By Liz Flanagan, Rise of the Shadow Dragons
The theme of this month’s blog chimed loud and clear for me: ‘myths, magic and mayhem’ might even sum up my entire approach in the Legends of the Sky series.
I love mythical and magical creatures and use them as a focus both in my writing and when I’m running writing workshops with young people, for a few different reasons.
Talking about dragons is a great way to engage a group of children I’ve never met before. The wonderful thing about mythical creatures is that their appeal is so broad and diverse, most children can find a way in. The children I have worked with have brought a huge range of references and pre-existing knowledge, from books, TV, film and games. This makes our sessions – I hope! – accessible and exciting and a rich source of ideas.
The other wonderful aspect of using magical beasts is that no one can be wrong. Who knows what a dragon really looks like? This is a fantastic confidence-booster for young children’s creativity. Magic creatures are endlessly flexible and open to re-invention, and children can boldly make and re-make mythical creatures to suit their needs.
In my school workshops, I usually read tiny snippets from key scenes in Dragon Daughter, in which my characters encounter magic animals for the first time. Then I use small tasks, like imagining your own magic egg, to build up to writing a scene. By getting the children to focus on sensory details like the size, weight, colour and texture of their egg, they produce astonishingly vivid and varied descriptions.
When we talk about mythical creatures that we know, using stories from all around the world, I always learn something at this point! I share some of my favourite examples, and by the time we’ve discussed horned lions who herald the death of the emperor, or shapeshifting seal-people, we’ve usually managed to step away from the most well-known examples and the children’s own suggestions become weird and wonderful and startling original. This week I’ve heard about two-metre-high ice-breathing penguins and a flying electric wolf!
Once the children have discussed and drawn these ideas, and are feeling really confident, then they start the opening lines of a story, using a simple opening idea such as – what if you found a magic egg hatching?
This is where the mayhem aspect comes in, and it works perfectly with the mythical creatures, as everyone who’s ever had a young animal will know! I type this with one eye on a sleeping puppy, ready to leap up and distract her before she starts chewing my feet, so how much more would that be true of a young dragon?
Mythical creatures seem to drag magic and mayhem in their wake … and that makes for the very best stories. Because, as we talk about in the workshops, every story needs unpredictable things to happen. And it is only by putting our characters through trials and tribulations that we will have an exciting and satisfying story. It feels a bit harsh to be so
mean to our child protagonists, but authors have to make their fictional lives difficult, in order to reveal character and resourcefulness, creating drama, pace and tension right to the very end.
I wanted to create a character arc for Jowan in Rise of the Shadow Dragons that was the opposite of Milla’s in Dragon Daughter. Milla has a rags-to-riches, Cinderella kind of journey, whereas Jowan starts off privileged and quickly loses everything through bad luck and his own mistakes. His is a slow journey to redemption, proving himself, forgiving himself and rising to new challenges. And oh, his difficulties come thick and fast – he must cope with disappointment, injury, exile, bereavement, a battle, and a volcanic eruption… reading this list now I feel terrible! But I hope it makes for an exciting read and invites the reader to cheer Jowan on. Plus, I’m a sucker for a happy ending, so the troubles have to happen along the way.
So, I am looking forward to using Rise of the Shadow Dragons in my future workshops, talking about myth, magic and mayhem to more children in future, and getting to know the unique creatures and dangers they dream up in their stories. Bring on the mayhem!
Rise of the Shadow Dragons is published in paperback by David Fickling Books on 6th May. To find out more about Liz’s workshops, please see lizflanagan.co.uk or follow her on Twitter: @lizziebooks