We had the great pleasure to interview S.A. Patrick about his new book ‘A Darkness of Dragons’ – which is a fabulous piece of fiction. Check out our review if you need some clarification! This book is going to explode onto the scene and help to prop up a generation of children and young people who are desperately searching for the next great literary series…don’t miss out!
What was your earliest engagement with literature?
The earliest books I remember were A Fly Went By and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The first time my reading really exploded, though, was with the Target Doctor Who novelisations when I was eight. I couldn’t get enough of them.
If you could have written one children’s book (by another writer) from your childhood what would it be and why?
Green Eggs and Ham, I think. It’s a perfect little book.
When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
At eight or nine years old, my favourite thing at school was writing stories. I’ve always spent more time daydreaming than, well, anything else! It’s never been so much wanting to be a writer, as knowing I am one; whether or not I could ever make a living from it seemed beside the point.
Who are some of your favourite children’s authors and why?
I think I went straight from Dr Who and Terrence Dicks to a love of adult horror and SF – Terry Pratchett, Stephen King and Clive Barker especially. I missed out on plenty of great children’s books at the time. Very few of the books we were made to read at school stayed with me, simply because being forced to read something immediately made me dislike it. Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Jill Paton Walsh’s The Dolphin Crossing, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm broke through that barrier though, with
Weirdstone in particular making a big impact on me.
Could you explain A Darkness of Dragons in one sentence to someone who’s never heard of it?
Set in a world where Pipers are a magical force for good, and the Pied Piper of Hamelyn has been locked away for his crimes, it tells the adventures of a young Piper and his friends.
The Pied Piper of Hamelyn was a favourite story of mine when I was little, when did your love affair with this start and did you set out with an initial retelling and then the story grew from that to incorporate this huge world you have deftly created?
I always loved it. There’s a sense of magic and mystery to it, and it’s based on something that really happened seven hundred years ago, although we’ll never know exactly what that was. The initial idea was of a world where the Hamelyn Piper was a bad apple, and magical Pipers were commonplace. Soon enough, I knew I wanted to find out what really happened to the children of Hamelyn, and why the Piper did what he did.
A Darkness of Dragons is magnificent ‐ how long did the book take you to write (including your planning) and what were some of the specific ups and downs?
Eighteen years! I first thought of it in late 2000 and put it aside in 2004, when I started on what became my first published novel, adult horror‐thriller Reviver. Once the Reviver trilogy was completed, getting back to Patch, Wren and Barver was a wonderful feeling. Then my first draft came in at (cough) 120 thousand words, which is a bit big for a debut children’s book… Working out how to cut it down to size was hard! The highlight has been giving it to my nine‐year‐old son, who’s going through his own reading explosion,
and seeing how much he loved it.
A Darkness of Dragons has so much depth to it, the regiments of the pipers, the various wars / battles, the creatures it all reminded me of the magnitude of the Wizarding world that J.K. Rowling created and the huge world that J.R.R. Tolkien had produced, do you have all of this mapped out, are there more lands and things that we are yet to discover, and battles to be waged against many varied
The maps to the world and its inhabitants are like maps in a dream ‐ I know the shape of things, but the details shift every time I look. Bit by bit it gets locked down in words. Certainly, there are other lands ‐ whole continents! ‐ that haven’t even been hinted at yet, and we’ll be seeing some of those soon…
With a Game of Thrones and the many other dragon based books and shows that are hitting the screens I enjoyed how your vision of Dragons bucks this trend, they are completely different, how did you go about creating a new kind of dragon and all the variations of this breed – did you feel you needed to distance yourself from all that went before?
The key question is whether a dragon can talk ‐ is it a wild animal, or an intelligent individual? The dragons in Darkness are a civilised and intelligent race, which dictates much about them. We’ll learn more about what makes them tick in the next book.
Which of your three main characters (Patch, Wren & Barver) was the best to write, or which one did you have most fun with as each of them go on a fabulous journeys in this book?
I don’t have a favourite. They’re all great company, and if I did try and pick between them they’d be really annoyed.
Where did you draw your inspiration for the magical items that are discovered and used throughout the book?
It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Some of them have very specific inspirations, but I’ll let people figure them out for themselves!
This is the first book of the series, how far along in the creative process did you realise it would be a series and do you know how far this series will roll?
I always knew there was plenty of scope for a series, and trilogies are a very natural way to organise a story, so that’s where I started. Saying that, there’s far too much to fit it all into three books…
The book is really cinematic, I could picture all of this in my head and thought how amazing it would look on the big screen, when writing do you think about how things may look on screen or are you solely invested in creating an immersive world for your reader?
My goal is to immerse the reader, and make the world as vivid in their minds as possible, so they can just lose themselves in the story. If I get that right, then the cinematic feeling is what comes naturally ‐ the reader is doing most of that themselves! I do try and think cinematically, because the shorthand of cinema is useful to take advantage of, but really I just want to make the book exciting to read.
You have some marvellous and huge set pieces in A Darkness of Dragons which of these was your favourite to write – without giving away too many spoilers?
Wren facing the dragonhound. It was one of the first things I wrote, and it’s essentially the same as it was eighteen years ago. Seeing it in the final book is very satisfying.
If you had some advice for a young writer interested in writing children’s fiction what would it be?
Tell a great story, and leave out the boring bits!
If you could set one piece of homework for children interested in creative writing what would it be and why?
Spend an hour daydreaming, and write down your daydream in one sentence. I think that writing ‐ or the kind of writing I do, at any rate ‐ is really about sharing your best daydreams with other people. So, you need to practice the daydreaming part, as well as the writing part.
What’s next for the Songs of Magic series and for Patch, Wren and Barver and when can we expect the next instalment, we are so excited about seeing where you are going to take us and exploring your fabulous world?
The next instalment is coming next year. I can’t say much, but we’ll get to see more of the dragons, and we’ll finally meet some griffins…
Quick Fire Questions
Dragons or Griffins?
Dracogriffs, of course.
Wizards or Pipers?
Fire breathing Dragon or Ice Breathing Dragon and why?
Fire. Making things hotter is easier than making things colder, as stuff creates heat when it burns, and the things you’re burning create even more heat. Ice‐breathing dragons are at a big disadvantage.
The Hamlyn Piper or Lord Voldemort?
The Hamelyn Piper!
J.K. Rowling or J.R.R. Tolkien?
Harry Potter or Game of Thrones (books)?
What’s the best part of writing a book?
Spending most of your time daydreaming!
What’s the worst part of writing a book?
When a book is nearly finished, and you have to keep rereading it. Each time, you have a terrible fear that you’ll discover that there’s something badly broken about it…
What is the best sandwich?
Cold potato and mayo. I may be in a minority on that.
A Darkness of Dragons is published by Usborne and is available here.
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