The Eye of the North is a brilliant fantasy book for ages 8+ and we were lucky enough to get our hands on some early copies. You can read all the reviews for The Eye of the North here and one lucky Toppsta reviewer, Esmee (age 9) had the opportunity to interview the author Sinéad O'Hart. Read Esmee's questions, and Sinéad's replies below.
1. What inspired you to write The Eye of the North?
I got the basic idea for The Eye of the North a long time ago, during my first proper job after university, when I was working in an office. I didn’t enjoy the work very much, and it was easy to let my mind wander! I thought of a story about a girl named Emma Marvell who was working in an office job she didn’t like – but the difference between Emma and me was, firstly, she was a lot younger, and secondly, her job involved cataloguing and recording magical artefacts from all over the world. One day, when a strange delivery arrives from one of the office’s roving explorers, Emma finally gives in to her dream of being an explorer herself, and she sets off into the frozen North to find out what’s going on. So, lots of things are different in the final version, but the basics are all there! Oh – and the office that Emma worked for? It was called OSCAR…
2. Where did you get the idea for Emmeline, did you base her on someone you know?
There’s a lot of me in Emmeline, but she’s not really based on me. Not deliberately, at least! Like her, I’m careful and bookish and I like my own company, though I’m not nearly so suspicious. I think, in creating her, I wanted to write a girl who wasn’t what a reader might expect a girl to be – so, she’s logical and rational, and even on the surface a little bit cold, though of course there are so many emotions going on underneath. She cares deeply about her family and friends, but it mightn’t be obvious at first glance. I also wanted her to be a reader, a thinker, and something of an inventor, as you don’t often see that in girl characters. I hope I succeeded!
3. The Eye of the North is based around travelling north towards the ice and snow in air ships and liners . What made you to write this into the story?
I’ve been fascinated by the polar regions all my life, and I’ve always loved stories about the icy regions at the north and south of the world. For me, there was no question that the Creature in my story would live in the ice at the top of the world, and that my characters would have to travel there. I chose to write about airships and ocean liners because the world Emmeline and Thing live in is not our world; it’s a world perhaps facing some of the things we face, like climate change and melting polar ice, but it’s a world without our technology. I wanted Emmeline to travel to Paris on board an ocean liner in order to show that the coastlines have changed massively, as Paris – in our world – is quite far from the coast, and I used airships at other points mostly because I love airships, and they made the most sense at that point in the story! I particularly like the Cloud Catcher, as it uses renewable energy – in other words, it’s not powered by gas or coal/steam – and I think it’s fitting that the Order of the White Flower, who want to help protect the natural world, would use an airship that runs on the power of lightning sucked out of clouds.
4. OSCARS is briefly explained, will there be a second book which tells you more about this secret organisation?
OSCAR – the Office for the Sighting and Cataloguing of the Anomalous and Rare – is Emmeline’s parents’ employer. They’re tasked with protecting the endangered creatures of the world, particularly the ones which are so rare, and so anomalous (in other words, so strange they shouldn’t really exist at all!) that most people believe they’re legendary or mythical. I am working on a second story set Emmeline and Thing’s world, and – hopefully! – one day I will be able to write more about OSCAR and how it works.
5. If you are writing a second book will you be filling in more about Thing and his back story, how after rejection did he retain his honour and heart of gold?
In the sequel to The Eye of the North, which I’m currently working on, the story focuses more on Thing’s future and the re-emergence of people from his past, which he has to find a way to deal with. However, his honour and his heart of gold have come about because Thing has known love, and that love, rather than all the sorrow he has also experienced, shaped him at a young age. Perhaps, too, all his bad luck has taught him that taking life with a sense of humour and pinch of salt gets you further than approaching everything with bitterness and anger!
6. Is there more magic and mythical creatures to look forward to, did you have to do a lot of research?
In my new story there are more magical and mythical creatures to look forward to, indeed – though there’s a lot of science too! As for research: a lot of the mythology, so to speak, behind The Eye of the North comes from the years of study I did into the language and literature of Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia in past centuries, and it was stuff that I had in my head already. I did research things like projected maps of the world if all the polar ice melted, and the effect that would have on humanity; I also researched dog-sledding and life in a harsh climate.
7. When did you realise that you were good at telling stories and decide that you wanted to become an author?
I hope I am good at telling stories! Thank you very much for saying so. I have always loved stories, right from when I was very little. I have always loved to read, and I learned a lot about telling stories through reading them. I first tried to write when I was about seven or eight, and I continued right up until I was about twenty, when I tried to write a book and it wasn’t very good. I didn’t try again, then, for over ten years – but I’m glad I did, eventually, get my courage back. Stories are such an important part of me, both reading them and writing them, and I’ve wanted to be an author all my life, though I didn’t really realise how badly I wanted it until I was a grown-up.
8. What was your favourite book when you were nine?
I think there were a few. I loved a book called ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ (there’s a movie adaptation being released this year, and I can’t wait to see it), which was written by a lady called Madeleine l’Engle. I also loved ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by a man named Norton Juster. I found ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ in my local library, and I saw ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ in a bookshop – it was the first book I bought for myself, and it cost me the grand total of three pounds ninety-nine pence. As well as that I loved Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, and an Irish author named Michael Scott who wrote lots of books about Irish folklore and mythology.
9. Where do you keep your stories and ideas ?
This is a really good question, because it might get me to take better care of my ideas and stories! They tend to live on my phone, or on my tablet computer, or written on random pages of random notebooks which I keep losing. I sometimes read over them, like I’m learning them off by heart, when I get a quiet moment – just in case the worst happens!
10. What top tips could you give to me to help me to write good stories?
I always say I have an A-B-C – it stands for ‘Always Be Curious’. Curiosity will get you everywhere, if you want to write good stories. It means you’ll be a person who will want to learn, all the time, but not just the things you learn in school; you’ll want to learn about people, and how they talk, and how they dress, and why they do the things they do. You’ll be the kind of person who notices a funny word in a newspaper headline, or on a poster, or in a book; you’ll be the kind of person who will think, when they’re not thinking about anything else: why is the world the way it is? Why do things happen the way they do? What would happen if, instead of that thing happening, this thing happened instead? And that’s the way stories are born. You’ll notice a lady with a funny hat walking down the street, and you’ll read a strange word in a book, and you’ll perhaps overhear an interesting snippet of conversation as you’re standing in the supermarket with your mum or dad, and the next thing you know – shazam! All these ingredients have combined to give you a character, and a beginning for their story. So, always pay attention to the world around you, and read as much as you can, and make sure to give your brain time to think, and daydream, and play. And always – always! – have a notebook with you so you can write down your ideas. And – finally – good luck!