Unicorns and Superheroes assemble! Discover the world of fantastic fiction with internationally bestselling author A.F. Steadman. Here, she chats about the festival, her writing process and advice for young writers.
We can’t wait to see you at this year’s Bath Children’s Literature Festival. Can you tell us a little about your new book.
Skandar and the Phantom Rider is the second book in the Skandar series, after Skandar and the Unicorn Thief. It’s set in a world of warrior unicorns, elemental magic and unlikely heroes. In Skandar’s world unicorns aren’t cute and fluffy – they’re bloodthirsty. Book 2 throws the characters into a new mystery. Someone is killing the wild unicorns – and it’s causing havoc with the magic of the Island. The elements themselves are turning on its inhabitants, and it isn’t long before the riders inside the Eyrie are affected too – the bond behaving in strange and disturbing ways. And as the only spirit wielder in the Eyrie, the suspicious whispers around Skandar Smith only grow louder.
When tragedy strikes, making Skandar look more guilty than ever, Skandar, Bobby, Flo and Mitchell, like the rest of the Eyrie, become obsessed with finding the tomb of the First Rider. According to legend, the tomb holds the key to rebalancing the Island’s magic. But the trouble is, nobody has the slightest clue where the First Rider is buried. And who really is killing the wild unicorns? Is it the Weaver? Or is it someone worse?
What do you enjoy most about festivals such as the Bath Children’s Literature Festival?
Meeting readers! That has to be the most incredible part of being a children’s author. Meeting people (young and young at heart!) who have enjoying the Skandar series makes it all worthwhile – especially when it’s encouraged them to read more or helped them relax when things at school have been stressful. Sometimes, it has also made them want to write their own stories which is completely wonderful. One of my favourite things is when children draw pictures of the unicorns or characters and we talk about the parts of the book they enjoyed the most. It really is wonderful that festivals like Bath Children’s Literature Festival provide this opportunity to meet authors. Festivals build such a buzz about books and reading that it’s impossible to come away without feeling inspired.
What is your writing process?
My writing process has changed with every book of the Skandar series! For Skandar and the Unicorn Thief I didn’t have a plan at all, but for Phantom Rider I had a very rigid outline, then Book 3 has been a combination of the two. Some things have stayed the same though – I love routine and habit and I’m definitely better at writing in the morning. I keep a notebook for each of the books I write so I can jot down ideas by hand or questions I need to answer or sometimes just a really good unicorn name I think of. I’m also a big fan of writing snacks – any kind of chocolate will do!
Are you always thinking of new ideas and new characters?
All the time, both within the Skandar series and outside of it. When they’re non-Skandar related I try to ignore them for now so I actually get on with writing the book I’m supposed to be working on! Saying that, I’m very excited about some of the ideas I have for new things and can’t wait to write them. I often have ideas about characters when I meet a particularly interesting person – festivals are great for this – and whenever I go out for walk I tend to daydream about new ideas while listening to music.
How many books do you have on the go at one time?
There are going to be five books in the Skandar series, so at the moment I am finding that I write a new one while I edit the previous one. This year has been absolutely wild – as I’m writing Book 4, editing Book 3, promoting Book 2 in hardback, as well as doing events surrounding the release of the Book 1 paperback. In some ways it’s really helpful because it keeps me immersed in the world, although I have to remember not to accidentally give anything away about future books that aren’t published yet!
What’s the best piece of advice you were given when it comes to writing?
I think one of the best pieces of advice I received was – be open to feedback. The comments I have had from friends, my agent and editors over this journey have made the books so much better than it would have been if I’d been working on them alone. Sometimes it’s important to trust your instincts and not assume somebody else is ALWAYS going to be right about your own work but even digging into why you think they’re wrong can be helpful. It’s a balance. Also something which I need to tell myself more – writing is not always actively getting words on the page. Whenever I take a break, I almost always solve all the knotty plot issues I’ve been grappling with in front of my computer screen for hours. Annoying, but true!
Which authors do you currently enjoy reading?
There are far too many to count but I’ll try to limit it toa few whose books have come out recently and I’ve really enjoyed. I really loved Greenwild by Pari Thomson – a plant-magic filled portal fantasy. I think Arkspire by Jamie Littler is absolutely brilliant – full of mesmerising magic, crafty heroines and masterful monsters. I’m also a huge fan of the Onyeka series by Tola Okogwu and I can’t wait to chat with her at our event at Bath about superheroes and unicorns! And I have to mention the Fireborn series by Aisling Fowler too – monster-hunting in a frozen world, it’s stunning. Away from fantasy, I’m loving Phil Earle’s books, most recently Until the Road Ends, as well as Safiyyah’s War by Hiba Noor Khan – a showcase in exquisite storytelling.
How can readers keep up-to-date with what you are up to.
Readers can find information about future releases on my website www.afsteadman.com and they can also find me on Instagram @afsteadmanauthor where I regularly post updates about events and signings.