Monday, 30 September 2013

MUSE MONDAY - Frances Hardinge's Fly on the Wall

This week the unicorn is delighted to welcome author Frances Hardinge, who would like to introduce you to a certain fly...
Frances Hardinge
Who (or what) is your muse?
Frances: My muse is a strange and unglamorous creature - the common housefly. It isn't pretty, and most of the time it's despised, overlooked or swatted on sight. But if you look at it closely, its black armour and cellophane wings have an iridescent sheen. It can walk upside down, take off backwards, and perform aerial acrobatics that would make the Red Baron hang up his flying goggles. It's a survivor and an opportunist because it has to be. It has no shame. If it had a mouth, it would be grinning. If it had a tongue, it would be sarcastic.
The fly is my sense of mischief, my curiosity (who doesn't want to be a fly on the wall?) and my love of the underdog. The fly stands for all the characters who aren't pretty or rich or gifted, but who manage to survive through being quick-witted, fleet-footed and ready to take a risk. The fly also stands for those who are unnoticed, scorned or underestimated.
Last of all, flies are scavengers and so are writers. Just as flies go everywhere and gobble a little of everything, so authors are always on the lookout for something they can pounce on and use for a story. Like flies, we sometimes find what we're looking for in odd and unglamorous places.

When did you first meet?
Frances: I remember being fascinated by flies' speed and agility from the age of about seven, and first wrote a story about a fly when I was about thirteen.
Does your muse appear in any of your books and/or artwork?
Frances: Yes! In my first novel Fly by Night and the sequel Twilight Robbery, the main character Mosca is named after a housefly. She was born at a time sacred to the fly-like god Palpitattle, He who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butter Churns. As a result everyone sees her as a 'fly-child' and treats her with suspicion. Mosca sometimes has imaginary conversations with Palpitattle, in which he has a snickering, sarcastic rasp of a voice. Like a fly, Mosca is a quick-thinking survivor, and not above breaking a few rules.
If you won the lottery and had complete artistic freedom, what would you write/create?
Frances: Actually, I would probably write very much the sort of books I've been writing already! I have been very lucky, since my publishers have allowed me a lot of freedom in choosing what to write. (They encouraged me even when I came to them with book ideas that were really, really weird.)
Before you go, does your muse have a message for the Unicorn?

Frances: Don't let your author take things too seriously, least of all herself. 
That's what I keep telling her!
"Don't take yourself too seriously..."
More about Frances
Frances Hardinge was brought up in a sequence of small, sinister English villages, and spent a number of formative years living in a Gothic-looking, mouse-infested hilltop house in Kent. She studied English Language and Literature at Oxford, fell in love with the city's crazed archaic beauty, and lived there for many years.

Whilst working full time as a technical author for a software company she started writing her first children's novel, Fly by Night, and was with difficulty persuaded by a good friend to submit the manuscript to Macmillan. Fly by Night went on to win the Branford Boase Award, and was also shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Award. Her subsequent books, Verdigris Deep, Gullstruck Island, Twilight Robbery and A Face Like Glass (see below) are also aimed at children and young adults.

Frances is seldom seen without her hat and is addicted to volcanoes! Visit her website for more details
In the labyrinthine underground city of Caverna, craftsmen toil to make strange and wonderful luxuries - forgetfulness wines, exploding cheeses and mind-control perfumes. A ruler who never sleeps governs a sinister Court full of back-stabbing and betrayal. Into this world falls Neverfell, a young girl whose face shows her every thought. She is the only person who cannot lie in a city of perfect liars, and somehow she must work out who to trust.

You can buy A Face Like Glass online from:
and all good bookstores.

Monday, 23 September 2013

MUSE MONDAY - Ann Evans and her Bear

This week, author Ann Evans introduces us to a very special bear...

Ann, Megan, and Teddy

Who (or what) is your muse?
Ann: My muse is a very old threadbare teddy bear. Well he's five years younger than me, so I'll rephrase that. He's a rather mature teddy bear. Occasionally Teddy has been known to go into schools and meet the children. He tells me he likes to inspire them to learn about local history.

When did you first meet?
Ann: Teddy and I met one Christmas morning. He just appeared at the foot of my bed, all wrapped up in shiny paper. I'd had my fifth birthday just the day before. I remember poking my finger through the paper and feeling his fur. When I unwrapped him and squeezed his tummy he made a growling sound. These days he seems to have lost his growl – and most of his fur, but he still whispers good ideas to me all the time.

