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Sept. 14, 2022

The Spell Tailors: A Magical Book Launch with Elizabeth Clark and James Nicol

The Spell Tailors: A Magical Book Launch with Elizabeth Clark and James Nicol

Best place to be a tailor

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Come to our book launch celebration for James Nicol The Spell Tailors A fun part of our online courses is that you get to be friends with fantasy writers who are publishing in today's market. We celebrate the arrival of the next book from one of our tutors - James Nicol. Listen to how he was inspired by the secret content of biscuit boxes and developed an original line of magic as a result. You can also hear his journey to being a writer and his process. Where in all the fantasy worlds do you think is the best place to be a tailor?

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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 I spend most of my time as an author writing in many genres, but I particularly love writing fantasy. Now the center has been going for just over a year now, and we've already seen large numbers of students go through our creative program. But one of the most exciting spinoffs has been the setting up amongst the writers of their own support groups, which of course, um, we are calling like a new version of the inklings, which brings people from around the world together with like-minded folk to support each other in their creative journey. After they've finished the courses with us. And we have quite a lovely little community that, uh, stays together and carries on chatting. One group celebrated the, um, publishing of one of our tutors books by having a special get together. And I thought you'd enjoy to hear the conversation and just how, um, coming together on a regular basis gives a sort of ease with professional authors and also gives the chance to get under the, the skin of what it's like to write a fantasy book. So please join us to listen in to the launch of James Nichols, one of our tutors new middle grade fantasy book, spell Taylors, and the discussion is led by Elizabeth Clark, who was one of our very first students. Well, I'm so happy to be here with all of you today. Um, we have a larger group than we normally have, which is our Tolkin writing inklings group, which was founded from the very first course, um, offered by the Oxford center for fantasy with Julia and James. And I actually have a t-shirt back here where everyone kindly signed like rock stars and James see your beautiful signature there. Yeah. Yeah. And, um, and so, uh, so it's nice for all of us. Um, we have Lucy here and Christina, and I'm trying to see who else is, is new. So it's very special to have this chance to be here together. And I actually, um, I wrote something, um, that way I wouldn't mess it upcuz I'm kind of nervous. And I think, um, that brings back an old memory with my first tutorial with James, where I told him I was very nervous and he said something unbelievably kind and thoughtful and, and so put me and right at ease. And I think I've heard that from other people as well. So, um, I wanted to say welcome, happy September and early fall. Uh, we have a few leaves changing here on the trees. I can't wait for the orange, red and yellow window pans to form in the forest. My name's Elizabeth. Most of you know that Elizabeth Clark I'm an alumnus of the Oxford center for fantasy having completed two courses. The first online fantasy cor course taught by Julia James mg, Rowena and Lucy, and the 12 month novel in a year course. And like many of us, I dream of going to Oxford to see my friends and to be with Julia and attending an in-person course someday. Um, I finished my first novel, uh, working with Julia and I live on my farm in bath, New Hampshire in the us with my two sons, although Charlie's off and away and hi McCall by the way. Um, and Andrew, um, and I have a business in coastal Maine in Kenny bunk port. Um, I'm an enthusiastic and proud organizing member of the project. Northmore Tolkin writing inkling group twig, and we've all become dear friends now, which I'm, I'm unbelievably grateful for. And, uh, James, I include you in that special group. Um, and I like to consider myself a Hobbit that's my dearest association. So thank you being for being here, James, especially during a hectic pub period of your life today, we're celebrating and partying with our dear guest of honor, the distinguished and unbelievably talented and full of life. James nickel, the spell Taylors is published by the imaginative, fun and highly respected chicken house in Barry Cunningham. There it is. Yeah. And, and I hope you all get to read it because I'm just telling you right from the beginning, you're gonna get transported and you're gonna care very much about he and wanna hear his story. Um, uh, the spell Taylors is James first novel after his phenomenally successful and well loved apprentice witch trilogy that was picked up for a television series. Uh, uh, and also I should have mentioned, uh, chicken house is affiliated with Scholastic books. It's owned by scholastics in the United States. And, um, I don't know, uh, if you know this, some of you know, this and may have had the same experience I had, but my first independent moment picking a book out was age six through Scholastic because they would come to the schools and they traditionally visit all schools across the United States and give you a beautiful pamphlet. So, you know, I would see apprentice switch there and Andrew saw it and, you know, it's, it's a pretty amazing part of our literary history. So I just wanted to say that. Um, and, um, what else? Uh, so as far as, um, James's book goes, I'm, I still have to purchase the book itself, the physical book, but I've listened to the audio book narrated by Alex Winfield. And I loved it. I loved his voices. It's amazing. I mean, you don't even think about him really doing voices. He's all those people. So it it's just been an absolute put and I had to push pause more than once because I didn't wanna get too far ahead of myself today and I didn't wanna give you all spoilers. So, um, only the magical introduction that won't take you too far and, you know, wreck it for anybody. Um, so finally, uh, I wanna welcome James again, he's a very kind full of life, spirit that all of us enjoy and appreciate with all our hearts. Um, James, would you please tell us a bit about yourself and your writing background? You know, whatever you pick, because remember we're toasting you today and you're more important than Jeff Bezos.Put that in there.That's the truth. