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Feb. 23, 2023

H.S. Norup: Do Faeries Need a Makeover?

H.S. Norup: Do Faeries Need a Makeover?

Where in all the fantasy worlds is the best place to be a caver?

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H.S. Norup, author of Into the Faerie Hill, The Missing Barbegazi and The Hungry Ghost, uses her world travel to inspire her fantasy. In her latest book she is turning to the myths and legends of Europe and giving faeries something of a makeover. Dismiss any idea of cute creatures in gauzy skirts and prepare to meet a much more dangerous set of creatures in her Middle Grade adventure. In discussion with Julia Golding, Helle talks about her journey to being an author, her writing process, and how she steers towards lighthouses as she writes. Helle recommends Faeries by Alan Froud and Alan Lee (yes, he of LotR fame) as a good source book. Stick around for our tops fantasy tips and to find out where in all the fantasy worlds is the best place to be a caver... A special thanks to Pushkin Press for putting us in touch with Helle, and for more information about her visit

(00:04): Hello and welcome to Myth Makers. Myth Makers is the podcast for fantasy fans and fantasy creatives brought to you by the Oxford Center for Fantasy. My name is Julia Golding. I'm the director of the center, but also an author. And today I'm doing, one of my favorite things to do on this podcast is I'm meeting another author new to me and that is he nup. Now he have I got that right? (00:35): That's fine. Yes. Thank you. (00:36): I think fine. Thank you so (00:37): Much for having me. (00:39):. Fine. Sounds like I've got it slightly wrong. I think you said when we so perhaps we could start by finding out where you are from, because I think you are actually not sitting in the UK as I speak to you. (00:53): No, I'm in Switzerland. I'm originally from Denmark and I lived there until I was 18. And since then I've been kind of moving around, living in the uk, living in the us, in Switzerland, in Austria, in Singapore, and a couple of times back to Switzerland and that's where I am now as well. (01:16): We must have a talk about how all that travel has influenced what you do, but first of all, why don't you tell us a little bit about your journey to being an author and perhaps as you tell the story, you might want to say what kind of fantasy books you were reading along the way. (01:35): Yes. Well I would say I have had had a very roundabout way of becoming an author. I was always a voracious reader from when I was very little. Fairy tales were really important. I read so many hand as and of course, but also Grimm's Tales, which I love. And I was very much a daydreamer but I was not writer. I didn't enjoy writing in school to be honest. And I had no idea becoming an author was an actual possibility. I think We didn't have author visits, I had never seen an author. They didn't seem to be real people to me. So it was just not something I considered at all, even though, I mean I really escaped into books my whole life I think. (02:30): And so I studied economics, business management, and I had a career in kind of corporate pharmaceutical marketing strategy and things like that. Moved a little bit along the way towards more communication and so on, and started writing in my thirties again. And I think one of the things that made me start writing was that I began to read children's books again. I had a period, I was always a fantasy reader, but I had a period where I certainly wasn't reading children's books. And then I think when his dark materials came out, they kind of sparked my imagination in a new way and I really wanted to try to write as well. And I began several books but never got beyond, let's say three, four chapters or something that I gave up a year would pass. I would start something new. And it wasn't until maybe 10, 12 years ago that I finished a project, I finished a third draft of something and then I spent four or five years learning to write and rewriting that and having an editorial feedback from a consultancy and so on and working on my craft and learning how to write and become a writer. (03:50): And I queried that manuscript and it got some interest. And then I was lucky enough to me Sarah Deena, who's my editor at Pushkin at a conference in Singapore and she read this first novel and she liked my writing but didn't kind of like the story, but she gave me a very, very kind and encouraging rejection and asked me to send her the next thing I wrote. And that was then the first book that I had published the Missing Bari, which is about Alpine ELs. So (04:28): What I love about the way you described all that is how positive you were in your response to rejection, which is a part of an author's life. Not everything you write will be accepted and the same book can be rejected by 20 publishers before one person takes it on. And you phrase that as a very positive experience. And I suppose that is I (04:55): Don't think it was always positives when you get a rejection letter, it's not positive. But I think for me, I mean I had studied