Janelle is an author and fully-fledged gamer and Mia and the Lightcasters is her debut novel. She started writing at only 16 years old and, after completing her degree in Criminology and Sociology, she moved back home to London and began writing middle grade fantasy. Her prize-winning story, Mia and the Lightcasters, was acquired by Faber in a major auction.
In her free time, you can find Janelle holed up in her room, gaming and watching anime (some of her favourites being Inuyasha, Dragon Ball Z and Death Note), or attending numerous comic cons and gaming events.
Mia and the Lightcasters (The Umbra Tales, book 1) (Faber Children's Books)
Read a Chapter from Mia and the Lightcasters
Mia and the Lightcasters, the first book in The Umbra Tales, is an action-packed fantasy set in a land of darkness where shadow creatures roam and a hidden danger looms...
Our Debut Author of the Month, Janelle McCurdy, tells us how gaming helped inspire her fantasy, and reads from a short section of the book.
Q&A with Janelle McCurdy
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you started writing?
Of course! My name is Janelle McCurdy, I'm 26, and I'm a gamer and author. I started writing lots of short stories in primary school, writing about myself in the worlds of my favourite games and TV shows. I also wrote loads of dragon stories as they were my favourite mythical creatures (and still are!).
I started actively pursuing being an author and getting an agent when I was 16, and in my spare time, I love writing video game reviews, watching anime and going to comic cons.
2. Mia and the Lightcasters is your debut - what happens in the book?
It's the first in a trilogy series and it's about a 12-year-old girl called Mia McKenna who has grown up in the darkness. Like nearly all of the cities in the Kingdom of Lunis, her home of Nubis was plunged into a forever night years ago by the shadowy Reaper King - a creature of nightmares.
Mia's whole life changes when a mysterious cult attacks Nubis, and captures the protectors of the city - including her parents and their magical creatures made of shadow and stars, the umbra.
Mia and her little brother, Lucas, are the city's only hope of survival, and Mia must learn to harness her umbra taming abilities to stand any chance of saving her city and rescuing her parents. If she can't, she'll lose her soul, and her family, to the Darkness forever. It's about sibling bonds, kids doing martial arts, bravery and adventure.
3. And what inspired the story?
Two things inspired Mia and the Lightcasters.
First was gaming. I wanted to write a book that could capture the essence and fun of gaming. I want my readers to love my characters like they would a character they play as in a video game, and be invested in the journey and the adventure at the same time. A few games actually helped inspire my original idea for Mia and the Lightcasters, such as Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider and Pokémon.
The second inspiration came from my fascination with stars and the universe. Overall, I wanted to incorporate the things I loved together, and so Mia and the Lightcasters was born.
4. So being a gamer helped you write Mia and the Lightcasters?
Being a gamer definitely played a part in helping me write Mia and the Lightcasters. The worldbuilding in open world games in particular really helps in expanding your mind visually, and I wanted to capture that in my books. I also love the emotions that often come out when you're gaming too, like the fear and determination of fighting off monsters and exploring new lands and I wanted to encompass that in my books too and being a gamer helped me write with that in mind.
I think children who love and enjoy gaming will like Mia and the Lightcasters, or at least I hope they will!
5. How long did it take you to write the book, and what was your starting point?
It took me roughly five months to write the first draft of Mia and The Lightcasters, although I'd written about eight other manuscripts by then, so I had a lot of practice teaching myself to write to deadlines. When I had an agent, it was about a month of editing and then I got my book deal, and edited it again with my editors afterwards.
The starting point for Mia and The Lightcasters was the setting. I knew I wanted the book to be about a girl who loved martial arts, but I fully fleshed out the city she lived in first. I wanted Mia's city to be a forever night world, and I made a scrapbook with images of what I thought each city in the Kingdom of Lunis looked like.
Then came the creation of the umbra. I wanted the kingdom to have beautiful yet dangerous mystical creatures roaming about, similar to how you will often have monsters roaming in open world games, and the idea of the umbra being made from shadows and stars fit that vision. Then came Mia!
6. How did your main character, Mia, develop?
This is a difficult one, because there's not really a straight answer, it just happened. Compared to Lucas, who was inspired by the children I looked after when I worked at a nursery, Mia sort of just came about on her own in my mind.
Maybe there are elements of me as a child in her, but I don't think I was quite as brave as her at that age, haha. When it comes to characters I make 'character profiles' of each of them, fleshing out what they look like, their personality, their family and friends. I did this for Mia first before I started writing and expanded on it as her character became clearer to me as I wrote.
7. How did you go about creating your setting, and what made you think about having a town where it is always dark?
I've always been fascinated with the stars and the universe, so when creating the City of Nubis and the whole kingdom of Lunis, I wanted to capture the beauty as well as the scariness of living in a forever night world and what that would entail, if there were only a few cities that see sunlight. It's fun to write about as it's so different from our world.
8. Do you have a favourite moment in the story?
I have a few, but two of them happen very closely together. It's the moment Mia is reunited with a certain someone, but at the same time taken away from loved ones.
There's also a small emotional moment with Mia and Lucas later in the book, which really touches my heart every time I read it.
9. Other than a great story, what would you like your readers to take from Mia and the Lightcasters?
I would love my readers to come away with the understanding that it's okay to be afraid and overwhelmed sometimes, because it happens to everyone. The important thing is that you're never alone. You have friends, family and other people you can reach out to and ask for help.
10. If you could have an umbra of your own, what would it be like?
My umbra would be a mix of a red panda and a dragon. He'd be called Ren and he would be a cheeky umbra, similar to a certain one in the book!
11. What have you got planned next for Mia, Lucas and the umbra?
A lot of things! Right now, I'm editing Book 2 and writing Book 3, but what I can say is that there will be potential heartbreak, moments of pure joy and hope, and unbreakable friendships.
12. How are you enjoying the life of an author? When and where do you prefer to write?
I truly love my life as an author. It's been my dream since I was a child and after ten years of trying to become one, I made it and I feel blessed.
I tend to do most of my writing in my room with my headphones on, listening to a specific playlist. If I'm not on a deadline then I usually write first thing in the morning after my mindfulness meditation, or I write late at night. If I'm on a deadline then I will write in the morning and take a break every two hours until about 6pm.
13. What kinds of things do you enjoy doing when you're away from your desk?
You can probably guess, but it's definitely gaming! That's my favourite thing to do to help me unwind after a writing session. I also enjoy listening to music and taking pictures. I've recently found a love for Lego building as well, haha!