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Any day you can sail on my yacht. I don't have one, but anyway, that's a bad joke. Um, and, uh, and I'm really interested in hearing about he, I instantly connected and cared about him. And so it's all good from here. So welcome James. Thank you, Elizabeth. I don't think I've ever had such a nice introduction in my life. I kind of feel like I'm at my own funeral eating. That's lovely. Thank you very much. That's okay. That's Um, yeah, that was really, really good. Thank you. Um, you're welcome. So yeah, so my writing, so I guess so my writing journey, um, I don't, I'm not one of those people that kind of, I don't think I necessarily, as a child understood the role of the author when it came to writing books. I don't quite know why. Um, I guess it's partly because unlike today we didn't have authors come and visit schools. Um, and so I, it was only when I was a grownup, but I actually met proper authors when I was working in a book shop. Um, and also I'm a terrible speller, which if anybody's had an email from me, you know, um, and I, wasn't a very good reader at school. In fact, I was put into a slow readers group, which a teacher once showed me don't exist anymore. And then another teacher said, well, they do, we just don't call them slow readers groups. Um, and, and so I, I felt like I was the complete opposite sort of person that would be an author until I started meeting authors, but I had always been a storyteller. I'd always loved telling stories, making up things, drawing maps of places that didn't exist, imagining the characters that lived there and where I grew up at the bottom of our garden, this sounds like I grew up in an bit book, but it's not quite like that. Um, there was a very small wood at the bottom of our garden and all of our friends' houses also backed on to this wood and it was like our extended playground. So we just used to climb over the fence and go and play in the wood. And I have two older brothers that would go off and do big brother stuff and kind of leave me at the first kind of opportunity. And I didn't mind, I quite liked that. I liked having my own space, playing my own games, being lost in my own world. And the wood for me was anything I wanted it to be. So it was a bit like my kind of extended film set or stage or whatever I wanted it to be. And so I think I was always telling stories all the way. Um, and then it was just much later that I started to write them down, but I never showed anybody, anything that I had written until I started working well, I'd done, I did a short, creative writing course, um, through a organization. I don't think the organization itself exists anymore, sadly, because it was a very good creative writing course. Every module that you did, every kind of assignment was something completely different. So sometimes you would be writing, it was all writing for children, but sometimes you might be writing for young adults. Sometimes you might be planning a picture book. You might do, uh, nonfiction for children or a kind of magazine article, or you might just be developing a character. And it was fantastic. It was the kind of, I think it gave me the, the kind of the boost that I needed. My tutor was really encouraging. Um, which I think was really helpful as well, because I hadn't dared to show anybody. Um, and then I, and then obviously you have to, when you're doing a writing course, um, as you all know, and that's, I think that's what I said to you, Elizabeth, isn't it on that on a one to one, it was like, I know exactly how you feel, cuz I, I knew what it was like sending those pieces off and then waiting and waiting for the feedback to come. And then I'd see her email ping into my inbox. And I, I couldn't look at the E the first time the, that I got feedback. I didn't read the email for about three days cause I was terrified she was gonna, it was just gonna be like laughter in email formand a kind of, why are you doing this? Um, and obviously it wasn't. So, um, yeah, so I, I was doing that creative writing course and I'd had this sort of half idea for this video, the apprentice witch story, and my, um, tutor who instantly was also called Julia. It must be something about Judaism writing courses. Um, said if I wanted, I could submit chapters from the book rather than do the remaining assignments. So she was the first reader for the apprentice, which book really. And one of the things she said to me was to find when I'd done the first draft and I'd edited the book as much as I could was to find either an independent editor or somebody like that, that could give me constructive feedback because that's what we all need. If we wanted to share our stories and make them as good as we can, we need feedback on those stories. Um, and, and so I, I had that in the back of my mind, as I carried on writing the book and then found out about the golden a academy, which I then was lucky enough to be accepted onto, onto their course. This was back in 2013, which feels like a million years ago now. And it was when I was working with my editor at golden egg, Bella Pearson, who had worked with, uh, Philip Pullman, um, to, you know, and you know, I don't even if need to give you a longer list of people she'd worked with, she'd worked with Philip Pullman. There we go. Um, and she now owns her own publishing company called Guppy books. And, uh, she had heard about a scholarship with chicken house where they would basically give you some money to pay toward your golden egg course. And so she sent them the apprentice, which as it was then with a view to them giving me some money, um, and to cut a very long story short, I could do a whole different conversation about being accepted by chicken house. I had a couple of meetings with Barry Cunningham, um, who I never thought for a million years would be interested in the apprentice switch because he's the publisher who originally published the Harry Potter books. And this was the book about witch on a broomstick. And why would he want to do that again? Um, and so I, he gave me some very good feedback, really useful feedback, which I responded to, but I kind of had in the back of my head the whole time that he wasn't, I wasn't gonna get at this scholarship, but I thought, well, I've had, I've had these two amazing meetings. I've had this amazing feedback that, you know, has cost me nothing really, um, and has been really useful. And then I had this phone call where I kind of had worked myself up to the point that they were gonna say, thanks, we're trying, but you know, we're not gonna go any further with this. And it wasn't Barry actually who told me it was Rachel lichen is one of the editors, excuse me. And she said, we're not gonna offer you this scholarship. And I said, no, I didn't think that was going to happen. And she said, but we would really like to publish your book, which is a very rare thing. And I, I never discount how lucky I was, that that was how I, how the apprentice, which kind of came into being. Um, and obviously we went, went on from there. Um, so in terms