at university for five years and I knew I had worked for a couple of years in the company where I was working until I was really good at what I was doing. So when I started taking my writing seriously, and I think that was around 2010, I said to myself, okay, seven years, I mean I will give this seven years. I will do everything I can and I know I'm not going to be picked up by anyone in the first couple of years because I need to learn this. This is a craft as well as something inspired and creative, but I need to learn the craft first. And I always had this long term perspective, I think. And that helped me when after four years when I started querying and I got rejected, that I could say to myself, well, I'm just not there yet. I need to work some more on this. (06:02): And the choice of seven years does feel like you've been in influenced by your fairy tales because a seven years mind sounds like something a hero would do. I could do seven years of traveling on the quest. Excellent. Yes. So you mentioned his dark materials as part of what reignited your imagination in your thirties, but what were you reading as a younger person in your sort of childhood and teen years that inspired you? (06:31): So I think one of the very clear inspirations for me was the Lion, the Witch on the Wardrobe, which I read, I don't even know when I read it, but the animated film, the old animated film was always shown in Denmark on Boxing Day. And I watched that, this was my highlight of kind of Christmas to watch that film and I just loved it and read it later on and read all the NAIA books later on. So that was really one of my early favorites. And then Astrid Ling's books, which I think being from Denmark I probably read earlier than many other people. And especially her book The Brothers, which not many people in the UK know it is translated but it's this fantasy story about two brothers. The younger one is Ill, the older one is a real hero and he saves his younger brother and dies in the first chapter. And then the younger brother dies as well. And they meet in this afterworld life, which is not all that it seems. It's not kind of a rosy afterlife, but they're dragons and evil, kind of an evil ruler there. And it's this absolute magical world that they come to through death. So an afterlife to see. And I got that book for my ninth birthday and I don't know how many times I read it. That was another absolute favorite. (08:13): It's funny you (08:14): Said Big story. Oh (08:15): Yes, sorry Michael End. Just going back to what you were saying about Lion and the Witch in the wardrobe brought back a memory to me about it is one of the first books that I heard somebody else talk about with excitement because where I lived in a sort of suburban part of London in the Back Garden, we had a fence along the middle, and I must have been very small at the time, but I remember the little girl next door who was old enough to be our babysitter, talking to me through the fence about this amazing story she had read. It had a witch, a white witch, and a lion, and you went through a wardrobe. I just remember how excited she was about it telling me way before I could have read it. Oh wow. About it. It's like a secret. And that's so wonderful about finding a book you love is it becomes your secret, doesn't it, that you can share with other people, did how good this book was, and try this as though you're parting on a kind of magical power almost. That's what I love about those sorts of reads when you're a child, which really sort of takeover. So the one you were talking about, the Astrid Lin book, is that the brothers, what was the second part of that? (09:29): The Brothers Lionheart. The (09:31): Brothers Lionheart. There we are. So everybody that's one to look up. (09:36): And (09:36): It was (09:37): Very controversial actually. It came out, I think, dunno when it came out, early seventies or something. And it was even discussed in the Swedish Parliament. They considered banning it because they sorted promoted suicide because it was this fantasy world beyond life. So it was quite an interesting book as well from a more scholarly perspective perhaps. (10:00): Okay. So obviously read with that knowledge in advance, but (10:04): Yes. Yeah. (10:05): So the book that I've read of yours which is your latest book is called Into the Fairy Hi Hill which for those of you watched, look at this on YouTube, you can see the lovely cover here. Would you like to give us your little plot summary so people know the kind of book and the kind of audience you're expecting for this story? (10:27): So it's a middle grade novel, so for nine to 12 year olds. And it's the story of a 12 year old boy called Alfred. He's very, he's Ruth Rootless and he doesn't feel he belonged anywhere in the world. And partly that because he's been moving around his whole life following his dad, where his dad has been working. And the story starts when he comes to stay at his grandmother's cottage, which is in this very rural location on the edge of something that's called the Fairy Hill. And early on when he's there, he discovers these vicious