Happy Thursday, Book Dragons!
Today is my stop on the Blog Tour for The Book of Secrets! I’m really excited not have a Q&A with Alex Dunne to share with you all. My review will also be going up later today.
1. For those who aren’t familiar with it, can you tell us a little about The Book of Secrets?
The Book of Secrets is set around Halloween when the Trooping Fairies arrive back to their ancient fort near the town of Clonbridge for their annual revels, bringing all manner of chaos in their wake. When eleven-year-old Cat’s brother and next door neighbour are taken by the fairies and swapped for changelings, Cat must team up with her former best friend Shane to get them back before dawn on November 1st or they’ll be lost forever. Luckily, Cat has an advantage – she has the Sight, just like her Granny before her, which allows her to attune to the supernatural. She also has her Book of Secrets – the copybook that contains all of the knowledge her Granny passed down to her about fairies, ghosts and monsters.
2. Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
The inspiration for The Book of Secrets came from a number of places – from the myths and folklore tales I was told when I was young, from the slightly creepy books I was obsessed with as a child, and from real places near my hometown. The fairy fort featured in the book, the Green Rath, is based on a real ringfort called Mooghaun that’s a few miles away from the house I grew up in. I always say that it’s rare for stories to come to me as one big shiny idea, instead they usually build up over time from fragments of ideas that interest me and that was definitely the case here!
3. I love your choice of Fairies, how did you decide which ones to include in the book?
It was difficult because there are so many interesting creatures in Irish folklore and myth. I was spoiled for choice! I really wanted to try and bring together a mix of creatures readers may already be familiar with – like the Trooping Fairies and the Pooka, with ones that may be less familiar to them – like the Merrow and the Dullahan. I actually have a giant list of fairy creatures and other monsters that didn’t make the cut this time around… who knows, maybe I’ll get to write about them some day?
4. Do you have a favourite character from the books. If so, why are they your favourite?
Oh no, don’t make me choose! I love all my characters (but then, I would say that…). In terms of the fairy folk, I am especially fond of the Pooka because he was such fun to write. I love trickster characters like Loki and Anansi so I wanted my Pooka to fit that mold. In terms of human characters, I kind of have to go with Cat. She’s the kind of person I always wanted to be – she’s brave and loyal and she never gives up.
5. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I used to be a total pantser and that went badly for me. I would dive head first into a story and then write myself into a corner I couldn’t get out of. Over time, I’ve come to realise that a loose plot is best for me. I like to know all the big things that are going to happen and I DEFINITELY need to know how it ends, but I do like to give myself some wiggle room along the way.
6. You’ve also written short stories and radio plays. Did your approach to writing a full length book change?
When I write shorter pieces, I’m much more likely to pants it since I’m usually more interested in capturing a particular moment or feeling in my shorter work. When it comes to novel-length works, I do approach things differently. As I said above, I like to give myself a loose outline to work from to ensure I know exactly what I’m writing towards. One thing that doesn’t change is that I like to write the first draft of everything as a complete, no-holds-barred, word-vomit. I used to be the worst for self-editing but I’ve come to realise that it’s so easy to get stuck in a loop of trying to make something “perfect” and never progress. It’s much better for me if I just get the story out onto the page in as quick and messy a manner as possible. By having the loose outline, I at least know that it’ll broadly make sense and I can use subsequent drafts to make the story better.
7. What are the most important elements of good storytelling to you?
For me, the story always has to come from the characters. I love a good plot but if I don’t empathise with the characters I’ll be less invested.
8. We all love a good book recommendation, have you read any recently you would recommend?
I have a very eclectic taste in books and will read basically anything you put in my hands, but some recent favourites for adults include Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson and Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, for YA, I recently read and loved Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas and Boys Don’t Cry by Fíona Scarlett, and on the MG end of things, I’d recommend The Monsters of Rookhaven series by Pádraig Kenny and Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna.
9. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
There’s no such thing as perfect. For a long time, I would beat myself up because the story on the page wasn’t good as the story I’d idealised in my head. That led me to spend way too much time writing and re-writing the same chapters and scenes over and over and never finishing anything. It was only when I learned to let go that I was able to start finishing things. And then a funny thing happened – I was able to go back and make those finished things better. You can always improve your draft but you can’t edit a blank page. The first draft is only for you, so just tell your story and worry about making it sing later.
10. What are you working on next? (If you’re able to tell us).
I’m not under contract for anything just yet but I’m having a lot of fun drafting a few things including a YA novel about a descendent of Death who finds herself falling for the sister of the boy she’s meant to reap. It’s something that may never see the light of day, but I’m loving the feeling of writing something for the sheer joy of it. Writing is a lot of things – it’s sometimes painful and exasperating, but at the end of the day, it should also be fun.