of moving on to the spell Taylors, um, which came out, um, on Thursday, um, I had finished writing the apprentice witch books. I finished the third one was published in 2019. And it was actually when I was just about to publish, uh, the second book that we were discussing what I was going to do next. So, um, chicken house had already asked me to write the, the trilogy. Um, so we were saying, well, what, what's gonna be the thing after apprentice, which, and they had, they, I think they had a very clear idea in their head about where they wanted me to go. And so they, they kind of half gave me a brief, but asked me to kind of come up with the idea myself, which I did and they liked it, but they wanted changes to it. And so we did the changes to it. And then I went off and I, I wrote it and I did a couple of drafts that it just wasn't landing right for me or for chicken house. And so they very kindly said, look, just go away and write whatever it is that you want to write. Um, and come back to us, um, which was wonderful and, you know, brilliant that they had that confidence that I could go away and deliver because you know, when, when you have that conversation, as nice as they were about it, when they're saying, look, this isn't, this isn't working, you kind of think, well, perhaps that's it, perhaps those three books were all, all it was ever going to be. Um, and so, but I had had this idea for this idea of memories being kind of caught in weaving or woven fabrics as I was writing the apprentice witch, but on one of my golden egg courses, we were kind of encouraged to just write something completely different from what we were writing at the time. And I had this kind of bizarre memory thingin the back of my head and I was quite keen to involve a yak in the story somewhere, which I didn't, the yak didn't make it into the book. I'm sorry, everybody. Um, so the yak will have to be, be featuring somewhere later. Um, and, and kind of in the breaks of doing the apprentice switch books and editing and writing, I would go back to this memory, weavers, I think it was called memory weavers originally this memory weavers idea and, and tinker with it and think about the characters and where, where the story would take place. And then obviously I'd go back to apprentice, which, and then it would be shelf a bit longer. And when I was kind of going back to the drawing board, I, I was kind of thinking of this story. That again was partly, it was kind of thinking about my grandmother. So there's always grandmothers, a friend of mine asked me recently in all your books, is there going to be a grandmother and are they gonna have like a strange sort of Italian sounding name? And I said, well, maybe although the next book I'm writing has neither. Um, so no. Um, but I spent a lot of time with my grandmothers growing up. And so they, they kind of, you know, they, they appear quite happily as characters in the book and they, they just feel like very magical people to me. Um, and so I, but when my grandmother, whether her grandmother was younger, she had been a very ineffective par made in a country house.I think she got fired after about 10 days, because she was just the worst. And I kind of, I sort of had this wonderful idea about this young girl who ghost beer par made in this country house, but there's something magical, also connected with this story. And part of the magic was to do with the box of clothes that they find in the house. And when the children put these clothes on, they sort of transform into different people. It's like the ultimate dressing up. So they put these clothes on and become completely different people. And so I pitched this idea to my agent and she said, I really like the idea of the magical clothes, but the rest of it, isn't doing it for me.and then gave me a long list of reasons why I shouldn't pursue that as an idea. But she said, I think there's something there about the magical clothes go away and think about that. And that was really the best bit of advice really, because I was thinking, well, what could I do with these magical clothes? And then suddenly I was like, oh, the memory, the memories and the magic and the clothes, I just need to smoosh them all together. And that's the idea. And I ki quickly drew up a, an outline. So I normally, um, when I'm for my contracts with chicken house, all I have to show them usually is either an outline for a story or a sample of writing from that story. Um, cuz obviously, hopefully they know I can write. Um, and they just want to know what it is that I'm planning to write. And normally that's where we go from. And so I sent them this outline, which you won't be able to see, but it's kind of, you know, it's like in a very extended blurb of the book has all the details about what's going to happen. The main characters, the main kind of thread hahaha of the plot. Um, and I also include some little pictures that have been my inspiration. So you can see, um, I don't know how well you can see those. There's some, some, some, um, embroidery in a, a beautiful coat and then kind of some other visual references for characters and settings and, and things like that. Um, and it was the easiest book we I've ever sold to chicken because normally they come back and say, oh, we like this bit of this room. We like this bit of this story, but we want more of this and more of that. So go away and we do the outline and then send it back to us. And that might take three, four months to kind of bash that out. Whereas they saw that and they never asked for any changes. Um, that's not to say we didn't when we were editing, but they basically loved it. And actually my agent said at the time, if they don't want it, I can sell it to 10 different publishers. Don't worry. So that was that kind of boosted my confidence back up again because I, I felt a bit sort of deflated after the, the, the book that hasn't gone anywhere yet. Um, and so I started to work on the spell Taylors. Um, and as Elizabeth, I don't know, you saw just before we start officially started, Elizabeth was showing us some beautiful garments that her, that from her family kind of archive, I suppose, is the best way to describe it. Isn't Elizabeth, it's a beautiful police jacket. Is it police jacket jeweler or is it just a police? Um, it's just a Police, just a police, please. There we go. Oh, Elizabeth showing you it's beautiful. So it's like this sort of short jackets that, um, they wear in Jane Austin adaptations, um, and obviously did back in the dayum, so similarly, um, I don't have a lot of, um, items that belong to, to family members, but I do have these two biscuit tins, um, and they, they came to me one, the red one is belonged to my mom and the blue one belonged to one of my grandmothers. And they came to me after both of them had sadly passed away. And the blue one, I knew, I knew I