creatures that are terrorizing his grandmother and kind of ruining her flowers and her yarn and things. And he's quite overwhelmed with this the strangeness and also the nature because he's mainly been living in cities. And then he meets Saga and it's a neighboring year old girl as well. (11:31): And she's an activist and kind of an eco warrior and she has Tree Sprite companion that follows her around and she sweeps him up in this quest. She has to stop the local or protect the local nature from a motorway tunnel that's planned through this fairy hill. And Alfred's father is actually the project manager on this project. So there's a clear conflict there, but the fairies are also very much against this project and they have their own way of dealing with people who disturb their peace. And so as Alfred and Saga are fighting against the motor weight mold, they're drawn ever closer to this fairy world and the fairy creature. And Alfred begins to uncover some secrets about his own heritage and solve some mysteries that are around his own family. And it's very much a story about, I would say, family and friendship and bring out where you belong and maybe being proud of who you actually are. Accepting all the parts of yourself, I would say. Yeah. (12:50): Yeah. So I'm very drawn to some of the subject matter that you've used as well. Cause my first children's fantasy series was called The Companions Quartet, where I dramatized a sort of environmental clash as part of the story. Well, it was the story. I think it's clearly digging in a fairy hill is not going to go well. (13:16): No, but you (13:16): Can see so the actual place isn't specified, is it? But you have a very strong sense of topography where things are in relation to each other. Do you have secretly in your mind a real place or is it just existing as a sort of exemplar world for you to do your story in what? What's going on there? You've got a lovely (13:42): Map. It's kind of a mix, I'll say. It's a mix of different places that I've been and places that I've imagined. So it's not an entire elegant place. And this is a very lovely map compared to the first map that I drew up the place. But (14:02): Oh well, that's nice when you get publish, (14:03): I have illustrators. (14:04): Yeah, that's right. Let's not, let's give a shout out for illustrators. (14:09): Yes. (14:10): But there's obviously the ferry law which comes from many nations differently expressed. Did you have one, which was your sort of home fairy law that you were following in Ireland or Shakespeare or something? Or were you something from Hans Christian Anderson or is it an amalgam of all those different things? (14:33): It is really an amalgam am mac pie. And I have stolen from British isles fairy law from Scandinavian fairy law, from German fairy law, from Shakespeare Es, and even from Polking and other authors as it's very much kind of taking everything that I love about fairies and taking that. I've even had a YouTube video of someone in Scotland who claims to have had his shows stole, stolen by little people that inspired part of this as you will know after reading it. Yeah, (15:14): No, doesn't (15:14): Really stolen from everywhere. (15:17): That's interesting because I thought that part about the shadow stealing might have come from Peter Pan because of course there's the No. No. Okay. Because there's a bit where he comes to get it, it's in the, it's been rolled up and put in a drawer somewhere which was his quirky idea. Yes. Oh, well that's so interesting that actually I was assuming a source and it had come from someone's real, their conception of their real experience. (15:49): Yes. (15:50): What about how you actually get down to writing, you've got all these ideas and you've watched your YouTube videos and you've read your fairy tales and all the rest of it, and you've got your sketch map. What then happens? Are you a planner or do you feel your way through the story? (16:06): I very much feel my way through the story. I would say, I mean, I think some stories they need time to steep. And this one has really been percolating in mind for a long time, I think from all of these different fairies and fairy law. And of course I have read different books also before writing it from like Catherine Bricks and Diane Percuss have written really excellent books about fairies. But I first I was in a writing workshop in 2016 that I attended and there was this character workshop and we had to enter character. And in that workshop I invented this water Sprite who longed to see the ocean and who lived in the mountain somewhere. And later I wrote actually a story about this water Sprite for a children's magazine. But I always knew I wanted to explore this kind of these different types of sprites and elves and fairies and have a story where they worked together. (17:10): And it took some time before I found the right one. But other than that, I will start with having a character and setting and a first line. That is really what I definitely need. I also always know the ending of a story and I like to know a couple of maybe major points in the middle of the book. It's