Guest Post by Joseph Elliott
I was fifteen when I first trekked across Scotland, as part of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. I walked all the way from the west coast to the east – a similar journey to that made by the characters in my book. The thing I remember most about the trek was the rain. There was a lot of rain. But it was also incredibly beautiful: great, sweeping hills peppered with purple heather, vast valleys of luscious green, and dark lochs, shimmering with blackness. There’s something about the brisk air in Scotland and the sheer vastness of its landscape that is incredibly humbling, especially when walking across it on foot.
I have returned to Scotland many times since – both for work and for pleasure – and, when I started writing The Good Hawk, I knew straight away that Scotland was where I wanted it to be set. Not quite Scotland, though, because I didn’t want to be tied to the specifics of its history. So I created ‘Scotia’: an alternate, mythic land, which borrows Scotland’s landscape and certain aspects of its past and folklore.
The book features one of Scotland’s most iconic animals: the highland bull. The first time I came face-to-face with one, I was how taken aback by how magnificent they are. It’s easy to imagine they’re some sort of mythical creature, and I immediately loved them for that. They also share Scotland’s contradictory nature, being as rough as they are regal. In The Good Hawk, the bulls are ridden by a tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers known as the Bó Riders. They’re open-minded folk with great respect for all nature; I’d secretly love to be a member of their tribe.
In addition to the location, the other inspiration for the book came in the form of its fifteen-year-old protagonist, Agatha. She popped into my head one day, seemingly out of nowhere. She was standing on a wall, looking out to sea, while a harsh wind whipped at her hair. The only things I knew about her were that she was brave, loyal and that she had Down’s syndrome. The rest of the world, and the characters that inhabit it, all unravelled from her.
Children with additional needs have always been a big part of my life – from those that used to live with us when I was young when my parents provided respite foster care, to those I taught over the course of five years as a teaching assistant at Westminster Special Schools. When I started writing The Good Hawk, I was determined for it to have a character that reflected the children I knew and worked with. I wanted a heroine that would inspire them, and teach others how important it is not to judge on first impressions. Agatha is feisty and funny, stubborn and kind. She makes mistakes, but she learns from them. Her Down’s syndrome does not define her. The journey she embarks upon after her clan is enslaved is a daunting and dangerous one, but she tackles each new challenge with unwavering determination. She is a messy and unlikely heroine full of warmth and heart and unpredictability; I can’t wait for you to meet her.
The Good Hawk is priced at £7.99, published by Walker Books and available to purchase now.
The views expressed in this post may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.