Does your muse appear in any of your books and/or artwork?
Ann: He was my inspiration for a series of books which I'll be writing soon. It's all a bit hush hush at the moment, so I can't say too much at the moment. He also makes an appearance in an adult thriller that I've just finished writing but that's a very scary book – with a scary title, so I can't say much about that either. However, in the photo you'll spot my granddaughter, Megan cuddling Teddy. And she is featured (in cartoon style) as the logo of my Little Tyke Murder Mystery books – and you'll find a lovely cartoon of her when you visit my website.

If you won the lottery and had complete artistic freedom, what would you write/create?
Ann: I would definitely make a film out of my trilogy, The Beast, The Reawakening and Rampage. The books are packed full of adventure and suspense. And The Beast won an award this year. So I know they would make a block-busting success. Steven Spielberg are you listening?

Before you go, does your muse have a message for the Unicorn?
Ann: Yes. He would like to thank Unicorn for allowing his author, Ann Evans to blog on his website. And he would like to share a joke with you:

Q. How many mystery writers does it take to change a light bulb?
A. Two... One to screw the bulb almost all the way in, and one to give it a surprising twist at the end!

Oh that sounds a bit rude! But it made the unicorn laugh. (And in case you're wondering, unicorns never have to change lightbulbs - our horns glow in the dark, so we don't need bulbs.)

About Ann.

Ann Evans has been writing for more than 30 years. It began as a hobby and gradually became a career and a way of life.  She has three grown up children, four grandchildren – and another on the way.

Ann loves writing exciting stories for young readers – particularly thrillers and mysteries. She also writes romance and crime for adults and non fiction including articles for national magazines on all sorts of topic from animals to antiques. Ann lives in Coventry and when she's not writing she loves walking, gardening and reading. Find out more on her website:

Emma and Lucy experience the chance of a lifetime. Emma has won a competition to spend the weekend with the hottest new boy-band around, Street Wise. She and her friend, Lucy fly to France on the band's private jet, watching the concerts, going backstage.
It all sounds brilliant. Until something deadly happens…

There are four books in the series. Check out the other titles.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Happy Autumn Equinox!

The unicorn and I would quickly like to wish everyone a happy autumn equinox. (We have to be quick, because it doesn't last for long!)

Today, in the northern hemisphere, day and night have equal lengths. From now on, the nights will get longer and the days will get shorter up until midwinter, when the reverse happens until we reach the spring equinox, where day and night are once again of equal length.

This year, the autumn equinox falls at 8.44pm this evening (Sunday 22nd Sept), but you've just got time to get to Stonehenge for the official celebration tomorrow at sunrise.

So what does all this mean for authors?

The equinox is time of balance and of change, of bringing old projects to a close and thinking about new ones. I always get itchy feet at this time of year, which sometimes results in me putting my house on the market (though I know estate agents and house buyers are not of the same mind!), or starting a new book even if I haven't finished the old one yet (publishers are often not of the same mind, either!). But this year, things seem to be working more in rhythm with the seasons. My Pendragon Legacy series is drawing to a close with publication of the fourth and final title Grail of Stars on October 1st. So I'll be doing some promotion for that, and then working on a new project through the dark months of the year to bring out in the spring ready for the return of the sun.

Meanwhile, here is a magical post about the equinox if you would like to celebrate it with a spell:  The White Goddess

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Coast to Coast for the Appledore Festival

Once you have a book published, you'll notice a strange thing. Invitations to speak about your writing flow in from all over the world... London, Belfast, Malta, and San Francisco are just a few of the places I've visited as a published author. Yet we are rarely asked to attend our local events! Writing about the legendary King Arthur, though, I've had the pleasure of doing a bit more local publicity, and this week saw me visiting schools in my home county of Devon for Appledore Festival.

I should probably explain for those who don't live in the west country that North Devon and South Devon are two distinct areas, since Devon is the only county in England to boast two separate coastlines. I live on the busy south coast, known as the English Riviera, connected to London by the mainline and a soon-to-be-finished bypass. Appledore is a small fishing village on the north coast. Getting from here to there might not be very far in miles, but it's still an adventure on a rattling branch line (called the Tarka Line after one of my favourite childhood books Tarka the Otter), where a very short train crawls past scenic little stations and makes its way through the local foliage looking for stray passengers who might want to board - it doesn't stop unless you wave at it! But it carried me safely to Barnstaple station, where the lovely Polly fortified me with coffee before driving me to our first school, Pilton Community College, so I could introduce Year 8 to Rhianna Pendragon and friends:

Rhianna Pendragon, Prince Elphin, Squire Cai, and Maid Arianrhod

Today I am reading... Sword of Light
With many Merlin fans in the audience, the books went down well, and afterwards I signed bookplates for readers keen to get hold of the series. (Muse: they were nicely done with a border of small knights riding around the edge, but I can't show you one since Katherine left all the spares with the librarian in case anyone who couldn't get to the talk wanted to buy a book later... if that's you, remember to ask her for one!)

