I think the interview is very interesting (whether you've read the book or not) and I hope you'll enjoy it too! In it, Kate:
- tells us more about puzzle rings,
- explains all the puzzles and double meanings of the amazing cover,
- mentions the potential sequel (yes, please!),
- tells us more about how she comes up with names for her characters,
- discusses her favourite and most difficult to write scenes,
- reveals what she's currently working on!
Q: How did you come up with the idea of the puzzle ring and can you tell us more about it?
I first got the idea for ‘The Puzzle Ring’ reading a jewellery catalogue while bored waiting in a doctor’s surgery – which just goes to prove you can get ideas anywhere! The jewellery catalogue had a few short paragraphs detailing the history of puzzle rings. First invented in Arabia by a jealous king who wanted to know if his young & beautiful wife ever removed her wedding ring, puzzle rings were brought back to Europe by the crusaders in the 14th and 15th century. A cunningly forged ring made up of several interlocking loops, puzzle rings sit on the finger just like any other ring but once they are taken off, they fall apart and cannot be put back together again unless you know the secret to them – a code rather like doing a Rubiks cube. I found this tale quite fascinating, and thought at once what an interesting and unusual thematic structure it would give a quest story. When I got home I scribbled a note to myself in my Ideas notebook, but did nothing more with the idea. Then, when my book ‘The Gypsy Crown’ was bought by Scholastic in the UK, they asked if I had any other ideas for more books with a similar feel and I thought of my puzzle ring idea at once. Yet all I had was an idea, not a plot. I wondered to myself, WHY? Why would anyone need to go & search for a broken puzzle ring? Who and where and when and why? A few days later I was browsing in a crowded and cobwebby second hand book store when I saw a curious old chest shoved under a shelf. I sat down on a stool and dragged it out and opened it. The chest was full of old tattered books and papers, including one that caught my eyes at once. Entitled ‘The Book of Curses’ it had a medieval woodcut on the front cover showing a red winged devil and various gargoyles and imps flying above its head. I opened it up, and it fell naturally open to a chapter called ‘The Brahan Seer and the Seaforth Doom’, the story of a curse cast against the Mackenzies of Seaforth by a warlock in 17th century Scotland. It’s an amazing story, with a hag-stone through which the warlock could see the past and the future and far, far away and many other things impossible to see, and a curse cast as revenge for the warlock’s terrible death. I got up from that stool, clutching the book to my chest, seeing the whole tale of Hannah and the hag-stone and the curse cast against her family bright and vivid and whole in my mind’s eye. I went home and began writing the novel that very afternoon.
Q: The cover is beautiful and also very meaningful. I've seen people comment on it before they read the book so could you perhaps point out all the things that are depicted on the cover and how they relate to the book?
I’m so glad you love the cover! I love it too. It was done by Zdenko Basic who does the most gorgeous work (you can see more here). There is so much in the cover its difficult to describe – particularly without giving away what happens in the book! In the very centre of the cover is a rose – the many different meanings of a rose are just one of the many puzzles that Hannah must figure out before she can find the puzzle ring, but its primarily a symbol for Eglantyne, the fairy princess who is burnt as a witch in the 16th century and so casts the curse on Hannah’s family. Eglantyne means rose, and Rose is Hannah’s middle name – or so she thinks. Surrounding the rose is a golden puzzle ring and then the title, which is overlaid on a compass rose. Surrounding the circle of the compass is a wall, representing the wall that surrounds the garden of Wintersloe Castle, with four symbols at each of the points of the compass. Hannah must travel to three of the four points of the compass to find the lost loops of the puzzle ring, her father having already found one at the first point. At the north point of the compass on the cover is an ancient yew tree with a doorway through it, at the eastern point is a wolf howling, at the southern point is a statue of a horned man, and at the western point are two grinning jack o’lanterns. Each of these four things appear in the book, and each have a symbolic meaning as well. There is also a toad, a very important toad. The cover is a puzzle in itself, laden with double meanings, just like all the codes and cryptic clues in the book.
Q: Will there ever be a sequel to The Puzzle Ring?
I’d love to write a sequel. Maybe even two, as the world I’ve created seems so rich and full of possibility (to me, at least!) I have a few ideas ...
Q: The characters have lovely names (e.g. Wintersloe, Eglantyne, Irata, Rosamund etc.) - how do you decide on them?
