Recently we asked our audience why it’s important for children to read fantasy. The response was overwhelmingly positive and there were so many different responses such as escape from everyday life and fuelling their own imaginary worlds. Why do you think fantasy is so important?
Great question. I think it fires the imagination, and lets us project ourselves into different worlds, where anything is possible yet so many of the human foibles are the same. In many ways, the fantasy element can be a metaphor – what makes us human, what drives us, what would you do if you were tested to the limit, had ultimate power etc. Aside from that, for me, it’s a great escape – and I still think, if there aren’t dragons, are you even trying? Grin.
Magic, super powers, witches and wizards this makes up so much of the imaginary worlds of children. After writing adult books for many years, what was it that drew you to writing about this world?
I started writing for children first really. I was always drawn to magical worlds – from the youngest age. The first time The Faraway Tree was read to me as a child, it was like I was hit by an electric current. The world of Starfell has existed in some form or another since I was about nineteen. The character of Willow Moss and her story came about seven years ago and I tried to get an agent for that with little success. Then when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was the first time I turned to writing non-fantasy. My mother recovered, and with my friend’s encouragement I self-published it on Amazon as a way to prove to myself that I could finish a story and have it published. The goal was always to go back to my first love – children’s fiction, though. Except that my women’s fiction book did quite well and this then led to a three-book deal offer and then to a further three books – I became a women’s fiction author quite by accident really! But I do enjoy it. Still I couldn’t quite let Starfell go, so I kept trying to get an agent and in 2017 I finally did, and this led to a book deal in 2018, and it’s great to be able to do both!
Willow Moss has an ability to find things, and while she doesn’t initially think it’s a skill that’s useful, we think it would be very handy in every day life. Is this a power that you need in your life?
This would be so useful. Mainly because my middle name could easily be disorganised. I’m always losing things and spend most days in search of my keys, wallet, shoes, and … sanity.
In your blog you describe being a monsterphile and that you loved creating new monsters for Starfell – can you give us some insight into how you come up with these characters – what is it that sparks these ideas?
I love creating weird and wonderful characters, they are one of my absolute favourite parts of writing and I really want them to feel as real as possible, even if they’re only on the page for a short while. I’m drawn to quirky things and I have a ridiculous funny bone which can’t help itself, which I think helps things along. I was writing the scene when Willow must pack a bag for the first time she is ever going to leave the cottage for a night away and started thinking what would be really funny for her to take? Which was when her best friend, the monster from under the bed, Oswin, appeared.
Sometimes it’s the scene or the world that inspires things. I always wanted to include a dragon, but when I started to write about these floating cloud mountains, he became a feathered cloud dragon….
Aside from creating fantastical characters, what was your favourite part of writing Starfell?
I really enjoy adding new territories and things to the world and exploring how the magic will work or how different populations in the world live. I also enjoy being subversive, and playing with stereotypes, for instance having a fearsome witch who has a broom that has twin flame throwing engines called ‘The Business.’ Also as magic doesn’t run freely in the world, I enjoy creating devices that help them tap into more of Starfell’s magic.
Finally, the parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians who follow Better Reading Kids are always looking for new book ideas, so could you share with us your favourites from childhood and why?
Definitely! My favourite books growing up were L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. The main character Anne Shirley was a sensitive child, prone to babbling and daydreaming, and I related to her so much, especially the way she felt things so deeply. I adored Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. It’s everything I love in a book, a magical portal to another time, history, friendship and gardens. The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton – I think if there was one series I wish I’d created it was this, I’ll never forget being introduced to this as a child. I think the idea of the natural world and magic captivated me ever since. I had to have my own magical tree in Starfell as a nod to this! I loved The Secret Garden by Frances Hogson Burnett, for similar reasons. I also adored, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, particularly The Wee Free Men books, which was a big inspiration for Starfell.
Born in South Africa, Dominique Valente now lives in the Sussex countryside with her husband and their English Bulldog, Fudge. She writes bestselling women’s fiction under her pseudonym, Lily Graham, and is a former journalist for publications like Business Day and Woman & Home.