Wednesday, November 30, 2016

North Melbourne Books December Newsletter - featuring Karen Foxlee

In the December edition of the North Melbourne Books newsletter we talk to Australian children's writer Karen Foxlee about her new novel, A Most Magical Girl.

A Most Magical Girl is a story bubbling with thrills and mystery but what really makes it special is Karen Foxlee’s magical writing. From the very first page the reader is immersed in a completely believable world where real magic hovers not only in the forests and laneways but in the inner heart of our reluctant heroine.

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North Melbourne Books talks to Karen Foxlee

North Melbourne Books: 12 year old Annabel Grey is sent by her mother to live with two mysterious aunts who own a magic shop in 19th century London. She has been whisked away from life in a finishing school for proper young ladies to discover she is the latest in a long line of family witches. London is under attack from the evil Mr. Angel and his army of Shadowlings and Annabel has been called upon to retrieve the Morever wand which will restore peace and good magic. A Most Magical Girl is a terrific example of the quest novel where a young heroine makes not only a physical journey but a spiritual one as well. Why do you think writers and readers love to be drawn back to classic stories such as these?

Karen Foxlee: I think I’m drawn to writing the type of books I would have loved as a child. I loved classic adventure stories; anything from Enid Blyton type adventures, to the long journeys of Baum’s Wizard of Oz books, and especially those that occurred in fairytales like The Snow Queen. I loved the idea of kids just going off on these quests by themselves, being brave, never giving up, overcoming obstacles, finding friends, finding out about themselves. We read for so many reasons I know, but I really love to be entertained by a book and there is nothing more entertaining than a classic adventure story; a quest, hardships, friendships, dangers and delightful magic.

NMB: So many of the thrills and delights in this book come from the most fantastical situations as the reader is fully immersed in Annabel’s predicament. How difficult is it to create a world of pure imagination that still feels so believable?

KF: I’m glad it feels believable. I think I spend a lot of time in that imaginary place as I’m writing. I think about the place and I see it in my mind. Each draft I’m just trying to lay down that place. The first drafts are sketchy but the more I write and the more I dive back into the story, detail is added. Things in that created world fall into place and cement themselves there, I guess. It’s a funny process, I’m not sure I’d describe as difficult but more that it requires patience. You can’t rush it.

NMB: Annabel’s aunts approach their teachings in an almost meditative way. They instruct her on how to imagine the mind as a teacup and to rid herself of buzzing thoughts. Can readers learn something from Annabel’s mindful lessons?

KF: Yes, I love those lessons from the great-aunts. Annabel must look into the tea cup of her mind and examine each thought slowly and quietly. She’s always very surprised by what she finds there! I have to admit I’m very much like Annabel in that I have a million thoughts and feelings buzzing around inside me constantly. I didn’t set out to teach lessons, but I do love the idea that sometimes it really does help to just stop, to take a deep breath and look at those thoughts and those feelings, to be mindful of them I guess. I’d love to think a reader might try to examine the teacup of their own mind. Annabel really discovers wonderful things about herself by doings so: what she’s afraid of for instance but also what she’s capable of too.

NMB: Joining Annabel on her quest are Kitty, the “betwixter” who can travel between
worlds and communicate with fairies, a Troll named Hafwen as well as a flying broomstick with its own peculiarities. Despite these characters having such diverse personalities, Annabel finds ways to connect with them all. How important was it to depict Annabel’s development via her friendships?

KF: I think primarily I just love writing about friendships. I think friendship makes the world go
round and all my stories feature them. I also think there is no hero really without a friend (or sidekick) and I love that relationship between Kitty and Annabel. But you are correct Annabel really does have a way of connecting with so many people. She wheedles her way into Hafwen’s heart, she wins over Kitty, even sour great-aunt Henrietta in the end and through all these strange new relationships (very different from anything she ever encountered at Miss Finch’s Academy for Young Ladies) she really learns about herself too.

NMB: What books are you enjoying reading at the moment?

KF: At present I’m reading The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon, it is harrowing and beautiful. With my daughter I am reading all the adventures of Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren). I’m really looking forward to reading the next Stella Montgomery Intrigue by Judith Rossell. And beside my bed is the grown up book H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, waiting patiently.

A Most Magical Girl, by Karen Foxlee. Published by Piccadilly Books. ISBN: 9781848125742 RRP: $19.99