knew what was in both of them really, but I kind of forgotten. Um, so the blue one was filled with always filled with photographs, um, of people, postcards letters, um, there's even, um, a book of common prayer, um, in here that belongs to my great greatuncle. I think it was, um, and in the front you won't, I don't think you'll be able to see it's so old. It's want pieces. Um, I dunno if you, if the light will catch it, he's written some prayers in pencil and you can only really see it when the light hits it. So there's all these little artifacts. And I went through them once when we, when we first moved into this house, I thought I'm gonna sort through that tin because I knew there were bits in there that there were photographs of my dad, my grandparents, great grandparents that I knew of. Um, and so I sorted the, the contents into some piles. So I had stuff that I knew who it was over here, but then I had this bigger pile of photographs and letters and things that I have no idea who they to. So they could be family members. They could be just friends, very distant relatives, next door, neighbors who knows, but in the spell Taylors, there's a whole bit of the story in that he thinks he knows his family history in the shop and in the house where they live. So the, the, the fell Taylor shop is, has the apartment above where the family will live. And in this grand staircase that goes up from the shop into the apartment is the family gallery. So it has paintings photographs of all of his ancestors going right, right back to the first spell tailor. And it's like, that's where you want to be. If you've achieved something as a spell tailor, your image goes on the family gallery and your are kind of assured your, your place in, in history. But what hen discovers is that there's other family members that never appear on that wall. And that's what made me kind of, and that was sort of inspired by these photographs because there are all these family, you know, I've been told family stories about uncles that died in the second and first world war cousins that did things, but so many other family members that I'll never know their stories for. And then in the red biscuit, tin is the other thing. And this is the way Elizabeth has probably got to this bit already. So hen does find a biscuit tin in the attic when he's, he's banished to the attic, um, for upsetting, his uncle wants too often. And in the attic, he uncovers a biscuit tin that has a garment inside it. Um, and the garment has a particular type of spell, an memory spell stitched into it. And this biscuit tin is full of pieces of lace, um, sewing equipment. There's like little pouches for needles and things. Um, and even this beautiful little BLS that I, I think it must, I think it's sort of had, I'm not sure it's very short. Um, it would go under the police jacket quite nicely, I should think, but you need something else underneath it. Um, and there's also what you can't appreciate is this beautiful smell at some point some Perme or something must have been spelled on these things. And it's still, it's like, somebody's just put it on. It's so beautiful. Um, so there's all these like this beautiful be that I guess, was there to be stitched onto something. And it just, again, it made me think that these things, these items belong to somebody belonged, I'm presuming to family members. My mom never told me where they came from. Um, and so I don't know the stories of, of who they belong to, but kind of putting those together with those, those pictures and those stories that I don't know, I imagined my own stories for them. Um, and that became the heart really of, of what happens in the spell Taylors. Um, what else do you want to know, Elizabeth? Oh, you on mute. Okay. That's classic. Um, of course I wanna, uh, you know, anyone, uh, actually, James, let me jump ahead for one second and then no, no, No. Um, how would you like people to ask you questions? Um, oh, I don't mind if people want to put them in the chat or if people would in chat to me, you know, with their mouths, that's fine as well. People would hold up piece of paper to the screen. Um, however, not sign language though, or interpretive dance. Cause it's, you know, you don't have all evening. So, um, I wanted to what you just described. I absolutely love that in your book. Um, that transformative moment where he finds the box and all of a sudden it's like the sky is lifting up and, you know, he's, uh, I forget what I think it was. Was it silk? What does he feel? I forget what It's, it's a silk sort of half finished. Um, isn't it, it's The fabric. Yeah. Yeah. I think the fabric changed a lot because I suddenly realized during an edit that I had an awful lot of velvetnearly every garment I, I wrote about seemed to be velvet for some reason. So I have, I was like, oh, to pick a different fabric. Yeah. Well, I, I like the velvet reference actually, cuz that's a very strong, um, on a lot of levels of fabric, but um, yeah, so, um, I, I, I'm going to go back to what I said, no spoilers here. Umbut uh, the beginning is so rich that it's fine to just talk about the beginning. And um, I was going to ask you about, there was a lot, I wanted to ask, I had it written down about the Denali, is that the right? The Denali and it goes back 400 years. Is that right? And the story begins, I believe in 1776. Is that correct? That that's when the spell Taylor's, um, business was established, It was established, right? Yeah. In 1776. Yeah. And um, so where does that, where does that all begin the 400 years ago? What, what was the first, you know, real movement of, you know, why the fam I got the, I mean, of course I know the story about the need for spell Taylors, which I found was fascinating, like the protective stitch and all of that. Um, so, so where did you get that, that idea from James? It's so amazing. The idea of special stitches being put in clothing and the magic of that In, in earlier versions, um, without giving away too many spoilers, um, he, there were, there was more than one garment that he finds in the attic. And so he go, he went into different memories. Um, and at one point he actually goes into the memory that reveals or revealed the truth of Domenico Danelli, who was the first spell Taylor, this kind of cany, um, wily businessman who realized actually that the, the magic in the world was shifting or changing or fading slightly. And to preserve it, they realized that if they stitched the spells into, into fabric, it somehow preserved the magic, but also in doing it, it made a different type of magic and it, and it imbued those stitches and the fabric themselves with magical properties. And so he realized, oh, we can turn this into a money making scheme. We can't be SORs anymore, but we can, you know, we can adapt. Um, and so he's quite, he's the sort of cany businessman. And, and