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>> Monsters and magic collide

Monsters and magic collide

Monsters and magic collide

Look out for magic, missing parents and devastating monsters in AMY WILSON's new book, A FAR AWAY MAGIC, which was inspired by a boy she saw coming out of school.

You might have already read Amy Wilson's debut book, A Girl Called Owl. Her new book - A Far Away Magic (Macmillan Children's Books) - is just as captivating.

A Far Away Magic follows Angel and Bavar, who tell the story. Angel spots the loneliness and heartbreak in her fellow pupil, Bavar, because it echoes her own sense of loss. She knows exactly what she needs to do to put things right but first she must persuade Bavar - who would rather hide than fight - that fighting is exactly what he needs to do.

We asked author AMY WILSON to tell us more about A FAR AWAY MAGIC:

Q: How did you become an author?

A: My background is in journalism. I started in local journalism aged 18 when I refused to go to university; I had decided I was going to stay at home and write things but of course I needed a job.

I applied for work experience at the local paper, the Thornbury Gazette, and then they took me on. The day I got my A level results, they told me to turn around and go and interview my peers as they got their results, which was a bit surreal...

I spent the next ten years doing local journalism. I worked on dailies and for a newspaper in Bath and it taught me a lot about writing and editing and meeting deadlines. Then, after I had my first child, I applied to do an MA in creative writing and now my job is writing fiction; I'm not quite as good at deadlines now though.

Q: How did your course in creative writing help you become a children's writer?

A: Before I did the course, I had difficulty in believing in myself as a writer; it was a dream that I never thought would become a reality. I needed to have deadlines and targets and somewhere I could learn all about it and where I knew I would come out of it with 40,000 words and a finished book.

I wrote a book, and another one, and both received very nice rejections. Then I sent my second book to an agent who liked my writing and who wanted to see what else I had written. I had the first three chapters of A Girl Called Owl ready and she loved it and took me on.

Q: How long did it take to write A Far Away Magic?

A: Yes, I wrote the first chapters years ago. Bavar had lots of beginnings. I started writing him after I saw a boy come out of the local secondary school. He was a very tall boy with lots of curly hair and stooped shoulders; everything about him was hiding and that image stayed with me. He was Bavar, but it took me a while to work out his story.

I really wanted to write it and I still wonder what happened to the boy who inspired him, I saw him for such a short time; I hope he's not as lonely as he appeared.

Q: Do you usually begin your stories with the characters?

A: Usually it's the character, I find a character and they are in trouble, they aren't happy, and I need to find a place where I can leave them and they are okay. It might not be a 'happy ever after' but they are okay. With Bavar, I had that boy with me, I needed to find his story and he needed to be okay at the end.

Writing Bavar's story was difficult, though; he wouldn't talk and I couldn't get him to change, to move, to have an adventure. Then I started writing about quite an angry girl who was at school but who didn't want to be there. She's the one who 'sees' Bavar. That was Angel and once I had her, she fired the whole story. She wasn't going to let the adventure go; she needed it, more than Bavar. Without each other they wouldn't have done anything but now, they need to save each other.

Q: Why did you decide to write for this age group, young teenagers?

A: I think what interests me is periods of change. We keep changing throughout our lives but being a teenager is a real change, physically and emotionally, and I like to explore the idea of being different.

Bavar and Angel are both very different children. We might think we know someone but we can often be wrong and that interests me. And it's that coming of age, that sense of possibility and hope, when children have so much potential and wonder to discover, that interests me.

There was so much going on for me when I was that age. I started secondary school very soon after my father died and we moved house, so everything changed, but it was also a time when I discovered books about magic. The first book of magic I read was by Diana Wynne Jones, The Magicians of Caprona, which I was given when I was 11; my father had just died and that sense of comfort I got from reading it never left me, that these children were going through these things but they were still coping - and they had hope.

I always aim to explore things like grief and change. Hope is in there but for me it's realistic. I grew up in a single-parent family so that's what I know and lots of children are in a family like that so it feels real to me. I write about families that have been through trauma and how we come out the other side having changed and found a positive way forward.

Q: Is magic a big draw for you as a writer?

A: I have always been drawn to magic stories and odd stories about people who don't fit, who are a bit different. I remember being given Alice in Wonderland when I was five, which I didn't understand at all, but there was something in it that I loved.

In A Far Away Place, the magic is in Bavar's house and it's a house that has always been with me and which comes into my writing. I think the kitchen is based on my childhood friend's grandmother's house - her kitchen cupboards were always stuffed with things like Curly Wurlys and Yorkie bars. So I had a lot of fun with it, discovering the pantry and playing the piano in the tower. But the speaking portraits of all Bavar's ancestors were the best; I love how they get involved in all the family's arguments.

Q: What are your top tips for making magic feel real in stories?

A: I try to give it quite a physical element, like imagining if all your feelings showed on the outside; what would that look like, how would it feel? So I think don't worry about how or why it works, just have fun with it and have belief in it. Visualise how it would feel and what impact it would have.

I would also try to link it with something real, so in Owl all her magic is connected with nature and winter through Jack Frost; with Bavar it's tied in with what he is, a protector, so he is big and strong and his magic makes him bigger and better at fighting. You stretch reality a bit but you want it to feel real so that the reader buys into it.

Q: Where do you like to write your novels?

A: I sometimes write at the kitchen table and sometimes in my sitting room, but that's not very good for my back so it's best at a table. I can write with people around me so sometimes I head off to a cafe with headphones. One of the best things I did as a teenager was learning how to touch type, it's made such a difference because my fingers can keep up with my thoughts.

Q: What do you enjoy reading now?

A: I have been reading quite a few other middle grade novels, especially fantasy. I love Patrick Rothfuss novels and I've just enjoyed The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson, and Abi Elphinstone's Sky Song. I read as widely as I can.

Q: How would your favourite day go?

A: I think it would start with pancakes, I'd still be in my pyjamas and with my family, then we'd go on a wonderful walk through a wintery wonderland and snowballs would be involved; there'd be a big lake and trees. Then we'd go home for crumpets and hot chocolate by a nice big fire and I'd read a book - probably a magical one - to take me off on another adventure...

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