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Interview: October 2009

In this interview with Kidsreads.com's Terry Miller Shannon, Angie Sage --- author of the Septimus Heap series --- explains what drew her to writing fantasy novels and discusses the real-life inspirations behind a few of the quirky animals featured in her books. She also talks about why she chose not to create the art for the series despite her background in illustration, ranks some of her books in terms of the difficulty she had writing them, and shares details about what's in store for her characters after SYREN.

Kidsreads.com: What inspired you to write the Septimus Heap books?

Angie Sage: Septimus Heap was a story I had wanted to write for a very long time. I loved the idea of having a whole world to write about and explore, and characters that I could get to know over the years. Living in Cornwall gave me the time to begin writing MAGYK and also the atmosphere and some of the settings for the books.

KRC: Animals with quirky personalities play a big part in the Septimus Heap books. There's Spit Fyre, the dragon; Stanley the Messenger Rat; Snorri's cat (and sometimes black panther), Ullr; the Boggart; and more. Are these creatures somehow connected with animals you've encountered in your own life?

AS: I think Spit Fyre reminds me of the various unruly dogs we had when I was a child. Sometimes I wonder if Stanley isn’t rather similar to an assortment of talkative builders I have had to listen to while they have been working in the many houses I have lived in over the years --- and I do like rats, they are so intelligent and quite human-like at times. Snorri’s cat is my ideal cat (although I have never owned a cat as they make me sneeze… but maybe I wouldn't be allergic to Ullr?). The Boggart… I am not sure where he is from, but he feels very familiar somehow. I suppose he is a little like a seal, if only they would talk.

KRC: Secret passages and tunnels abound in these books --- and I understand you have a secret tunnel of your own. Please tell us about it. How did you discover it? What is it like? What was its original purpose?

AS: Ah, the tunnel… we haven’t found it yet! When we moved into our house two years ago, we were told that there was a secret tunnel to the church next door (there is one from the church to an equally old house not far away). We are still looking… there are a few hollow-sounding flagstones we would like to explore, not to mention a five-foot thick wall. What purpose the tunnel would have been I don’t know, although people have suggested it was to enable the priest to get safely to and from the church with all the church silver.

KRC: Are any of the characters in Septimus's world similar to you or to anyone you know?

AS: No, they are all just themselves! I don’t knowingly model my characters on anyone, I think it would be hard to do that, as I like my characters to grow and develop with the story. They just arrive in my head, complete with their names and often all too ready to tell me their life story.

KRC: I know you are an illustrator as well as a writer, and that you have illustrated some of your books. Was there ever the possibility that you would illustrate the Septimus Heap series? How much input do you have with illustrator Mark Zug's (amazing) artwork for the books?

AS: There was never any possibility I would illustrate Septimus Heap as my illustration style is much younger and simpler than Mark Zug’s and is not suitable at all for this series. As for input, well, having been an illustrator I do know how important it is for the author to keep quiet and let the illustrator do their own creative thing, so I would not dream of interfering with Mark’s fantastic work (and why would I want to?). Mark will email me if he wants to clarify anything, and we do collaborate on the maps, as that is the one thing we sometimes need to work out together. I do get to see all Mark’s rough drawings, which are always beautiful and exactly how I imagined it.

KRC: MAGYK has been chosen as Al Roker’s latest Book Club Pick. Congratulations! What will you do (or have you done) to celebrate this exciting news? Have you met Al Roker in person?

AS: It is exciting news! I met Al Roker when I was on the Kid’s Book Club slot last Friday, which was great, and being in New York was a great way of celebrating!

KRC: Is there any chance we'll see MAGYK (or any of the other four books) on the big screen?

AS: Warner Brothers has the movie rights for all seven books in the Septimus Heap series, and MAGYK is in development at the moment, which is great. David Frankel (who directed Marley & Me) is piloting it through this stage, and I heard recently that there are some great screenwriters working in it. I think it will make a wonderful movie.

KRC: In these books, you weave together many characters’ adventures into one cohesive story arc. Is this seemingly difficult task done intuitively? Do you write with an outline?

AS: I think I do this with a mixture of both intuition and an awful lot of thinking. I have a very loose outline when I begin each book --- the beginning, a few midpoints and the ending. I also know the atmosphere that I want to pervade each story, plus the locations I want to visit. From there, I let the characters lead the way. I always keep tabs on the pace of things and the balance between the characters and plot, and now that the series is getting towards the end, I also need to think about the whole span of the books too.

KRC: I imagine each book in the series takes a different length of time to write. Which one was quickest? Which took the longest? Any idea why?

AS: I think the quickest was FLYTE --- I had more time to write it and therefore think about it so that it went right the first time; also, I had been thinking about it a lot while I was writing MAGYK. The longest was SYREN because I had less time to write it and to organise things in my head. SYREN was also a more complicated book to write as I am getting towards the end of the series and there is a lot to think about, both with what has gone before and what needs to come afterwards.

KRC: What is your writing routine? Do you write longhand or on a computer? Do you write every day or just when inspiration (or a deadline) strikes? Do you aim for a certain number of pages a day?

AS: I am a computer person --- Mac laptop. I am not sure I could write creatively using longhand, as I edit so much as I write. My pages would look like a spider had fallen in the ink bottle, heaved itself out and staggered around in circles while trying to dry its feet.

I write 1,000 words a day, five days a week. Deadlines have to be factored in years in advance, as you can’t rush 100,000 words out suddenly. If I waited for inspiration to strike (instead of going out, banging on its door and waking it up), I reckon I’d still be halfway through the first chapter of MAGYK. I find that I can only think of ideas when I am actually writing, which is why it is so important for me to write every day.

KRC: Can you give us any hints/previews of what we can look forward to in Book Six? When might we expect to be able to get our eager hands on it?

AS: Sep & Co will be a little older, and I think I shall go on a trip with them up north of the Castle as there are interesting things afoot up there. It will probably be winter and the Big Freeze will be arriving… more of Simon and Lucy too. I will be finished writing Book Six by next October, and it will be published in April 2011!