six months on edits to produce the final version. It’s the fastest I’ve ever written a book. Voyage to Magical North took about four years, but of course I didn’t have a deadline then.

The Accidental Pirates have some peculiar names. How do you choose character names?

I started with Cassie O’Pia and thought if I was going to mangle constellations I might as well see if there were any others I could use, so I bought The Dummies Guide to Astronomy and went through the index. It gave me Marfak West (a star in the Cassiopeia constellation) and Aldebran Boswell (the star Aldebaran, but I kept mistyping it.) And, of course Orion and the Onion.

Some of the pirates have names that are awful puns – Trudi Storme, for example. And I chose other names as the punchlines to awful jokes – apologies to Tim Burre and Ewan Hughes.

Character names are very important: wherever I get them from, they have to feel right and fit the personality of the character.

How important is Wales and being Welsh to your writing? Does it have any influence?

It’s very important. The off-beat humour, the love of a good song, dragons! I love the way Welsh legends and folktales are often tied to places – Llyn y Fan Fach, Beddgelert, Caer Idris – and I tried to do the same thing in my books. The people of Dragon Island have a legend of Orion, but it’s grown out of the landscape of the island and is very different to the legend of Orion the mariner from book one.

I haven’t set any books in real-life Wales yet, but my next book is set in a fictional town on the border of Wales and England, so I’m getting closer.

What other authors are you friends with and how do they support you (or are they a hindrance)?

They’re only a hindrance when I have to drop everything to read their books, which happens often. Seriously, children’s authors are a wonderful, supportive group and I’ve made many friends in Wales and beyond.

We understand that you will be releasing another book before the third pirate book, which sounds like it may be for slightly older readers. Was it a conscious decision to do something different? (and what more can you tell us about that book?)

It was a decision made with my editors. I have a third pirate book in my head but I also had an idea for something very different and my editors loved it, so we decided I should write that one first. It’s a Victorian mystery, set in the fictional town of Wyse, the only town in Britain where fairy magic still works. Twelve-year-old Ava and her brother go there to work, and they soon find themselves in the middle of a very sinsiter plot. The story has the humour of the pirate books, but it’s a touch darker, with some very creepy villains and a sarcastic talking book of prophecy.

If you weren’t an author what would you do?

I used to work in the science library at Cardiff University and I had planned to get my professional qualifications and become a subject librarian. It was a great place to work and I’m still friends will all my ex-colleagues. If I hadn’t got my book deal I’d still be there.

What’s your best pirate joke?

What’s the pirate capital of Wales?  Carrrrrrrdiff!

 

The Voyage to Dragon Island is published by Macmillan Children’s Books and is available online or in your local bookshop.

“This is a great series for readers of nine or ten who want fun, page-turning fantasy adventure!” Barnes & Noble

“With an ocean full of danger, dragons, dinosaurs, plenty of knockabout humour, some brilliant plot twists, heartwarming friendships and a brilliant bunch of pirates, you really wouldn’t want to miss the boat!” Lancashire Post

“At the heart of this riotous book there are life-affirming messages of resilience, self-belief and friendship. We loved it!” Family Bookworms

Author Q&A: Eloise Williams

We are delighted that Eloise Williams has completed our Q & A this month. The author of Elen’s Island is currently receiving rave reviews for her new novel, Gaslight. Set in Victorian Cardiff, Nansi is fished out of Cardiff docks and her mother has disappeared. With no family to turn to, she works for Sid at the Empire Theatre, sometimes legally and sometimes thieving to order. Life is hard but Nansi is a fighter, determined to protect her friend Bee and, most of all, to find her mother.

Eloise is no stranger to theatre herself, having performed on stage in productions of Les Mis at Cardiff Castle and in productions and projects at theatres and venues across the capital. This, after earning a place at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, where she studied Victorian Theatre.  As she says herself “Without all those experiences, I don’t think Nansi or Gaslight would have been possible.”

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading a book called ‘Evie’s Ghost’ by Helen Peters. I’ve just started it today. Next up is ‘Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink’ by Jennifer Killick.

Where and when do you write?

All the time! Everywhere! I do have a writing desk which teeters and topples with stationary and books but most of my writing is done by the sea, or in the middle of a walk through the woods. I’ll suddenly have an idea and an overwhelming need to write it down immediately on a scrap of paper, or in almost incomprehensible short hand on my mobile phone. I often phone my own number and leave messages about the next part of my story so I can pick them up when I get home.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m inspired by lots of things and people. People include: Maya Angelou, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Amelia Earheart, Cheryl Strayed, Emmeline Pankhurst, Malala Yousafzai, Florence Welch, Chris Packham, my friend Rosalind Hayler, my Mum… the list goes on… but it consists mostly of strong women (except Chris Packham!) who are courageous and/or kind. I think being kind is sometimes the most courageous thing you can be. And being yourself is incredibly important. I’m also inspired by place. Atmosphere, beauty, history, stories, flowers, ghosts, the sea.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Only one? Gulp…

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

That’s two, isn’t it. Don’t get me started on books for children… the list is never ending.

