We are very excited today to be part of this brilliant blog tour. There has been a lot of excitement for Andy Shepherd’s 5th book in this cracking series, so we invited our followers to suggest some questions for Andy to answer. I’m sure you’re going to love this fabulous insight into how Andy gets ideas, writes and hones her work. The top tips for the classroom at the end are great to share with your class.
What inspired you to write about dragons?
I’ve always loved dragons and when my sons were little we had a family dragon, who lived on our shed roof. He’d fly down and lift us out of traffic jams and follow us in the clouds when we went on walks. My sons often asked why he lived in our garden and where he had come from. So I started dreaming up answers. One day when I was walking past the allotments I thought ‘What if our dragon grew in there on a plant?’ It would have to be a pretty amazing plant. And on the way home I remembered there was something called a dragon-fruit tree. I looked it up and immediately knew it deserved to be in a story, because it is the most amazing-looking tree with huge moon-white flowers that only bloom for one night.
Did you know you were going to write a series before you started, or did it evolve as you wrote?
When I got my publishing deal it was for three books. So the original arc for the story that I had was always planned to run over those three books, culminating in The Boy Who Flew With Dragons. Then Piccadilly Press asked me to write more. I wasn’t sure about writing more books in the series at first, because I felt I’d completed that story arc and definitely didn’t want further books to feel tacked on. But when I was editing book three, I began to see story threads that I wanted to find out more about. Where had Arturo gone? What was going to happen to the dragon-fruit tree? And crucially what might it be like if the dragons came back, only this time fully grown? And then Aura came racing into the story and I knew there was so much more to tell. I found writing the fourth and fifth books so satisfying and I feel pleased that now it feels like the story was always there, just waiting to be told. I hope readers will enjoy where the adventure takes them. I had no idea the little story I started thinking about eight years ago would grow into a five book series, but I’m utterly delighted that it has.
Do you have a favourite in the series or did you enjoy writing one the most?
I loved writing the third book because at the time it was the culmination of a very long writing journey. The idea had started as a picture book eight years before and had been through so many changes over the years. But that original idea for the story arc stayed throughout. So it was wonderful to develop it and see it unfold in The Boy Who Flew With Dragons.
Now I think my favourite might be the fifth book, The Boy Who Sang With Dragons. I really wasn’t sure I could write more and I’m chuffed that I did and really happy with what it’s brought to the story overall. I love writing the moments with Tomas and Grandad, where he gently helps Tomas get to grips with what he’s feeling. Lolli always makes me laugh and it’s been so much fun getting to know Aura and seeing how her and Tomas’s friendship continues to grow. And of course I love spending time with the dragons. Zing and Flicker are brilliant fun to write and I will miss dreaming up new dragons to grow on the tree.
How did you keep track of all the details for consistency through the series?
I’m not a writer who has beautiful notebooks and I don’t use Scrivener or things like that to organize my writing. I tend to spend a lot of time dreaming about the idea and untangling things in my head. Then I’ll have scribbled notes and very untidy giant scrapbooks to jot things down in. When I start writing, I edit heavily as I go. Generally I do tend to keep most stuff in my head and am quite good at remembering details. (Even if while I’m writing, other things vacate my head to make room for them!) I also wrote books 2 & 3 concurrently, and then did the same with 4 & 5, so I was able to seed things along the way and move back and forth between the titles. I do end up doing a lot of rereading of my own books to make sure things are consistent going forward. But this just helps to immerse myself back into the story.
When you write, do you have ideas for what the characters sound like? How do you feel when you hear teachers reading with accents/voices different to how you envisaged?
I don’t really have definite ideas about how they might sound. Sometimes names are pronounced differently to the way I imagined they would be. For example, in my head, Aura is pronounced ‘Ow-ra’ nor ‘Or-ra’ which I often hear people saying. But I’m so used to watching film adaptations or listening to audiobooks, that I’m accustomed to having my perception of characters I’ve read change with actors and narrators.
The bottom line is I absolutely LOVE that the books are read aloud, and even more so when the characters are brought to life with voices!
Do you have any writing tips that teachers can model and share with their pupils?
- Be like Tomas in The Boy Who Grew Dragons and keep your eyes open! (You have to really, when you’re growing a dragon!) But you need your eyes open because stories are everywhere, the trick as a writer is to notice them.
And then once you’ve noticed them, get curious – one of the best ways to kick-start your writing is to ask questions.
The other day I spotted a rusty key left on the ground at a petrol station. It was just a key. But I couldn’t help wondering what it unlocked. A suitcase? A door? A safe? And what might be found inside? And what was going to happen to what was inside now the key was lost?
We are surrounded by ordinary things, but if you add some imagination and keep asking questions you never know where it will take you.
I like to go on what I call ‘Wonder Wanders’ and just look at ordinary things and ask myself ‘What if?’ What if I turned that lamp on and it transported me back into the past?
- The best way to become a writer is to immerse yourself in stories.
Just remember that there are many ways to access stories. It might be reading loads of wonderful books – and here I’d say that doesn’t have to be what other people think you should read. Read whatever it is you love. Because if you love it, you’ll naturally want to read more and more
But also, if you find reading hard, remember you can listen to books too – I listen to loads of audiobooks and borrow CDs from the library, and I love that way of accessing stories.
I also watch lots of films, a good film can tell you so much about creating a satisfying plot and characters.
- The next piece of advice is to keep all the ideas somewhere – a notebook, a jar of scraps of paper, your phone.
- Write the story that makes you excited.
- Write a lot – don’t settle for the first draft.
I never used to want to show my writing to anyone, in case they said something horrible about it. But if you are careful about who you show it to – someone you know who will be kind and give you useful feedback – this is when you can really step up a gear. Editing is a massive part of writing, every writer does it and every book you pick off a shelf has been through multiple stages of editing. Editing is where the real magic happens.
- The last thing I’d say is, get bored. And if you can, get outside.
Because when you have a bit of time and space, that’s when your brain starts inventing stuff to fill in the time.
That’s when ideas start whizzing about.
Thank you so much Andy for sharing this with us. It’s brilliant to get behind the scenes of a book and get some writing tips!
Do make sure you follow the rest of the blog tour: