1. Where do you get your inspiration?
This sets me thinking, what is inspiration? Sometimes I think people imagine a writer sitting at a laptop with a light bulb over her head labelled ‘inspiration’. Suddenly the light is switched on and she starts writing. But it really isn’t like that, although the light bulb of inspiration would no doubt make life easier. The reality is that you have to sit and think and write, think some more, then write some more. There is, however, something in the very act of writing that can – on a good day – access things that surprise the writer, and I think this is what people often think of as inspiration.
2. What things have influenced your writing?
I expect a lot of things have influenced me without me realising it. One of the things that I do know has influenced me is the landscape in Cornwall, England, where I used to live. This played a big part in some of the settings for Septimus Heap. The mud at the end of the creek where I lived influenced the Marram Marshes. The hustle and bustle of the little fishing villages in Cornwall played its part in the Port too. The Castle is probably based on an amalgamation of the various castles in England I have visited, with a lot of wishful thinking added on.
3. Why have you spelled some words in the Septimus Heap series in a different way?
When I first wanted to write about magic, I realised that I did not like the way the word looked. It reminded me of embarrassing magicians wearing fake moustaches and doing tricks with handkerchiefs and pulling coins out of people’s ears – not a good image. But I loved the old way of spelling magic: Magyck. I thought that was so much more mysterious and powerful, and gave magic back its dignity. So I took that spelling and changed it just a little to make it belong especially to Septimus’s world. And then I carried on doing that with words relating to Magykal and supernatural things. Many of the different spellings in Septimus Heap are in fact the old way of spelling these words.
Before spelling became standardised, people would often spell words how they chose to, sometimes in different ways in the same sentence. They would often put an ‘e’ on the end of words or use a ‘y’ instead of an ‘i’. This is what I do too.
4. Where do you like to write?
Somewhere quiet! Since I got my room sorted out in our new house I can retreat there, light the fire and write. I also like to write on our boat, Annie. Even though Annie spends most of the time moored up on a pontoon in a boatyard she is on the water and I love to feel in touch with the tide as it goes up and down. Also a big plus about writing on a boat is that no one knows where you are!
5. What led you to become an author?
I love books and I love reading. I went to art school and when I graduated I began illustrating books for very young children. It took a while for me to realise that I could write too, but eventually I began to write and illustrate books for older children. I had the idea for Septimus Heap in my mind for a very long time, and I knew I needed time to think about it and to write it. And when I did at last get the time, I felt that I finally had worked out how to be an author.
6. Where do you get your ideas from?
I think writers are like magpies and gather all kinds of things together over the years, so who can say where things come from? Maybe from history, things that have happened to me, from where I live, from all kinds of things that I have seen or thought about – and probably from daydreaming! The idea for Septimus Heap felt like it had always been there and was just waiting for me to write it. I do find that ideas come to me when I am actually writing, and sometimes it feels as though the characters themselves create the ideas. Spooky but true…
7. Where did you get the idea for the Septimus Heap series?
Long before I actually wrote the series I had the idea in my head. I knew that it was about a baby found in the snow, and also about growing up and finding out who you really are. I kept thinking about it until one day I realised that if I didn’t actually sit down and write, no one would ever know about it. So that is what I did. I wrote about all the kinds of places I would like to live in and all the kinds of people I would love to meet.
8. Do you base your characters in the book on real people?
No, it would be difficult to base a character on a real person because I don’t think I could never know enough about that person to write about them in the way I want to. I suspect that characters come from all different sources: some are probably aspects of myself, some are maybe facets of people I have known and some are just the kinds of people I would like to meet – except, of course, in the case of Hunter, who I would definitely not like to meet.
9. How do you think up the story?
I already have the characters jumping up and down, wanting to be written about. This helps a lot. I also know the kind of world they live in, which helps too. With Septimus I do have an overall basic plan for the series, so each book needs to fit into that, although only loosely. For each individual book I begin with a basic outline, which has the beginning and the ending and some important events along the way, then I start writing and let the characters take over. I try to live in the book and get really involved with it – that way things can surprise me too.
10. Which, of all the books you have written, is your favourite?
That is rather like asking a mother which child she loves the best! The answer is, I really don’t have a favourite – each one means something different to me.