not so much in terms of actual plot, I would say I'm very much when I'm planning, most of my planning goes into planning the character and looking at the character, how the character develop, and then finding out what are the events that will force the character to develop in this direction and make sure that they change throughout the story. So a lot of work on the character. And I also do a lot of work on the setting. And so my first two books were actually set in real places. One in a real village in the Alps and the other in the middle of Singapore. So very real places, but with the first one with some fantastical elements in the real world. And the second one also with a portal to a sanity realm. (18:35): And I really need to go to get to know these places. So for those with kind of easy look at real maps, go around, take photos of real places and know the roots of the characters. And for this one, I did a lot of forest walks and I wrote most of it during the pandemic so I could only walk in the forest. That was quite helpful to write a nature novel at that time. And I am a hobby photographer, so I take a lot of photos and I have a lot of photos of places I've traveled to for other forests. I've traveled to limestone cabins and underground places and everything. So I always take a lot of photos and I use a lot of photos when I'm writing and to as kind of springboards for the set that I'm imagining. And other than that, yeah, (19:42): So you don't have the experience of your publisher saying we need a breakdown of the book before you've written it. Because I've had that a couple of times recently and I'm actually more of a feel my way through to a story person. But I've had to basically write the novel before I write it which (20:04): I have written kind of outlines, but they don't exactly follow the outlines. I (20:12): Don't think they look them up again, I think, no, I (20:15): Don't think they (20:15): Do actually. They're ticking a box. So yes, she knows what she's doing. But yeah, a famous last words I'm about to hand one in where I've deviated slightly and well, I just had to because that's the way the story went when I was writing it. (20:28): Yeah, I think it frees the imagination up to there's things that suddenly happen when you're writing that is unplanned and I think sometimes those are the best bits. But the only thing I will say to this kind of way of writing is that there's usually quite a lot for me to do in the second draft because that's about finding the shape of the story and finding out what actually belongs in the story and what needs to be scrapped. So I think the second draft from me, I really love revising and finding the way through this whole kind of mess that the first draft is once I have an idea how I'm going to get through it. But I like seeing the improvements and how the story takes shape but there is a lot of work and some of my books have really taken a lot of work and a lot of rewriting. But I feel that I need the material that a first draft, that small, loosely based that generates. And it also enables me to create layers in this story and take from different parts of what I have spurd onto the page and make that more of a tapestry than a straightforward kind of narrative. (22:00): Yeah, it's one of the things we do on our courses, we do courses that either you can take a novel through a year with some tutors or a six week intensive course and I always make sure we have tutors who are on both sides of this. There are those who plan and those who don't because different creative types need different sorts of input. But the lady who is the most planning orientated, she always says, well I don't have to sit and undo it as much as you do. Once I've done my plan and spent the months on that, then I would just write it. Whereas for me, I just couldn't do it that way. I think I'd feel as though it was I a bit dead somehow the writing was already done in somewhere. So I have to be much more do the sketch first and then fill it out much more like you do. But everybody finds their way, you know, try a different tactic another time and it helps with problems. If you think, well I need to bit planning now, those things do. Actually knowing that it's not the only way of doing it I think really helps too. So when I was reading a (23:15): Book, I think so, but I like this. I like to have a couple of lighthouses in that I can aim for when I'm writing. And it's interesting, I've always kind of ended up with the ending that I had thought I would want. So even though sometimes I might change the route that I got there quite a lot in the second draft, I always get towards the end point that I had in mind. (23:44): Yes, I like the idea what it'd be called a lighthouse. That's a new version of this. That's a very nice image. So when I was reading your book, I was thinking of things that which were felt in this area of using a children's adventure in a kind of traditional fairy landscape. And it made me think of the wonderful books that were around when I was growing up, the Darkest Rising Series by Susan Cooper and Alan Garner, who of course is