This weekend saw the launch of first-time author EJ Clarke’s exciting book introducing young readers to the fairy realms hidden in London’s parks. Now, I must admit, Rowan Oakwing is a bit of a departure from the books we normally engage with — it is our first foray into a non-picture book and our first book for slightly older readers — BUT the gutsy and true, eponymous, female lead grabbed our attention and wouldn’t let go until the entire book was devoured and we were left wondering when the next book in the series would be released (summer 2017). So, given the fact that Rowan beats every branded, girly hero around (hands-down!), how could we miss the opportunity to introduce her to you? Also, I was impressed by the multi-layered nature of this book. It deals with bullying, loss, grief, and self-realisation — all, while never losing a sense of fun, excitement, and whimsy. Given that fact, how could I miss the chance to introduce you to EJ Clarke?
TiaT: Ed, can you start by telling us a little about the story for those who haven’t yet read it?
EJC: Sure! It’s about an 11-year-old girl from South London who falls asleep under a tree in Hyde Park and wakes up a fairy. She discovers a world where different fairy tribes live in all of the Royal Parks of London, and that the mother she thought she’d lost might be living as a fairy on the other side of the city. Thus, along with some new-found friends (including a talking robin called Harold!), she sets out on a perilous journey across the city to try and find her.
TiaT: HTow did the idea for Rowan Oakwing come to you?
EJC: It was two ideas that came together, really. The first being a kind of alternate fantasy history of London to explain why the Royal Parks closed at dusk, ie that Queen Victoria had created them as sanctuaries to protect fairies from the Industrial Revolution! And the second being what might happen if an everyday girl actually turned into a fairy.
TiaT: How did being a father of two young girls affect your story writing process?
EJC: It affected me in two main ways. The first was that it took the fear away from writing it! It was the first thing I’d ever written, and in my day job I work with lots of amazing writers, so the pressure was on a bit. But I hoped that even if no-one else read it, my daughters would, and that in itself would be more than worthwhile! Once I’d started, I realised that I wanted to write something for them that presented the kind of role models that my wife and I were looking for for our daughters, too. We had really noticed just how prevalent the ‘princess’ culture was for our girls, how gender stereotyping starts so early. I wanted to have a female protagonist who wasn’t all pink, sparkly and demure, but who wasn’t a boy-in-disguise ‘kick-ass’ heroine either. So I wanted Rowan to embody qualities that were more about emotional intelligence and self-realisation – which I think are far more important qualities to promote!
TiaT: While this is a story about fairies, there are lots of layers and big, deep topics touched upon. Which messages do you hope will come through to young readers the loudest?
EJC: I was inspired a lot by Pixar in this, I have to say. I think they tell stories for kids that work on a number of levels, that you can see different things as an adult than as a child. For young readers, I hope they can see someone like them who’s struggling in their life, but finds a way through by finding a strength inside themselves they didn’t know they had.
TiaT: You work in film production and development — anything you want to tell us about Rowan Oakwing — the movie!?
EJC: Ha! Well, it started out as an idea for a film, and I pretty much wrote it as one. But the downside is that it’s a very expensive film to make, so to convince someone to finance it, it would really help if it was a successful book first! So this is the beginning of a long road on that front. But sure, I would love to see it happen one day!
TiaT: Finally, what sneaky secrets can you share with us about the second book in the series?
EJC: It’s hard to say too much without giving away the ending to the first book (!) but I can say that the second book presents an even greater challenge for Rowan, and involves breaking a tiger out of London Zoo!