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An interview with Loris Owen about The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith and her favourite fantasy books for kids

The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith by Loris Owen. Book  cover and author photo.

This month our Cockatoo subscribers are on a thrilling, magical adventure with Kip and his friends in The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith. Here we quiz author Loris Owen on what inspired the book, her favourite fantasy reads and, most importantly, who she would want on her team in a quest:

What inspired you to write The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith?

My mum gave me an idea in 2015 - a secret school for inventors. The story is very different now from that original idea, but there's still a secret school and you’ll still find lots of weird and whimsical inventions in it.

Ten Riddles is about forces called Strange Energy. This is inspired in part by the concept of dark energy – it’s thought that up to 70% of our universe is made up of energy that we can only guess at. That got me wondering what other energies might be like if you could see or feel them, and what they might do.

Are any of the characters inspired by real people?

There are lots of small things I saw or heard in people around me that found their way into Ten Riddles: a certain look, a quirk, some wise words, occasionally a name.

Aside from that, two of the characters are based almost entirely on real people. Albert is a mash-up of my stepsons Kai and Charlie, and Bagsworth is based on a college porter who was very kind to me when I was at university (there’s a dedication to him at the end of the book). There’s probably a third character to add to this: my partner Liam is always coming out with legendary puns and doing mad things, and Professor Steampunk is very like him in many ways.

Like many other writers, I’m also inspired by people from a distance, whom I’ve never met, such as Taika Waititi, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Professor Brian Cox, and Kip Thorne. If you look at the list of names Kip and Albert reel off in the Portrait Gallery, you’ll find some other inspirational real-life characters from history.

Which Quicksmiths teacher would you most like to learn from and why?

Oooo, that’s a tough one! I think I’d have to go for Professor Mo as he’s so kind and patient, but also funny. You could go to him with absolutely any problem and he’d help you figure it out. Plus I love puzzles and reckon Quixology would be a pretty fun subject to study.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

Since Coronavirus hit, I’ve been a writing nomad, sometimes working at a little fold-down desk I got second-hand, or at the dining room table, or sometimes on the sofa. It’s quite nice being flexible and moving around with my laptop but one day I’d like to have a dedicated writing room with a mahoosive bookshelf for all my books.

Why did you decide to write books for children?

I met my partner nine years ago when my stepsons were five and seven. Because I don’t have kids of my own, I thought writing an adventure fantasy for children would help me to see the world through their eyes.

What was your favourite book as a child?

My favourite picture book was Borka the Adventures of a Goose with no Feathers. My favourite first fantasy book was The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe. I also loved the Fighting Fantasy series – they were really ingenious books in which you chose your own story as you read by rolling dice.

What fantasy books for kids would you recommend our subscribers read next?

Howl’s Moving Castle is a wonderful story. I also love the epic adventures Northern Lights and The Hobbit (both quite long books for committed readers, but well worth the effort!) If you’re looking for something a bit shorter, try Malamander or one of my all-time-favourites, Podkin One-Ear.

Who would you want on your team in a quest?

Another tough one! I don’t think I’d be able to pick just one person from Team Glowflyer, as they all bring such different skills and qualities to the party. If it were another character from fiction, probably Dipper Pines from Gravity Falls because he’s pretty good at solving enigmas, or Lyra Belacqua because, seriously, is there anything she can’t do? If it were a real person, then Leonardo Da Vinci, because he’d be able to invent our way out of any tricky situation.

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