We are delighted to welcome author Lari Don to Story Snug as part of her book tour celebrating the publication of The Treasure Of The Loch Ness Monster. Lari’s newest picture book is a magical adventure about two children, Kenneth and Ishbel, and their search for the treasure that is rumoured to be hidden under Urquhart Castle.
Thank you for visiting Story Snug Lari and congratulations on the publication of your new picture book. We find it fascinating talking to writers about their writing process and the inspirations behind their ideas. How did you become a writer?
I think I’ve always been a writer! My mum says that I used to fold paper up into books and scribble on the ‘pages’ before I even went to school. So I’ve been trying to share stories longer than I’ve been able to read and write. And once I did learn to write, I didn’t really stop. When I was at primary school, I wrote plays for my cousins to perform, and at secondary school I wrote poems for the school magazine. My first proper jobs were all about words too: working in politics and in radio. But I didn’t become an author – a published writer – until I became a mum myself and rediscovered the joy of children’s books.
The Treasure Of The Loch Ness Monster introduced my daughter to ‘Nessie’ and led to us researching possible sightings of the monster on the Internet. Is your story inspired by an existing legend about Nessie?
There aren’t a lot of full stories about Nessie. There are lots of glimpses and questions and mysteries and rumours, but not many actual tales. So my story is based on the questions about Nessie (which I’ve known my whole life, because my grandparents lived in Inverness) and on magical lore about Castle Urquhart. When I read about the two doors, one leading to treasure and one leading to poison, I wondered ‘what if Nessie had a reason to care about what was behind the doors’ and that’s where the story started…
And I’m delighted that the book introduced your daughter to Nessie. I hope it does the same for lots of families! (You could visit the loch, and see if you spot Nessie for yourself…)
We think it’s wonderful that Ishbel and Kenneth’s magical adventure is inspired by an old story that they have read about Urquhart Castle and we love the way that Ishbel asserts that ‘some stories are real’. Did you do lots of research into different stories before you wrote the book?
Yes! Lots! I always do. I read lots about Nessie, but I also read a lot of local folklore. And once I found the Castle Urquhart story, I knew I’d struck gold! Then I just had to help my characters find gold too…
The two cousins, Ishbel and Kenneth, have very different personalities. We really admire Ishbel’s determination to solve her problem and the fact that she doesn’t let Kenneth’s sceptical comments deter her. Is the character of Ishbel based on a child that you have met?
No! I never ever base characters on people that I know, mainly because I love putting my characters in danger! (That’s what makes stories exciting.) The children’s characters arose out of the situation they were in, the tension between them, and how they reacted to that. I wanted them to love and trust each other, but also to needle and niggle at each other, just like siblings and cousins sometimes do!
We think that Nataša Ilinčić’s illustrations are absolutely beautiful, they’re perfect for the story. Did you discuss your vision of the story with Nataša or did she work independently?
Aren’t they amazing! I didn’t work with Nataša directly, but we didn’t work in isolation either. I sent my text to the editor, who discussed the story with the art designer, who then briefed the artist. But I didn’t just write the words you can see on the page, because I have to think about the pictures as I’m writing, so I also put illustration notes in the text, saying what the picture will need to show in order to move the story on. However I’m happy to leave the look and the details of the pictures up to the experts, and I love the moment when I see the pictures for the first time!
Which is your favourite illustration from the book?
I love them all! Nataša’s pictures are so incredible that it’s very hard to choose. But I think my favourite is the treasure chamber under the castle, because all those fascinating objects make me want to write new stories.
You have written books for children of all ages, from picture books to young adult novels. Do you have a favourite genre to write in?
