sign in

» Join the book club

» Forgotten password


>> A family holiday, and an ancient curse...

A family holiday, and an ancient curse...

A family holiday, and an ancient curse...

In ORLA AND THE SERPENT's CURSE, a distinctive, page-turning adventure about a holiday that turns into a race of good against evil, author CJ HASLAM introduces myths, an ancient curse and a family with a taste for adventure.

We asked author CHRIS HASLAM to tell us more about ORLA AND THE SERPENT'S CURSE, and the stories that helped inspire this adventure:

Q: You're a travel writer by trade, so what has brought you into writing for children?

A: Probably because I'm still a 13-year-old at heart. I've been travelling the world for 27 years as a journalist and a travel writer and yet I still get excited when I walk into an airport. That sense of wonder, the feeling that everything is amazing, slips away as most people grow older but if you're lucky enough - or work hard enough - to keep hold of it, everything becomes an adventure.

Q: What kinds of books did you read as a child? Do you still read children's fiction - any recommendations for our members?

A: I grew up deep in the countryside with no TV. I considered this to be the worst kind of parental cruelty but even if we'd had a telly there was no signal. So entertainment involved exploring the surrounding woods and fields; writing my own entertainment; and reading.

I read books about explorers, about jungles and deserts and icecaps and mountains; books that would take me away from the farm written by authors like Jack London, who wrote about wolves; Mark Twain, who could describe a river; Susan Cooper, who made magic convincing; Peter Dickinson, who made England exotic; and the entire works of Captain W.E. Johns.

These were classic adventure stories often let down by bad titles - the worst of which was 'Biggles and the plot that failed', which kind of gave away the ending.

Q: Can you tell us in one sentence what Orla and the Serpent's Curse is about?

A: Outdoor-loving, bird-watching, technophobic Orla, 12, her grumpy best friend Dave The Dog, 8 - head of household security - and her brothers go to Cornwall on their first holiday in three years and stumble across a fabulous treasure (yay) that's linked to the mystery of a dreadful witch's curse (boo) that only Orla, her family and a mysterious girl called Raven can solve.

Q: What drew you to writing about witches, spells and a dreadful curse?

A: A true story. Four years ago, while walking on the Cornish coast, I was caught in a storm. The rain was horizontal and I took shelter in the lee of a fallen oak to eat my sandwiches. The roots had ripped up a huge disc of earth, disturbing the forest floor and revealing a broken slab upon which were carved odd runic symbols.

With no proof whatsoever I decided that this was a witch's grave. As it happened, I knew a couple of Cornish witches, or pellers, as they prefer to be known. They told me that the Craft was alive and well in the county, and about the mysterious rivers of earth energy that could be tapped to power magic.

A few months later I was researching a news story in the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan in Central Asia when my fixer told me about the ruby mines in the area.

The rubies were held sacred by the ancient Zoroastrians - the inventors of magic - because they could store an extraordinary amount of the earth's energy - the same energy the pellers had mentioned.

A few weeks later I was in Port au Prince in Haiti, where a man called Oscar was telling me about the Haitian revolution of 1791. There was a local legend, he said, of a a voodoo priestess who had instigated the slave uprising by calling lightning down to burn the cane fields. He mentioned a necklace... what if Orla discovered a necklace made of Tajik rubies that had been brought to Cornwall by pirates and given as a present to a local peller?

Q: Why did you set the story in Cornwall?

First off, I've got Cornish blood in me. Second, there are few places so beautiful, so steeped in mystery and legend as Cornwall. Third, it makes me happy to write about the county, and fourth, because that's where I found the slab.

Q: Did you explore/research old stories / traditions and build those into your story?

I'm an obsessive researcher. The more I learn about a subject, the more I realise I don't know. I started with the gorgeous coastal landscape within which the action takes place. I've changed the names but I've explored every footpath, stream, wood, cliff, cove and beach from Tregastenack to Polmassick and Lagasowmor to St Kethericks. I've visited graveyards; read parish records; rummaged through second-hand bookshops from Falmouth to Fowey and, above all, spoken to two practicing Cornish pellers.

Q: Orla is an adventurous character, how did she develop?

A: Orla is Orla. When you create a character, he or she quickly takes on a life of his or her own, and there are some things you can't make them do. Orla is especially stubborn. She's part Pippi Longstocking, part Huckleberry Finn, part Alice, part Indiana Jones, part Matilda, part Mowgli. Orla reads an awful lot, so like all avid readers, she takes on the qualities of her heroes.

Q: What about Dave the dog - did one of your own pets help inspire him? Why did you decide to bring him into the story?

A: Any situation - with the possible exception of bring-your-cat-to-school-day - is improved by the presence of a Jack Russell. I grew up with Jacks and found them to be grumpy, independent, funny, fearless and fiercely loyal friends. And the Jack Russell is a worker. He doesn't do handbags, expecting instead to earn his keep by performing an important job in the family unit, be that rat-catcher, fetcher of the mail or, in Dave's case, former Special Forces operative turned head of household security.

Q: There are some excellent supporting characters - any favourites?

A: I like Raven. She's poor, lonely and desperately sad but relentlessly positive. I also admire the bravery of crazy Miss Teague, who knows exactly what is coming but cannot bring herself to run away.

Q: Do you plan to revisit Orla and her family, and to see what she does with her new skills set?

A: Orla is 12 years old. She came to Cornwall to swim in the sea, watch birds and eat ice cream. Instead, she's just found out she's cursed with abilities she never wanted and forced by destiny to fight a curse that could wipe out the entire world. The odds of her surviving until the end of the week are tiny, so what chance is there of further adventures?

Q: If you could borrow a spell from your book, which one would it be and how would you use it?

A: I would love to have the skills to open a memory stone.

Q: Where and when do you write, and what are you writing now?

A: I travel the world for a living as journalist so I write every day, wherever I am. Orla and the Serpent's Curse was written in guesthouses, hotels, airports and buses from Peru to the Philippines. I'm a strict adherent to King's Law, which states that one must write 1,000 words a day, every day.

Q: What are you most likely to be found doing when you're not writing?

A: Wandering around some far-off land persuading people to tell me stories or, if I'm at home in Cambridge, paddling my kayak up the Cam to Ely to buy sausages.

Q: What's likely to be your next real-life adventure?

A: I'm hoping to visit the Kafue National Park in remote central Zambia to research a story about wild dog conservation.

Thank you for joining us on ReadingZone!

ORLA AND THE SERPENT'S CURSE by CJ HASLAM (WALKER BOOKS) is now available from all good bookshops (6.99)

Zone Menu Young Adult SchoolZone FamilyZone Library zone Readingzone
ReadingZone Book Shop
Book of the week book cover

Finbar Hawkins

Your reviews Sally Nicholls

SALLY NICHOLLS, author of Things a Bright Girl Can Do, returns to the nineteenth century in THE...

Your reviews

S.T.A.G.S., 'She placed one of her perfect white crescents of nail under the words. "The hunter... became the...