Richard Lambert on Shadow Town and fantasy books for kids
We've sent our Macaw subscribers on a wild ride this month with a thrilling fantasy adventure by award-winning author Richard Lambert. Shadow Town tells the story of misfit Toby, whose life is turned upside down when he stumbles into a mysterious alternative world, Balthasar. There he befriends the enigmatic Tamurlaine and together they set out to find a way for Toby to get back home. It's an exciting, puzzling and hugely original read. Here Richard tells us more about what inspired the intriguing characters and setting, and which fantasy books for kids he recommends you read next.
What inspired you to write Shadow Town?
Many ingredients went into the novel, but it started with the character of Toby. I knew he was socially awkward, that he misunderstood things and got things wrong. I’d been doing lots of writing workshops in schools and noticing that classes, especially in primary school, are like little communities, and that the children can become annoyed as a group by a disruptive member of their community. And sometimes one person can unintentionally wind up others in their class by trying to be funny or impress them. And I suddenly remembered being like that myself when I was a child – completely not getting how things worked, and trying to say the right thing and getting it completely wrong. So it started with Toby.
Are any of the characters inspired by real people? And how about Balthasar?
The characters are all made up, but I use various characteristics that I notice in real people and give them to a character. So, the characters are a mix of invention and reality. With Balthasar, I had the idea of the castle, then gradually it grew from there. I made notes about the place over several years – so I drew on real places that I’ve visited, and photos, paintings, films, and things people told me. Also, a lot of daydreaming. So, the place grew very gradually.
Would you say being a Dreamer is a blessing or a curse?
Definitely a bit of both in Balthasar, because the kingdom is under the control of a tyrant and the Dreamers are tightly controlled. I’m working on the sequel at the moment, where the Dreamers decide they’ve had enough of dreaming things up for other people and go on strike.
What would you dream into reality if you could?
Difficult question! I think it changes all the time for me. Sometimes I want to dream into reality something really good for the world, like a piece of technology that would end climate change. But right this minute I’d like to dream myself to a nice little house by the sea where I could sit on the lawn and do nothing all day!
Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Toby?
Well, at the moment I am writing the sequel to Shadow Town. The sequel takes place a few months after Shadow Town ends, and Toby is a little older ... It features many of the same characters, including Tamurlaine and the villain Malladain, and many adventures and dangers ...
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
I remember being this age and it was the first time that I began to read a lot. I used to devour novels. I loved reading, and I think I wanted to write something that was as much fun and as exciting as the books I used to read when I was that age.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I write in various places. I find noise disturbing, so I try and find somewhere quiet to write. I like to go out to write as I will waste time too much time when I stay at home, so I will go to the library in town, or to a quiet cafe (one that doesn’t play music), and write there for an hour or two, then take a walk to refresh myself, then do another stint.
What other books fantasy books for young people would you recommend our subscribers read next?
Oh, nice question! Well, I have a few favourites. Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, which tells the story of Nobody Owens, whose parents are murdered when he is a baby, and who escapes the murderer by crawling into a graveyard where he is brought up by ghosts. It’s like a cup of joyful fun on a miserable day. CS Lewis's The Horse and His Boy. I was surprised and bewitched by the magic of this novel – it’s about a talking horse and it gives the reader a sense of the world’s marvellous possibilities. JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit. As most readers already know, this is about a hobbit, a wizard, some dwarves, a dragon, and a ring. It’s also the story of a journey through a fantastical world that is so richly drawn – with its own language, landscape, and history – that it feels real. And Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising, about Will Stanton who discovers he can travel back in time and who has to fulfil a quest to defeat evil. It has such a wonderfully strange, spooky atmosphere and sense of place.
Copies of our Shadow Town pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!
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