Happy September, everyone! I adore this time of year, with all the apples, pears and blackberries to be picked, the slight nip in the air, and all the new stationery begging to be bought. Does that ‘back to school’ feeling ever really disappear? I hope not, because I love the sense of possibility that comes with the fresh start of the seasons turning.
But, anyway. This particular September I have a few exciting updates to share. Things have been busy. Aaaaand breathe. Here we go.
- Book Birthday! Have you ever heard anyone say things like:
‘She’s so under the thumb!’
‘You’ve got him wrapped around your little finger!’
‘I’m feeling really fed up today!’
These familiar sayings have something awesome in common – turns out, they all have roots in falconry! The first two phrases stem from the way that hunting birds of prey are carried on a falconer’s hand, using special tethers called ‘jesses’. And that leads me into telling you about how I celebrated the launch of my second novel, The Huntress: Sky.
Me and my dad took a research trip to Herstmonceaux castle, where East Sussex Falconry provide specialist bird of prey experiences set in ANCIENT CASTLE WOODLAND (oh yes!) for those wanting to test out their falconry skills. I’m a big fan of hands-on research and decided I needed to do this to fill a gap in my research for the series. ALSO, I thought it’d be a pretty brilliant way to launch ‘Sky,’ which features more of a very important character known as Thaw-Wielder; Mouse’s loyal, cheeky sea-hawk, plus other winged beasts of the skies…
The trip was one of the most awe-inspiring, fun things I’ve ever done. First of all, the ethics in terms of treatment of the birds of prey was really impeccable. The whole experience was very bird-centred, in that only the birds that wanted to fly at that time were flown, and Gerard explained how they never take the birds out of their environment to be displayed at events. If people want to meet the birds, they have to come to the castle, and I loved that ethos. They are wild creatures, and although you can meet them, they shouldn’t be used for entertainment – instead, it felt like we were working with them as a pack. We flew harris hawks, lanner falcons, Halo the barn owl and a pair of red kites called Kimberley and Keanu (the falconers had a bit of a thing for The Matrix). We also met a long eared owl called Bramble (see below right),
and even a rare baby hooded vulture with the most startling blue eyes. If you meet a vulture, though, don’t make the same mistake I made – I bent over to tie up my shoelace, and before I knew it, the vulture had landed on my back! We also spotted wild buzzards and sparrow hawks.
We heard how the work of the falconers and the reintroduction of hawks to the ancient woodland helped balance out the grey squirrel population, which in turn has allowed small birds and sparrow-hawks to flourish again in the woods. I learned how slowly owls blink, how the different birds of prey hunt, how they store food in a ‘crop’ and how to hold up my hand in the right way for each bird to land. Having a magnificent bird of prey land on my hand was such a humbling, magical feeling!
Falcons and other birds of prey are often referred to as raptors, which got me thinking about the terrodyls in my books. Gerard, the head falconer, asked one of his amazing hawks to run along a hand rail to show off its powerful, long feathered legs, and it was amazing to see exactly how similar raptors’ walks are to the walking style of dinosaurs. One of the thoughts that first inspired me to write The Huntress was the idea of what our world would be like if dinosaurs hadn’t died out. What if you were a sea nomad, travelling around and trading to survive, and had to battle giant winged dinosaurs? When I met the raptors at the castle, I realised that in some ways, dinosaurs are still among us…
- Signed copies! Since SKY published, I’ve started making my rounds of bookshops, to sign the fresh, shiny copies and admire Egmont’s perfectly autumnal, glinting copper foil. Here I am signing at The Book Nook, the amazing kids’ books specialist indie where I launched Sea back in March…
I’ll be popping up here and there in the coming months, signing as many copies as I can lay my paws on. Mwahahahaha!
- Shortly after the launch of SKY, I found out that SEA has been shortlisted for the wonderful North Somerset Teachers Book Award, in the ‘Moving On’ category, which is such a MASSIVE honour. SEA is in such great company in this shortlisting and I can’t wait to attend the ceremony later this year and celebrate the winners in each category. I have been informed there will be cake…*drooling*
- Children’s Literature Festival! I’ll be at next month’s Bath Festival of Children’s Literature chatting with authors Julia Green, Amy Wilson and Jess Butterworth about learning to write for young people. It’ll be great to see you there if you’re local and feel like hopping along to hear me babble with some good writing friends.
Soon after that, I’ll be launching into my second ever school tour! Who knows, maybe I’ll be visiting your school this autumn. If not, I hope to visit sometime in the future! Look out for details of more upcoming events, which I’ll post soon.
Until then, enjoy those crisp leaves and shiny brown conkers, and happy reading! I’ll be tucked away writing and editing book three in The Huntress Trilogy: STORM.
Click the link below to watch Halo the barn owl taking to the wing with a screeched farewell. You can also hear me asking head falconer Gerard about owl super-powers. Because, who in the actual blazes wouldn’t want to ask that?
‘What is his superpower?’ I asked.
‘His hearing is his superpower,’ Gerard replied. ‘Cause at the end of the day, he can hear your heart beating.’