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Interview: Fiona McQueen talks about Roderick and the Creeping Evil

Fiona McQueen talks to NZ Booklovers about her latest book.

Tell us a little about your novel.

“Roderick and the Creeping Evil” is a fantasy story for younger readers. It is the second book in the Adventures of Roderick trilogy. The first book was “Roderick and the Wizard of Endor”. Roderick is a small and furry animal called a marmot and he and his friend Pepin (a squirrel) travelled to the magical land of Endor in the first book. They had many adventures there. Their companion was Percy, a man who had been rendered invisible by a magic spell.

In “Roderick and the Creeping Evil” we meet Harriet, Percy’s daughter. She is called to Endor to help the wizard. The Kingdom of Endor is under attack by the Creeping Evil. This looks like a dirty yellow mist but if a person breathes it in, it changes their character and corrupts them. The wizard asks Harriet, Roderick and Pepin to help try to find Anoushka, a strange being who lives outside time. She may know a way to defeat the Evil. The castle is under attack so the three friends must fly from the ramparts on the backs of the Ravens of Fardelain. Many more exciting adventures ensue!

Important philosophical themes include the following:

· How to bravely face challenges, particularly when the odds seem insuperable and even the powerful are crumbling (the Wizard vs the Evil).

· Personal bravery and self-sacrifice (Roderick vs the Morgall)

· Following someone into dangerous places, how to cope with fear (the journey through the underground caverns)

· The importance of free will and making choices to influence one’s future (Anoushka’s test for Tam)

What inspired you to write this book? Were you influenced by the landscape around your home? I have always loved children’s fantasy fiction. I was a great fan of the Chronicles of Narnia stories when I was young. I also loved a book called “The Door the Wasn’t There” by Ursula Horsley-Smith (a little known children’s classic). Ordinary life for me as a child seemed rather dull and I much preferred to live in a world peopled by fairies and witches. I spent a considerable time trying to find a doorway into this magical land (I was sure would be somewhere near the back of my mother’s garden in Dunedin). Later I found that I could travel to this world and make things happen in it by writing stories about it!

Yes the landscape around Glenorchy is certainly magical and has inspired me in many ways. For example, in Roderick and the Creeping Evil, the Lake of Dreams is certainly Lake Wakatipu and the ravine where the Goblin Fortress sits is very like parts of the Routeburn. I have loved the Wakatipu basin all my life. My family and I would come to our small batch on Frankton Arm every holiday during my school years and later when I had a chance to buy some land I found that Glenorchy was perfect.

What research was involved? I am not sure that I really did much research. I mostly relied on memories of the stories I loved but I did refer to my copies of the C.S Lewis books and other fantasy fiction I have at home. I had to find an artist for both books (the first book also has a map and internal plate). I was lucky enough to discover that Emma-Kate Moore is a gifted illustrator who lives down the other end of the lake from me, at Kingston. We had many email discussions working out ideas for the illustrations. What was your routine or process when writing this book? Is this different from your process for previous books? The process for the Roderick books has tended to be me going to the place where I am going to write (either at the kitchen table or upstairs in my study) and opening up the computer and “letting it come”. I also go on a lot of walks around the hills above Glenorchy and that is when I quite often get ideas. The process for my non-fiction book, The Quiet Forest, was completely different. I researched the scientific literature on 1080 in great detail and conducted phone interviews.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include. Aled Jones – “Walking in the air” If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters? Voice for Roderick – could be done by David Mitchell (cooking writer) Harriet could be played by Emma Watson What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel The creative process - Ideas coming out of thin air and then following them along and making them turn into something What was most challenging aspect? Sometimes ideas did not arrive! Having the self-discipline to keep showing up and waiting for it to happen (walking helped). What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why? The Dark is Light Enough – Vincent O’Sullivan

My sister Cilla was married to Ralph Hotere so he was my brother-in-law. I was a teenager during the time they were together.

It was interesting reading this book to gain more insights into Ralph’s character and his work as an artist. But also interesting because I knew of background family dynamics that influenced us all and did not appear in the book …. What’s next on the agenda for you?

Next is the third Roderick book, “Roderick and the Faraway Voices”. Started then scrapped the first chapter. Now starting again.


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