I am delighted to introduce to the Inkpot Jasmine Richards, who is the author of THE BOOK OF WONDERS, which is a thrilling Middle Grade adventure fantasy. As is sadly so usually the case (she says, tongue in cheek), the United States has been luck enough to get THE BOOK OF WONDERS before the United Kingdom, with its release on 17th January 2012.
THE BOOK OF WONDERS follows 13-year-old Zardi (an adventure loving young girl who dreams of magic and running away to work on one of the ships that comes into the kingdom of Arribitha) and her best friend Rhidan (who arrived in the kingdom as a baby and who wants to know where he came from). When Zardi's elder sister is taken prisoner by the tyrannical sultan and marked for death, Zardi and Rhidan set out to find the magic they need to overthrow the sultan's rule. On the way, they'll encounter djinni, monsters and a roguish sailor called Sinbad ...
In this interview my questions are in bold and Jasmine's answers are in italics.
Hi, Jasmine, and welcome to the Inkpot!
THE BOOK OF WONDERS has been described as "a fantastical, action-packed response to the mythology of The Arabian Nights - but this time the sultan doesn't get away with murder". What was it about the Arabian Nights that particularly interested you?
Arabian Nights is in a word "awesome". Many of the stories from this collection are well known and include ALADDIN'S WONDERFUL LAMP, ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES and THE SEVEN VOYAGES OF SINBAD THE SAILOR. For those of you who haven't read THE ARABIAN NIGHTS they begin with a young woman called Scheherazade who tells tales to a cold-hearted sultan for 1001 nights in order to escape execution (the sultan has a nasty habit of executing his new wives!). Through her stories, she manages to melt the sultan's heart and they end up living happily ever after.
As a young reader, I loved these stories, I loved that Scheherazade was such a good storyteller and that she always made sure that she was at the most exciting bit of the story when the sun rose so that she would get to live for another day.
However, the 9-year-old me was enraged by the idea that the sultan got a happy ending after killing lots of innocent young women! Even back then I wanted to create a new story, where the sultan was challenged and maybe even defeated.
With THE BOOK OF WONDERS I have created an alternative version of events which I hope will keep readers guessing!
Sinbad - the original seafaring adventurer rogue - plays an important part in the story. How did you go about adapting such a well known and well-loved fictional character and were you ever worried about how older readers would react to it?
THE ARABIAN NIGHTS is a treasure chest of great characters and creatures, but for me they were a jumping off point rather than a set of rules I had to stick to. Sinbad had to be dashing (obviously) but I also liked the idea that he was a bit of a scoundrel and not to be trusted. The fact that he was a familiar character made it both more of a challenge and more of a joy when it came to recasting him. I don't think my Sinbad replaced other Sinbads and so I don't think older readers will have a problem with him ...
Ha! I call it being a plotter or a floater!
To be honest, I am a bit of both. I like to have a rough idea of where I am going in the narrative but I don't have all the plot points down, as I still want to surprise myself.
It is useful to think about what kind of writer you are and instead of working against it, embrace your preferred way of working and get on with it!
Zardi is a bit of a tomboy with her love of archery and dreams of high seas adventure, whereas Rhidan is quite a sensitive and bookish boy but they have a very genuine and deep friendship. How did you set out to balance the characters with each other and develop that relationship?
I love a feisty girl in an adventure novel and am so pleased to see Zardi join the ranks of other great heroines.
Because the original Scheherazade in THE ARABIAN NIGHTS is rather cerebral and saves her neck by telling stories I knew that I wanted Zardi to be much more physical, hot tempered and immediate.
When telling a story, I think balance is incredibly important and so I wanted Rhidan to be the opposite to Zardi and to have traits that Zardi didn't have but which she clearly needs to succeed. I wanted to make it that they always work better as a team than they do alone. The banter between the two came really easy to me and I think these two characters have great chemistry. I love, love, love writing them.
One of the things I particularly enjoyed about THE BOOK OF WONDERS is the sense of place - there's a real feel of the exotic in Arribitha - and I loved, loved, loved the map that's been added to the book. Did you have a conscious and deliberate vision for Arribitha from the start and did you get to input into the map?
I must confess that I am not very good at reading maps but I do love them at the beginning of a book because you know that you are in for a treat and that you are going to go on a proper quest!
With the map in the front of THE BOOK OF WONDERS I sketched this out and the artist who did my cover actually drew the map and made it all pretty!
In terms of the setting of the book, I always knew that the first book in THE BOOK OF WONDERS TRILOGY would have a strong Middle Eastern flavour because the first book is directly inspired by THE ARABIAN NIGHTS. It was really important to me that I got the smells, colours and the atmosphere of Arribitha right and so I did lots of travelling around the Middle East and North Africa. However, it was actually in Zanzibar in East Africa where I really felt that I was seeing Arribitha in the flesh. Zanzibar really helped me to add those last little details to Zardi's world.
That's easy. I would wish for the ability to stop or slow time. Between a full time job in publishing and writing there often doesn't feel like there are enough hours in the day and boy would I just love a weekend vegging out and watching GAME OF THRONES!
In your day job you're a senior editor at Oxford University Press Children's Books. What was it like to be on the other side of the fence in the editing process and has it changed the way you go about your day job?
I think being an editor makes me a better writer and being a writer makes me a better editor. Because I'm an editor I know that when my editor gives me feedback it is from a position of really wanting to give my book the best chance of succeeding. Therefore even if I don't always agree I respect that opinion and my editor's expertise.
As a writer, I know how hard my authors work. Writing books for children isn't just sitting in a room coming up with ideas and beautiful prose - it's about being brave enough to let your words out to the wider world and receive the praise and criticism, it's about going out and doing school visits, it's meeting booksellers and spending time speaking to readers on blogs and in newspapers and at festivals!
Sometimes doing events can be absolutely nerve-wracking and being on the other side I can really understand that nervousness.
I don't want to give too much away but in the next book Zardi and Rhidan's friendship is going to be sorely tested and we may or may not get to meet a certain Prince Aladdin in the third book!
Oooh, Prince Aladdin! I can't wait! Thank you very much for taking the time to visit us at The Inkpot.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog!
THE BOOK OF WONDERS is available in the United States from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and all good independent book stores.
THE BOOK OF WONDERS is available in the United Kingdom from Amazon UK.