Author Interview: Stephanie Burgis
This week's theme is Celebrate Children's Literature and Abergavenny is so lucky to have our very own local children's author named Stephanie Burgis to help kick off the party! Stephanie's new book The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart will be released in the UK on 9 February and is being celebrated locally with a book launch at Waterstones on Saturday 11 February.
Stephanie was kind enough to answer a few questions about her new book. Grab a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy!
Hi Steph! Thanks for taking the time to talk to Abergavenny Kids. It’s really cool that we have a local author in town. I know you aren’t originally from here - can you tell us a little about yourself and how you came to live in Abergavenny?
Of course! I grew up in Michigan, in the U.S., but I met my British husband (and fellow writer), Patrick Samphire, at a 6-week-long residential writing workshop in Seattle, Washington in 2001. At that point, I was actually living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and working on an M.A. in music history, while Patrick was living here in the UK, in Bristol. By the time the six weeks of our workshop ended, I'd decided to change universities so that I could move to the UK! Leeds University offered me a generous PhD fellowship, so the two of us moved there together.
We lived in Leeds for about 7 years, during which time we got married, had our first son, and I got my British citizenship. (I'm a dual citizen now - UK and US!) After we became parents, though, we realised that we wanted to live closer to family - and we'd always loved visiting my mother-in-law in Abergavenny. So we moved here 8 years ago, thinking that we'd just stay for six months before moving on to Bristol, where my husband used to live - but we fell in love with this town, with the gorgeous mountains we can see from our windows, with the castles, with the people, and with everything else about this area. I've never lived anywhere so beautiful before! It's become my home, and I hope to stay here forever.
You’ve just finished writing The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart which is being celebrated with a local book launch in town at Waterstones on Saturday, 11 February - can you please tell us about the book?
Sure! Here's the way I usually describe it:
When fierce young dragon Aventurine is tricked into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she’s horrified to find herself transformed into a puny, blunt-toothed, wingless human girl. But she’s still a dragon on the inside, and her instincts – combined with her new-found passion for chocolate – take her to the Chocolate Heart, a quirky chocolate house in need of help (and customers). Still, it will take all her courage, lots of chocolate and perhaps a little magic to learn to be her true self…
What inspired you to write a story about a hot chocolate drinking dragon?
Anyone who knows me well can attest to my passion for chocolate - I make myself a cup of rich, dark hot chocolate almost every day, no matter what the weather outside! And I've loved dragons ever since my dad first read me The Hobbit when I was young. This book was my way of putting dragons and chocolate together into one warm, magical adventure - my perfect combination!
Is there a message in this book that you want readers to come away with?
I try to write empowering and comforting adventures starring smart, strong girls. I always hope that my books will leave readers feeling uplifted and capable of facing their own personal challenges.
The cover illustration is beautiful! How was it developed?
Isn't it wonderful? The artist is Freya Hartas, and I'm really excited that she'll be attending the book's launch party in Abergavenny. Back when my publisher, Bloomsbury, was first looking for a cover artist, they asked a variety of different artists to come up with cover sketches for the book. Freya's sketch was my editor's favourite, so she sent that one on to me first, but she offered to send me the other sketches afterwards if I wanted more options to consider. Well, Freya's original sketch was so beautiful, I told my editor not to bother sending any others on - I knew immediately that Freya was the right artist for this book!
(She drew beautiful chapter-header illustrations that appear inside the book, too! Every single illustration is detailed and loving and perfectly conveys the mood of that chapter. I love them so much, I have one of her original sketches framed and hanging on my wall!)
You have two young children - what do they think about this magical story?
During the months that I spent writing the first draft of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, back in 2014-15, I told my older son the story every night, letting him know what had happened each day to my dragon-girl heroine. It was so much fun to share it with him! He's only now getting to the age where he can read the actual book, but he's already created lots of beautiful art about the book's characters, and we often talk about them at home. My younger son is still too young to take in the whole story, but he's very excited about the book and the launch party!
Do you keep their literature tastes in mind when you write a new story?
Until now I haven't, because they've both been too young for most of my books. (I did write one chapterbook just for my older son when he was younger, but I never even tried to publish that one - it was private, a gift written just for him!) But I've been telling them both stories over dinner ever since they were tiny, and they're always asking for new ones. We are a story-loving family! And now that my older son is getting closer to the age my children's books are aimed at, I expect I'll be doing a lot more reading to him as I write.
Who are your favourite children’s authors?
There are so many wonderful writers working in children's literature right now! Of course I'm married to my own very favourite writer - Patrick Samphire, whose book Secrets of the Dragon Tomb (published last year) is a fabulous adventure for children, set on nineteenth-century Mars with clockwork butlers and pterodactyls. It's so much fun!
I also adore the work of Hilary McKay (whose Casson Family books convinced me that I wanted to write children's books in the first place!), Natasha Farrant, Susie Day, Jenn Reese, Grace Lin, J.K. Rowling, Sarah Prineas and many more.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? Did you always want to be a writer?
I've wanted to be a writer ever since I was seven years old. Of course, it took a LONG time for me to finally achieve that dream - I wrote my first novel at 13 and wrote at least one book a year from then onward, but I didn't sell my first novel until I was 31! So I spent many years of my adult life convinced that I would never actually manage to become a professional writer. But I am so lucky to have finally been successful and to be at the stage now where I can make a real living by following my life's passion.
Do you have any advice for children who may want to be a writer one day?
Read as much as you can - and read lots of different kinds of books and stories. Pay attention to the people around you, how they talk and how they think. And most of all, write, write, write! Practice writing down descriptions of the things you see around you, and practice writing down dialogue, too, trying to catch the way that people really talk. Write as often as you can and as much as you can, and then go back and see if you can figure out how to make those stories you've written even better. It takes years of practice to get really good at anything - so now (no matter how old you are) is always the right time to get started!
You write for both children and adults. How do you decide when you want to write for one audience vs. the other? Do you ever write multiple books at the same time, for instance, one kids book and one adult book?
I like alternating between kids' books and adult books to give myself variety. If I always wrote the same kind of book, no matter how much I loved that genre, I think I would end up burning out! I just finished writing my next children's fantasy adventure, so right now I'm in the middle of writing a romantic fantasy novella for adults, and then I'm planning to write another children's book straight afterwards. It's a schedule that helps me to stay creative.
What’s your next project? Do you have another children’s book in the works?
My next children's book is coming out next year (probably in February, although that isn't fixed in stone yet), and it's set in the same world as The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, with a different heroine but several of the same characters. My editor and I haven't decided on a definite title for it yet, but I've been calling it my spies-and-fairies book!
The book launch for The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart is open to the public. You can find all of the details you need at the Facebook event page. Copies of the book will be available at the launch party but can also be reserved in advance with Waterstones Abergavenny by calling 01873 859 886. Additionally, you can purchase the book online at Waterstones or Amazon.
You can keep up to date with Stephanie and her work via her website: www.stephanieburgis.com .