After a short drive through the Devon countryside, we arrived at Great Torrington and took a detour into town for a quick cup of tea (and cake) at a family-run bakers, served us by a 91-year old famous enough to have had his portrait painted... by the time I get to 91, I hope I'll be famous enough for a portrait too. Then Polly drove me to Great Torrington Community School, where we were treated to lunch in the library (and more cake), before my talk to their Year 10 history group.

Now, I know 'Year 10' and 'history' might sound rather serious when said in the same breath, but here we are proving that you're never too old for a bit of dressing up...

Me wearing the Crown of Dreams

The girls with Excalibur* and Pendragon books
* Muse safety note: plastic sword, not the real one - which to my knowledge is now in Avalon.

After school, fellow Templar author CJ Busby, who writes a King Arthur series for younger readers, picked me up at the gates to take me home for tea and delicious homemade scones. (Muse tip: do not wear tight clothes on an author visit if you want to make room for all the cakes!)

Here is CJ at her local station, where she expertly flagged down the train so she could get rid of me I could get on.

CJ Busby, author of the "Frogspell" series
Another rattle back down the Tarka Line, one last quick gallop over the platform bridge at Exeter station, and I was on the home run...watching the sun go down over the Teign estuary, even as I had watched it rise on my out.

If you missed my talks and would like to know more about my books, please visit my website or leave a comment below.

GRAIL OF STARS publishes in hardcover on 1st October and is available for preorder now:
from my publisher
from amazon


Monday, 16 September 2013

MUSE MONDAY: The Smoky Moth of Enid Richemont

This week, the Unicorn welcomes experienced children's author Enid Richemont...

Enid Richemont
Who or what is your muse?
Enid: My Muse is a totally silent, smoky Moth. Its wings are covered in the softest fur, and its body is jewelled. Its eyes, which are multi-facetted, see everything, but Moth doesn't easily share, and has to be persuaded and wooed. Sometimes Moth is male, but mostly it's female, or a combination of both.

moth picture: creative commons Wikipedia

When did you first meet?
Enid: Long ago, when I was writing THE GLASS BIRD.

Does your muse appear in any of your books and/or artwork?
Enid: Moth haunts THE GLASS BIRD, because Moth and the Bird are kindred creatures.

If you won the lottery and had complete artistic freedom, what would your muse write/create?
Enid: A magic substance that would stop people from hurting each other - hurting others is such a waste of joy and life.

Before you go, does your muse have a message for the Unicorn?
Moth: Our people are such slow learners, and only we know how much they have to learn. Meet me in a hundred years or so, and maybe we'll fly together?

It's a date! By that time I should have grown some lovely wings like Pegasus - and I'm hoping they will sparkle like my horn, so maybe I'll be able to fly in the dark like a moth.

Find out more about Enid on her website:


More than anything else in the world, Adam wants a friend. One day, walking home from school, Adam picks up a conker and - almost as a joke - he makes a wish. He wishes for a friend. But the conker leads him to something quite different: a glittering glass bird hidden in the ferns.

It's the most beautiful thing Adam's ever seen, and the most extraordinary - for the bird appears to live and breathe. Could it be that this wonderful creature has the power to make Adam's wish come true?

You can buy this book for only 98p from the Kindle store.


Monday, 9 September 2013

MUSE MONDAY - The "Anmails" of Griselda Gifford

 This Monday, the unicorn welcomes author Griselda Gifford...

Griselda Gifford

Who or what is your muse?
Griselda: I think animals of all kinds, from mice to dogs and ponies, have been my muse. Our Springer, Tia, is sitting now by my feet, inspiring me!

When did you first meet?
Griselda: First inspiration for writing – my “Anmails” (I still can’t spell!) diary at ten years old – featuring birth of rabbits – sitting in an old garage with my rabbit at my side. Also, spending a whole afternoon sitting alone in a field reading Black Beauty at eight years old – surely this marvellous book was the inspiration for War Horse? I tried to teach my tame mice to walk along a piece of string, for a circus idea – alas, they weren’t keen!

Does your muse appear in any of your books and/or artwork?
Griselda: Nearly all my books have animals in them from wildcats to bolting horses (all horses bolt when I get on!)

If you won the lottery and had complete artistic freedom, what would your muse write/create?
Griselda: Maybe a book about all the animals in my life!

Before you go, does your muse have a message for the Unicorn?
Tia: Careful with that horn! Remember what happens to the elephants.

Ohhh, if anyone tries to steal my horn they will get a shock... it's protected by magical glitter!

More about Griselda.

