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Q&A with Claire Fayers, author of Storm Hound

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This month we were very excited to speak to the magical Claire Fayers, the imaginative mind behind the electrifying Storm Hound.

Claire’s new book tells the story of Storm of Odin, the youngest stormhound of the Wild Hunt that haunts lightning-filled skies. But on his very first hunt he finds he can’t keep up and falls to earth, landing on the A40 just outside Abergavenny. Enter twelve-year-old Jessica Price, who finds and adopts a cute puppy from an animal rescue centre. And suddenly, a number of strange people seem very interested in her and her new pet, Storm. People who seem to know a lot about magic . . .

Your magical book, Storm Hound, is an electrifying adventure filled with myths, magic and puppies. Can you tell us a bit more about where the inspiration for it came from?
Thank you! The inspiration began with Storm – he crashed into my head one day and I fell in love with him straight away. He has the worst case of puppy arrogance, but he throws himself into life, and he sees our world as something magical, full of adventure and possibility. I’d never written a book starring an animal before, and I’m very much a cat person in real like, but Storm’s energy was so infectious I had to write his story.

The landscape of Wales is also a big inspiration. I live quite close to Abergavenny and I was lucky to be doing some school visits there while I was writing the first chapters of Storm Hound. The town is the perfect location for the story. It’s surrounded on all sides by mountains and the weather can change fast so it’s easy to imagine a sudden storm blowing up.

The Wild Hunt in the book is a well-known folk myth. Did inspiration for your book come from any specific myths or fairy tales? And how did you research your books?
I’ve always been a big fan of myth and legend. Being born and brought up in Wales, I thought I knew all about Welsh folklore: King Arawn of the Otherworld and his hunting dogs; the shape-shifting sorceress, Ceridwen. But then I started looking at the smaller, local stories and I was surprised how much I didn’t know. The stories surrounding Mount Skirrid became especially important in Storm Hound.

My previous books have all been fantasies set in invented places, so it was a novelty to have a real town to explore and I spent many days in and around Abergavenny. I can point to the spot where Storm fell from the sky, I know where Jessie’s house is, and where she took Storm on walks. (If you’re tempted to climb Mount Skirrid, be warned – the first bit is a lot steeper than it looks!)

If you could join The Wild Hunt with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Much as I’d like to travel with Storm, I’d have to choose Ceridwen and her motorbike. She has the coolest bike – jet black with orange magical symbols. She’s also a stickler for health and safety so there’d be less chance of us accidentally falling out of the sky. (Sorry, Storm!)

Once Storm falls to earth, he loses his horse-sized size and becomes an adorable puppy that has to go on walks and to obedience class. In what ways is this a character-building experience for him?
At the beginning of the book, Storm thinks he’s the centre of the universe. He’s powerful, he knows everything and he doesn’t need anyone. It’s the ultimate humiliation to find himself in the body of a puppy. But once Jessie adopts him, he starts to care about her. She looks after him and he tries to repay her. For the first time ever, he’s not just thinking about himself. At the obedience class, he discovers he can make Jessie happy, and that in turn makes him happy. In a strange way, becoming small and helpless makes him stronger. By the end of the book he’s far more than just a stormhound.

Storm is adopted by 12-year-old Jessica who has moved to her father’s house in Abergavenny. Are there any similarities between how Storm and Jessica are feeling?
Very much so. I deliberately set up Jessie’s story to mirror Storm’s. They’re both feeling lost, homesick and misunderstood; it’s what draws them together. Jessie has moved to Wales after her parents’ divorce. She’s always wanted a puppy and her Dad thinks getting one will cheer her up. Jessie isn’t so sure, but then she meets Storm and recognises a fellow “lost soul.”

You’ve had all sorts of jobs in the past including being a church caretaker, a shoe shop assistant and a librarian. How did you eventually find your way to become a children’s writer?
I always wrote part-time alongside paid work. I started by writing short stories for magazines, which was excellent training in coming up with ideas and writing something every day. From there, I moved on to writing novella-length serials, whilst also trying to write a very grim and long adult fantasy. Don’t ask me why I thought that was a good idea! It was all useful practice, though.

Then, one November and needed a change, I joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and penned a madcap pirate adventure. It was a complete mess but I liked the characters so I kept working on it, and it eventually became the first Accidental Pirates book.

At the heart of your book is a warm message about the importance of friendship and having a sense of belonging. What do you hope readers take away from the book? 
The message of belonging is very important to me. Belonging isn’t a matter of where we come from or where we live now, but the connections we make with other people. Linked to that is the message that life is messy and people don’t fit into neat little boxes. We don’t have to limit ourselves to being just one thing. So, be kind to other people and don’t be afraid to try new things.

As part of our Share A Story campaign, we celebrate the magic of sharing a story. What are your favourite stories to share?
There are so many! I love all fairytales, of course, but I’m also rediscovering the stories of Eva Ibbotson. Her books are absolutely beautiful. She writes with such warmth and good humour, and I love the way she can bring a scene or a character to life with just a few words. I’ve just finished Journey to the River Sea and now I’m reading The Dragonfly Pool. Both of them are terrific stories.

Thanks for interviewing me, and happy World Book Day to everyone!

Storm Hound, published by Macmillan, is out now