I want to do something a bit different today. My new book The Boggle Hunters, a fantasy adventure novel for kids aged 8-12 has just come out this month in Australia (Scholastic Press Australia) and I want to talk about the sheer magic of creating this book and the fun I’ve had creating a new updated form of such traditional motifs as fairies, the granting of three wishes, supernatural beasties, and the like. I’ve always had a great love of traditional fairy and folk stories and have been steeped in them since my earliest childhood, and I always recommend them to writing groups and individual beginner writers as a wonderful source of ideas. But I’m also a great fan of refreshing and updating those traditional motifs, and I thought describing a little my experience with this book may be a helpful, concrete way to demonstrate how you can do it.
The Boggle Hunters began with one of those truly magical moments when all of a sudden something comes to you out of the blue, and you just know it’s something you want to follow! I was in Sydney, walking down a street near the big central railway station, in an area that’s rather shabby, when I saw a little shop that had been closed for some time—the window was very dusty, there were dead flies in the corners of it, it looked very unpromising, down at heel, even a bit seedy. At that moment just as I was passing a stray ray of sunlight hit the window and there were all these glittery little motes of dust dancing in the air and suddenly, I saw it as a Fay hang-out—in fact, those were the exact words that came to my mind, this is a Fay hang-out, even though I didn’t know what the Fays were yet, exactly, I knew they’d be magical beings. But as I walked up the road, there they were taking shape in my mind like forms appearing out of the mist. And there too were the Grays, their enemies (it’s an update in a way of the ‘seelie’ and ‘unseelie’ fairy courts of Scottish folklore) and I thought, yes, there’s a kind of secret war going on, always has been, these rival magical tribes battling it out in the human world over hordes of supernatural pests, the boggles (the name’s taken from folklore, but I’ve greatly expanded their nature and forms). And there too were the boggle hunters, human allies of the Fays who are kept very busy tracking down and capturing the hordes of boggles bred by the Grays and released into our world. And opposing them are the sneaks, who work for the Grays and try to frustrate the efforts of the boggle hunters..
It was so weird, like the idea had just been waiting for me to pass that shabby shop-front and for the ray of sunlight to hit, and suddenly, like a magic wand had been waved, there it was, a whole world unfolding in front of my eyes! (I might add that caught in the grip of this exciting idea, I walked blocks and blocks past my actual destination and had to retrace my steps!)
Very shortly after arrived my main characters, cousins Sam and Jenny,who’ve never had much to do with each other as cousins, living at opposite ends of the world as they do (Jenny in Britain, Sam in Australia.) Jenny knows all about boggle-hunting, she goes out boggle-hunting with her parents, but because Sam’s dad turned his back on boggle-hunting (he now works as a biologist), Sam knows nothing about the family business. He is however a very very skilled player of computer games and he’s mortified because he’s been sent to stay with his cousin’s family and know they don’t even have a computer! What sort of people are these? Well, he’s about to find out as in the plane on the way over to London, he finds himself lured into a most extraordinary computer game. I wrote the chapters alternating between Sam’s and Jenny’s point of view, which worked really well, having the different strengths and weaknesses of the characters playing off each other. It’s also a really good way of telling a story as not only can you jump to a different point of view but also you can advance the plot in a really exciting way, because neither character knows what the other’s doing!
Another thing I much enjoyed was creating the Fay technology which is an update of fairies’ traditional powers. One of my favourites is an item called an ‘Iwish card’ which is basically a modern version of the three wishes idea. It too came to me in a flash–I wanted there to be three wishes involved, and like a gift voucher but more fun, and I thought of all those things like Ipods and Iphones and such and so the whole thing combined beautifully. The IWish is a card that comes in three varities—silver, gold, platinum—depending on the quality of the wishes involved, and exactly how the Fays want to reward people. In look, it’s something like a credit card but with an interactive menu, with wishes encoded into the card itself. (There’s a selection, but all carefully controlled.) There’s a fun chapter when Jenny tries to use her silver IWish to get what she wants, but has to think laterally too. And then there’s the glammer, which is the Fay tool of surveillance, communication, ‘cleaning up’ of problem areas etc, like a kind of super-efficient smartphone with a lot more features than any smartphone ever will have (I suppose!). There’s others too, such as the wallflys, Fay ‘bugs’ used in surveillance.
To give a bit of background on the whole world, I also created extra things, such as a newspaper article at the beginning, warning of a ‘coming boggle crisis’ and an extract from ‘Dr Rosie Rowan’s Encyclopedia of Boggles,’ which I made all up but with bits and pieces of ideas from traditional folklore—black dogs, for instance are often found as supernatural beasts, and words like ‘skriker’ come from folklore. I have a wonderful book called A Dictionary of Fairies by Katharine Briggs and that has just hundreds and hundreds of weird and wonderful magical beasts and people in it, so plenty of inspiration to create your own.
For those interested, I have a trailer up for Boggle Hunters on my You Tube channel.
Have you updated any traditional motifs in your fiction? Please share your thoughts in comments!
Image by inharmony88.