Griselda Gifford is the author of 30 previous books for children. She is happy to visit schools, bookshops, historical societies etc. to talk about her writing generally and her new book THE CUCKOO'S DAUGHTER (see below). She can also offer Creative Writing workshops for adults or children. Please contact her by email: GriseldaGifford @

When Louisa is called "the Cuckoo’s Daughter” by a fairground gypsy, she is surprised and angry. Now sixteen, she has lived all her life on a farm with her foster-parents and family but they refuse to tell her the names of her real parents. She longs to find out who they were. Discovering a hidden miniature portrait, she wonders if it is of her mother, but she still meets a wall of secrecy.

She falls in love with handsome Godfrey Macdonald but her foster-father refuses to allow them to marry and sends her to a horrible boarding-school.Will she be brave enough to escape the school and elope with Godfrey, leaving the only family she knows and the foster-sister she loves? And will she find out the truth about her real parents?

This romantic historical story is based on a true story set in 1799, and can be enjoyed by teens and adults. You can buy this book direct from the publisher Country Books.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Over at the History Girls... is King Arthur too English for America?

King Arthur - too English for American readers?

Today I am over at the History Girls talking about books that travel... and those that don't!

Click here to read my History Girls post and join the discussion.


It seems my above post went a bit viral. After reading all the interesting and lively comments, many from American readers, I just want to add a few words here..

1. Publishing is all about SALES - I think most of us would agree on that. And as a published author who hopes to continue to publish many more books, I'd agree too. I need to sell a certain number of books to survive, just like my publisher does, and if getting more sales was as easy as changing the subject matter or background of my stories then I would do so in a flash. But it seems even publishers aren't quite sure which books will sell massive numbers, so why shouldn't a book about King Arthur's daughter have as much chance of selling as a book about Poseidon's son? (For comparison's sake, let's assume the same author wrote both, and you can take your pick who.)

2. I am in no way anti-American. Some of my books have done very well over in the US. Spellfall and the Echorium trilogy, for example, were well supported by their US publisher and found many American readers. But when I heard my UK publisher saying "another one like Spellfall, please", my muse lay down and refused to move. Of course, what my publisher really meant was "another one that will sell like Spellfall, please." Which is not the same thing at all.

3. My highest-earning title to date is a book that did not get an American publishing deal... The Great Pyramid Robbery (Book 1 of the Seven Fabulous Wonders series), which is also the title of mine borrowed the most number of times from UK libraries so far.

4. What about Merlin (the TV show), anyway?!

Fortunately, blog travel is much easier than book travel, so on Monday the unicorn will be back with another interview, when author Griselda Gifford introduces you to her muse... or should I say muses? Check back then to find out more.

Monday, 2 September 2013

MUSE MONDAY - The Wonderful Whippets of Karen Bush

Followers of this blog might notice that my author has changed the Muse Monday format. Now I get to pin down other people's muses with my glittery horn and interview them! First author in my glittery line-up is Karen Bush...


Who or what is your muse?
Karen: Two whippets, Archie and Angel. They are very flesh-and-blood muses and can be counted upon to keep me company while writing – which otherwise would be a very lonely job. They are keen to keep me working hard so that I can afford to humour every whim and foible they have, whether it is a smart new collar or special organic bedtime biscuits. So keen are they that they have insisted that I buy a netbook so I can carry on working while sitting on the sofa with them in the evenings as they watch the telly.

Archie and Angel... ahhhh.

When did you first meet?
Karen: Fate threw Archie into my arms eight years ago, and Angel six months after.

Does your muse appear in any of your books and/or artwork?
Karen: Not yet, although it’s probably only a matter of time. They do have their own blog at where they regularly jot down their musings on life, the world, and the lack of roast turkey.

If you won the lottery and had complete artistic freedom, what would your muse write/create?
Karen: If I won the lottery,  Archie and Angel would blow it all on a huge, safely fenced off paddock to run around and frolic about in, and if any money was left over they would donate it to Scruples Whippet Rescue. Leaving me to continue toiling over a keyboard … although the paddock on a sunny day would be quite a nice place to sit while doing it.

Before you go, does your muse have a message for the Unicorn?
Karen: Oh yes! Whippets of the world unite … you have nothing to lose but your leashes! Although this is probably not very helpful to the Unicorn. Something along the lines of put your trust in your author and keep your horn dry might be more appropriate.

"Keep my horn dry" - thank you, whippits, I'll remember that. Too much rain does tend to wash off the glitter!

Find out more about Karen and her books:
Karen Bush's website
News of her new book plus tips on how to become a show jumper
Archie and Angel’s blog

The Great Rosette Robbery and Other Stories is a collection of short pony stories – there are eight altogether, including ones about a pony that won’t jump, a talented event horse that loses his nerve, and how a missed show results in a dream coming true.


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