11. What is your working day like?
When I am working on a book I write first thing in the morning and I try to write 1000 words a day. Each Septimus Heap book is about 100,000 words long so even my rubbish maths can work out that it is at least 1000 days writing, which is a lot. I enjoy writing both Septimus and Araminta, but do not write them at the same time as they each have a very different feel. When I have written about 1000 words, I’ll stop and have a break. In the afternoon there will usually be other things to do like answering letter and emails and general stuff like that. Then I will take some more time to read over what I have written and revise it a little if it is a difficult bit. I am always amazed at where the time goes…
12. What were your favourite books when you were a kid?
When I was a kid there were fewer books for children than there are now. I liked anything with adventure and history in it. I enjoyed reading all the classics, like Treasure Island, The Borrowers, Alice in Wonderland, Robinson Crusoe and all kinds of myths and legends, like the stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Also books by Enid Blyton, E. Nesbit and Rosemary Sutcliff.
13. Why don’t you illustrate your books?
Mark Zug, who illustrates Septimus Heap, and Jimmy Pickering, who illustrates Araminta Spook, do it much better than I ever could. Also, having someone who is not the author illustrate a book does add something extra, and both Mark and Jimmy bring another wonderful dimension to the books. My style of illustration is suitable for books for very young children.
14. Did you always want to be an author?
When I was a kid, I never thought I could possibly be an author. But I always loved reading and the more books I began to read, the more I began to wonder if I could write one. Because I loved books I went to art school to study illustration with the idea of illustrating my books for a living. This is what I did and eventually I began to write the text to accompany my illustrations, and gradually I learned how to write. It took a long time, but when I wrote the first few chapters of Septimus Heap I knew at last that I had worked out how to do it.
15. Who are your favourite and least favourite characters?
I suppose I feel particularly close to Septimus, Jenna and Beetle, also Marcia and Nicko, but I do really like most of them. Some are a little annoying, like Merrin, who – however hard I try – just will not get himself together. However, if they were real people I would not particularly like to spend a lot of time with Jillie Djinn (she is so irritating), or the Hunter for that matter.
3. Please describe the Ordinary Wizards’ robes.
They are long ankle-length tunics, not ground-sweeping. The robes are provided by the Wizard Tower wardrobe department, but some of the more fashion conscious Wizards get theirs made at Bott’s Bespoke, an offshoot of Bott’s Cloaks. Surprisingly (maybe not) more... far more men than women Wizards do this. The blue is a pale blue, kind of sky-blue, which fades because the dye is a vegetable dye. Some of the older Wizards’ robes can look almost white in bright sunlight. In the winter they wear a long cloak of blue wool and some of those who feel the cold get it lined with fur at Bott’s Bespoke. The robes are fastened around the middle with an Ordinary Wizard silver belt. This is a larger version of the Apprentice belt with a fancy clasp in the front and a lot more space to keep Charms. It also has a hidden pocket. Most Wizards wear lace-up boots. No one dares wear anything to compete with Marcia’s shoes. Apprentice robes are made from green cloth, which also fades. New Apprentices are known as caterpillars due to the initial brightness of the cloth. Apprentice robes and cloaks are shorter, they are worn with leggings and boots in the winter, and in the summer with sandals.
4. Where would you like to live in the Castle?
I think I would like to live on Wizard Way so that I could see all the interesting things going on... opposite the Manuscriptorium would be good. Or maybe one of the little narrow houses built into the Castle Wall, which have attic windows that look out across the Moat to the Forest. I would particularly like one of the really old ones that have a secret door through the Walls down to the Moat (some even have their own boathouse).
5. Do you really have a boat called Muriel?
When I wrote Magyk I did. Now Muriel belongs to one of my daughters and lives of Bryher on the Isles of Scilly. You can even hire her from Bennet’s Boatyard there if you like sailing. Muriel is lovely; she is a Clovelly Picarooner, built by Martin Heard. She is 16 feet long, gaff rigged with red sails.
6. I found this Charm in the Wizard Tower, what is it for?
“One hot, one cold,
One red, one gold."
I think this is something to do with the Queen, because red and gold are the Queen’s colours. I suspect it may be used in making the ruby ring that Magykally appears when a Queen is crowned. I believe the Alchemists used to do this but now the ExtraOrdinary Wizards have taken over the job. Marcia, however, will not comment. N.B. The questioner did not specify what the Charm was made of but I am assuming it was a tiny, thin circle of gold with the words inscribed around the outside.
7. Would you risk eating Mrs Gringe’s stew?
No. Absolutely not.