Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Steve Augarde

Posted on: April 2, 2011

As an aspiring writer, I participate in various online writing communities and sometimes hear of or even chat with published authors. Zoetrope is one writing community to which I belong. Sometime after advertising my blog there, I received recommendations of young adult books by Zoetrope members. This is how I learned about Steve Augarde and discovered his Touchstone Trilogy. I loved the depth of the fairy tale world in this set and recommend the trilogy to anyone who likes fantasy books.

In March, author Steve Augarde graciously agreed to an interview. To prepare for this interview, I browsed all his blog posts and read other online interviews with him. Perhaps I overdid it, as this prompted eight multi-layer questions. A huge thanks to Steve Augarde for patiently answering all of them!

He also has written another book: X-Isle. I have requested a copy of it at our local library to read. Please check back later this month for a review.

Allison: You first established yourself as an illustrator and author of story books and pop-up books for young children. You have now written one fantasy trilogy and one science fiction book for older readers. Why did you decide to write for older children?

Steve: I became an illustrator because that was what I trained for at art college, and what I wanted to be, but I was always interested in writing. The Various began as an experiment, just an exercise really. I wrote a couple of chapters and then cast about for opinions as to whether I had any ability or potential as a writer. I was very surprised when it sold on the strength of those few pages.

Allison: You have said elsewhere that you do not read or care for fantasy. Why did you choose to write fantasy? What challenges did you face in writing in an unfamiliar genre?

Steve: I don’t really think in terms of genre, or get too worried about what category my own work might fall into. As with music, there is only good and bad. When I began working on The Various I wasn’t thinking ‘I’m going to write a fantasy trilogy’. Similarly with X Isle: at no point did I think ‘this is science fiction, and I must therefore consider the expectations of science fiction readers’.  To me these are simply stories, and so I never felt as though I was on unfamiliar territory.

Allison: As a male author, why did you choose to write from a female viewpoint? I notice that your subsequent science-fiction book is written from a male viewpoint. Do you find it easier or more difficult than writing from a male viewpoint?

Steve: It didn’t feel unnatural to attempt to write from the viewpoint of a young girl. I have daughters, and perhaps that helped. But we’ve all been children, boys or girls, and I don’t suppose the experience of either is so very different.

With X Isle I deliberately set out to write a book that would appeal to boys. I felt that the trilogy was being marketed as a girl’s thing, particularly in the States, and I wanted to get away from that. The truth is that it’s generally harder to get boys to read, and so X Isle is unequivocal in its message: lads, this is for you. Girls read it of course, but then they’ll read anything – by which I mean anything that  appeals. They’re less likely to get hung up on gender.

Allison: All three Touchstone books are set on a farm. Do you currently live in a city or farm? Which do you prefer? What are some of your best and most unusual farm experiences?

Steve: I live in a small town, a close-knit community in the North of England. But farms, and farm life, are very familiar to me. I grew up in an agricultural environment, where I spent lots of time as a boy working on local farms, driving tractors and such. Being given charge of a mighty Fordson Major at the age of thirteen was a dream come true, and cunning farmers knew that you could get a boy  to work all hours and in all weathers for the chance of driving one of those things. I doubt that it would be allowed now. Health and Safety would have a collective fit.

Allison: Part of Celandine happens at a boarding school. Did you base her experiences on your own childhood, from research, or just imagination? What are some of your memorable school experiences?

Steve: Yes, I went to boarding school between the ages of ten and sixteen, and I’ve drawn on that experience in both Celandine and X Isle. Not all pleasant.  There’s an illustration in Winter Wood that depicts my old school. In real life the building has been converted into apartments, a school no more. I visited it on a reunion date with old friends, former inmates. We walked along the carpeted corridors, and searched in vain for signs that we’d ever been there. But the bloodstained walls had been painted over, the manacles and chains long since removed. I’m kidding. Kind of…

Allison: In an interview with Dolores D’Annolfo for Eclectica, you said that “The Somerset countryside has been both playground and friend to me, and a natural choice to revisit in search of imaginary adventures.” You also wrote on your blog that you during a working holiday in Somerset you rented a little place for a week in order to get some edits finished. How did you integrate such a powerful sense of place in your stories? Did you rely on memory, visits, or…?

Steve: We draw on what we know, I guess. A strong sense of environment, in fiction, helps to make the impossible seem real. If you can get the reader properly placed, with a clear mental picture of their surroundings, then you can make anything happen within those surroundings.

Allison: Another of your passions is music, especially jazz. Do you draw on your music experiences in writing your books?

Steve: Indirectly, perhaps. Rhythm, structure, phrasing, metre, timing: these are words, or concepts, that can be applicable to both music and writing. Prose that moves smoothly and elegantly can have a musical quality, whereas the clunky or disjointed is essentially arrhythmic.

Allison: What are you working on next?

Steve: Ha. A question that my publisher would be keen to know the answer to! I’m supposed to be working on a children’s novel set in South Africa at the outbreak of World War 2. It’s flowing like the Limpopo during the drought season at the moment. But we’ll get there.

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