Katherine Rundell is a bestselling author and whose novels for children include Rooftoppers, The Wolf
Wilder, The Explorer and The Good Thieves. She has won the Costa Children's Book Award, the Blue Peter Book Award and the Waterstones Children's Book Prize amongst many others. Katherine spent her childhood in Africa and Europe before taking her degree at the University of Oxford and becoming a Fellow of All Souls College. As well as writing, she studies Renaissance literature and occasionally goes climbing on the rooftops late at night.
Impossible Creatures (Bloomsbury Children's Books)
Katherine Rundell's Impossible Creatures, the first in a new trilogy, takes us to The Archipelago, hidden islands where mythical creatures still roam and where magic is real. Two children, Mal, from the Archipelago and Christopher, a boy from our world, must work alongside these impossible creatures to discover why the islands' magic is beginning to fade.
ReadingZone spoke with Katherine Rundell to find out what inspired her new fantasy adventure, the themes she explores through it, and which 'impossible creature' she would love to bring to our real world.
Q&A with Katherine Rundell
"When you love a book as a child, you love it passionately. You eat it whole, and it goes into your blood, and bones,
and you carry it with you, long after you've forgotten the details of plot, for the rest of your life."
1. Can you tell us a little about your own childhood, and how you started to write for children? What are your favourite kinds of stories to write?
I was lucky to grow up alongside real-life impossible creatures - in Zimbabwe, where there were snakes in the garden and monkeys by the supermarket, and rhinoceroses and pangolins lived a short drive away.
I find writing for children the most exciting form of challenge - because, when you love a book as a child, you love it passionately. You eat it whole, and it goes into your blood, and bones, and you carry it with you, long after you've forgotten the details of plot, for the rest of your life. So it makes writing for kids a thrill, and a duty: not to give them anything shoddy, or cheap, or dishonest.
2. What can readers expect in your new book, Impossible Creatures?
The book is set on a cluster of enchanted islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, hidden from us by magic, where all the creatures of myth are still alive. It's known as The Archipelago. There you would find all the creatures that we know from stories - unicorns, centaurs sphinxes and dryads. But there are the creatures, too, that fewer people remember: creatures that were recorded in the margins of twelfth-century manuscripts in Persia, and old songs in Scotland: kappas and karkadanns and manticores and sea-bulls.
But the islands are in danger, and the creatures are dying, and so two children - Mal, from the Archipelago, and an English boy named Christopher - have to voyage across the islands to find the source of the growing evil, before everything is lost forever.
3. It is a wonderful fantasy adventure. What inspires you to write fantasy, and which fantasy writers do you admire?
I have always loved fantasy, and grew up reading the masters - Tolkien, C S Lewis, Ursula K Le Guin, Alan Garner, E Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman - and the older stuff too: Mallory's Morte d'Arthur, the old Norse sagas and Greek myths. I loved the scope that modern fantasy gave authors to write about urgent truths - about power, and loss, and endurance - in a way that also offered a thrilling adventure anda feast of delight.
"I wanted to suggest to children that our own world is one of such magnificence that if we were not familiar with it
- if we were to discover it anew - it would knock us sideways with astonishment."
4. Fantasy stories often explore real world matters - what did you want to explore through this story?
The book is, in part, about the threat of endangerment: about the idea of fighting, with everything you have, to protect that which is vulnerable - because what is lost is lost forever. And I wanted to suggest to children that our own world is one of such magnificence that if we were not familiar with it - if we were to discover it anew - it would knock us sideways with astonishment.
5. How did you go about creating your world? Did it grow as you wrote it or did you have it set out before you began writing?
I made hundreds of pages of notes about the islands, and the creatures - I spent many happy hours in libraries, in Oxford and London, researching the magical creatures which we were, once, absolutely convinced were real. We used to believe there were unicorns in the wild: which makes perfect sense, really, given that narwhals exist. The line between possible and impossible in the natural world is so very thin: there are so many things which seem like they should be glorious myths - giraffes, hedgehogs, swifts - which are true.
6. A girl who flies and a boy who animals love - how did these two children come to be at the heart of your story? Which of their abilities would you choose to have?
I knew I wanted both a boy and a girl, and someone from England and the Archipelago. I wanted them to bicker, and fight, and come to love each other in the way that true childhood friendship offers an entirely unique love.
And if I could - I would love to have a chip of sphinx tooth, which allows you to understand all languages, and a compass that always pointed the way home, and a coat that allowed me to fly.
"I think I would love to bring a jaculus dragon into our world - a miniature dragon small enough to perch
on the tip of your thumb"
7. Which of your 'impossible creatures' would you like to bring into the real world? And which real world creature holds the greatest fascination for you?
All of the creatures in the book are 'real', in the sense that they existed in myth - though they have details and twists of my own. I think I would love to bring a jaculus dragon into our world - a miniature dragon small enough to perch on the tip of your thumb, which you find in Pliny.
And, in the real world - I think perhaps the pangolin: it has the face of an unusually polite academic, and a tongue as long as its torso. Its young rides on its back, and when it is threatened, the baby pangolin rolls up, and the mother rolls up around the body of its young: like Russian nesting dolls. I saw one, once, in Zimbabwe, and have never forgotten it.
8. Do you plan to revisit the Archipelago with future adventures?
Yes! Impossible Creatures is the first in a trilogy, and I'm already working on the next.
9. There are lots of magical places in the Archipelago - where would you like to have your writer's shed, if you could choose one of these islands, and what would you want to find inside it?
I would love to go to the island of Atidina (all the islands, because they were named in ancient times, have names taken from the oldest languages: Sanskrit, ancient Greek, Aramaic), where the story opens: there are herds of wild unicorns in the forest, and hippocamps in the ocean. I would like there to be a baby griffin inside, splashing about in a saucer of milk.
10. What are your favourite real world adventures, when you're away from these magical story worlds?
I love to climb: when I was young, trees and rocks, and now, because I live in cities, I occasionally go out climbing across rooftops, late at night. And I spend a lot of time by the sea, in Norfolk: there are seals there, and once I came across a basking shark: impossibly beautiful creatures.