PA Staff is a science communicator and vet by day, writer by night. Born and living in Norfolk, she spent her childhood growing up with an unknown and unexplainable movement condition, known as Paroxysmal Kinesigenic Choreoathestosis.
She created Casander Darkbloom to tackle the universal central themes of embracing your differences, conquering people's perceptions of them, and quite frankly giving children who are different a possible answer to the age-old question, "Why me?" Casander Darkbloom is the book that her 12-year-old self would have cherished.
Casander Darkbloom and the Threads of Power (Walker Books)
In her magical fantasy debut, Casander Darkbloom and the Threads of Power, author PA Staff follows the adventures of four children who must find a way to thwart the ambitions of a villainous Master of All, who wants to steal all the world's magic. In her novel, PA Staff draws on her own childhood and disability to create a world of 'Others', 'Normies' and 'Abnormies', showing the reader that our differences are actually what makes us 'normal'.
Review: "This book sparkles with wonder and a fast, thrilling plot that takes so many twist and turns."
Q&A with PA Staff
Find out what inspired PA Staff to write Casander Darkbloom and the Threads of Power, discover more about the world she has created, and what she hopes her readers will find in its pages.
1. What made you determined to be a writer? What kinds of stories did you read as a child, and what do you like to write about as an adult?
Ever since I could answer the question: "what do you want to be when you grow up?", my answer has always been "a vet and an author on the side". In this sense, I've never wanted to be anything else so have been very focused on my goals.
It also helps that I've read and written anything and everything for as long as I can remember. I grew up reading a lot of classics before I knew they were classics - Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Great Expectations and Twelfth Night. But I also firmly grew up in the Potterhead/J. K. Rowling generation, and read plenty of other fantasy stories, notably The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials, which have definitely influenced my own work.
2. You work full time - so when did you carve out the writing time? How long did it take to write your debut, Casander Darkbloom & the Threads of Power?
Technically, I work three jobs - full-time as a science communications officer, as a locum vet on bank holidays/weekends, and as an author in any spare minute in between. Luckily, this wasn't the case when first drafting Casander Darkbloom and the Threads of Power - though admittedly I wasn't much less busy. I wrote the book in a blur in roughly four weeks before starting my final year of school, getting up in the dark hours of the morning and staying awake into the late hours of the night to write - basically any time I wasn't surrounded by fur and paws, I was glued to my laptop!
3. What happens in your new book?
In a nutshell, Casander Darkbloom and the Threads of Power is about Casander, a mysterious boy with no memory who lives outside a curiosity shop and experiences unexplainable surges of movement in his limbs. One rainy Tuesday, Cas stumbles inside the shop and accidentally brings a taxidermy raven back to life - sparking a pursuit by ruthless hunters before he is whisked away to the Balance Lands (a magical mirror versiom of our world) by Warrior, an Other girl from the Balance Lands with special abilities.
There, Cas learns that he is the Foretold - the one prophesied to defeat the great, dark and ambitious Master of All, who wants to steal all the magic in the Balance Lands for himself. But for Cas, being the Foretold will not be quite as simple as it appears…
"I wanted to write a story about individuals with disabilities and differences, but who were neither
held back nor defined by them."
4. Can you tell us what inspired the story about a world of Normies, Others and Abnormies?
Growing up with a hidden, fluctuating disability like PKC, I never felt 'ordinary' enough to be ordinary or 'other' (different) enough to be other. Instead, I fell in some weird, abnormal grey zone in between, living a normal, able-bodied life and one where my disability was obvious - hence the names.
I wanted to write a story about individuals with disabilities and differences, but who were neither held back nor defined by them, as a way to make readers understand that such differences are what is normal. And to provide twelve-year-old me with a more magical answer to the timeless question: "why me?" when wondering about why I was as unique as I was.
5. How long did it take you to create this alternate world, and what are the 'threads of power that lie at its heart? What makes the Wayward School in this world so special?
The idea for the Balance Lands came easily as I wanted the magical world to be a 'touchstone' or 'anchor' to our existing one - somewhere readers could readily visualise and understand, just with a magical twist. Similarly, Wayward Town as the location for Wayward School came easily too - though for the opposite reason. I wanted to create somewhere that was completely unlike anywhere in our world, somewhere with its own mind and autonomy, somewhere which could be everywhere and nowhere - hence why Wayward can get up and change its placement of its own accord.
The threads of power are what the Others believe make up the universe and everything in it - including themselves. Our equivalent would be atoms or molecules. They believe the strongest threads have magical powers imbued in them, giving rise to the Balance Lands and the Others, whilst the weaker threads have lost their powers, giving rise to the Normie world and the Normies.
Others also believe that these invisible threads are of different types and have different colours, and that each Other is made up of one type of thread. This is why Others are separated into different Orders - Lifemakers and Deathmakers, Firetamers, Earthshapers, Airscapers and Wavebreakers. However, as the Abnormies prove, that isn't necessarily the case.
Wayward School for Most Prestigious Others is where the most powerful Other children go to hone their skills and perfect their craft.
"Name me any character and I can tell you everything from their childhood backstory
to their favourite toast topping."
6. How did your two main characters, Casander and Warrior, develop? Do you know your characters well before you write them, or do you get to know them as you write?
Casander and Warrior were two characters who were present from the start. I never intended to write a children's book, but always knew that if I did, I had an image in my head of a school boy bringing a dead bird back to life in front of his best friend - yet it was only when I decided to create a character with the same movement disorder as me that everything clicked.
I know every single one of my characters very well, even if they're only mentioned in passing or half of their history doesn't make it onto the page - name me any character and I can tell you everything from their childhood backstory to their favourite toast topping.
7. There's a bad guy, too - the Master of All. How did you decide to approach this character; how do you present a character who is very dark?
The Master of All is a fascinating character to write because he's incredibly complex and the first novel barely scratches the surface of his true motives and secrets - all I'll say is that everything is not exactly as it seems.
When writing any villain (often my favourite characters), it's important to delve deep and imagine the story from their point of view - what made them into who they are today? Why are they doing what they're doing? Remember, every villain is the hero of their own story.
"Being different is what is normal - that's what makes each of us special, each of us strong."
8. There is a group of children in the story who are considered to be different, and therefore not as good as the 'Others' who have specific talents. What would you like your readers to take from their experiences?
Most importantly, I want readers to see and understand that there is no such thing as 'normal'. Everyone has their differences. Being different is what is normal - that's what makes each of us special, each of us strong.
9. If you could visit the Balance Lands, where would you visit? And if you could bring one thing back into your own world, what would it be?
I would love to visit the Elementie Emporium as an animal-lover - nothing would be better than cuddling up to a cosy Sand Snoot. However, the flying books in Wayward School's library would be fantastic to see too.
10. What have you got planned next for Casander, Warrior and the Wayward School?
No spoilers, so I can't say much! But let's just leave it at plenty more magic, mayhem, mischief and maybe a globe-trotting adventure - like us, the Abnormies are going to see the Balance Lands expand in a big way.