through that line, um, through the Denali line, we end up with he who himself is now looking to how he can mostly get his picture on the family gallery. That's what he's thinking about at the beginning of the story, but not too far in, we realize that the, the business might be in, in peril. Um, when uncle Berty aren't Luke cheer and cousin Connie descend on he, and Nana's be Taylor shop because they've had to close their own through mysterious circumstances. Um, and also because there's a competitor who's making spelled garments in a factory, um, or in factories. Um, but he loves fixing things, mending things, reimagining how things can be assembled. He likes to recycle clothes, but uncle Berty doesn't see that as a future for the business, because why would somebody have something meed, you know, why would somebody buy something new if they can just have the old thing meed, um, their business is making new garments, not fixing old ones. Um, and so he just doesn't see hen's point of view to start with. Um, and yet obviously there's a, there's a, quite a clear link between poor hen and, and doo, although actually it wasn't really doo perhaps we'll find out in a later book, the, um, the true, the true history of the spell Taylors, but that's where everybody's thinks is that it's doco, who was the, who was the cany person. Um, and it's not quite, that's not quite how I truly imagined it. Um, yeah, so that's kind of, that's where they've been established the family, you know, big family that's kind of gone their separate ways. So, um, some stayed on this, on these islands called the Cillian islands, um, which was kind of, you know, not too far leap from thinking they were sort of a vaguely Sicilian family. Um, if it was this world, um, some came to a country called Engle, um, and established the spell Taylor shop there under the D early name. But then as we trace this, the kind of immediate family tree back, hence Nana has only come from Celia sort of as a young girl, um, to, to over the shop from her great uncle. Um, and obviously she's, then she's then had her own family. Um, and uncle Berti will be the one that takes over in time. So that's why there's the, the tension really is that Nana's still there, but she's older and she doesn't really want the, the Whoah of running the family business. Uncle Berti wants to run the family business, but clearly isn't doing the best job at it. Um, and he just wants to make clothes, but then discovers this new kind of, or old kind of, um, that could be very, is very important to the family that could be important beyond the family could save the business as well. And there's an interesting part, um, about hen's parents, because we don't quite know, you know, what's going on there. He's, he's being raised by his grandmother. Who's, uh, a very skilled, uh, spell tailor, but still, this is the beginning we discover. Um, it's a, a major desire to create your own magical stitch. Yeah. Okay. Something unique. And, uh, she still hasn't done that yet, even though she's kind of a master, is that right? James? She's kind of a, Yeah. I mean, she's obviously been, been still tailoring her whole life and, but she, she likes to experiment and, um, throughout the book we see her knitting, her famous red scarf, um, which she's always vaguely disappointed when she finishes and you don't find out until the very end, why she's always disappointed with the scarves and she just gives them away to people, um, in a kind of the, you know, you habit cuz it's, it's not really very good. Um, so with he's parents, so, um, this was more of a, a, a logistical thing. So originally I had he's parents be divorced and he lived with his mom and his N in the spell Taylor shop. But then I realized when I then introduced uncle be to the art cheer and Connie, there were just too many people in some of the family scenes. And I get really confused when I have too many people in a scene I learnt early on not to have too many people in a scene. And also there was the struggle between having, um, the, the, kind of the tension with uncle Berti and why his mom wouldn't just step in and deal with that to kind of say, look, he's my son back off. Um, and also having the lovely, nurturing aren't cheer, who just worries constantly about everybody, um, that there were, there was then too many people mothering him and you kind of think, well, he's not gonna, he's not gonna do what he needs to do because he's got too many people looking after him. And so I killed them both off and I thought, oh God, no, I can't keep killing kids' parents off in books. It's just, that seemed, you felt a bit too easy. Um, and also, you know, it is kind of, it's a bit expected in a way that you, you know, your main character's parents are probably dead or, or kind of distracted elsewhere. So I decided to go for the distracted elsewhere, made them scientists. So they're not interested in as spell tailoring and they're off doing their experiments, who knows where, um, so we only get contact from them through letters and things, and hence keeps in contact with them that way. Um, again, in an early draft, I did have them appear towards the end. Um, but it just, there, it seemed that rather pointless to have them just appear at the last moment, um, and actually worked better for it, for it not to be that they turned up. Um, yeah. Interesting ways to dispatch parents. Um, I, we, you should do, we could do like a whole, like, you know, I don't know paper on that. Julie, we could do a whole seminar.dispatching parents in middle grade literature. Yeah. The first rule is, get rid of the parents. Yeah. To say it doesn't have to be death or make the parents the problem. Yeah. That's the, if you're gonna keep them around, if they're, as you say, if they are there to nurture and look after, it's kind of like end of story, I'm gonna go and have an adventure. No, you've got to do your homework. Yeah. Or, oh, no, this happened. And the mum and dad like, oh, I'll ring the police. Oh, end of, yeah, so that's, that's why I, I sent the parents off to be scientists and do something else. So, and obviously, as I said before, I had, I spent a lot of time with my own grandmother's growing up and I, that was a very important relationship to me. And I think, you know, I think in lots of ways now, perhaps with, with more, you know, people don't often live as close to their grandparents. They don't spend as much time with, with grandparents or older people, particularly. Whereas I did growing up, we had quite elderly neighbors. Um, and I just, I dunno, I love old people. Um, and so I, and I think they they're underestimated in the real world, but also often underestimated or just made for like comedy relief in children's books. You know, they're kind of like I remember saying to my Nana onceshame, why can't cuz she was there's a, I don't know if