Interview with children’s author Erika McGann

There are lots of events for children in this year’s Dublin Writers Festival. There’s Chris Judge’s Storybird for the 6+ age group, Derek Landy talking about Skulduggery Pleasant and Laura Dockrill’s Darcy Burdock event for the over 8s.

Irish children’s author, Erika McGann was recently announced as this year’s winner of the Waverton Good Read Children’s Award. The winner of this award is chosen by young readers from local schools in Waverton, Cheshire and is awarded to a debut British or Irish author each year.

Erika’s winning novel, The Demon Notebook tells the story of Grace and her four best friends who are failed witches but one night stumble upon real magical powers. The book has a great mix of magic and suspense, with a few scary moments thrown in.

I interviewed Erika and asked her about her books, about writing and about other aspects of the writer’s life.

Why witches? What attracted you to the realm of the supernatural and what do you think attracts your readers?

Witchcraft was the big thing when I was in school, and I still love the mix of fun and darkness about it. I think young readers always have a love for the supernatural because of all the possibilities. The rules are dictated by the author – they can differ from book to book – but there’s so much scope. Characters that feel timid or weak can become powerful with the introduction of magic, and that’s something that appealed to me as a kid.

There are two books in the series already published (The Demon Notebook and The Broken Spell) and a third, The Watching Wood, on it’s way. Are there many more in the series? Do you know yet what will happen to the girls or where the series will end?

I haven’t started a fourth yet, I’ll see how number three goes! But there is a complete story in each book so, wherever I finish, there won’t be any cliff-hangers left hanging.

What’s the hardest thing about writing? And the most enjoyable thing?

The hardest thing is the discipline. I admire those writers that can maintain a very strict routine, writing for hours a day. It’s something I try to emulate, but keeping too rigidly to a schedule makes me rebel a bit. Finding the right balance between a steady workflow and giving yourself time to think through ideas is a frustrating thing that I’m nowhere near mastering. Give me five or ten years. Or twenty.

As for the most enjoyable part of writing; it’s the writing. When you’re in the zone, and typing away without much effort, it’s brilliant. And you get all smug and self-satisfied when you finish a big chunk of pages you’re really happy with.

You do a lot of readings in schools and events like the Dublin Book Festival and World Book Day. How does it feel meeting your readers?

I love doing book events. I think I say it every time I’m asked but, when my first book came out, the thought of speaking to a big group of kids for an hour sounded like a particular kind of hell. I was terrified I’d be heckled and laughed out of libraries with tears in my eyes. In reality, kids make a fantastic audience. Keeping their attention is not difficult when it comes to talking about books and writing; they’re dying to hear (and talk) about developing characters, building a story and designing book covers. And hearing kids talk about your characters like they know them is pure joy.

What piece of advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer? What do you wish someone had told you starting out?

The best advice I could give would be to write what you enjoy. It’s like any job that way; the more you enjoy it, the better you’ll do it.

My brother’s an author, so there wasn’t much I didn’t know about the business before I started. But it would have helped if someone had advised me loosen up when writing. Before I took it up a few years ago, I hadn’t written any kind of story since school. Being new to the idea of a novel, I think I was a bit too careful and didn’t let go when I felt like it. You can always fix things after the first draft, so I’d tell any budding writer now not to hold back. Go mad, if you want to, and sort the mess out later.

Who are your favourite writers? YA or otherwise.

Still loving The Hunger Games, so Suzanne Collins is a favourite. Each film makes the series feel brand new…sigh. And I’ll always love Roald Dahl. I think his books are imprinted on the DNA of several generations, and that’s how things should be.

And most importantly, when’s the new book out?

September! It seems like it’s ages away, but I’ve got the U.S. edition of my first book coming out next month to tide me over.

The Demon Notebook and The Broken Spell are both available from O’Brien Press.

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