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The Flame in the Mist

What gave you the idea for The Flame in the Mist?

A: Years ago I went to a workshop where we were asked to imagine our lives as a fairy tale. Well, the place where I grew up felt relatively remote, and until I was 5 and went to school, life was pretty isolated. Then later, in my teens, I'd occasionally imagine what I think a lot of kids that age imagine: What if this isn't really my family? What if I was dropped here by mistake? So those two things translated into this core idea of a girl who lived in a remote castle on a hill. Though family resemblance made it obvious that I'd landed in the right family after all, the idea of being in the wrong one stayed with me and shaped Jemma's story, and the castle on a hill from that early seed became Agromond Castle, on a crag miles from anywhere.

Is Anglavia based on a particular place?

A: Yes! It's England. The prefix "Angl" appears in words like Anglo (as in Anglo-Saxons, who were the original Germanic settlers in England) and Anglophile (meaning someone who loves all things English). (Also, in French, England is "Angleterre", "terre" meaning "land".) Hundreds of years ago, Angl- and Engl- were both used, but Engl won, and England was born.

What about Agromond Castle?

A: It's not based on a specific castle, but I've always been fascinated by castles and spooky places. As young as 3 or 4, my absolute favorite family outing was to the ruins of Corfe Castle, near where my grandfather lived in a creepy old house with a creepy old cook. (I adored it there, too.) No surprise that those places and characters have morphed and shown up in The Flame in the Mist.

In fiction, though, there really is a place that influenced part of the setting of the book—the sprawling Gormenghast Castle of Mervyn Peake's "Titus Groan" trilogy, which I read when I was about 18. Though much larger than the Agromonds' castle, Gormenghast's warren-like cellars and general weirdness definitely filtered into The Flame in the Mist, as did some of the characters—but you can read more about that in my "Top 10 books" on the Extras page.

Are any of the characters in The Flame in the Mist based on real people?

A: I think fictional characters are always taken from real life, however extreme they might be. In Flame, some are fairly literal translations—Marsh, for example, with her solid dependability, was based on a beloved person from my childhood—while others are more like a distillation of the best and the worst aspects of people I've known. Think of the nastiest girl you can, for example, and distill her meanest qualities, then mix with a healthy dose of evil (Ok, that's not healthy), and you have Shade Agromond. But have I ever met anyone exactly like Shade? No. And I hope I never do!

I love eerie and spooky! But why do you?

A: Well, besides the love of spooky places that I mentioned, I've always been fascinated by the idea of ghosts, and life beyond death. It was something my family would talk about too, telling ghoulish stories round the dinner table, and my mum and several other people say they've seen a ghost in the house I grew up in. (I never did, but I believe I saw one after moving to the States.) As I've grown older, I'm more convinced that there's far more to life than we can actually see (quantum physics tells us that, too), as well as other layers of reality. There's a growing number of books, especially in YA, that focus on that theme too.

Did you have a job before being an author?

A: Lots! Jewellery salesperson, house cleaner, house painter, waitress, assistant teacher, guitar teacher, singer (in bars and pubs, when I first moved to London), recording artist...My main profession, though, has been as a songwriter. I still write songs. You can check out more if you'd like here.

Since you're also a musician, did you write the score for your trailer?

A: I wrote the first half of it. It's not really a score as such, though; just creepy notes and sound effects under a nursery rhyme (sung by my 6-year-old English nieces) that I made up for the book. The second half is stock music—far too orchestral and complicated for me to write!

Will there be a movie of The Flame in the Mist?

A: I'd love that! It's probably every author's dream for their book to make it to the big screen, but very few do. A lot of readers tell me how visual the book is, though, so I'm envisioning some amazingly ideal purse-waving Hollywood movie mogul thinking so too. You never know...

Who would you cast as Jemma? And what about Digby, and Nox and Nocturna?

A: Actually, I wrote a blog post last year that included that question. You can read it here. I didn't include Digby, though. Feel free to email me any ideas!

Do you do school visits, and would you come to mine?

A: Yes, I do—and I'd love to come to yours! It depends on where it is, though. Within an hour or so of where I live in eastern PA is possible; for anywhere else, we'll need to discuss. Email me and let's talk about it! Teachers, please see all the info about visits, plus downloadable outlines of presentations, workshops, and the entire Common Core-annotated Teaching Guide to the book, on the 'Teachers' Page.

What are your top 10 Books or series, and why? Either ones that you couldn't put down, or that stay with you, or influenced you.

A: That's a tough one! And I suspect answers might get quite lengthy, so let's take this one over to the Extras page.