you've got to. Yeah. There's one of my actual memories of my grandmother is in the book where she ran through the local part and she was swinging, ran lampposts. Like we were in some sort of ridiculous musical and it is like to this day it makes me absolutely how with laughter to think about it. Um, and I remember saying to my Nana when I, I was probably, you know, well, I shouldn't say that either way, whatever age I was, but I wasn't very old. And I said, well, why can't you just be like other old people and sit in the corner and dribble, um, which is obviously not what old people do. Um, and certainly not what my, what either of my grandmothers did. So yes. Shame on me. Yeah. So I'm actually, I, uh, I support you in what you said with my whole, whole heart about older people and I kind of crusade on that subject actually a little bit, especially going back to the United States, um, and poor Charlie, you're gonna have to listen to this, my son, but yeah. I mean, um, you know, wisdom, personality experience, uh, ready to have fun, you know, no holding anything back. Um, and, and a, a deep love comes with a lot of older people and, uh, you know, never discount that or underestimated. I mean, excitement is great, you know, youthful, excitement and enthusiasm, and that is special as well. But what you're talking about can parallel that and be even better sometimes. So honestly, yeah. So that's a nice thing to mention and I love that in a story. Absolutely. I think I saw some questions ping in the, When I'm planning to visit the us and especially in New Hampshire, I would love to come and visit Bernie. Um, I dunno when that's gonna happen, but that would be, that would be great. Oh, Issa has a question. How, and when did you know what age group to write this story for? Um, so I, I think there was no question really with the spell Taylors on the back of the apprentice, which that it wouldn't be for the same age group. Really. I think the, particularly when it's, although it's not my second book, it's my fourth book. I think with the start, with the next book, after your kind of series, you probably wouldn't go too far outside of, of that same age group. Um, although obviously it's been quite a gap between the third apprentice, which, and this, so I, I've probably,probably lost quite a lot of my apprentice, which read as they've probably grown up and move on to other things anyway. So it probably wouldn't have been too much of a problem, but I think certainly chicken house would've expected me to continue with that similar age group for that book. Um, but initially when I started to write the apprentice, which the idea I'd had, I thought it would be a way a book. And I dunno why, because I don't, I do read way, but I don't read a lot of it. It's certainly not what I'm passionate about. And I was, I'm passionate about writing for middle grade readers because I think those are the books. When I think of the books that really impacted on me to start with it was those books that I read during that sort of seven to 12 sort age range, things like the hundred and one dations and the NA books, you know, massive impact on me. Um, and so that's kind of, that's why I write for that age group, really. I think they're the books that, that you'll remember always and hopefully share with, with your own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, um, and then talk about, you know, when you're older and go, oh, can you remember when you first read, you know, I don't think, you know, I'm not saying my books as good as the NA books, but it would be nice to think that somewhere down the line two people might go, oh, do you remember when you read the spell Taylors or the app? That would be lovely. Um, so that's, I think that's the main reason for writing for age group. I seen the Swedish marketing of the book. It's six to nine years old. That will be younger than the apprentice witch. Yeah. It, I mean, it differs from country to country as well, because I know with the apprentice witch books, they were published in Spanish, but they were much more aimed at, at teen readers actually. And that's to do with reading levels in different countries and different markets. Um, so the, the covers are more sophisticated than probably the, than the cover that we had in the UK, because they were looking more at the kind of the young teenager rather than the, rather than the pre-teen, um, market. So I think that has an impact on where, where your book's being published and what the age, the reading age is, sorry, rather than the age range, the reading age of the child, children reading them. So, or TA were you going to say something? I was, I was just gonna say a, a quick thank you to, to James for being so, um, forthcoming about your struggles as a child with reading and writing. Um, one of my, my boys, my middle son, who is now 12, uh, he's our ADHD superstar. And he still has a really hard time writing letters, actually just forming the letter and having it D go in the right direction and reading. And yet he is our most creativedoes this, kid's destined for something creative. Um, and so I always, as, as his mom and I, I know so many other moms that have kids that are these, we, you know, we kind of refer to him as the IEP kids, the individual education plan. So they have, uh, to get their help through school. They have their, I P and it's just, it's so hard for him. So I love finding these examples such as yourself, where, you know, you, that part didn't come easy, um, as a child, and yet you're still so much of your adult life is, uh, is there, so thank you for sharing that. I hope you continue to share that story with lots of kids. Yeah. I mean, it is one of the things I do talk about when I, when I go to school visits, the fact that I wasn't, you know, I, I, wasn't a good reader at school and, and, and I still, you know, I still I'm, I, I still am a slow reader. I cannot read quickly. I have a friend who could read, you know, she could have read the spell Taylor probably in, in half a day. Um, I cannot do that. And I think partly it's from not having been a very proficient reader as a child, but also something to do with being used to reading. Cause I've worked in bookshops and libraries all my life as well, reading out loud to people. So I always read something as I'm reading out loud with the pauses and, you know, I even do the silly voices in my head. Um, so I think that's also part of the part of the thing as well. But the thing I also say to children these now is that, you know, there are so many different ways to tell stories. Books are one of the ways, but then that's not the only way to tell a story. You know, we've got there's graphic novels, there's films, there's, you know, the computer games now are so much more sophisticated than they were when, when I was a child and it is all rich, amazing