We picked eight-year-old Toppsta reviewer Kimi to interview Dominique Valente, author of highly-anticipated middle-grade novel, Starfell. Here’s what she had to say:
How did you come up with the story line?
I created the world of Starfell almost sixteen years ago, and have been loosely setting stories there for my amusement ever since. But Willow’s story began as I was driving home from work one day, thinking about how so many fantasy stories often have these heroes who are the ‘chosen one.’ They are the long-lost prince, the only person who has magic after a thousand years and so on. While I enjoy stories like this, I always find the idea of being chosen unrelatable – it’s a bit like having the good fortune to be a supermodel. There’s very little chance that one day I’d wake up and be a long-lost princess, and truth be told I’m not sure I’d want to be. So, while I was thinking this, the idea of a young witch with the worst magical power in her family – the ability to find lost things, like shoes or socks or her neighbour’s wooden teeth – came to me. Willow Moss arrived almost fully-formed and by the following morning I’d written the first chapter. The plot though, only came much later – and was the result of a mistake with a comma so it looked as if Tuesday had gone missing, and when my friend read it she asked if that was what I intended. While it wasn’t, it got me thinking – and thus the idea of a missing day for Willow to find became her first story.
Do you imagine the whole story before you write it?
No, it happens quite organically. I tend to just write and see what happens, it takes a lot longer but is often more fun as you never quite know what will take place.
When I have a story it is all in my head but when I have to write it at the same time I can't put it onto paper. My teacher tells me off for not concentrating, so how can I get it onto the paper?
A mind-map is a good idea, maybe you could try that? Whenever I’m stuck I use one – I think because it’s just a series of ideas it helps my brain put things into order. Also, I think when it comes to stories we all have an idea in our heads which we see one way but when it comes down to writing it comes out a bit differently, and that’s okay. What is important is to keep going even if it’s not as you might first have imagined.
Is the story based on anything in your life?
I think in a lot of ways Willow’s story is about learning to accept herself and find confidence, which was something I struggled with. Willow is the youngest in a family with two talented older sisters and she often feels less special than them. I have a disability (I was born without part of my left arm) and have two older brothers who were popular and sporty. My only claim to fame was reading the most books in my library, but in time I began to see that we all have our own special talents and it’s what we do with them that make a difference. I really believe that there is magic in being who you truly are.
Do you dream of having magical powers?
Definitely! They change a lot. My current favourite dream magical ability is one where I can relive special moments – like vacations or my wedding. What would happen is that I could go back in time in my old body and relive the experience, but then when it’s over it resets to the original.
Did you have lots of adventures when you were a child?
Not as much as I would have liked. Where we lived wasn’t the safest neighbourhood so we weren’t allowed to wander too far. But I always loved stories of children who could leave home and venture to enchanted places, I think this is why I love dreaming so much.
Why did you give the characters funny names?
I just love funny names and things! I think I have a real quirky side – it’s why I love Terry Pratchett, Tim Burton and Alice in Wonderland.
Did you have a monster under your bed? If so, was it a friendly monster? Why did you want to take a monster on your travels?
Yes, well sort of. My English-snore-monster-bulldog named Fudge. She is often slightly under the bed or beneath my desk, or feet in some way – so I think subliminally the idea of a monster under the bed was simmering away. I love funny, quirky creatures, and when I was writing the scene when Willow has to go off on an adventure with one of the most feared witches in all of Starfell, and she is packing a bag and wondering what to take – the idea of her reaching under her bed and taking the monster who lived there popped into my head. Thus, her best-friend and side-kick appeared as a bit of a joke!
How long did it take to write the story?
About eight years. It wasn’t a continuous process though – every few months I played around and would come up with something new to add to the story. It was a fun, organic process and I would let my ideas simmer until something new would appear – like a character or a new section to the world and then I’d have fun writing it. Each scene or character appeared over the course of that time, which is why I always say it was a labour of love because it never felt like work. But I must have written and redrafted the story about four times before it became what it is now. I don’t usually take so long to write stories (I also write for adults) but for some reason Starfell seems to have its own rules. The actual writing doesn’t take long for the most part – but the imagining and thinking through the plot and that sort of things can take time.