The story behind the book: Karen Foxlee’s ‘A Most Magical Girl’
*Please see the end of this article for a special message
Karen Foxlee’s ‘A Most Magical Girl’ is having a well-deserved most magical run in 2017. Not only has A Most Magical Girl won the 2017 Readings Children’s Book Prize, but it has also been short listed for Book of the Year: Younger Readers by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.
As Readings put it when announcing its prize winner:
“A Most Magical Girl is an imaginative and charming tale set in Victorian London and perfect for readers aged 9-12. The prim but gutsy Annabel, and her somewhat wild companion Kitty, struggle against a malevolent villain in a quintessential battle of good and evil.”
We asked fellow Australian middle-grade author Allison Rushby to talk to Karen about the story behind the book—the making of ‘A Most Magical Girl’.
Do you remember the very first kernel of an idea you had for ‘A Most Magical Girl’?
“Yes, I do. The beginning ideas for the story came from a memory and a daydream. I was thinking about a museum I visited in London, which featured a recreated Victorian era street. I imagined a carriage stopping before a shop on that street and a young girl stepping down. The girl was very pretty with perfect curls but straight away I knew she had a secret… a strange secret.
“I also knew that the shop was a magic shop. MISS E & H Vine’s Magic Shop. I didn’t know what would happen next but for some reason this little daydream really captured my heart. This girl was special. She was going to go on a journey. She was going to learn things about herself…. I started writing.”
Annabel isn’t exactly keen to go off on her adventures. Was it difficult to write a reluctant heroine?
“Annabel is a rich girl with impeccable manners who does very well at Miss Finch’s School for Young Ladies. She also has a wondrous magic inside her, which she mostly refuses to acknowledge. She must go on a treacherous journey beneath the streets of London when previously she’s never been anywhere unaccompanied….not ever! She’s never even done her own dress buttons up.
“I just loved those ideas. It is a rags to riches tale in reverse and the hero’s journey all rolled up together. I didn’t find it difficult to write Annabel the character, I loved her, but I think possibly the difficult part is getting the balance of a reluctant hero right… Too reluctant could be annoying, not reluctant enough doesn’t work. I also think with reluctant heroes I had some practice with Ophelia in Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy.”
What was the writing process like for the book?
“The writing process for ‘A Most Magical Girl’ was pretty like all my other books. I had initial idea that I loved, and a feeling that the story was worthwhile and then…. I just had to write and write until I found the heart of the story.
“The story changed many times over the course of the eighteen months that I took to write it. I wrote in many different directions (many of them wrong) but in doing so found the wonderful Miss Vines, the Finsbury Wizards, and the wicked Mr. Angel. And of course, Hafwen! Gradually the parts of the puzzle fell into place. In short, my process was round about and upside down and higgledy piggledy. Quite normal for me.”
Did the characters do anything during the writing of the book that surprised you?
“Yes! Kitty was quite evil in early drafts, she actually worked for Mr. Angel! I loved the process of finding the character Kitty. Some characters you just know straight away – like Annabel. Other take time. They hide inside other characters, you must strip away layers of them, you must be patient. Kitty was a character like that. She was present from the beginning of my writing but in other forms. It took a long time to find her.”
Was it difficult to write a story with magic in it?
“Yes, I find magic difficult and tricky stuff. Editors are always asking you to explain how certain magic works and I’m always thinking…well it just works. It’s MAGIC!!! But that’s not how it is. The magic of A Most Magical Girl needed organising and rules and handbooks and special words. Magic grows in stories and changes. I have notebooks filled with my thinking and tinkering with just how magic works.”
Where did the idea for Under London come from?
“You probably won’t believe me but Under London came so late in the process. I had all the characters and Mr. Angel and his machine and a great big battle between good and evil brewing…but it just didn’t seem to work in London Above. In early drafts Miss Estella always had a secret river beneath a trapdoor in her bedroom and I one day I wondered, hmmm… could Annabel have to go down there? What is down there?
“I’ve always been fascinated by the history of London, by the bricking over and diverting of the ancient rivers (that still flow beneath London). I love the ideas of hidden places. Once I sent Annabel and Kitty down there Under London started to grow.”
Lots of readers have compared A Most Magical Girl to Harry Potter. Did you expect this?
“No, I didn’t expect that at all! I love when kids write and say it’s the best book they’ve read since Harry Potter. I hope it’s an exciting book to read and I hope it leaves readers wanting more.”
You’ve travelled with ‘A Most Magical Girl’ for a while now and spoken to a lot of children, both in the USA and in Australia. Is there anything that’s stood out to you that children have said about ‘A Most Magical Girl’?
“I’ve really loved that part of the journey of ‘A Most Magical Girl’. I’ve met so many great kids (boys and girls) who have had such a passion for the story. But not just my story – other stories that they love and their own stories that they write. That has really been such an amazing thing, just talking stories with these young kids.
“The stand-out things they’ve said about ‘A Most Magical Girl’: their love and fascination with wild Kitty (quite a few children have offered to write a “spin-off” Kitty series with me) and their joy of talking about magic.”
What are you writing next?
“I have a new novel for children to be published in 2018. It’s the story of a young boy who grows too big and his sister Lenny who loves him. It features many wonderful beetles, and an encyclopedia set. It’s about growing up and being different and everyday small miracles of being alive.”
How can I get a troll like Hafwen for a friend?
“Yes, I have such a soft spot for grumpy Hafwen, too. I believe we could try and find one. Allison…. I think we’d have venture deep beneath the streets of London. There are many more trolls down there!”
*This post is brought to you by a team of guest bloggers who will be working hard to keep Children’s Books Daily afloat until Megan is able to come back here and share her own brand of special book magic. She is indeed ‘A Most Magical Girl’, so we feel this is a great post for us to begin with. We will sign all of our posts TMB (Team Megan’s Blog) and hope that you will support our efforts to ensure CBD remains a magical place. We’d love it if you’d share our posts and use Megan’s affiliate links where and when you can. Thank you! Until next time… TMB.
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