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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Sarah Mussi, Here Be Dragons

Monday, 7 September 2015

Sarah Mussi's fantastical new adventure novel, Here Be Dragons, was released on 1 September 2015. She tells us what we can expect from her latest young adult book.

Hi Vertebrate, thank you so much for having me for this guest interview on your fabulous site.

So my book Here Be Dragons is based on the legends of North Wales. If you don't know already, the red dragon that flies on the Welsh flag comes from the myths and legends that surround Mount Snowdon. Apparently, underneath the mountain is a dragon's lair where the red dragon has to fight a white dragon in order to defend Wales and, in fact, all of Britain. It is a fantastic story that has inspired paintings, books, poems, websites, research and indeed the flag of Wales! So I am not alone in being totally fascinated by the story of the red dragon and how he came to be buried under Mount Snowdon. Legend has it that Merlin, the famous wizard of the days of King Arthur, is also involved in the enchantment that keeps the red dragon underneath the mountain. Well, with stories like this and a writer's imagination that runs totally wild, I was in my element! So I created a story in Here Be Dragons about a girl who lives on the mountain (Snowdon) and has to discover more about the legends beneath it.
I grew up on a mountain – well, a very big hill in the Cotswolds – and I am sure that a lot of that influenced what went into my story. So Here Be Dragons is a story about a girl who grows up on a mountain and is determined to find out what lies beneath the mountain – and in the course of doing this, she falls in love. Her life changes forever and she finds out a lot about dragons!
What inspired you to write an adventure story for young adults?
In my heart, I don't think I have ever grown up! I've just grown older. I really try to stay in touch with that part of myself that is experiencing the world anew. I like to see the future as a big adventure ready and waiting to happen. So I suppose it was quite natural for me to choose to write books for teens. I think young adults and teenagers have open minds and are ready to embrace the future in a way that we lose as we age. I very much wanted to hang onto that sense of everything being possible. Not only that, but I work with teenagers all the time! In my day job I am a teacher! I enjoy the freshness of their approach to life, the hope and the confidence that they have - that problems can be solved and everything will turn out okay! I wanted to capture all of this, plus the magic of first love and the feeling that life is one big magical adventure waiting out there for us all.
Have you always been interested in Arthurian legend?
Yes, I have always been interested in Arthurian legends. As a child I read the Tales of Mallory, which were then the older versions of the legends surrounding King Arthur. I remember going to watch the film Camelot as a child and thinking that the days of King Arthur, when knights rode out on great gallant and perilous quests; and ladies sort of strolled around looking beautiful and being admired all the time, must have been the most magical time to have lived. I totally loved everything about the era! I read the long poem by Lord Tennyson called Morte d'Arthur and I was so moved by it – I actually learned quite a lot of it off by heart and would repeat it to myself as I went walking over my own hilltops in the Cotswolds. I read T. H. White's the Sword in the Stone and more recently the fabulous novels by Kevin Crossley Holland.
I totally adored the new BBC Wales adaptation of the Arthurian legends – Merlin, and I am really looking forward to the film that apparently is coming out next year about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I have visited lots of places in Cornwall and around Glastonbury, searching for the magic in those settings, and I have never been disappointed! At every place where King Arthur is supposed to have been, I could use my creative imagination to whisk myself back into the past and hear the crash of swords and lances as knights in armour jousted. It has been a real privilege for me to be able to add to that body of literature, film, myth and legend by writing Here Be Dragons.
Do you have a favourite character?
Yes! My favourite character is Henry, of course! But I cannot tell you any more about that otherwise it would be a spoiler…
You are about to launch your new literacy programme, The Snowdonia Reading Challenge, in schools across the UK, what can young people expect to learn from reading Here Be Dragons?
I want to give my readers the best experience possible. I want to transport them from the everyday into a realm of myth and magic and excitement. I want them to be dissolved into the pages of the book, so that they feel the world inside the story is even more real than the world that they live in. They will learn a lot from travelling with me on this journey into The Snowdonia Chronicles. They will learn about Mount Snowdon for a start. They will learn about mountain rescues and about the danger of going out on mountains in winter. They will learn about the myths and legends that surround North Wales and make it one of the most special places on this planet. They will learn about the way in which time is measured – especially the turning of the earth and the effect that the stars have, because key to this story is the Procession of the Equinoxes which are marked by the Pole Star and the constellation of Draco the Dragon that turns around it ...  Well I won't give too much away! All of these things are in the pages of Here Be Dragons, and loads more too!
So, just pick up the book. Open it up and enjoy yourself! I did! I really enjoyed writing about the adventures of Ellie, George and Henry!
Here Be Dragons is showcased in The People's Book Prize. Click HERE to vote.
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