Lucinda Hare was born in Edinburgh and spent her childhood in rural East Lothian, where she spent much of her time roaming the beaches and woods. When she was eleven she was introduced to The Lord of the Rings, which combined her own passions for history, legend and fantasy. The characters at the heart of her bestselling children's fantasy, The Dragon Whisperer, are dragons with their own language and character that owe the inspiration for their names to Native American culture. The Dragon Whisperer has been shortlisted for the 2010 Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books (Young readers 8-11) and Fantasy Book Review spoke to Lucinda shortly after the announcement.
Note: The wonderful illustrations that accompany this interview are used by kind permission of Lucinda Hare.
Congratulations on being shortlisted for the 2010 Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children's Books. Is this nomination just that extra bit special as the awards are decided entirely by children and young people in schools and libraries across Scotland?
Thanks! Yes, it is tremendously exciting that it is Scottish children who chose the shortlist and who will be voting. The world of the Dragonsdome Chronicles derives much of its inspiration from Scotland, and has a distinctive Scottish twist to the story, so yes, it is very special to have been shortlisted for the Royal Mail Awards.
In what ways did your own experiences with animals inform the writing of The Dragon Whisperer?
Animals are at the heart of my life and The Dragon Whisperer. I have loved animals all my life, from earwigs to elephants. Although I have chosen to write about fictional dragons, they are intended to represent all animals in our world, and to give those animals a voice. How we relate to animals - the unconditional love and companionship they give - is a central theme of The Dragon Whisperer. This theme and its darker side is continued in book two: Flight to Dragon Isle - animal lovers will need to get the tissues out! Our rescued animals also provide inspiration for specific dragons - stroppy Two Gulps is inspired by our huge temperamental cat Rufus, who has buckets of attitude and is only handled by me. Chasing the Stars reflects the temperament of my gentle little cat Chinook.
Two of the dragons in the book are 'Two Gulps' and 'Chasing the Stars'. Which of these would you fly with (and why)?
That is a difficult choice. Battledragons are the equivalent of modern fighter jets and helicopters, and I have always been passionate about Harrier jump jets and Apache Longbow helicopters. On the other hand, Chasing the Stars is such a loving gentle dragon, and has a wicked sense of humour... Do I really have to choose?
How did you come up with the character of Quenelda? Did she spring from your imagination or was she based on something/someone from real life?
Quenelda reflects much of my personality and many of my aspirations. Unfortunately being afflicted by short-sightedness and travel sickness, I can only dream of what it is to be a pilot. Quenelda lives that dream. She is also passionate about animals, unconventional, and challenges existing behaviour and attitudes.
Will The Sorcerers Glen, which is related to the Dragonsdome Chronicles but set in modern times, or Catastrophe, a story about a Scottish wildcat with buckets of attitude, ever find their way to publication?
I am hoping so. I wrote both stories as part of the process of teaching myself how to write for younger readers. I think it's an on-going learning process for me still, and so I would need to go back to both books; but I think fans of The Dragonsdome Chronicles would love The Fifth Dimension series, the first being The Sorcerers Glen. The Sorcerers Glen gave me many of the ideas for The Dragonsdome Chronicles, and Catastrophe, the feisty opinionated wild cat who narrates the story of the same name, led naturally to my talking dragons, although this story is aimed at younger readers.
Scotland has a history of providing fine children's authors: J. M. Barrie, Kenneth Grahame and the man who greatly influenced C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, to name but a few. Has being Scottish had a large bearing on your work as an author and have any of the above mentioned authors been a major influence?
Funnily enough the two Scottish authors who most influenced me as a young reader were Dorothy Dunnett with her rich vibrant historical novels, and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, and his battles against the dark underside of society. One of the first books I remember reading and wanting to own, was The Hound of the Baskervilles.
How many times have you now read The Lord of the Rings and does it still provide the same reading pleasure as it did the very first time?
I have read Lord of the Rings more times than I could count. It is one of my comfort books that I dip into frequently late at night before I go to sleep. I have numerous copies about the house, two of which have quite literally fallen apart through constant use. I can't ever imagine tiring of Middle Earth.
Random House are arguably the biggest book publishers in the UK. How did your partnership begin – did you send in a manuscript to them or did they make first contact?
