EJ Clarke’s exciting first book, Rowan Oakwing, introduced young readers to the fairy realms hidden in London’s parks. Now, our eponymous heroine is back in Rowan Oakwing Night of the Fox and the stakes have never been higher. Without giving too much away, Rowan sets out to save her mum from the evil Vulpes with the help of her fairy friends – plus a tiger released from London Zoo!
EJ Clarke’s writing is action-packed, emotionally intelligent and multi-layered. You can not help but get sucked into Rowan’s world and cheer for her and her friends. You also may not be able to help but wonder why a grown man decided to start writing about fairies in his spare time. I’ll let him tell you about that. Over to you, EJ Clarke:
To his credit, my father in law never asked why I was writing about fairies in my wife’s childhood bedroom.
I certainly wouldn’t have begrudged him that question. He is a proud Yorkshireman, born and bred, and he had already had to deal with the fact that his youngest daughter had decided to marry a Southerner who ‘worked’ in the media. But now, here was that same Southerner taking a week off his so-called work in order to finish writing a children’s book. Even though he had never written anything remotely resembling a novel before. (My one and only previous brush with publication was an entry in the East Midlands Regional Poetry Anthology of 1996, but fortunately, I had never told him about that.)
To be honest, I was probably just projecting the question from my own head as I sat perched at a folding Formica table that had been put up for my benefit in a room containing the remnants of my wife’s childhood and teenage years.
Why was I doing this? Why was a grown man in his forties writing a story about a girl that turned into a fairy?
The short answer was that it was an idea that had popped into my head a few years previously and wouldn’t go away until I did something about it. The long answer was that it was something I wanted to do for my own daughters, and moreover, was able to do because of them.
In one sense, my daughters were my safety net. At the very least, surely they would read what their old Dad had written? Even if it was terrible?
But in another sense, I felt that I had things I wanted to talk to them about. Things I wasn’t necessarily seeing enough of in other media they were being exposed to. For one thing, as parents of two girls, my wife and I felt constantly let down by the female role models on offer to them in the media. Whilst there is much to love about Disney (and the storytelling of Pixar, in particular, was a massive influence on me), the culture and commercialization of the Disney Princess ‘franchise’ was a major bugbear. At a time when we were trying to encourage our daughter to find out who she was, she was being bombarded by a marketing machine encouraging her to aspire to a very specific type of femininity. One that was largely about being pretty, royal and awaiting rescue.
Equally, even when Disney and others had tried to address this issue of the passive female heroine, it seemed that they would do it by overlaying traditionally ‘male’ qualities of physical prowess, so that these female protagonists were really just ‘boys in disguise’.
In short, I’d had enough of ‘kick-ass’ heroines as much as I had of girly girls. Where were the stories that elevated empathy and intelligence as much as action and instinct? Maybe I could try and redress the balance in a small way to help open up the options for our daughters, rather than narrow them down.
Another niggle with a lot of children’s stories I’d read or watched with my eldest daughter was the apparently constant need to kill off the parents at the beginning. I tried not to take it personally. Clearly, the majority of children’s stories are rites of passage tales, and the protagonists need the space to grow up. But it irked me that I would have to read yet another story to my daughter about mothers and fathers dying at a time when all you’re trying to do as a parent is make you children feel safe and secure in the world they find themselves in.
I was determined to keep the parents in my story; I’d just have to find another method to keep them out of the way. So in the end, the mother and father became the problem that my heroine had to solve. Instead of being the perfect parents who are conveniently dispatched to leave an inspirational memory, these would be people struggling to be parents whose daughter would be the one to help them.
And if writing this book was a journey for me, then that was my ultimate discovery. What might have started out as a way of speaking to my daughters became a way for them to speak to me. For whilst we as parents haven’t struggled in the same way that my fictional parents have, I know that our children have taught us far more than we could teach them.
So it turned out that that was why a grown man in his forties was writing about fairies in his wife’s childhood bedroom. And that too, I guessed, was why my father in law wasn’t questioning it. We do the best we can to provide the right foundations for our children, but then we all have to find our own way.
This all said, it is still just a book about a girl that turns into a fairy and goes on a great adventure. But it’s a journey that I hope will be as fulfilling for the reader, as it was for the writer.