storytelling. Um, so it doesn't mean that if you want to tell stories that you have to sit and physically write them, you can find a different way to tell stories. It doesn't have to be that way, if that doesn't feel right for you. Um, because it's not, it's not gonna fit for everybody at all. Um, yeah. Good luck to win. Charlie asked the question in the chat and said, are you sticking more with series writing or would you consider standalone novels? Um, so this currently is a standalone novel because the next book I'm writing, isn't the continuation of the spell Taylor's story. Um, initially I chicken house asked if I had an idea for a second book, which I do, um, and they were quite happy with, with the suggestion, but they also, um, wanted to look at, you know, having a completely different book. Um, they're obviously thinking more from a business point of view and what they can sell to different publishers around the world, because that's how they make their money and they make use of money as well. Um, and so the ne the book I'm writing at the moment, um, in between doing everything else, um, is not the second spell Taylor's book. It's something completely different. It's a bit mad as well. I'm, I'm not gonna lie. It's a bit crazy. Um, but they seem to like it. So, um, yeah, we'll, we'll see. Um, and hopefully that will come at either late next year or early 20, 20, depending I get on with my, and, and things like that. I'm gonna follow up with, we're gonna do a bit more of the nepotism here with my son and Charlie. Um, so James, I heard a, a nice, uh, interview, a brief one with, um, Barry Cunningham talking about, uh, your potential, uh, TV show. And is that still something I hope that's in the works. I know, I, I thought I'd ask you, cuz I know you, you kind of have to wait and see what happens. And so I wanted to hear, you know, your thoughts on that, cuz that was really exciting. And, and I wanted to add, it was super exciting because Charlie loved the books because Scholastic had these books and it was the show house of a Nubis. I don't know if you saw that and apparently connection, um, with your potential show. Yeah. Okay. So, um, so I, it was just before the second apprentice, which book came out that, um, I had a call from Barry. Um, it was in the throes of, we had a terrible winter storm back in 2018 called the beast from the east. Um, that kind of brought the country to its knees, um, ruined my book launch, um, completely. Um, but I was still working full time at the time as well. And I was in one of my libraries back down in Cambridge, here for a meeting and then a break in this meeting, I was making coffee or something, my phone rang and it was Barry. And I, you know, he occasionally rings to sort of ask me something or tell me something or, um, stuff like that. And so I didn't think too much of it. And he said that there was a TV production company that were interested in possibly taking on the apprentice switch, um, with a view to turning into a TV series and that the, the chap, a guy called Tim would be at my book launch when it was rescheduled. And I was, you know, pressure, um, to then be sparkling and brilliant and, you know, clever like that. Um, and Tim, um, who works for company called line pictures, um, has previously worked, um, on the house of ABIs, um, and loads of other stuff. He also worked on, I discovered, and I dunno if this will mean anything to anybody apart I'm so, you know, that was fine. You know, anything he said was good with me, poos like a little Claymation ping penguin. I can't even say penguin now. Um, it's, it's a bit bizarre. Um, so yeah, so I met, I met Tim and, um, and we had a nice chat. Um, and then it was probably, I think it was, that was sort of February time, February, March, and around about Easter. I got a contract for the, for the initial kind of period for, for optioning the rights for the books. Um, and so that was 2018. Here we are in 20, 22 and still no TV series, but there has been lots of stuff going on in the background. A lot of stuff that I can't tell you about cuz TV executives will swing through my writing room window, put a S over my head and beat me, you know, beat me about their head with, I D know I was gonna say a DVD box, but who has DVDs anymore? Um, a Netflix subscription probably. Um, so there's lots of development going on, but TV is much slower than publishing, which is already a very slow entity. Um, but there, there is stuff is still going through. There is still, people are still working on it. Some very exciting people are working on it. Which again, I can't tell you, um, what can I tell you? I've seen a episode script for the first episode, which was very exciting. Um, but yeah, that's kind of, it's one of those things that when people ask me about it, thank you for asking about it. I get excited and I get to tell you a little bit about it, but when it's not happening, it goes back in its biscuit in, goes under the bed. And I don't think about it because I think you could probably drive yourself quite mad thinking, when's it happening? When's it happening? When's it happening? Um, and it's so out of my control that I just, unless I see an email from Tim or he rings, I don't really think about it too much unless somebody is kind enough to ask. And then, and then I have to kind of say a little bits, but I can't tell you all of the stuff I wish I could tell you. Um, but yes, it's still, it's still trending nicely along. Um, and hopefully hopefully soon should go into full production. At which point you will hear me all the way in New Hampshire rescreening with excitement. And I'll tell you all the details then, And, and we'll be screaming back at you and thank you for opening your biscuit 10 again for us and getting us excited, honestly. So that sounds really good, James. That sounds good. Yeah, I think it's, it's an exciting thing and I think it's, it's rare for, for it to go, you know, certainly Barry and my agent were saying, it's very rare for things to get this far down the line. Um, Barry was saying that with chicken house, they've had two other series that have been sort of in product, you know, pre-production um, he said, I haven't quite reached the pinnacle of one, which was in pre-production for, I think, seven years. He says, so I've got a bit of a way to go before he gets to that. And I don't even think that's even gone into production yet. So they must have just been slightly ahead of me. And I can't remember the name of the book that he told me. Um, but I think, you know, these things do happen, um, and they can be so, and obviously of course we've had COVID in the middle, which probably hasn't helped things either. Um, so yeah, we'll just, we'll just wait and see, perhaps by the time it's ready and on, on the tell, my little girl will be old enough to sit and watch it. So I just wanted