It's a rather unusual story. Due to the number of aspiring writers every publisher and agent has quite rigid submission guidelines and in the case of the former, very few these days accept unsolicited manuscripts. Convention says you have to get an agent who does that initial filtering and knows which publisher to target. I went through the list of agents from A to Z and no one wanted me. Then I was lucky enough to learn the name of a senior editor with Macmillans Children's books. Believe it or not, but given the number of submissions, you are often asked to sell your story in as little as a paragraph! That is a pretty tough call! Nothing venture nothing gain! I gave it my best shot, and I then got the phone call every aspiring author waits for - “Are world rights available?” and I said, yes, anything you want!! Before anything was signed my senior editor moved to Random House, and I moved with her. I still don't have an agent.
What does your pet count currently amount to?
Our current pet count is two dogs, four cats, six rabbits, two guinea pigs and five battery hens, and one free-range wood mouse with half a tail. They come from rescues and shelters far and wide, and sometimes are brought to the door. Because we take in old and ill animals we often lose them all too soon, and so numbers constantly vary. At the most we've had 24, including a house hen, Feisty who used to roost amongst the soft cuddly toys around the house. We are about to take a dog (or maybe two) from Romania, where sadly animals suffer appalling cruelty and have little protection under the law.
What does the remainder of 2010 hold for Lucinda Hare?
I'm working on book three: Dragon Lords Rising, along with quite a lot of illustrations. I love the contact with fans, and spend quite a lot of time in correspondence, the largest number living in Australia. Health permitting, I am hoping to be able to get out there and meet some of those Scottish school children, and of course my husband and four-legged family keep me busy!
The Grand Master sat back in his chair with his blue eyes closed and sent a small prayer earthwards. The White Sorcerer had returned a little after the hour of the sabre-toothed rabbit, having encountered difficulties no greater than an ageing broom; but the news he brought was the worst possible; their fears justified; the WarLock known as the Black Raven for his totem had indeed returned to his ancient lair in the realm of men.
"In short, this is a book for everyone. Want to enter Hare’s world - pick up this book. You don’t have to have read the Dragonsdome Chronicles to understand this (but they are brilliant - so you really should read them!). The final difference with this book was Hare’s fantastic illustrations - saved only for the front cover of the previous novels, The Sorcerer’s Glen is filled with them - the work of both Hare and local primary school children. Overall: This book gets 5 toffee-wands (out of five!)."
Reading Lucinda Hare’s debut novel The Dragon Whisperer is like riding a dragon. You have to hold on tight during the twist and turns, take time to stop and enjoy the breathtaking view (in the form of David Wyatt’s wonderful illustrations), prepare yourself for the sudden lows, enjoy the soaring heights and make sure you’re not on the wrong end of that fiery breath!
If you’ve read the first book, The Dragon Whisperer, then the return of Quenelda and Root will be like revisiting old friends (if you haven’t read it, then go and read it...now!) You might think nothing’s changed. Quenelda is still the headstrong girl we met in book one and Root is still the nervous gnome, but this pair are slowly finding their feet. Root is growing in confidence (but still manages the odd mishap, which makes him as funny as ever) and Quenelda, the girl who can talk to dragons, is slowly realising that she has more power and magic within her, than anyone ever imagined.
Anyone who has read the first two books will be glad to know that time is still divided up into amazingly named segments (such as ‘at the hour of the dozy hedgehog’) and that characters still shout, ‘Newt and Toad!’ when surprised. This time round, though, the story is darker and there’s a moment or two (I won’t tell you which ones!) that’ll bring a tear to your eye. I can tell you no more except strap yourself in when riding Stormcracker and keep Two Gulps Too Many away from those honey tablets…
'The SDS must change if we are to survive. We have to become one people again, as we once were, who live and train and fight together. You have both demonstrated your ability to do this, young though you both are. You come from different peoples; one noble born, the other the son of a scout. One desiring to fly dragons when tradition allows only men to do so; the other proving in the best tradition of his people that you do not need to wield a sword in your hand to protect those you love.'
"But what truly separates Hare’s novels from other books is the deeper message they convey - and this continues with SDS. Hare offers us a world where the underdog can triumph, where you can be who you want to be, where girls can fly dragons, but also dress how they want. Quenelda is still very much a girl in a boys' world and this is what makes a story about old folklore so modern. We see Quenelda battle through, (literally, at times!) as she tries to deal with life as a young girl and her growing dragon magic. Once you've reached the last page, sit back and hope for a film adaptation and a line of frying pans as merchandise." Liz Wride