I have another author interview for you today! You may remember that a couple of weeks ago I reviewed Rise of the Shadow Stealers, the first in The Firebird Chronicles series by Daniel Ingram-Brown. The second book in the series is set to be released on TOMORROW, and you can read my review here.
I asked Daniel a few questions on the lead-up to the book’s publish date, so here you go! Thank you to Daniel for taking part!
Have you always liked writing? When did you decide you wanted to write a book?
I’ve always loved stories, but I wouldn’t say I’ve always been good at writing. When I was younger, I was a slow reader. I’m still not that quick – I’m a little in awe of people who can read a whole book in one sitting. I don’t remember being particularly good at writing either, although I did win a storytelling competition at school. (I don’t remember much about the story, other than it had a pink elephant in it!) When I go into schools and run workshops or give author talks, I enjoy encouraging the children who, like me, love stories but struggle with writing or reading.
When I was growing up, my parents were part of an amateur dramatics group. I got involved, directing my first play at seventeen. After school, I went on to train as a stage manager before going to university, where I spent a lot of time working on productions with the student union theatre society – we took a couple of shows to the Edinburgh Fringe. After university, I set up a theatre company with some friends. We toured small-scale plays and created drama scripts for children’s holiday clubs. It was then that I started writing. Over the years, I’ve mainly written plays (I’ve written and toured about 25, I think). I’ve even written a couple of musicals. Books came later.
I’ve always had a romantic view of authors and the literary world, and I knew I wanted to have a go at writing a novel. In 2008, I decided the time had come, and I started to work on the first of the Firebird Chronicles. It was a practice to start with – I just wanted to have a go. I began to work with one of the stories I’d developed for the children’s holiday clubs – a story about two characters who lived in a world made of stories. A couple of years on, I knew I had to take it more seriously. The world had developed and the characters had deepened (they even had a name change). I received some positive feedback from a manuscript assessment, so I decided to send it to a publisher. To my surprise, the first publisher I sent the book to decided to take it on. Since then, I’ve been an author as well as a playwright and theatre director.
What did you like doing in school?
I loved escaping to the Craft, Design and Technology department in breaks and at lunchtime to make things. I guess that was one of the ways I expressed creativity at school. I always enjoyed a good project – I remember making and selling ginger beer in Chemistry lessons and creating a scrapbook about the local windmill. My other escape was the music rooms (I play the piano, trumpet, guitar, accordion and harmonica – all badly). And I loved it when we were finally allowed to play table tennis rather than rugby in Games lessons. I was never very sporty. Being able to partner with my girlfriend at the time was an added bonus! When I was in Sixth Form, I was a bit of a loner and used to listen to lots of music on my walkman (that dates me). I was into Bob Dylan and other old singer songwriters at the time, and often swapped records with my politics teacher!
At A-Level, I studied history, politics and economics, which may sound like a strange choice for someone who ended up being a writer, but I think those subjects interested me because they explore different understandings of how the world works, different ideas about what reality is like, and therefore how people act and live in the world. That interest in ‘big ideas’ led me to study Philosophy at university (after reading Jostein Gaarder’s, Sophie’s World, which had a big impact on me). I think that interest in the big questions of life definitely spills into my writing now and shapes my choice of genre.
How did you come up with the whole magical world in The Firebird Chronicles?
I had this picture of Fletcher and Scoop in my head. They were colourful characters and looked 2D, almost cartoon like. From there came the idea of them being story characters who were aware that they existed on the page, in a world of stories, not in our multidimensional world (with a seemingly Un-Crossable Boundary separating us). But then, I think there are things beyond our everyday experience too, other dimensions that we’re not always aware of, or that we have fleeting experiences of. So perhaps we’re more like Fletcher and Scoop than we realise. We’re thrown into this world with all its mystery and creativity and we’re trying to work it out; we’re trying to work out if there’s any meaning to it, or whether life is completely arbitrary. Pondering those sorts of questions is definitely part of the process of creating the world that the Firebird Chronicles is set in.
