The first thing I notice about Angie Sage is that she’s wearing glasses. Everyone knows the obvious reason why a person might wear glasses. They can’t see well without them. But there is sometimes another reason – and I believe it is for this reason that Sage is wearing them: to see the world differently. Through her ‘magykal’ lenses she sees a land where wizards dwell inside a marsh-encircled castle and Darke magyk lurks in the shadows…
Sitting on the edge of the Guildhall stage at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival, Sage opens the event by talking about the way she writes. ‘When I started writing the Septimus books, I only knew one thing for certain: what would happen to Septimus in the final book – Fyre.’ (Click here to buy it on amazon). ‘That’s not to say my writing is chaotic.’ She pauses and then smiles. ‘But it’s not that organised either. I go where my characters take me.’ And WAW do they take her on incredible journeys… It’s been a twelve year odyssey for Septimus fans and it’s clear that the characters don’t just live as printed words on Sage’s page. They’re alive to her – as they are to us.
Using a backdrop of wonderfully detailed illustrations from her books, Sage tells us how amazing it’s been getting to know her characters and what a lot of work went into tying up their ‘loose ends’ in the final book. She starts with Marcellus, a 500 year old alchemist and physician who discovers a potion to grant eternal life. ‘I always thought Marcellus would be bad but book by book I realised he was just thoughtless – and I grew to like him.’ She raises her eyebrows. ‘Merrin, on the other hand, now he was a strange one. I tried and tried to make him good but he resisted at every turn. And in Fyre, I had only one final plan for him: to take him back to his mother.’ Sage shows another illustration and sighs. ‘Jim Knee is a really annoying character. In fact he was so annoying I made him go into hibernation in one book!’ And the inspiration for that? Sage’s two pet tortoises who hibernate every winter… ‘In Fyre I knew I had to include him so I turned him into a giant scorpion; that way at least his conversation was limited!’
It’s clear that in Fyre Sage allowed herself a lot of fun with her characters. ‘It’ll come as no surprise to you all that I let Lucy Gringe get married.’ She laughs. ‘The best thing about that was that I got to decide what hat her mum would wear at the wedding!’ And the hat of choice? A shark fin. Appropriate for the mother of a girl who stormed The Cerys. But Sage doesn’t stop with shark fin hats – she gives Marcia a pair of fur-topped boots… But it’s not all weddings and party shoes. There’s confrontation, too. Lots of it. ‘I always thought Queen Cerys would turn out to be a loving mother but in the end she was careless and aloof. She didn’t like the Heaps and I was able to put in a fantastically dramatic mother-daughter outburst which fans should enjoy. And as for the twins, Edmond and Ernold, they wreak a lot of havoc in Fyre.’ Sage’s eyes light up. ‘I couldn’t wait for them to be rude to Jenna…’
But Fyre is more than just a tying up of loose ends for characters. Fans will discover a new magical creature and a secret tunnel (Smugglers’ Bolt – based on the 25 mile smugglers’ tunnel in Kent beneath The Smuggler’s Rest Coffee Shop that Sage and her mum used to visit). As Sage finishes talking about the characters she’s held in her mind over the Septimus journey, she looks momentarily sad, and so do the audience. And then she leans forward. ‘I couldn’t let go of Septimus completely.’ There is an audible sigh of relief from the theatre. ‘I’m writing a new series set seven years after Fyre finishes. It’s called PathFinder, it’s out in Autumn 2014 and Septimus is hovering in the background – now 21 years old.’ Someone in the audience gives a little cheer and I give a moontruggish twitch of glee – because the story’s not over yet. There’s a new lead character to follow: Alice TodHunter Moon. Or Tod – a tomboy waiting to win us over. Keep scribbling, Sage – we need that book soon. But it sounds as if Sage is on the case. ‘Whenever I get a new idea I put it in an envelope. And then when the envelope grows big enough, I start to write.’ I hope Sage’s envelope is growing for PathFinder. In fact I hope it’s really fat and puffy and MASSIVE so that we see Tod bursting into the bookshops soon. Grow little envelope, grow…
Q: Why are the titles of your books spelt weirdly?
A: I didn’t like the fact that ‘magic’ was spelt with an ‘I’ – it reminded me of modern conjuring magic and I wanted an even older feel to my words. In old English, ‘Y’ and ‘I’ are interchangeable so I went with: MAGYK, FLYTE, PHYSIK, QUESTE, SYREN, DARKE and FYRE. You see before our language got standardised and certain spellings were considered ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ you could spell things how you liked. I would have liked to have been alive then. I once watched a little girl write a story and she included the word ‘ffrend’ – I thought it was a much friendlier version of ‘friend.’
Q: Which of the characters in your books is most like you?
A: My daughters say I’m like Marcia but I don’t think I’m nearly so bossy. Sometimes I think I’m a little like Septimus. I was once really interested in medicine, just like him. In fact I think there’s a little bit of me in all my characters.
Q: Why did you finish on seven books. Why not eight?
A: I love the number seven. It’s magical.
Q: Which character surprised you most?
A: Either Marcellus (I totally though he was bad!) or Merrin (I thought he’d turn good…)