Alex Bell introduces her magical new middle grade novel, The Glorious Race of Magical Beasts, the latest in a range of novels and short stories she has written for children including The Polar Bear Explorers' Club.
Alex also also writes for both adults and young adults. Her YA novel Frozen Charlotte was a Zoella Book Club pick. Alex always wanted to be a writer but had several back-up plans. After training as a lawyer, she now works at the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Most of her spare time consists of caring for two young toddlers who also love books.
The Glorious Race of Magical Beasts (Faber Children's Books)
Alex Bell, bestselling author of The Polar Bear Explorers' Club, tells ReadingZone about her fabulous new fantasy adventure - The Glorious Race of Magical Beasts - that sees three children and their magical beasts face danger and incredible odds as they try to win the race of a lifetime. Look out for magical libraries, a living ship and chocolate penguins in this delicious adventure!
Find out how Aesop's Fables helped inspire this story, why Alex wanted to put libraries at the heart of the adventure, and which fictional character she'd choose to 'magic' into real life if she could.
Review: 'The Glorious Race of Magical Beasts is an absolutely amazing and epic adventure across perilous, peculiar and far flung lands in a race of a lifetime!' Read a Chapter from The Glorious Race of Magical Beasts
Q&A with Alex Bell
"Libraries are very special to me, as I think they are to most readers. They're warm, safe spaces, community hubs,
and also provide such an incredible service in so many ways."
1. Hello Alex, welcome to ReadingZone! Can you tell us a little about how you came to be an author, and what kinds of stories you enjoy writing?
I've always enjoyed writing stories, even when I was at school. I carried on writing through college and got my first agent and publisher when I was at university. Since then I've written all kinds of books for both adults and children, from horror and fantasy to magical realism.
2. What are your favourite - and most challenging - moments as an author?
My favourite moments are when a young person who's enjoyed reading one of my books writes to me to let me know. It's so lovely to receive letters like this and makes all the work worthwhile when you know the story has been enjoyed. The most challenging bit is when I'm writing the first draft and know that it's not quite right because it can sometimes be tricky - and time consuming! - figuring out what needs to be changed. Although it's very satisfying to get there in the end.
3. What happens in your new book, The Glorious Race of Magical Beasts?
This is a book about apprentice librarian, Eli, who longs for a quiet life but has to join the Glorious Race in order to save his Nana. He enters the race with a moon tortoise - one of the slowest creatures in his world. He wears a tweed suit and carries a briefcase and no one thinks he stands a chance of winning. But Eli is quietly very determined . . .
4. What was the starting point for this story, and how did the setting of this world evolve? What makes it so special?
The starting point was the Aesop's Fable of the tortoise and the hare. I remember enjoying it as a kid and being drawn to the idea that slow and steady can sometimes win the race. That you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I also wanted libraries to be a big feature, as well as tortoises.
I enjoyed creating a magical fantasy world for Eli to race in and coming up with ideas for what sort of creatures/people/places might get in his way. What makes it special for me is definitely all the libraries - I enjoyed creating lots of these in a fantasy setting.
5. Why did you want libraries at the heart of this story, including giving the main character, Eli, the job of an assistant librarian?
Libraries are very special to me, as I think they are to most readers. They're warm, safe spaces, community hubs, and also provide such an incredible service in so many ways. I love taking my two toddlers there each week to enjoy books together and bring new ones home. They just seemed like a really good fit for the kind of story I wanted to tell.
6. Can you tell us about the main characters in this story, and why they work so well together?
Eli is joined by Jeremiah Jones, a boy his own age but very different in personality. Jeremiah loves thrills and danger and adventure, but the two boys are best friends. I liked the fact that they're very different but still have a really close bond. The other main character is Raven. She's entered the race with her ice hare and is part human, part fairy. She more of a bold adventurer, but shares some personal qualities and interests with Eli, such as a love of books and an interest in stamp collecting.
7. If you could have your own magical creature, like Eli's moon tortoise or Raven's hare, what would it be?
Definitely a moon tortoise. I grew up with tortoises as pets and think that they're such funny, curious, characterful little things. If they could speak to me and share favourite poems then that would be even better.
8. Readers will discover penguin waiters, a living ship and magical libraries in this story; what is your favourite magical invention in this book?
Probably the Nepo - Jeremiah's living ship. I liked the idea of the boy and the ship having a real relationship and friendship. Plus, the Nepo has its very own shipboard library.
9. We find out that one of the characters in The Glorious Race of Magical Beasts has been taken from a story; which fictional characters would you 'magic' into real life, if you could?
It's such a hard choice! I'd be very tempted by Sherlock Holmes, I think.
10. Are you planning to return to the world of Harmonia to find out what Eli does next? What are you writing currently, and what keeps you at your writing desk?
I don't have any plans to return to Harmonia at the moment, but I'm working on more magical adventures with The Train of Dark Wonders series and am also doing a new adult book. As for what keeps me at my writing desk - I just love telling stories and would always want to write them. There's no other magic quite like it.