Janet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the non-fiction middle grade book Get Organized Without Losing It, and three YA historical romances: Faithful, Forgiven, and Sirens. Janet’s debut middle grade novel The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is an historical fantasy set in Scotland, and will be released on March 15, 2016.
What were some of the main inspirations for The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle?
When I was a kid I read a lot of Greek and Roman myths and legends, as wells as fairytales. I think that formed the basis for my love of the mystery inherent in myths and fairytales. Once I got older I started reading more advanced things like Agatha Christie. The mystery themes in Charmed Children are very much a part of that formative stuff that I love…I love incorporating things that don’t normally fit together like history and fantasy, so that’s another thing I’ve done here that I will probably do more of in the future.
What inspired you to move from young adult novels to a middle grade novel?
It was completely determined by the voice of the story. When I start writing something new, I start by writing a couple of scenes involving a character, and this one came out in the voice of a middle grader. I knew right away that I couldn’t age it up. It definitely had that kind of feeling about it. I also, when I started writing, harked back to my roots as a child reader—back to the Narnia tales, because those are very middle grade books. That was the feeling I was trying to invoke with the starting of a new story, and it just cemented itself as middle grade rather than young adult. However, I am still writing young adult novels as well.
How does the fact that you’ve lived in a real haunted house influence the ghosts in your story?
I am preoccupied with the notion of death and life after death. I’m searching for answers to those big fundamental questions, and ghosts are one way of accessing that information. Maybe there is life after death, just not in a way that we understand it now—possibly some other dimension that we are shifting in and out of. I play with that a lot. Having had experiences that I would call spiritual, and having had family members who have had the same kind of experiences, I would say that it does color what I write all the time, but in different ways. It can be ghosts in one story but then a search for meaning in another story, or some kind of mix between the two.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the use of jewelry in the book, specifically the Chatelaine and its charms?
That has a very interesting backstory. I had just finished Sirens and had sent it off to my editor. I was sort of mucking around thinking, “What am I going to do next?” I went on Facebook and a friend of mine had posted a picture of a chatelaine. It was a 17th or 18th century German chatelaine, and I thought, “Oh, wow!” There were some ordinary charms attached to it, but there were also some really weird things too. The more I looked at it the weirder it got. I’m looking at this thing thinking, “Who would wear that and why?”
Ironically, my agent at the time, that same day, send me an email saying there was an editor who wanted to work with me and asked if I had any projects involving jewelry. When things like that happen, you just have to go with it. I started writing and within a short amount of time I had a huge chunk of this story written. I knew exactly where it was going and I had the atmosphere and the characters.
Do you usually begin with the research or the writing?
I start writing first, because, to me, it’s the story I want. If there’s anything I need to know more of, I’ll do the research then and keep writing. I knew that kids had left during the Blitz, so I went online because I wanted to know more about the Pied Piper Movement, which was to get kids out of London. I’d find out more about that, like what terminals they would use or what train stations they would leave from and use that. But that research just comes on the fly as it’s needed, and as I’ve gotten into the heart of the story.
What are you reading right now?
I try to read in my genre. Not long ago I finished The Nest **, which I loved. And Echo **, which I also loved. I just finished Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity, which I am trying to say to everyone I know who is engaged in creative thinking that they must read. I really look forward to a book that is being released the same day as Charmed Children called The Girl in the Well is Me. In the YA realm, I am a huge fan of Suzanne Collins, as I know everyone is. I love Lauren Oliver’s work. Anything that Laurie Halse Anderson writes in my favorite. I just adore her stuff. I just have a towering “to read” pile.
Can we look forward to Charmed Children becoming a series?
I am working on a possible sequel. There has been lots of noise about the possibility of a second novel. I have started working on one, and I am about 20,000 words into it. So maybe. We’ll see.
Meet Janet Fox at the store on Tuesday, March 15 at 7pm.