still writing and has just been he was shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year. But the Al Service and the Westone of Kerman, those books if someone is thinking, well what's book? I think it, it's a sort of slightly younger version of those in I felt your characters were a year or two younger in terms of their way they relate to each other. And so perhaps those books are edging into ya fiction, upper end of middle grade, and yours firmly in the middle grade. Were you aware of these other books or is that just something that came up to yourself spontaneously? (25:05): I mean, I never read Alan Ghana or Susan Cooper. Oh, (25:09): I don't even know if they were translated. But I have read quite a few of their books. I mean I've read Susan Cooper's whole sequence. I really love The Darkest Rising and some of the other books as well. And I've read our service and Oil, Alan Garner's newest book and I think a few others, but only after I started writing myself. So I wouldn't say something that I'm aware of. But it's interesting, the Hungry Ghost. So my previous book, although it takes place in Singapore and Tropical Heat one reviewer compared it to the Darkness Rising and found some similarities be between those two books. So it can very well be that I'm a little bit in that direction and I don't mind that at all. (26:00): No, it's good. Companies too (26:02): Compare my books to those books. (26:04): I think the difference I would say is that those books have a very specific location. So that's maybe why the Singapore Facebook made that connection using some kind of local legend, which is then explored in a child's adventure. I mean, I'm also thinking there are sort of the John Mayfield books from earlier things like the Box of Delight. It's definitely, I'm not sure what people, there must be a name for this genre and I'm not sure what it is. Folkloric fantasy, maybe it's got that feel to it cause it's not a fairytale. And you spell fairy f a e r i e to differentiate it from kind of the Disney five. Sweet, cute, yes. Fairy. Yes. And it's really important. So that leads me to my next question, which is the role of fairies in fantasy. And the question I put down here is, do they need a makeover? Well, you've sort of done your own makeover and I think fantasy has a lot of fantasy is pushing against the kind of fairy flower fairy version of this. But tell me how you think about the world of the fairy, the world of the Fay. (27:27): I'm definitely most attracted to the fairies that are Trixie and fiercesome and spiteful and kind of interesting and also this kind of wide, because I categorize all of the creatures in my book as fair fairies. And that's from the I don't know if you know the Brian Fraught and a Lee Book of Ferries. (27:50): Oh, wonderful. It's (27:51): Comes there. Yeah. Oh it's so beautiful. It has the most beautiful illustrations. I don't know if you can see them. No. Like this, yes, it has everywhere. These illustration of fairies and so on. (28:07): Of course Alan Lee, (28:08): A big categorized, (28:09): I was going to say Alan Lee is the same Alan Lee as did the concept art for the Peter Jackson films, which a lot of our listeners will as talking fans will be well aware of. We must put a link to that book in the show notes so people can find it. (28:24): Yes. And actually my first version of the Lord of the Rings has his illustrations as well. Mm-hmm. Illustrated by Anna Lee. (28:34): Yeah. So that particular book Alga makes all of these categories of Sprite and Brown is and (28:44): Fairies and (28:44): Fairies, back (28:45): To your question, I think it is getting fairies are getting a makeover in middle grade and there's been some wonderful book books published in recent years. I would say Michelle Harrison's 13 Treasures series. I think it was published maybe 10 years ago, the first book, something like that has but very Trixie fairies. And there's been like other land by Louis Stawell and the chime seekers by Ross Montgomery have been, they were published while I was editing. And both have also these vicious fairies and also influences from German fairy law and so on. There is a makeover by, and I think in ya there has been a longer period of darker fairies. (29:40): Yeah, it's when we say a makeover, really it's a going back, isn't it? Because I think that the sweet and cute pretty fairy was something that came up during the Victorian period really, particularly with illustrations for stories and what they thought children should be exposed to. (30:01): And these flower fairies, there were a lot of, I think books, (30:05): Flower fairies. Yeah, no, I had those when I was little. They, they're wonderful ways of teaching you well about flowers and trees and there's a little poem and a picture of flower fairy describing what a Daisy's like daffodils like and so on. I can conjure up the pictures as I'm saying it here to you. So it served a purpose as a educational tool for noticing what's in the garden and on your woodland walks. But these older version of the wicked, dangerous scary fairies are what has been in the older fairy stories. And of