On a more practical note, I come up with a lot of ideas while walking. The various landscapes, shops and sites are often inspired by places I’ve visited. For instance, the Wild Guffaw Inn is inspired by an old Tudor manor house in Cheshire, called Little Moreton Hall, which has dangerously sloping floors and secret passages. If you get to go, do, it’s such a wonderfully atmospheric place. And then, of course, there are maps. Like most fantasy writers, I’ve had great fun constructing maps of Fullstop Island and the surrounding islands. All of these things have helped shape the world that you read about in the books.
What kind of books do you like to read?
As a child, I loved classic children’s literature – Peter Pan, Roald Dahl’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland. I don’t remember reading lots in my teenage years. There was a book called The Silver Pen, which I loved, but have no idea who wrote it. I also really enjoyed choose your own adventure books. Then, for a long time, I only read non-fiction. I read a lot of philosophy and theology. When I started to read fiction again, I gravitated to the sort of fantasy books I enjoy writing: the Harry Potter series, Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials and books like Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence or Umberto Eco’s Faucault’s Pendulum, which play with the boundaries between fiction and reality. Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed reading or re-reading the classics. I like a bit of YA too and am currently reading Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Series, which I’m loving.
What do you like to do other than writing?
Walking, driving my campervan to beautiful or interesting places, being involved in the local amateur theatre group (I also run my own professional theatre company, but with the amateur group there’s more emphasis on going to the pub!), going to the theatre, cinema or art galleries, eating out.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Well, every time I write is a struggle, until I get going. Writing isn’t something I find easy to start with. I’ll always exhaust everything else I have to do before I actually sit down and face the page (that age-old enemy, procrastination)! I’ve found it helpful to think about writing like walking: it’s one step at a time, and it can be a long, slow journey. I think, if you can relax and accept that, rather than pressure yourself, it helps. If I get a few good sentences down it’s a victory! On a bigger scale, not being able to write for an extended period isn’t something I’ve had to struggle with. For me, I think there are times to write, and then times to step back for a while (often if I know life is going to be particularly busy or stressful). So again, accepting that rhythm helps. Also, I think alternating between working alone and working with others can be helpful. For me, that involves moving between theatre productions and writing books. Working in a team is good because other people draw out your creativity, then returning to working alone is something to look forward to, an opportunity to refresh and deepen the inner resources you have to draw on when working in a team. I think they go hand in hand.
Finally, tell us a bit about your new book, The Nemesis Charm…
It’s the second book in The Firebird Chronicles series. The first book, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, came out in 2013. The Nemesis Charm continues the story of Apprentice Adventurers, Fletcher and Scoop. They train at a school called Blotting’s Academy, where all Story Characters go to be trained. The departments at Blotting’s Academy orbit around different types of story – so, for example, Apprentice Heroes train in the Department for Overcoming Monsters and Apprentice Spell-Shakers in the Department of Seasons. Fletcher and Scoop are part of the Department of Quests.
When the story starts, the two Apprentices are enjoying life. They’ve been at the Academy for a year – their Beginning year – and are just about to move into their Middle year. They’re well known and well liked at the Academy, almost having celebrity status because of their exploits in the first book. But all that is about to change. The Storyteller (the mysterious king of the island where Blotting’s Academy is based) has become aware of a sickness that is threatening Fletcher and Scoop’s world. It’s been slowly seeping through the sea, causing many in the surrounding islands to fall into a deep sleep, from which they cannot be woken.
The Storyteller has discovered that the sickness is spilling from a doorway that has opened up in the sea, a Threshold between worlds. He knows that if he is to save his own world, he must find somebody to cross that doorway, to reach the source of the sickness and bring it to an end. He knows that to send somebody on such a quest is tantamount to sending them into the mouth of death itself, but it has to be done. And the Storyteller has two people in mind for the task – two children. I’m sure you can guess who they are!
As you might have picked up, The Nemesis Charm (and the whole of The Firebird Chronicles series) is about stories. Stories are the magic in Fletcher and Scoop’s world. This second book in the series is about the battle to control the doorway through which the sickness is spilling. Whoever controls that doorway will control the story itself and will hold the destiny of that world in their hands.
Click the images below to buy Daniel’s books. The Nemesis Charm comes out tomorrow!