Thursday, 20 August 2015

Witches, Demons and a Most Sarcastic Dormouse - an Interview with Matt Ralphs

With 12 years of experience in the publishing industry, Matt Ralphs has enjoyed working at Hachette Children’s on a wide range of books from science fiction, fantasy, history, art, humanities and children’s, including the bestselling Beast Quest series.

Matt’s debut novel Fire Girl is a fast-paced, exciting story full of danger and suspense with a strong historical/fantasy setting and memorable characters. 12-year-old Hazel has never left the magical glade where she lives with her mother, Hecate, but when a demon breaks in and snatches Hecate, Hazel sets off in pursuit. Accompanied by her grumpy dormouse familiar but with no friends in the outside world, she enlists the help of a young demon-hunter and his master, the drunken Titus White. But Titus isn't just a demon-hunter, he's also a witch-finder and if he ever discovers that Hazel has magical powers of her own, he'll turn on her in an instant.

How and when did you start writing Fire Girl?

My fear of realising that I had no writing talent held me back for a long time, and I only started Fire Girl when I decided that if I wanted to fulfil my dream of getting a novel published, I had to sit down, do the hard work, and actually write one. That was about six years ago.

I’ve still not overcome that fear, by the way. I’ve just learnt how to ignore it.

The novel is set during the Cromwellian witch hunts. How much of the setting is based on real history, and how much is pure invention?
I love history, and use it as an inspiration and springboard for my stories, layering my own inventions and ideas over the top.

The landscape, architecture, clothes, food, weapons, and some of the characters Hazel encounters are based on real history. But the magic, demons and some of the technology is made up. I twisted, distorted, discoloured and vandalised real history to create the world of Fire Girl.

Do you have a favourite character in the book?

Well, I’m rather attached to them all! I like Nicolas Murrell, the dark-magic wielding demonologist. Although he does terrible things, his motives are understandable. I tried to ensure that the so-called villains in Fire Girl are relatable, and not just moustache-twirling, cackling evil-doers with no proper motivation.

But I like Titus White, the ailing Witch Finder, best. He’s a man well past his prime, a bad tempered drinker, plagued with dark moods and raging at the dying of the light. But underneath the bluster he’s a good man.

Which character was hardest to write? 

I treasure the characters like Bramley and Titus who arrive in my mind fully formed – they’re so easy!­

However it took me a long time to get Hazel right. She was always driven and active in the story, but at the start of her development she was a bit too . . . nice. A bit dull. So I gave her a temper and a playful, teasing nature and she began to take shape from there.

Bramley brings out the best in her I think, and hopefully she’ll develop further as the series progresses.

Bramley, Hazel’s sarcastic dormouse familiar, is amazing. What gave you the idea for a dormouse?

I realised early on in the writing that Hazel had to have a companion or she’d have no one to talk to! And as she’s a Witch it made sense to make that companion a familiar. The familiar had to be small enough to hide on her person so her identity as a Witch could remain a secret from her enemies. Then I thought of the dormouse mentioned briefly in the first chapter and decided he’d be perfect.

So it was a sort of random creative process that gave me Bramley – and I’m glad it did because people do seem to be responding well to the grumpy little tyke.

What have you most enjoyed about being an author so far?

So many things! Writing full time with the brilliant support of Macmillan Children’s Books; having a fantastic editor; seeing ‘Fire Girl’ in print; watching the trailer on the Guardian website; reading positive reviews; being fortunate enough to be doing what I love the most for a living...

I could go on, but I don’t want to sound too smug.

Will Hazel and her mother survive book 2?

Oh, now come on! I’m not going to give that away!

It was worth a try.  We’ll just have to wait for the sequel.  When will the next instalment be published?

Fire Witch publishes sometime in early 2016.

Thanks, Matt.  Fire Girl is published by Macmillan.  For more details and to see the awesome trailer, check out the Macmillan website here.  

Interview by Claire Fayers.


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