course you just have to think of someone like puck in that is kind of fairy, the one yes. Who heards the milk and mixes up the juice that you put in the eyes of lovers. It's the ones, yeah, I suppose they were thought of as a way of explaining why things went wrong at home. So it wasn't my fault. (31:09): No, I think they've always kind of been used to explain different things in nature particularly. And in Denmark we have these kind of little Christmas elves that are also quite trick unless you give them the porridge for Christmas or whatever they need and so on. So they can also create be mischievous and create problems in the homes and so on. So I think there are, but other than that you are, we need to go back and back to many of the original stories about fairies were a lot darker. The fairy tales were much darker. Women's tales were much darker than the dis versions have been. (31:51): It's, and also of course you mentioned talking in passing, but his elves are an attempt to completely rewrite elves back to the more Faye, the kind of people who rode out of the fairy hills and changed the world and took people off at captivity for seven years. These were not and gentle creatures in the landscape though. He was trying to make his more invent a whole kind of new elf of sort of an original people kind of idea. Yes. But he was doing a similar job as you and other writers are doing to the smaller fairies, shall we say the sprites, that level ofin our height. In our height line, yes. (32:39): Yeah. Yes, yes. (32:42): So we, we've touched briefly already on the importance of maps for your world building but you also seem to have visited places which in, so you may have visited a particular street in Singapore or a particular glad in a forest that you use to locate your story. So when you're doing that, do you literally go with a pen and paper and take notes or is it thinking back from your couch like Wordsworth does?? (33:12): No, I will, when I was walking here during the lockdown period, I would speak notes into my phone about what I could hear, what I could kind of smell and sense. And in addition to taking photos, and I've done that quite a lot other for my other books as well, kind of getting all of the sensors into the setting which I think is really important. But I am very visual, so very, I think, and that's why I use photos a lot and maps a lot and so on. But I'm aware that I'm visual, so I need to bring in all the other senses as well. (33:57): That's a really good point because we do tend to, in description, people tend to start with what they see. And that is obviously doesn't speak to everybody. Everybody is cited. But also when you actually think of your reaction to a place, the way you interact with it may be something else, like how cold it is, how warm it is, what the humidity's, like how Lloyd loud the noises are, how quiet it is. So one of the top tips of writing is to step out of close your eyes in that world for a bit and see what then see what happens. (34:41): Yes, yes. No, and I think that all the world builders that are amazing at kind of doing that, they take this full rounded view of the world and the landscape. And I think I also like this, I mean talking is of course the ultimate world builder. I would say no one is better than him and more detailed than him. And it's so amazing how big a world he has created. And my worlds are so much smaller, but I like to have this sense of the landscape that it's more expansive than what's what I actually put in the book. That the reader get a feeling that there is a lot more to be explored if they were to enter this world. Yeah, (35:38): Absolutely. So one of the things I noticed reading your book is how you have places, I've called them liminal and we were talking before we started recording about what I meant by that. So there are spaces in your landscape which belong both to ferry and to the, no, no, not the real world, our world. I think in a way a book is like that. A book is a space, which when you are sitting reading it, you are in our ordinary world, but also your brain is somewhere else. It's gone somewhere else. So I was thinking about the power of those liminal spaces. Do you find yourself drawn to writing about the places that are changeable and can be one or other? You mentioned that you've ridden a portal fantasy that seems like absolutely in this way because a door is the thing. (36:37): And I would say this is also into the Fairy Hill is also a portal fantasy. And I've always been drawn to these books that are set in the kind of borderlands between what's real and fantastical. I think like for instance, the line which in the wardrobe, this thing that there can be a wardrobe that you could open and you could enter another world is it's just, has just always been the most amazing thing. And I, you're right, books are like that. And I wanted to mention another book that I love growing up and that's the never ending story. I dunno if you've read it, but that is actually, you go through the book, the reader of the book becomes the character in the story. And I think that has been a huge inspiration