to point out Nancy's got a really interesting question in the chat. Ooh, have a look at that. Thank you, James. Uh, my question is about developing the idea. I know you spoke a bit to this already. So the premise of this TWI the spell tales is an awesome foundation, but how do you develop all the characters personalities to make the story interesting and hold together? Do you make a family tree ahead of time? Are you a plotter or Aster? I'm Aster, Nancy, which means I make my plan, which is like what I showed you, where's it gone? Um, my outline and by the time I've kind of worked on that for maybe, you know, a month, six weeks, two months maybe. And it's kind of been ping backwards and forth between me and I might share it with some writer, friends to get their sort of input. Obviously share it with my agent, showed the publishers. Um, by that point, I think it's so fixed in my head, what the story is. The, I tend to just set that aside and then start writing and not worry too much about what I put in there. And so far touch wood. Nobody's come back to me and said, hang on a second. This is not what you put in your outline.I don't VE too far off, off track, but see, you think you do change things as you're writing the story, just because you suddenly realize actually that doesn't, it's not working when you get to the actual writing of it, you realize that that it's not gonna work for whatever reason, um, in terms of developing characters. I think it's a very good question. I think a lot of that comes with, with working with my editor. I think that's one of the things that often comes through with working with my editor. Um, and that might be, you know, just, and she often does it in terms of posing questions to me. So it's not about her saying you need to make your character due to this to develop them, but she might say, let's think about, you know, what somebody's motivation actually is behind this action. Um, or what, you know, what, what's this person thinking, well, this is going on. Um, and it does. And it's those sorts of things that then make you think, oh, hang on a second. I need to, I need to draw this out a little bit. Um, but I think also, you know, hopefully I've, I've learned as I've written three books and developed the characters over those individual books and over the course of over the arc of the three books as well. Um, so I think developing the characters feels a not easier thing to do, but it does feel like it's something I'm more aware of myself when I'm, when I'm writing and editing myself to kind of look at those things as well. And also I think for me, like I said before, not having a cast, that's too sprawling.makes that a lot easier because you can, you can see how those things are shifting and changing as the story goes on. Um, for example, with, with St. Taylors, there's the, there's a kind of relationship shift between he and Connie. So although they're cousins, they've not spent an awful lot of time together, um, and their relationship to begin with is quite frosty. And then it's through their actions and through what happens in the story that they've become closer. And then again, something happens and sort of pulls that apart a little bit. Did somebody just grasp in shockand then, um, and then it's about knitting that back together again, knitting, unintended, um, Ooh. And then, um, uncle Berty, who's kind of, he's sort of all over the place, cuz he's mega stressed with the whole trauma of the business and things and, and his relationship with he. Um, that was, I think it's fun as well. It's fun doing all of those things, um, developing the characters and changing them and, and thinking about how, how they're gonna play out. But it comes to me. I don't think about it too much in advance. It comes through the writing and the editing that bit of the development. I can't, I can't always plan how somebody's going to be, um, that, that comes as you start to write them and get to know them through writing them. That might sound a bit woo. He's a bit crazy. Thinks the characters are talking to him. Um, I don't think that, but they doJames on that happy free spirited moment. I think, um, I, I, I guess we're gonna transition into the rings of power discussion and I thought we'd all give James a very shyer, like toast and, and wish him well. And, um, I, and I know I don't, you don't need another eulogy, James, but I'm sorry. We just all love you so much. And that's the truth. And, and I wanna wish it wa and I love the book. Absolutely love the book, and I hope everybody gets to enjoy it. And it will be one of those special books that I, I put in the spot and revisit, and I just loved everything. I mean, there's so much I wanted to talk about, but it would just be about even the cloth, the magical cloth book, that's cloth that, that he knows about that has all the secret spells and, and, um, I, I just loved it. I loved everything about it. So just wanted to say that, and I wanna wish you well, and you look well, I wanted to add that you, you do well under pressure, James DLE.cause, and again, I've got that zoom filter cranked well up and I've got a ring light here. So I don't, I look like an a actuallyFar from it, but fine. All a should look so good. Right guys.I look like an a with a, um, So here here's to James nickel and we wanna wish you all things healthy and well and happiness and joy to you and your family. And thank you so much, James, for visiting with us today. And thank you. Thank you. It's lovely to see everybody again. Thank you very Much. Cheers. Thank you very much for listening to this episode of myth makers. If you'd like to come and join us on one of the courses, the next six week online fantasy calls starts in October. Details can be found on the link on our show notes or on our website. Also, we didn't have a chance to ask where in all the fantasy worlds would be the best place to be something which is usually how we finish. So I thought in honor of James' book, I'd ask the question where in all the fantasy world is the best place to be a tailor. And thinking about this, I actually went old school and one of my favorite children's books for illustrations is the tailor of Gloucester, which may remember is that beautifully illustrated, um, story about mice in a tailor shop. And I think for me, that always leads me of a very warm glow showing how fantasy can be also, um, a form of fairy story when you're little, uh, with the magic of imagining creatures coming in and doing the work for you, which of course is wonderfully attractive for the idea of the tiny stitches. So that would be my pick. Uh, we'd love to hear from you where you would pick as the best place to be a tailor. Thank you very much for listening onto next time. Goodbye. 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. 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