To celebrate the publication of Three Strikes our intern Nia Thorne had a chat with the very lovely Kat Ellis about her novella ‘The Twins of Blackfin’ which is a prequel to her debut YA novel Blackfin Sky. What inspired the plot of Blackfin Sky? Well, the beginning came to in the usual way (for me) that all stories do: what might happen if… and in this instance, the question was what would be the weirdest thing to happen if you showed up late to school one day? So naturally, everyone thinking you had died was where my brain took me. I knew that Sky would be completely blown away by this – after all, she remembers the last three months since her supposed ‘death’ going on just as normal – so I needed to figure out how and why she remembered events differently to everyone else. That question had me stumped for quite a while; until one day when I went with my sister and niece to the circus, as we do every year, and as I was sitting in the grand stand watching all these amazing performers, I had an idea about a very unusual circus visiting the town of Blackfin, and how that might connect to Sky’s missing three months. The plot is complex, was the whole thing planned out before? Were there certain things you put in when you were writing the book? I wrote out the first few chapters without knowing where it would all go, but after that I had to sit down and do some serious plotting so that the mystery of Sky’s death (or lack thereof) would unfold in a way that made sense. And of course there was a lot of editing and tweaking after that, making sure those threads knitted together properly so readers wouldn’t see through the fabric. And with a book like Blackfin Sky, each round of revisions made me wonder what might make this scene eerier? Stranger? More exciting? And so it came together. Weirdly, but together. Who are your favourite characters? Besides my two main characters in the Blackfin stories, Sky and Bo (who I kind of have to love most after spending so long inside their heads), I think Gui – Sky’s lovely, emotional, gigantic father – is definitely a favourite, as is Sean, Sky’s friend whom she has the mildest (AHEM) crush on. And Cam, who is dippy and delightful in equal measure. And Silas, of course – who doesn’t love a bad-tempered haunted weathervane? What made you write the prequel about Bo? While I think there are a lot of stories I could tell about Blackfin, I knew that continuing Sky’s journey would probably take a full-length novel, and as I wanted to write something shorter I decided to tell the story of a ghostly voice summoning the young people of Blackfin from their beds – and as it was quite a dark, chilling tale, I needed a main character who wouldn’t scare easily. So naturally, that was Bo. Was it easy to write the old characters from Blackfin again? Easier than I expected! Even though it’s a few years now since I wrote Blackfin Sky, it was like catching up with old friends. What was your favourite part about going back into the world of Blackfin? Revisiting that bizarre place where anything can happen, and frequently does! Where the weathervane on the school roof is haunted, and the wishing well might just steal your pocket change, and doors might lock of their own accord… Yeah, I had a blast going back to Blackfin. The story in Three Strikes is darker than Blackfin Sky, what made you want to write it? What inspired you? I started writing it in September, just as autumn was settling in around me, and it’s the time of year when I naturally start reaching for books with a spooky, sinister edge – and that trickles through into my writing. I also knew that ‘The Twins of Blackfin’ would feature alongside those of two brilliant authors who know how to write dark, chilling stories so well – so I think that might have spurred me on to take some darker paths with Bo’s story! Watch the Blackfin Sky trailer Watch a video with Kat Ellis talking about writing ‘The Twins of Blackfin’
Read this brilliant blog by Ruth Morgan on why she has written a middle grade fiction about gaming ahead of publication of Ant Clancy Games Detective, out on 11 July. Ant Clancy is the world’s first Games Detective, and by the end of this story you will know what a Games Detective is and why the world needs one so much. The ‘games’ in this case are virtual reality games and the story is an exciting adventure where Ant has to pitch himself against a deadly adversary, partly within the game and partly in real life. It’s not just Ant, he has a couple of friends working alongside him, as well as his ace dragon Pradahl who he can transport from his favourite game, Kismet Cosmos, to take part in battles.
Kismet Cosmos is where the idea for this story came from. I thought to myself, what if you were the very last player of a really old videogame? I know with the massive interest in retro gaming that would be unlikely but every story, for me, has to begin with a what if…? The ‘what if…?’ in this case got me thinking about Ant’s character and how as the last player of Kismet Cosmos he’d be someone who doesn’t mind standing out and being different and has his own sense of what’s important to him. The story grew out of me getting to know Ant and also, the ideas I had for the amazing directions in which virtual reality might take games in the future, because while Ant is enjoying his old game, there’s a new, trailblazing VR game that the whole rest of the world wants to play, and that’s Ray-Chay.
I should explain, I’ve lived with keen gamers in my family for years and have enjoyed playing along myself, so I understand the appeal completely. My stepson, Steffan is a games designer with amazingly creative ideas. While he was at university, he designed the first ever Minecraft Annual (2014 – published by Egmont), while our son Gethin was one of the official ‘Minecraft testing crew’ who had page proofs sent to him to try out various new constructions suggested and also has his name in the book. I didn’t do anything, but I did enjoy the excitement!
Gaming sometimes has a bad rep amongst generations that don’t play and don’t get the appeal. There are positives. Gaming can be a very social experience and you’re often called upon to work with others to problem solve or attain some common goal. It’s fun and a huge stressbuster. There’s probably an issue if gaming is all you do with your free time, which is why my hero Ant has plenty of other hobbies and pursuits, like belonging to his local table tennis club (because it’s my favourite sport – our ‘World Cup of Ping Pong’ tournaments are legendary, ask our neighbours!) Ant’s dad, Snoz, is someone who’s aware of addiction and how it can ruin a person’s life. Amongst other advice, he guides Ant in balancing his real life and gaming life. Snoz’s favourite saying is “You’ve got to be bigger than the game” and this takes on a deep significance through the twists and turns of the plot.
I really hope you get as much fun from reading Ant Clancy Games Detective as I did from writing it!