I spend a lot of time thinking of my names. I have lists of house names in my Ideas notebook, so that whenever I need to name a house or a place I have a reference I can go straight to. Wintersloe was not the original name for my beautiful old house – originally I called it Dunrosayn – which means castle of roses in Scottish Gaelic. But my sister, who is a writer too, was working on a novel set in Scotland at the same time and she had called her castle Dungorm (which means blue castle). So I decided to change it, but none of the names I had in any of my lists seemed right. I was staying with my parents-in-law in the country and I went out for a long tramp. Walking is one way that always helps me solve a problem when I’m writing. Anyway, I passed the most gorgeous house with a beautiful, big old garden and I stopped to have a look, and I saw it had a mossy old name on the wall by the gate. I lifted up a flowering branch to see the name, and saw it was called ‘Wintersloe’. I loved it at once. I thought about it all the way home. I knew that sloes grew on blackthorns, and that blackthorns were often used to make witches’ wands and also that the thorns that grew up around Sleeping Beauty’s castle was thought to be blackthorn. It just seemed perfect. That’s often how I find things. It’s just serendipity.
Q: What is your personal favourite scene in the book?
Oh, I have so many favourites. I love the scene where Hannah and Donovan climb the fairy hill and then the toad spits the hag-stone out at her feet. That was one of the very first images that came into my mind when I began ‘seeing’ the book. I love the scene where the toad leads her to her father’s room and she first discovers his notebook, filled with strange and cryptic poetry. I loved writing about Mary, Queen of Scots, and imagining the scene where the children first meet her. And I loved writing the character of the old fairy-cook Linnet, she’s one of my all-time favourite creations.
Q: Which one was the most difficult to write?
The most difficult scenes were at the end of Hannah and her friends’ adventures in the 16th century, when they had to find a way home. I really wanted to have a scene showing the defeat and capture of Mary, Queen of Scots, and how she had fallen from the most beautiful and powerful woman in the world to a humiliated and bedraggled prisoner – yet there was no reason for Hannah and her companions to be in Edinburgh at that time. They were trying to get home, they had to get back to a gateway to the Otherworld. I spent weeks searching through old books and on the internet for reference to a fairy gateway near Edinburgh, but found nothing. Eventually I reluctantly put the idea aside, and wrote the end of the book without that scene. I was travelling to Scotland with my family for a month to go to all the places that appear in the book, and to check my facts and generally to see and hear and smell and feel the Scottish landscape, and I wanted to have my first draft finished before I went. Anyway, on our very last night in Scotland, we were in Edinburgh and planned to go to Calton Hill for the Beltane celebrations, which I had never seen before. There were fire-eaters and people on stilts and fairies in wisps of gauze despite the freezing weather – and a Scottish storyteller. I love storytelling, I’m a member of the Australian Guild of Storytellers myself, and so of course I was eager to hear him speak. He told all the children gathered round the tale of the fairy boy of Leith, an old story about a boy who used to be a drummer for the Fair Folk and would pass through a great pair of gateways into, he said, “this very hill on which we sit”. I was absolutely electrified. All the hairs on my body stood upright. I knew the old tale, but in my version the boy simply says that the Fair Folk met under ‘the great hill between Edinburgh and Leith’. I had no idea that meant Calton Hill, one of the seven hills of Edinburgh itself. In that simple sentence, that Scottish storyteller delivered me the solution to my problem, which had been troubling me for months. I was able to have Hannah and her companions ride to Edinburgh to find the gateway in Calton Hill, and so be in Edinburgh at the time Mary, Queen of Scots, was captured. It was perfect! And another of those extraordinary serendipitous moments that made this book such a magical story to write.
Q: What are you currently working on?
Thanks for reading the interview! To find out more about the author and her other works, please visit her website. To learn more about The Puzzle Ring, check out other stops of the blog tour (The Bookette posted the schedule)! Yesterday, Kate was a guest blogger at Today's Adventure discussing her research methods, and tomorrow The Book Bug is posting an interview with her so be sure to check that out - I know I will!
If you'd like the read this wonderful book yourself, you can get a copy at Amazon UK or Book Depository (free worldwide delivery).
Lastly, I'd like to thank Kate for inviting me to be a part of this amazing blog tour and for giving me a chance to interview her! I'll definitely be reading more by her - as a matter of fact, I've just ordered my copy of The Gypsy Crown, yay!