by Liz Flanagan
The dragons will return, one last time…On the island of Arcosi, dragons and their riders used to rule the skies. Now they are only legends, paintings and symbols: dragons are stories be read aloud at bedtime, their dazzling colours to be gazed at on palace walls and their lithe forms to be wondered at in ancient jewellery. Then servant girl Milla witnesses a murder and finds herself caring for the last four dragon eggs. Tensions in the City are rising as those who have power fight to keep it, and those who are supressed start to question the authority of their leaders. If Milla is to keep the dragon eggs safe, she also needs to keep them secret. When so much history is compressed onto one island, it will only take one small flame to ignite a political firestorm….and now the dragons have returned! Will the bravest kill the dragons, or will she ride them? As a story for our times, Dragon Daughter is luminous. Milla sets off on a quest of discovery to unravel her own, and her island’s, past. Themes of migration, tolerance and finding unity in an ocean of differences, all shimmer on the surface of Liz Flanagan’s beautiful writing. Dragon Daughter is an astonishing book; this is storytelling at its very best – exciting, political, poignant and utterly enchanting. This is a perfect tale for the restless and troubled times we ourselves live in and in which our children are growing up. If our own sceptred isle could dream for us all now, it would dream of dragons. Dragon Daughter will be published on 4th October 2018, but to whet your appetite for this epic new fantasy novel, we sent our own fiery Tamsin Rosewell to talk to the book’s author, Liz Flanagan. Tamsin: To start let’s talk about the Isle of Arcosi, the island on which the events of Dragon Daughter take place. I’m always interested in how authors think about their locations. Do you think of the islands as characters within your plot, with mood and a history – or is it a location, a backdrop in which the characters find themselves? Liz: I love islands, especially small ones. They definitely have their own atmosphere. Having an island city allowed the plot to be very compressed in a relatively small space. Arcosi is the backdrop in which characters find themselves, and their relationship to it is vital. As a child, where you live is hugely important, isn’t it? You have a very special way of thinking about it and navigating through it. As a servant girl, Milla has more freedom to roam: Arcosi is her city and she knows and loves it deeply. Tamsin: Arcosi is a complicated place, with ports and hill towns, bays, orchards, markets and tiny alleyways in fishing ports. How did you ensure that your descriptions of the geography and distances between locations were consistent? I’ve seen Pam Smy’s model of the building of Thornhill which she used as she was creating the book; I wondered if you built a model of the island, or did you use maps? Or did it just exist in your mind? Liz: I did draw lots of maps and diagrams early on, so I knew where things were in relation to each other and what kind of scale I was thinking of. The Yellow House is based on a beautiful house I once stayed in near Malaga, and I’m sure the steep hilly streets and alleyways have taken something from my Yorkshire home town, even if its climate is a bit different! I love the idea of secret passages, shortcuts and snickets, and the fact that often it is children who know them best. There are definitely elements of Yorkshire fishing villages threaded with tiny alleyways, like Robin Hood’s Bay, then there are Italian influences, from Assisi, or Rome, Spanish hill towns like Valldemossa, and even the German merchant port of Lübeck. From each one I borrowed something for the made-up island of Arcosi. Later, when I needed to give the artist Paul Duffield some clues for creating the gorgeous map at the front of the book, I tried to draw the island again, but felt too daunted. My daughter Molly ended up painting a lovely version from my scrawled diagram, and I sent this to my editor to pass on. I also made a Pinterest board to show some of the places I’ve visited that were inspirations for Arcosi. They’re all very different – from Yorkshire fishing villages to Spanish houses to Italian hill towns and German trading cities – but somehow each part is there, though overall the feel is probably more Mediterranean than anything else. Tamsin: Lets talk about dragons! Dragons mean different things in different cultures – and indeed in different periods of time. Sometimes they are symbols of malevolence, fury and evil; and at other times they are guardians of good fortune and luck, some guard the underworld and others hoard treasure. Some have four legs, others have two, some have wings and breathe fire and others spit poison. Like all monsters, our dragons are a construct of our time – so tell me about your dragons! What sort of creatures are they? (Images right and below: Dragonology ©Wayne Anderson, Douglas Carrel and Helen Ward. Templar 2003) Liz: My dragons are definitely good! They breathe fire but would only attack someone in extreme circumstances (as you’ll see). In this story, each dragon has to bond with a person when they hatch. This connection becomes the most important thing in the lives of the person and the dragon, and when they fly together, that’s pure joy. There’s also a connection between the dragons and the whole population of the city – it needs to be symbiotic and sustaining for both. Milla begins to realise this, and to suspect the dragons have a kind of healing and unifying force. So in this way, the dragons symbolise power, and how it needs to be shared, not gathered in the hands of one person. When that happened in the past, the dragons almost died out. Dragons can only hatch on Arcosi because of the very particular springwater there – that was a handy plot limit to explain why there aren’t masses of them all over this fantasy world. I spent a long time looking at other illustrations – including skeletons of birds, bats, cats and dogs – before I settled on them having four limbs and two wings.
