I didn’t expect to start my day at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival by helping a fairy out of the loo. But that’s what happened…
I have five minutes to spare before a certain best-selling fantasy writer speaks so I nip to the tinkle stations (moontrug terminology for The Loo). A small child dressed as a glittery green fairy rushes into the last free cubicle. Her mother tries to follow. ‘Mum, I want to go ON MY OWN!’ The mother sighs then closes the door. Several seconds pass and then there is an almighty splash. ‘Mummmmmmmmmmm!’ The mother rushes in, ‘Annie, what’s happened?!’ I peer round the edge of the cubicle. Annie is inside the loo; only her glittery green shoes and head are visible. I dart in and together with the mother, we haul her out. Annie emerges, drenched and furious. ‘If I was a real fairy, that would never have happened,’ she sobs. Annie, if you’re reading this, I thought you were a brilliant fairy and every bit as real as the rest of your kind.
I rush downstairs to find Catherine Fisher, author of the brilliant fantasy novel Incarceron (click here to buy it on amazon), stepping up onto the stage. She is small with magically silver hair – and best of all, she is wearing the same black-buckled ankle boots as me. Edgy. She begins by talking about her latest quartet of time-travelling books: The Chronoptika series.
Why time-travelling, we ask? ‘Well, I’ve done almost everything else in the fantasy genre: I’ve turned characters into animals; I’ve invented planets; I’ve entered other worlds. And so it was time for time-travelling.’ Fisher admits she was influenced by H G Wells’ brilliant novella The Time Machine but she wanted her time machine to work as a meddlesome object, an opener to other time periods with a mind of its own. ‘I thought long and hard about what object my time-travelling machine would be and in the end I decided on a mirror. Because a mirror is two-sided and I wanted my time machine to be two-sided – I wanted the characters to be able to find their way back to their present.’ I’m desperate to know what the mirror looks like and luckily Fisher is keen to tell us. ‘It’s as tall as a man, as thin as paper and it’s lined with a frame of silver letters.’ ‘What do the letters mean?’ a boy asks. Fisher is quiet for a few seconds. ‘I’m not sure yet. But I’ll know by the end of the series.’ I’m excited already.
Fisher tells us the idea for her first book in the Chronoptika series, The Obsidian Mirror, (click here to buy it on amazon) sprung from a name which crept into her subconscious in the middle of the night: Oberon Venn. ‘I didn’t know anything about him except that he looked a little bit like Daniel Craig: blonde, ice blue eyes, cold in his manner.’ She goes on to tell us that Venn is a volcanologist and explorer who keeps himself to himself and has only one friend, David Wilde – until he marries the beautiful Leah. But years later Leah is killed in a car crash and Venn locks himself up in Wintercombe Abbey – a gloomy house hidden deep within the folds of a dark, tangled forest. David, Venn’s friend, becomes worried about him and gives him a mysterious-looking time machine, the Obsidian Mirror, which he says will bring Leah back. To prove it, David tries to use the mirror as a time machine – but he disappears inside it. On hearing of his disappearance, David’s son, Jack (a stroppy, arrogant 15 year-old) becomes convinced Venn has murdered his father and comes to Wintercombe Abbey bent on discovering the truth.
But Fisher’s a fan of multiple story strands and this is where Sarah comes in. Emerging from a slit in the air, Sarah bursts into Jack’s world – pursued by a wolf made of ice. And if that’s not enough to get your heart pumping, the presence of the Shee, a magical race of dark fairies lurking in Wintercombe’s forest, will be. Ruled by the terrifying Shee Queen, Summer, the dark fairies will do everything in their power to prevent Venn, Jack and Sarah from using the Obsidian Mirror.
The second book in the Chronoptika series, Box of Red Brocade, is out this week and it’s going to be BIIIIIGGGGG (click here to buy it on amazon).
Spellbound, we listen as Fisher reads aloud from the book – about kidnapped changelings, shape-shifting fairies and near-impossible bravery… When she finishes a sea of hands spring up and that is how moontrug knows just how BIIIIIGGGGG this series is going to be.
Q: Why did you call the first book The Obsidian Mirror?
A: Years and years ago I read about an Elizabethan sorcerer who owned an Obsidian Mirror. His name was Doctor John Dee. I didn’t remember him when I came to write the book but the idea must have been skulking in my subconscious because I ended up calling the character who owned the Obsidian Mirror in my book Mortimer Dee! It was only after I’d finished the book that I googled the Obsidian Mirror and realised I’d read about Doctor John Dee before.
Q: When did you start writing?
A: I started writing at the age of 11. I wrote poetry first – then fantasy. And I started thinking about the Chronoptika series four years ago.
Q: Do you know everything about your characters before you start writing their story?
A: My characters are like wind-up toys. I give them enough of a story so that they fire onto my page (Sarah explodes from a slit in the air chased by a wolf made of ice!) and then I work out their ‘back story’ – their motives, their story, their inner selves.
Q: Do you plan your story fully before writing it?
A: I start with an idea and then I just write – I go after the idea. It happens organically. I don’t plan the twists. If I don’t know about them then I’m as surprised as the reader when I end up writing them…
Q: Do you write every day?
A: Yes, I try to – even if it’s just one sentence or one paragraph. That way I can hold on to the story. I enter a sort of self-hypnotised state and when I’m ‘in’ there’s no stopping the writing.
Q: The fairy world in your series is a little like the one in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Did you do that on purpose?
A: (said with a secretive smile) Yes. I set myself a secret challenge for each of the books in the series: to include a Shakespearean motif – a hint to one of his plays. In Book 1, it’s Hamlet (Jack thinks he sees the ghost of his father in the school production of Hamlet). In Book 2, it’s Macbeth (there are three ancient crones and a walking wood!) In Book 3, it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (characters have extraordinary dreams about turning into donkeys…) And finally, in Book 4, it’s The Tempest (I think there’s going to be something linked to Prospero giving up his magic).
Giving up magic?! Please no. But something tells me Fisher won’t be giving up the magic that easily. Her books are made of it. It pours out of her words and seeps between her pages. Her books are, as The Times says, ‘the best fantasy novels written for a long time.’ And so that’s why moontrug has added them to the Altocumulus Tower (click here to see it).