As top kid-lit authors descend on Dubai for the Emirates Literary Festival, young readers quiz them on naughtiness, the whereabouts of camels and, er, how to make a snowman
Joseph Browning, 10, gives the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness author the third degree.
Chronicles of Ancient Darkness was full of details of fascinating mythical stories. How did you research the series?
Of course I’ve read a lot about the people of 6,000 years ago, but that’s only part of it. I want the reader to feel that they’re right there in Torak’s world, living the adventure with him, and to do that, I try as far as I can to experience what they do. For Wolf Brother, I rode through the forests of Finland, learning about tracking and forest. For Spirit Walker, I went to Greenland to see how the Inuit made kayaks and clothes from seal hides and I swam with wild killer whales in Arctic Norway. For Soul Eater, I went husky-sledding and met wild polar bears in Canada. Since then, I’ve climbed glaciers, tracked beaver and elk, and tried hard to avoid angering musk-oxen (which are like very furry bison, with uncertain tempers). While I was climbing a mountain for Ghost Hunter, I fell and bashed my cheekbone on a rock, which turned out to be extremely useful as I learned how Torak feels when it happens to him. The best fun has been making friends with wolves. I go to a wolf sanctuary where there’s a beautiful wolf named Torak whom I first met when he was a tiny ball of fluff. He’s my favourite.
Your characters are so imaginative. Are they inspired by ancient myths or are they entirely original?
The characters and beliefs in the stories are a blend of fact and imagination, and yes, I have been inspired by real myths. Take Torak’s enemies, the Soul-Eaters. Among many real hunter-gatherer cultures, there’s one person who’s in touch with the spirit world. Such people are called witch-doctors or shamans, and they mostly use their powers to cure the sick and see into the future. This gave me the idea for the Soul-Eaters; but then I made them evil, rather than good.
How many literary festivals have you been to and what do you enjoy most about them?
I’m afraid I’ve lost count. By far the best thing about festivals is meeting my readers. Sometimes they bring me photos of themselves dressed up as the characters, or of wolves, or drawings of scenes from the stories. Once, a boy gave me a beautiful flint knife that he’d made himself.
Which of your books have you most enjoyed writing and why?
That’s a bit like asking a parent which is their favourite child – in other words, impossible! If I had to choose, though, I’d say that it keeps changing, as it’s usually the book I’ve just finished, since it’s fresh in my mind, and yet all the hard work is over. So, right now, my sort-of favourite is Ghost Hunter.
What would you be if you were not an author?
Time Out Dubai,