as well because there is, especially with these liminal spaces, that there is an infant from one world to the other that they can, there's a course and effect perhaps between the real world and the fantastical and maybe even the other way around as well. (37:47): I think that is really interesting to explore and into the fairy hill with that kind of part of the climate as aspect of it is also that when we in the real world destroy nature, that kind of also destroys part of the fairy world. So that is a course and effect that happens between the worlds. But I'm very drawn to all stories that kind of open from the real world and into another world. And it is interesting to write that. But I would say one of the challenges is then also to invent and create these liminal and create the portal from one place to another in something that feels new and feels a little bit fresh because there are of course a lot of tropes in this area. So (38:49): I think it's also about what we do when we play particularly as children in make believe play. So give a child box of dressing up clothes and go away. And when you come back, they're in a throne room or they're in out of space, they say, right, this place here is now also this, remember watching we went on a family holiday to a sort of very basic little house in Tuscany. So there was no play toys when we had lots of small children with us. And initially the children were sort of saying, oh, I'm bored, that thing. And then left alone, they organized themselves into taking all the sort of broken bits of garden furniture to build a rocket. And off they went on their adventures in their minds, it was a bit like watching them turn into blight and children going off up the hill on adventures with the oldest one leading the way and the youngest one being looked after at the back. And I was thinking, yes, that we have this natural instinct, we particularly when we're in the outdoors to look at a space and think, what else can this be? Who else could live here? Be it a historical idea back in time or a fantasy idea. So bring in magic. So I think what we are doing as writers in a way is just an adult form of play, putting it down in words (40:16): Completely free. (40:17): We're just children. We're just children. (40:20): So another thing so the last question I had for you about the Fairy Hill is about Alfred the main character who's very relatable child for a number of reasons. One of which he has something which is seen as a sort of mild disability something which he feels has set him apart but also he has a sort of superpower as well. It goes along with this but underlying all this is his sense of not knowing who he is, not knowing who he is, identity is, even to the point of questioning, are his parents, his parents, that kind of thing. So I was wanting to ask you, he about the role of fiction in helping children frame these questions, which I think almost everybody has that thought is really my parents or am I the things that you thought you think through, if you're unlike your brothers and sisters in it, how do we all fit together? Is that what's going on with him using fantasy as a frame to look at this? (41:28): Yeah, I think so. And I think fiction and especially middle grade fiction is very much about characters finding out who they are and where they belong. I think at that age kids are suggest they're just on the cusp of becoming teenagers. They are in this transition period from depending entirely on their families and being in the family group to becoming far part of friends group and friends becoming more and more important to them. And at the same time they have this growing independence, I would say. So I think it's period where it's difficult to balance everything and find out where do I belong? Where do I belong in my family? Where do I belong among my friends who am I? And so on. And I think for kids, seeing characters and fiction who struggle with these things is really helpful and gives them a perspective and ultimately can also make them feel better about who they are. I hope so. (42:41): I think they will. That was, yeah, we won't spoil the twist but just say that is one of the big mysteries in it, which has a satisfactory conclusion, shall we say. Thank you. He have a recurring segment in our podcast, there are two things we do. One is we decide where is the best place in all the fantasy worlds for something and also a tip, fantasy tip. So thinking about what would be the appropriate location or thing to ask you about. One of the key locations in Fairy Hill is a limestone cavern. And that got me thinking about caves and their presence in fantasy stories. So I wanted you to say where in all the fantasy books that you've read or watched as a film, it doesn't matter if it's a screen version of this, where would you think it'd be best place to be a caer to go caving? (43:41): Well, I think I wouldn't actually want to be a caer, very fascinated, but also a little bit scared of being underground. And I think when we look at fantasy fiction and there's seldom anything good underground, it's often kind kind of scary places. But