Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A very special Q & A with Louie Stowell, multi-talented author of "The Dragon in the Library" coming soon from Nosy Crow Publishing

"The Dragon in the Library" by Louie Stowell (Cover art & Illustrations by Davide Ortu)
In case you missed it, we've already reviewed "The Dragon in the Library" by Louie Stowell with top honours as chapter book of the week a couple of weeks back, but today we're also joining in with the blog tour for this utterly awesome book.

We're absolutely delighted to be hosting a fabulous Q & A with one of our long-time fave authors on the blog today. Louie Stowell has very kindly answered ten of our trickiest questions (5 from me and 5 from C) to celebrate the launch of her latest middle grade adventure, the truly fantastic "The Dragon in the Library" coming soon from Nosy Crow Publishing.

Without further ado, bring on the questions!!!

1) Hi Louie, how about telling us a little bit about yourself and your writing background

I’ve been writing seriously for about 20 years, so, it was not a matter of picking up a pen and out flowed a publishable novel. I wrote my first novel, The Vampairy, around 2002. It was about a creature who’s half vampire, half fairy, who grants wishes in return for blood. Apparently that’s too disturbing for children, and it’s still in a drawer somewhere. Since then I’ve been writing non-fiction, but with fiction rumbling along in the background.

2) We both loved “The Dragon in the Library” - particularly because it’s a fantastic story about a once-reluctant reader discovering the joys of books in such a cool way. What do you think is the best advice to give folk who want to win a reluctant reader round?

Phil, you may be able to predict my answer but…COMICS (I would have guessed that - Ed!).

That’s not to say that I think comics are an easy ride. They’re an artform all their own, with their own narrative conventions and difficulties. But I think comics are appealing to people who’ve been put off text-only books, because they have a certain frisson of “forbidden”, due to the fact that so many adults still think they’re not “proper” books. The best way to win round a reluctant reader, in my opinion, is to tell someone something is dangerous or bad for them. That’s Kit’s experience too in The Dragon in the Library – she discovers that books can be dangerous, which obviously makes them more appealing. Another route is to find something the person is very interested in, and use books as a way to get them that information, rather than pushing reading as an activity – it’s more a means to an end, so you don’t have to self-identify as a reader to enjoy it.

3) Nosy Crow seem to be producing some stunning middle grade fiction at the moment. How different was the fiction writing process to putting together non-fiction titles?

Very different in some ways – for example, I didn’t sit down and research for ages first. That said, I have spent my life “researching” for this book – by reading other fiction, and mythology, about dragons, wizards and magic. So perhaps it’s not all that different on that score. The way in which it’s similar is the fact that, when writing about magic, you have to have a system – just like, when you’re writing about, say, science, you have to represent the pre-existing body of knowledge. With magic, you have to check you’re being consistent, which is quite a lot like fact-checking, or checking you’ve written dinosaur names all according to the same rules (capitalize the T if T rex but not the r!)

4) Talk us through your writing process a bit. I find it really difficult to get started with the actual ‘writing bit’ of stories, despite having a few good ideas. Any tips?

I tend to talk the idea through with my wife, first, with a lot of “ooh, what if…”. That helps me get the ball rolling and feel like I have momentum. Then I start drawing diagrams – usually spider diagrams, with all the random parts of the idea sprawled all over the place. I sometimes dig down into minutiae there – and get stuck into the worldbuilding in general, before I work out the plot. It’s usually worldbuilding first, then character and plot for me. What I love about stories is the universe of them, as well as what actually happens. It feels like every world you create could have a thousand stories happen there, so the next step is narrowing down which one it should be (or at least which one it should be first). With the Dragon in the Library, I suppose that came from reality – libraries being closed down in the UK, and the real life consequences of that. Then I thought about how that could be transposed into magical consequences. In terms of the actual writing, it’s mostly about routine – having set days/times I write, and a place I go to. Usually Costa on the high street. I don’t like writing in arty cafes, as I feel too self-conscious, like it’s a performance. So my favourite places to write are quiet chain cafes, with a fairly rigid soundtrack of music – often a computer game or film soundtrack.

5) What is your favourite episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” ? (This was an extremely cruel question - I make no apologies - Ed.)

This is an almost impossible question to answer. How can I play favourites? Hmmm. OK. Aside from obvious one like Hush and Once More with Feeling, I am very fond of Tabula Rasa – where they all forget who they are and have to construct their identities from scratch. It’s actually a game I used to play with myself as a kid: how much of my life would I be able to work out if I lost my memory, just by looking at my things? I also love Buffy vs Dracula, as I feel it sums up the heart of Buffy in many ways – it’s a show that takes pop culture, and especially horror, tropes and subverts them. I love that she defeats Dracula explicitly by being familiar with his genre rules: “You think I don’t watch your movies? You always come back…” That’s also the line I probably quote the most. Especially when thinking about politicans like Boris Johnson…

Now for C's devilishly difficult questions

1) What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Meeting readers. I love doing events and talking about stories and ideas with enthusiastic people. It’s that, and having the original ideas. I love ideas. I’m less keen on sitting down for hours and writing them down, but apparently you have to do that bit to meet the job description of “writer”. One day I’d love to be able to just dictate them to a robot butler.

2) Are you going to write any more books about space? We loved seeing your space talk when you came to our home town!

I would love to! I’ve written a book for VERY young children about going to the Moon that’s coming out this July (in time for the anniversary) but I also have another one up my sleeve, watch this space. (Sorry. I am so sorry.)

3) Dragons aside, if you didn’t already have the world’s cutest dog at home (Buffy!) what would be your ideal pet - mythical or real-world?

I'd choose a pegasus, because then I could fly around on it like Valkyrie. And pegasus could poo on my enemies from above. (We love the way you think - Ed.)

4) What books did you enjoy when you were little?
I loved the Just William books – short stories about a boy who lived in the countryside and apparently never went to school – he just got into trouble. They were hilarious. Then Lord of the Rings was a favourite when I was a bit older. I loved the world of it and the fact that it was so complex. I also loved anything about an apocalypse. There was a book called Empty World that I loved, where all the adults die and children roam around trying to survive. Oh, and one where a guy kidnaps some children on a nuclear-powered spaceship but he dies of radiation sickness and the kids have to survive on their own. (I promise I didn’t actually want all the adults to die in real life… it was just a way of exploring what it meant to be on your own and making your own choices.)

5) What’s your favourite film of all time?

I have two. One’s called Labyrinth, about a goblin king (played by David Bowie) who steals babies, which in turn is (I think) based on a book I loved when I was little called Outside Over there by Maurice Sendak. 

I love stories that come from other stories, or have relationships with other stories. I’ve been working on a novel about a similar scenario, but with a very different baby stealing supernatural ruler…more on that another time!

Such great answers (and yep, Labyrinth is way up there amongst our faves too, great choice!) - Our huge thanks once again to Louie for submitting herself to our steely questions.  Don't forget to hop along to the website for more amazing kidlit!