How long did it take you to write Gaslight?

I had the idea in 1994. It took a while to get around to it. I have been known to procrastinate somewhat.

How do you choose character names?

Sometimes I will pick a name because of its meaning or because of where and when the character lived. Nansi’s name was taken from a beautiful, old, ivy-covered gravestone in a Victorian churchyard close to the sea.

How important was it for Gaslight to be set in Wales?

The book is about Cardiff and it couldn’t have been set anywhere else. When I studied Victorian Theatre at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama I knew then that there was a book waiting to be written about the city just outside the window. I love Cardiff. It’s a vibrant, beautiful, exciting place and I know it. It’s in my blood, my family, my history.

You’re on record as saying that people have told you not to set your books in Wales if you want it to sell. Why do you think they said this and why did you ignore the advice?

I don’t know why they said this. I think stories set in Wales are as important as stories set anywhere else. ALL stories are important.

It makes me think of an Oscar Wilde quote: ‘I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.’

In Gaslight, Nansi’s mother suggests that children’s books are sanitised to make them kinder. Were you conscious of making your writing palatable to children?

Interesting, exciting, real, rather than palatable. Victorian life wasn’t easy for a girl like Nansi. I wanted to tell her story truthfully.

What other authors are you friends with and how do they support you (or are they a hindrance)?

A hindrance? Ha ha! Not at all! I’m friends with lots of authors! They are a lovely supportive bunch. It’s a really good crowd to be a part of.

Can you tell us something about your next book/idea/future plans?

Future plans are to carry on writing Middle Grade Fiction. I have three books I’m dabbling with at the moment. I also have about a hundred ideas for other books but I’m trying to be disciplined so I can actually finish something!

If you weren’t an author what would you do?

I’d work with animals. In the wild. Or be an explorer. Or maybe a lighthouse keeper.

 

Gaslight is published by Firefly Press and is available directly from them (click on the link) or from your local bookshop or online.

Praise for the novel:

“Stunning – so tense, atmospheric and really well written.” Ashley Booth (@mrboothY6)

“Beautifully written… with a great central character full of gumption… I couldn’t put it down!” Wendy White

“Vivid, raw and real; characters zing and sparkle with life.” FamilyBookworms

“A darkly delicious romp through the backstreets of Cardiff.” Emma Carroll

“An absolute firecracker of a book. Gorgeously raw, dark and Dickensian. Dreamlike and intoxicating.” Lucy Strange

Author Q&A: Dan Anthony

Dan Anthony is the author of The Bus Stop at the End of the World, published by Gomer. Noah read Bus Stop shortly after it’s publication in January 2017 and thought it was an “amusing and adventurous, mythical page turner”. It follows the adventures of Ritchie, and a cast of  strangers as they try to stop “the most dangerous enemy known to man”. Ritchie’s real world and the world belonging to a host of fantastic characters come together at this bus stop not far from Ritchie’s house. You can see Noah’s vlog review here, and it’s also one of his Top Ten books. Noah sent some questions to Dan and he has very kindly replied.

Dan’s books for children include the Rugby Zombie trilogy, famously lauded by Tom Palmer, and Steve’s Dreams. As an experienced scriptwriter and short story writer, he has written extensively for children including working on CBBC’s Story of Tracy Beaker and S4C’s The Baaas. He was born in Cardiff, lives in Penarth, and his radio plays have been performed on Radio Wales, Radio 4 and Radio 2.

Where and when do you write?

Usually first thing in the morning. If I’m at home, I’m working in my office (in the cellar) between about 8:30 and 2.

How do you choose names for your characters?

I like unusual names, sometimes place names give me ideas. (Kid Welly and Dic Penfro are characters in The Bus Stop at the End of the World).

Who or what inspires you?

I think I get a lot of ideas from just being outside – anything from a supermarket to a bus stop to a mountain top – also talking to people. I love talking!

How long does it take you to write a book?

It takes me ages to work them out, and ages to correct. But I write fast – about a month.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs

How important is Wales to your writing?

Very, because I live here. Wherever I live gives me lots of ideas.

What other authors are you friends with, and are they a help or a hindrance?

Tom Palmer is a great friend and help. Its nice to meet people who share an interest in adventurous stories.

Can you tell us something about your next book/idea?

Yes – it’s about a boy who runs away from home and finds a race horse. I can’t say too much!

If you weren’t an author, what would you do?

A musician – but not a very good one!

You can buy The Bus Stop at the End of the World from your local bookshop or direct from Gomer.