‘The dragons of the mountains have scales of a golden colour, and in length excel those of the plain, and they have bushy beards, which also are of a golden hue; and their eye is sunk deep under the eyebrow, and emits a terrible and ruthless glance.” –Greek scholar Philostratus (c. AD 170-245) Find out more about dragon mythology from all over the world, the Encyclopedia Britanica page will offer you links to many other sites too. https://www.britannica.com/topic/dragon-mythological-creature
Here’s a sneak peek at the events going on in the Palace on Arcosi: ‘At that, dozens of trumpets sounded and actors trooped in, carrying aloft on wooden poles four enormous paper puppet dragons, lit from within so that each one seemed to be alive. The crowd murmured in delight. The colours were dazzling. One was blue as a peacock’s feather, one yellow as a cracked yolk, one as red as the blood Milla had seen spilled that day, one as green as a new spring leaf. The paper dragons spread their wings and danced around the duke in curving, sinuous flight, casting shadow dragons on the high walls.” Dragon Daughter, Liz Flanagan, published 4th October 2018.
Ursula K. Le Guin was an immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like “The Left Hand of Darkness” and the Earthsea series. Many of today’s prominent authors cite her books as of significant influence to own their work. She died earlier this year at the age of 88, after which tributes came pouring in, with other writers paying respects to one of the most influential figures in the literary world from the past 50 years. Ursula K. Le Guin was born in California and settled later in Portland, Oregon. While she worked mainly in the genres of fantasy and science fiction, writing for children as well as adults, she also wrote short stories, poetry, and essays. Her writing was first published in the 1960s and often depicted futuristic or imaginary alternative worlds in politics, the natural environment, gender, religion, sexuality, and ethnography. Read her obituary in the New York Times here. You can find out more about Ursula Le Guin on her website: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/
When Milla discovers her true family, there are some other female characters who are also strong and resilient. I’ve read some really interesting research by feminist historians which proves there were high-status female warriors, for example in Viking society. That’s all the encouragement I needed to write female dragonriders this way… Tamsin: As a bookseller I’m really interested in the relationships between authors and their publishers. We spend a lot of time introducing our customers to the work of different independent publishers. Talk to me about your publishers. How have you worked with them, and were you involved in the discussions about how the book should look and feel? Liz: I am so lucky to work with the small and brilliant team at David Fickling Books. It’s a family business and it has that warm and friendly feeling to it. Each department has just one or two people in, and each one has been amazing to work with, so committed and knowledgeable. I felt so grateful that I ended up writing a whole blog post about it here: (http://lizflanagan.co.uk/blog/2018/2/20/how-many-people-does-it-take-to-build-a-book). My editor Rosie kept me involved as the book was designed. I got to comment at early stages and I’m absolutely delighted with how it turned out. It’s great to be included in these discussions, but at the end of the day, I trust them implicitly and I’m happy to be guided by their advice and expertise. Tamsin: Who else was involved in the creation of this book? Were there people you turned to in your research or for advice as you progressed? Liz: Many people! I did my research as I went, and I asked certain people to read it with certain questions in mind. The novelists Tara Guha and Tiffany Murray were particularly supportive as the story got underway. I’m really lucky to belong to a wonderful writing group who read and critiqued the manuscript, particularly the sections that veer most into political territory. Later, I asked the Italian author and illustrator, my dear friend Francesca Chessa, to comment on any Italian-flavoured names to check for mis-steps there. I discussed diversity and representation with a wide range of friends and authors. And through my fabulous agent Ben Illis, I’ve got to know