Read on for a super piece from Alex Foulkes about her journey to writing Rules for Vampires. As a school librarian, Alex understands fully the power of a great school library and librarian.
A school librarian becomes an author by writing a children’s book in the library
I had spent a long time writing before my conversation with Jamie* that morning in the library. Years, in fact – writing has been my most-loved hobby since I was small. Now an adult, I regularly brought my notebook into school, to write alongside the children in the library. I had a little gang of writers and illustrators who made it their thing to join me and work on creating worlds and characters during the lunch hour.
At the time, I had been a school librarian for roughly four years. I had been a teaching assistant for longer than that. I was reading almost exclusively 9-12 fiction – and delighting in every page. I had also, somewhat blindly, never considered that writing for children and young people might be a good fit for me.
Then Jamie (aged eleven, sporty and a super reader) dropped this bombshell on me, very casually, on the topic of having devoured every vampire book we had in stock:
“Miss Foulkes, will YOU write us a vampire story?”
That’s a good question, Jamie, I thought. Erm. Probably not.
“I’ll give it a go,” is what I actually said, not wanting to be impolite but with zero intention of actually trying. I was busy with my other projects, after all.
That night when I got home, I had a vivid image in my head. It was a vampire kid – long and spindly and more than a little bit monstrous, but with a kind, cheeky face. She was running through a grim forest, deep and dark and mysterious. She was on her way to hunt a human for the first time.
From there, the world of Leo the Vampire spun out. The forest became the vast, sprawling Dreadwald, spreading out around Mount Moth. At the mountain’s peak, Castle Motteberg was a grand, gothic fortress, with soaring towers and flying buttresses. The crooked town of Otto’s End, full of humans, slumbered below. Before I could put a stop to the whole thing, Leo had accidentally created two ghosts who were at war with each other. She was trying to hide the whole debacle from her mum: an ancient and terrifying creature, the most evil and powerful vampire in this world I had created almost by accident.
“I’m working on it,” I told Jamie a few weeks later. By this point, word had gotten around and I was getting questions about the vampire story every day – especially about Leo the Vampire and her unlikely ghost friend, Minna. A certain scene had become particularly popular; it involved a telekinetic vampire baby and a rumble in the castle kitchens. It was my favourite, too.
Looking back, I think there was some magic afoot. I have felt the power of the school library from a young age – not only as a fantastic school resource, but as a place of community and creativity. The library at my own school was so important to me as a child, lonely and a bit weird as I was. In the library, I always felt that I fit in. The little stories I used to write in there were my beginnings as a writer.
There is something about being surrounded by books, by stories, that makes the imagination zing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, as a school librarian myself, I saw just as many children writing and drawing as I did reading. Often, they would start reading and then continue on to creating their own things. To me, there’s nothing more wonderful than for a child to create their own character in a world they love. I really hope that readers of Rules for Vampires might make up their own vampire or ghost friend to go on adventures with Leo and Minna.
I often wonder where I would be without my libraries, where so many stories take root and grow. I think my life would be very different. It also makes me marvel at how much of a positive impact we could make, if we ensured that every child – in every school – has a school library to read and create and feel safe in.
*For Jamie’s privacy, I have used a pseudonym.