I think I would go to Toki if I were Cava and I would probably go to the lonely mountain, going to the lonely mountain and see Airborn, hopefully when smug is not there. Or maybe visit like Moia, but not when the fellowship is there. But before, long before, when it was at the height of its glory days there's (44:31): Also the caves at Helms Deep that Gimley discovers during the battle, which he, it is one of those times where Tolkin stops, stops for a big, wonderful description of the caves as seen by Gimley. Yes. And he manages to twist Lego's arm says that I'll come to Fango with you if you come to the caves with me. Yeah. So no, I think I agree, but as you've picked that, I'm going to have to come up with someone somewhere else. Well, I suppose pirate caves is one place where you do get the concept of caves of treasure. So we were talking about Peter Pan earlier, but there's a great pirate cave there with the face that looks like a skull. Yes, they're in. So that would be a fun one to visit. Not very safe. But then I suppose, as you said,caves don't tend to be safe. (45:28): No, they don't. And I have, I have been to New Zealand when we lived in Singapore and I have visited Hobbiton but also visited these white globe worm caves that have inspired the setting in my book. And that is actually where they recorded a lot of the sound for the film. So for the underground setting at least in the Hobbit movies, I'm not sure if they did already with the Lord of the Rings movies, but they are absolutely magical caves. And there's an underground river and you have all of these glow worms hanging down from the ceiling and lighting everything up. It's a really beautiful place. (46:10): Delightful. Absolutely delight and lovely. A little bit of trivia for us. And so finally, would you like to give us a fantasy tip? Something that you'd like to recommend to our listenership? (46:23): Well, if it would be a writing tip, (46:26): You can do either. You can define that as you like. (46:35): I would say for writing fantasy, we touched on this earlier, but to make the setting and the world as believable as possible it's about bringing all the senses in, bringing kind of familiar sense and sounds and sights and so on into this fantastical. So it can be anchored at something in something the reader already knows. And the same, I would say for characters of fantasy characters bring in familiar motivations and characteristics that the readers and for me, that that's child readers, that they know themselves and bring the characters to life for them in gi, in giving them something that the reader understands that I think is really key to placing it. And I would also say in the kind of books that I write that are set both in the kind of a real world setting and enter fantasy setting, it's just extremely important that the reader can't find fault with the real world. It has to be really, really real. And if they're historical elements, they have to be as real as possible because as soon as the real reader finds something that doesn't make sense there, it automatically makes the fantasy part less believable as well. So that I would say anchor kind of the real world in a very real place. (48:23): So I would say my tip is about reading sideways. So if you're writing a book like yours say, set in folkloric fantasy world, I would probably avoid reading other people who writing in that same area whilst I'm writing it because I'm worried about interference on my antenna. (48:42): Yes. (48:43): But it's really, really good to read sideways. So think of you'd had that book of that non-fiction. Well, non-fiction, you know what I mean? An encyclopedia affair is something like that, which is, or a collection of ballads or a history book and have your research eyes open because I get loads of ideas whilst I'm writing from the things I'm reading adjacent to my project. And it keeps it fresh. And often if you've got a problem, a clock problem, you'll find the answer by something else you are reading in a completely different area. So that's my tip. Carry on reading, but go a bit sideways from the project you're actually working on. (49:34): Yeah, (49:34): Definitely. So thank you so much Helen, for joining us and we wish you all the best for the publication. Well, is it out now in (49:42): No 2nd of March, (49:44): So very soon I've got, oh, it's an uncorrected bound proof. So I think mine is quite the finished item, but it's a fantastic book. And you've also, as you mentioned, have written two other fantasy books already. The knitting, Barbara Gazi and what was the one in Singapore? The Hungry Ghost. The Hungry Ghost. Ghost, yes. So yes the sounds a wonderfully diverse collection of stories that you are building up. So thank you so much for joining us. (50:15): Thank you so much for having me. (50:21): Thanks for listening to Mythmakers podcast, brought to you by the Oxford Center for Fantasy. Visit Oxford Center for to join in the fun. Find out about our online courses in person stays in Oxford. Plus visit our shop for great gifts, tell a friend and subscribe wherever you find your favorite podcasts worldwide.