Q&A with Author Dominique Valente
1. Willow Moss is the newest favourite magical star on the scene. How does it feel knowing readers have taken her into their hearts?
Ah! Thank you so much. It’s honestly so incredibly humbling, strange and wonderful. I’m so surprised and delighted that readers have responded so well to her. She’s this character that appeared in my head and my heart one day as I was driving home from work, a young witch with the worst magical power in her family, and before I was home she was whispering in my ear about what it was like living in a family with famous, powerful witches, and I was so excited to find out more. The world of Starfell had existed in my mind and on paper for years but when Willow arrived it was like she pulled back the curtain and showed me all these hidden layers – and I think she revealed the heart of the world, which I hadn’t seen until then I loved writing her story. She’s this rather untypical heroine in a way – she’s not particularly fierce or tough, but kind, and it’s so lovely to know that readers have responded to that.
2. Oswin may be one of my all time favourite sidekicks, though don’t tell him I said that, he is cranky yet loyal. Is he fun to write?
Hee hee, thank you so much! He is a blast. Like Willow, when Oswin arrived in my head after Willow knelt down to pull out the monster-from-under-the-bed, he came fully formed – crotchety, smelly, and yet loyal to a fault. I will admit to getting the giggles whenever I write his scenes. He’s a bit of a mix of my grumpy English bulldog, Fudge, who I have to bribe to spend time with me, and my husband, also rather grumpy, who has this fun side that few people get to see as he has his own funny language – a lot of which inspired Oswin’s dialect. Whenever I get a bit stuck I write a bit of Oswin, it’s probably a bit mean of me but I do like putting him in situations where he gets rather annoyed!
3. The characters Willow meets on her adventures are fantastically named! Which comes first, the character or their creative names?
Thank you so much. That is a great question! It’s a bit of both. Usually the character comes first and then I think up the name. It’s weird but I’ll know when it’s wrong, like there’s a little niggle for weeks if not months until the right name suddenly comes, and when it does, sometimes it changes or refines things. Like the character of Blu-Scarly Pimpernell – the rather fierce hedge-witch from Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale. When I found the name Pimpernell … it just changed her slightly – she became a rule-breaker, living a bit on the edge. Coming up with names takes me ages, but I love it, there’s such a tingle when I find the right one.
4. Do you have a space that inspires you to write?
I’m really lucky to have a writing shed, which I put up last year. I had this Pinterest board full of sheds for about seven years and when we moved to the UK I was more excited about getting one of these than buying my house. It’s a duck egg green on the outside and pale blue on the inside and when I’m inside its possible to forget about the laundry or that dinner won’t cook itself! While I love being in there, I must admit that I have done most of my writing in my bed – or at least most of the rewriting. There’s something about closing the door and sitting in bed that just helps me focus a bit more. I think for me as nice as a space is – I sort of need to turn inward to write. Though having said that new places – like going on holidays really helps fire my imagination. And no I don’t just say this to the husband so we go away more, grin. Though it is a good excuse!
5. What can we hope to see from Willow Moss in future books?
I’ve just written the second draft of book three, and I’ve plotted out book four. At the moment, there’s just a quartet planned but hopefully more! I have an idea for a kind of prequel story … which I’m excited about. But for these ones, without giving too much away, I think readers can expect to experience new enchanted places and discover some new creatures. For instance, in book three we get to meet the elves and learn more about their magic. We also learn more about the history of magic in Starfell and the wider magical community, including their operating body, The Enchancil. And we get to see Willow and her friends fight against the darkest peril that has threatened Starfell in over a thousand years …
6. The illustrations are stunning and I love Sarah Warburton’s interpretations of Willow and the characters. Were there a lot of conversations to get everything just right?
I once offered to have her children as Sarah Warburton is a dream come true. I think she think I am just this very nice, appreciative author and yes I am nice but not as nice as all that … the truth is that I was panicking at who I was going to get to illustrate this world. While logically – just having any illustrations at all is an absolute honour and I never want to take that for granted, I have also lived with this world since I was about nineteen. I am thirty-seven now, so I knew there was huge potential for me to white-knuckle things … but honestly, it was bliss from the start. The first character sketch of Willow made me burst into happy tears. Pathetic, I know, but what can you do? I feel like Sarah is a bit of a kindred soul – she’d fun and quirky, and we just speak the same slightly whimsical language, so it was a perfect fit. I’ve never really had to ask her to change direction or try get her to say see things the way I do because she just does. Having spoken to other authors I really get how unusual this is – I just think we’re a great fit, it really helps when you’re on the same page – like I adore her style and her artistic flair. So while I do go back with feedback – it’s never been because anything was ever ‘wrong’ or not gorgeously done, just maybe a few tweaks like say different clothing or a change of hair or something. There’s even been times when I saw what she came up with and it wasn’t 100% in the text and I preferred hers so I changed mine.
7. Which do you prefer writing, women’s fiction or children’s fiction?
Children. Though I do love writing women’s fiction too. It was always my plan to be a children’s author – but it is hard to break into the industry! Anyone who think that writing for children is easy, needs to come speak to me, and pay me no mind while I cackle a bit. I think I naturally fall into writing quirky funny stories, but a few years ago I wrote a women’s fiction novel to try something else as I was going through a tough time and that’s what ended up getting a publishing deal … seven books later and I found myself with a career to my surprise. The women’s fiction books are hard as I tackle really tough topics and it can be intense, whereas the children’s books are fun and from the heart – it’s the best of both worlds really, I suppose. Though it does make me play rather fast and loose with what is considered a ‘clean house.’
Starfell : Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale is published today in Paperback by HarperCollins, priced at £7.99 RRP. For your chance to win one of three copies we have been gifted from the publishers, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with Starfell Competition in the subject line.
Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.