Emirates Literature Festival 2020: A chat with Alwyn Hamilton

We catch up with the fantasy children's author ahead of her visit to Dubai

Emirates Literature Festival 2020: A chat with Alwyn Hamilton
Image Credit: Alexandra Cameron

Children's author Alwyn Hamilton is inviting kids 12 and over along to her fantasy-inspired session and workshop at the Emirates Festival of Literature.

We catch up with the Canadian writer ahead of her visit to Dubai to talk audio books, her life-long love of books and literary influences.

Plus, we get the lowdown on what's she got planned for her sessions. Read on...

Where does the inspiration come from for your books?
Usually it comes in bits and pieces, from things I see and notice in real life, or wonder about late at night, until eventually I have enough to make a whole story.

For instance, there is a chapter very early on in Rebel of the Sands, where a boy runs into a shop and asks the main character to hide him. That scene came to me years before I actually even started writing it. I get inspired just from seeing a brief frame in a movie. I didn’t know why the boy was running, or who he was, or why the girl would hide him… I just had the scene.

Then other bits and pieces sparked from other places: I was riding the train to work and had an idea for a scene of a girl on the run jumping off a moving train, I had an idea to write a sharpshooter girl after I saw someone on the internet arguing that it didn’t make sense for girls to wield swords in fantasy… All those little ideas all came together into one bigger story.

What books have influenced your writing?
Tamora Pierce’s Song of Loneliness quartet gave me my love of girls disguised as boys to have adventures; Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword was the first time I was obsessed with the magic of the desert; Sherwood Smith’s Court Duel gave me a fascination with courtly intrigue; Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo is a masterclass in fantasy world building and Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C Wrede taught me there could be fun and humour in epic fantasy.

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey, gave me a place to find awesome girls who had to find their strength… the list goes on!

Is there one book that stands out from your childhood?
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. It’s an amazing retelling of Cinderella. I had it on audio cassette as a kid and would play it over and over and over. I’m pretty sure I could have recited it from memory. It was my favourite book that I’d never actually read.

Your books are aimed at older kid and teens, how did you choose which age group to write for?
I think the story dictates who the audience is. With Rebel of the Sands I wanted to tell a story about a girl coming of age, which is what every teenage experience is like (even if most teens don’t come of age in the middle of a rebellion, while jumping off trains with princes in disguise).

Does it get harder to write the more books you publish, or easier?
A little bit of both? On one hand, after you’re published you feel way more pressure than when you were just writing on your own. Time pressure from your editors, pressure to meet reader expectations, pressure to not repeat the books you’ve already written.

On the other hand, once you’ve written one book, you’ve proved to yourself you are capable of finishing a book. So you know you can definitely do it again no matter how difficult it feels while you’re in the middle of it.

Have you always loved reading and writing from a young age?
I have! Even before I could read actually. When I was a toddler, my parents used to put books in my crib after I fell asleep, so that when I woke up in the morning I would be occupied for a little while so they could sleep in.

Apparently, I would wake up, flip through the first book page by page, then toss it out of my crib when I was done, and move on to the next one, until I had run out of books and it was time to yell to wake up my parents. I have been an avid book reader ever since.

Which character from your own books are you most like?
I don’t know that I’m tough enough to be like any of my characters (I definitely wouldn’t survive crossing a whole desert on foot), but lots have bits and pieces of me. The one who has the most might be Lotte, from my next book The Notorious Virtues – although I’m not a mind reader like her.

What can kids expect from your session?
I think the idea of being a writer, or writing a whole book can seem daunting to kids who see finished books on the shelf.

In my sessions I like to explain some of the process of writing, tell kids that don’t have to have any particular degree in order to be an author (writers can come from anywhere and everywhere!).

And we’ll do a world building exercise together to spark their creativity and show them one way to start off a story idea.

Hamilton will be inviting kids along to two sessions during the Emirates Literature Festival.
Dhs99 (building a fantasy world workshop, aimed at kids 12-14). Fri Feb 7, 11am-12pm. Dhs39 (a fantastical writing conversation, aimed at kids over 12). Sat Feb 8, 4.30pm-5.30pm. Emirates Festival of Literature InterContinental, Dubai Festival City, www.emirateslitfest.com (04 355 9844).

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