As a shy child, I devoured books. They let me escape. They let me be brave, adventurous and sometimes a little bit naughty. Enid Blyton’s books were my favourite – ‘The Faraway Tree’ series being my favourite of all. I read, re-read and read again. I never tired of them.
When I was shooed out by my mum, the solitary crab apple tree with its fairy door halfway up the trunk, that stood in the bottom of our garden, provided endless stories and imaginary play for the young me. I would scrunch my eyes closed and tap on the door three times. I would be transported to the fairy kingdom, gossamer wings sprouted on my own back. I didn’t just play being a fairy, I was a fairy.
I loved listening to traditional folktales in school. Overlooking the town where I grew up stands Cader Idris, and the tale tells of a giant who sat on the top of this mountain, guarding the town. I would gaze up at the mountain and see him, sitting there with knee-high boots.
My school reports always told of a painfully shy me who had a vivid imagination. I would write stories about fairies and giants and witches and wisps.
When I re-discovered writing as an adult, I worried that I hadn’t travelled the world and experienced a variety of cultures. I worried that without such experiences, my writing would be bland and unoriginal. But then I realised that Wales is a bubbling cauldron of tales of tylwyth teg and the bwca, drowned cities under the sea and magical lakes. It has dramatic landscape. It has as much of an abundance of stories as it has raindrops. It has magic.
My debut book, Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners, is a contemporary fantasy story for 7-9 year olds. The story begins with the arrival of a mysterious black cat at Number 32, Ty Mynydd Close, leading 9 year-old Grace-Ella to make the shocking discovery that she is a witch. The idea for the story began when the name ‘Grace-Ella’ leapt into my mind as I was driving to work one morning. I executed a spectacular left turn into a layby and came to a skidding stop as I fumbled frantically in my bag for my notebook. With its sprinkling of spells and potion commotions, the story is one I would have loved as a child. I am currently writing a sequel and am thrilled to be back in Grace-Ella’s magical world.
My story for younger readers (5-7 years) is about a magic mirror in the back of a hat shop, which has again been influenced by my childhood reading. I have another young MG story, which has been strongly influenced by the landscape where I grew up and the folktales about giants that kept me staring in wide-eyed wonderment as my teacher read during wet playtimes.
People talk about writing ‘what you know’ and I think that this is true. I may not ‘know’ any fairies or giants or witches or wisps, and I have never been fortunate enough to find a magic mirror to transport me to other worlds, but I do know which stories I loved as a child and I do know which stories get me excited and leave me breathlessly wanting more. Three recent examples of this have been ‘Stonebird’ by Mike Revell, ‘In Darkling Wood’ by Emma Carroll and ‘The Dreamsnatcher’ by Abi Elphinstone. These magical stories kept me turning the pages and lingered in my mind long after I turned the final page.
Someone once asked me what I’ll do when I run out of ideas for stories. I just smiled. For whilst the Earth still turns, there will always be stories whispered in the gentle rustle of leaves, dancing on sparkling sunbeams, glistening on gossamer cobwebs or hidden in a crescent’s moon glowing earthshine … you just have to open your eyes and ears to the magic.
“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Roald Dahl
Hwyl am y tro x