I write the stories I love, and the stories I am keen to discover, so I usually write stories about magic and monsters and folklore and legends and adventure and danger. When I start to explore a story, that story usually indicates what age group it’s for. Sometimes the story wants to be brought to life by pictures on a page as well as by words, so I write it as a picture book text. Sometimes the story will be brought to life more effectively by words creating pictures in the readers’ heads, so I write it as a novel. I aim to write each story the best way for that story! And some stories appear in different ways for different age groups, for example the stories of fairies stealing children: I have retold that in the picture book of The Tale of Tam Linn, and used it as a major plot line in the adventure novels The Fabled Beast Chronicles, and it indirectly inspired the teen thriller Mind Blind. (Very indirectly – there are no fairy queens in the novel!)
How different is the process of writing a picture book in comparison to writing a young adult novel?
Very different. When I write a picture book I am telling one story, in a fairly straight line, and as I write I’m thinking about what the pictures will show, and trying to imagine a story that will give the artist lots of opportunity to create the most satisfying pictures. A novel, whether for 8-12s or teens, is also one story, but it is a longer and more complex story, and it has subplots and diversions and different arcs for different characters. Also, I usually know roughly where I’m going with a picture book, but I never know the end of a novel when I start it. Or even when I’m halfway through! So the writing process for a novel is both more spontaneous and more terrifying… Another big difference between writing for different age groups is how much sustained danger I can put the characters in, and how dark the ending can be.
Do you have a favourite location or environment to write in?
I would love to write at my desk in my calm quiet study every day. But in fact I spend most of my time out and about talking to young readers about stories, so I often write on trains and in school staffrooms between author events. And when I am at home, so are my family, who are fascinating and noisy, and therefore very distracting. So I often take my laptop to the attic or the shed, in order to find peace and quiet to spend with my stories.
The Lost Words by Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane. It’s so beautiful, and yet so sad. Also, like all the best picture books, it’s perfect for prompting discussion and sparking imagination.
From my daughters’ childhood: Dogger, by Shirley Hughes. One of the most distressing, dramatic, emotional and satisfying books ever. From my own childhood: a whole shelf of Ladybird fairytale books. Those magical stories turned me into this writer.
Can you tell us about any future titles or projects that you’re working on?
I can’t tell you much, I’m afraid! I am playing with lots of ideas this spring: I’m researching a picture book (lots of trees this time, rather than water) and I’m at the very start of developing an idea for an adventures series (I don’t even know the main characters’ names!) I’m also quite deep into a story that will probably turn into a YA fantasy, but I’m still letting the characters find their own path at the moment. It’s an exciting time for me creatively, but means it’s not easy to pin me down to genre or titles or even content!
Thanks so much for your fascinating questions!
You’re very welcome Lari! It’s always fascinating to hear what inspires authors to write a particular story. I found it very interesting to hear about the different approaches to writing picture books and novels and especially the fact that you don’t know how a novel will end when you start writing it.
Thank you for visiting Story Snug 🙂
Lari Don grew up in the north-east of Scotland, and lives in Edinburgh. She has worked in politics and broadcasting, but is now a full-time writer and storyteller. Lari is the author of more than 30 books for children of all ages, including The Fabled Beast Chronicles and Spellchasers trilogy for middle grade readers, Mind Blind for young teens, and picture books The Tale of Tam Linn and The Secret of the Kelpie, and she regularly visits schools and libraries to share her stories. Almost all her books are inspired by her love of traditional tales, and absolutely all her manuscripts are covered in muddy paw prints from her helpful cats.
The Discover Kelpies team are looking for young monster spotters to enter their Map My Monster art competition. To enter the competition for a chance to win a bundle of signed books by Lari Don just draw a picture of your local mythical monster on their special Map My Monster sheet. Don’t worry if you don’t have a local monster – you can borrow one from another place, or create your own! For more details visit Discover Kelpies Map My Monster competition page.
You can read more about author Lari Don, illustrator Nataša Ilinčić and The Treasure Of The Loch Ness Monster on the other blog tour stops;
- Discover Kelpies
- Playing by the Book
- Acorn Books
- Get Kids into Books
- Delightful Book Reviews