some fantastic writers, who’ve read and commented on the story as it grew. Author Sophie Anderson and her daughter read and critiqued the almost-final version, for which I was very grateful. I think every writer needs a team to cheer them on, and I’m very grateful for mine. It wasn’t an easy book to write. I started writing it over five years ago, and gave up several times. During one of those times I wrote Eden Summer, so it wasn’t all bad. Most of all I was supported by my wonderful editor Rosie Fickling, who believed in this book so strongly and kept me going. I honestly wouldn’t have finished it without her. Tamsin: The book looks stunning: the front cover is striking, but I love the back cover too, the sense of distance and depth is powerful. And it has those tiny little flecks of light across the city in the distance; the attention to detail is fabulous. The book opens with a map (I do love it when a book starts with a good map, I think all books should have a map!), who drew the map and who drew that gorgeous cobalt blue and gold dragon on the cover? Liz: Isn’t it gorgeous? I’m thrilled with how it looks and by the response to the stunning cover. The cover artwork is by Angelo Rinaldi, and it was designed by Alison Gadsby. The interior artwork, including the map, is by Paul Duffield. I also love the art Paul created for the section frames and his version of Milla’s necklace which appears on each new chapter.Tamsin: Is there anything else you wish I’d asked? Liz: Everything I’ve said sounds very serious, so I’d better tell you something lighter too! As a child I was obsessed with animals and begged my parents for more and more pets. Over the years, I managed to persuade them to have cats, dog, rabbits, hamster, hens. So Dragon Daughter is for every child who has wanted an animal of their own. I still adore animals and my cat is sleeping on my desk right now.
Paul Duffield created the maps and the illustrations that open the chapters in Dragon Daughter. Among many other things he is also the creator of on-going web and print comic: The Firelight Isle, this is a tale of coming of age, self-identity and cultural discovery, set in a fantastical civilisation gripped by a mysterious religion. The story follows the lives of Sen and Anlil, two childhood friends about to be parted as they undergo the trials of adulthood, and take their first steps on a journey with an uncertain ending! Find out more about his work and join the many who have pledged to become part of The Firelight Isle through Patreon – his website is here: https://www.paulduffield.co.uk/
Dragon Daughter, by Liz Flanagan
Published by David Fickling Books on 4th October 2018
Liz Flanagan adores animals and would have loved to find a hidden bag of dragon eggs as a child. But she has to make do with a cat, a dog and a small brood of chickens. She also likes to travel and has taken inspiration from many of the beautiful cities she’s visited, mixing them all up into the imaginary island of Arcosi. Liz has a PhD in Creative Writing, a subject she teaches. She lives with her family in Hebden Bridge. You can follow Liz Flanagan on Twitter @lizziebooks or find out more about Liz Flanagan and her work on her website: http://lizflanagan.co.uk/ Photo by Sarah Mason Photography.
David Fickling Books is an independent publisher based in Oxford, with a long history of producing adored, commended and award-winning books. Among DFB’s most recent publications you will find: the long-awaited prequel to His Dark Materials, The Book of Dust Vol 1, by Philip Pullman (Shortisted for the YA Book Prize 2018 and winner of the Waterstones Book of the Year 2017) Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans (Shortlisted for The CILIP Carnegie Medal 2018, for the Blue Peter Award and for the 2017 Costa Book Awards Children’s Award), and Thornhill by Pam Smy, (Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2018 and for The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2018). Corpse Talk: Ground Breaking Scientists by Adam and Lisa Murphy was also shortlisted for the Blue Peter Award 2017, Potter’s Boy by Tony Mitton was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award and Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown was shortlisted for the UKLA Award. The Phoenix Comic is also part of the DBF family of publications. You can follow David Fickling Books on Twitter @DFB_storyhouse