We've walked the cliff faces and hopped from island to island to track down Catherine Doyle, author of The Storm-Keeper's Island. Where does she get her ideas from, and how did her ancestors inspire her writing?
Find out what goes on behind the scenes as Catherine chats to us about her riveting new book, one of the nominees for this year's
Children's Book Award.
Why did you choose to become an author?
I’ve always loved reading - there’s something so wonderfully enchanting about being swept away into another world, getting introduced to characters you might never normally meet and going on impossible adventures. As I grew up, my love of stories grew with me, until I began to wonder if perhaps I might be able to make my own. After much practise, I succeeded! It’s an amazing feeling to be able to create that same sense of wonder I experienced as a child, for other young readers, and to continue to enjoy the universal happiness that comes from sharing stories.
At what age did you start writing? Have you always loved writing stories?
I started writing poems when I was about 7 or 8, and they were all about the big tree in my back garden (a lot of words rhyme with tree!). Over time, these poems gradually evolved into longer tales that encompassed not just other parts of my back garden but my world too! As my love of writing grew, so too did the scope of my stories.
Please give us a brief description of your book which has been shortlisted for this years Children’s book awards.
The Storm Keeper’s Island is the story of an 11-year-old boy called Fionn Boyle, who is plucked from his home in Dublin City one day and sent to live on the remote island of Arranmore with a grandfather he’s never met before. When Fionn steps off the ferry and sets foot on the island for the first time, the earth begins to tremble beneath his feet and the wind starts to whisper in his ear. Though Fionn doesn’t quite know it yet, an ancient magic is waking up. It recognises him, and more than that, it wants something from him. Before long, Fionn finds himself caught up in an epic battle between good and evil, and the race to see who will become the next guardian of Arranmore.
What inspired you to write this book?
About two years ago, I visited the real Arranmore Island, the home of my maternal grandparents. It’s a beautiful tiny wedge of land, floating just off the North West Coast of Ireland, with a population of about 500 people. For a week, I explored the sheer cliffs and hidden lakes, the secret sea caves and the brassy beaches where my grandparents played as children. In the evenings I visited long-lost cousins, travelling from one cup of tea to another, discovering the stories of my ancestors and realised there is a special magic to Arranmore. It’s a place that holds onto its stories and its people long after they’re gone. I was so inspired by my trip to the island that I began writing The Storm Keeper’s Island on the ferry home. It poured out of me, page by page, until Fionn’s story slowly unravelled, and became, in many ways, as real as my own.
Where do your ideas for new books come from?
Recently, I’ve been looking to my own ancestors and their stories, their lives and loves and adventures, to find inspiration for my books. There’s something particularly special about that for me – the sense of memory and realness that comes with it. Having said that, I tend to find inspiration in most things - a beautiful painting, a poem, a movie, even an overheard conversation on a bus! There are stories everywhere just waiting to be told.
What does it mean to you to know that your book was voted for by so many children for this year’s award?
It is the most wonderful feeling in the world to know that so many children have embraced The Storm Keeper’s Island and taken it to heart. I was a child who loved and championed books, and to think that there are children out there right now doing the same for mine is incredibly special and very humbling. I feel so grateful and so lucky!
Which books or authors have inspired you throughout your life and who are your favourite authors now?
As a child, I was completely enthralled by the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. I adored the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, too. Recently, I loved Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend, anything by Katherine Rundell and Kiran Milwood Hargrave, and Abi Elphinstone pours so much magic into her work it’s impossible not to get swept away by it. These are just a few of my favourites - we are living in a golden age of children’s literature right now so it’s impossible to name all of them!
Where and when do you choose to write your books?
I like to write late at night because I’m a very groggy (and cranky!) morning person. I like when everything is quiet and still, but there’s also something particularly enchanting about writing in the middle of a thunderstorm (so long as I am not outside in it!)
If you were to offer a child who likes to write stories a piece of advice – what would it be?
Don’t give up! Sometimes, in the middle of our stories, we can become self-conscious or unsure of what we’re doing (or if we should continue). It’s important to push through these moments of self-doubt (they are only a sign that you are a real writer anyway!) and keep writing as often as you can. Always finish your stories. They are important, each and every one.
From The Storm Keeper's Island
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