This week, I chatted to the wonderful Erika McGann about her new fantasy, adventure children’s book – Tabitha Plimtock and the Edge of the World.
Could you describe Tabitha Plimtock and the Edge of the World in five words?
Adventure. Fun. Monsters. Danger. Wonder.
I tried putting that in a sentence but I kept running out of words. I’m not good at writing short things.
What inspired you to write Tabitha Plimtock and the Edge of the World?
To be honest, I can’t really remember a particular thing that was the inspiration for Tabitha. I know I wanted to write a book purely for the fun of it. So I began writing without deciding what kind of story it would be, who it was for, or even what age group it was aimed at. It was kind of like closing my eyes and jumping off a cliff just to see where I’d land. Up until then it was the most fun I’d ever had writing a book, and I resolved to write that way in future whenever possible.
What came first: the character Tabitha Plimtock or the fantasy realm of the Edge of the World?
The edge of the world came first. I had an image of a rickety house teetering at the edge of a cliff, then imagined it was teetering at the very edge of the world, and the book went from there.
What was your favourite part about writing Tabitha Plimtock?
The little details you get to add when writing fantasy. Things like the mucus of the Toadus Humungus that can be used as climbing glue; the tavern in the ravine that’s caught in the path of a rolling boulder that goes up and down the mountains either side, leaving permanent boulder-holes in the walls; Cousin Wilbur’s affliction that causes him to turn into an animal when the wind blows from west to east (the type of animal depending on the composition of wind). Making up that stuff is brilliant fun.
I love the narrator’s voice in this book – did you enjoy writing a narrative voice that spoke directly to the reader?
Speaking directly to the reader is great craic. You get to comment on what’s happening, remind the reader of something that’s happened already, or just add little details or historical notes on characters, places or events, all in your own voice. It feels very interactive – like you’re telling the story, rather than writing it.
Who was your favourite character to write?
Dr Sherback was a delight to write. She’s ferocious, clever and brave. She also doles out insults like a pro, which was a part I enjoyed very much.
What is your writing process like? Do you write 9 to 5 every day or do you write sporadically when you get inspired etc.
I write for most of the day every day. I can’t usually manage the 9 to 5 thing (four hours at a stretch on the laptop is hard to do – your bum goes numb, and your brain quickly follows), so I normally do 2-3 hour blocks spread out over the day, often working into the evening. When I’m writing a book I might not take the weekends or a day off each week, because it’s sometimes easier to stick with it when you’ve got a good routine going (and it’s fun too – when the writing’s going well, I wake up in the morning dying to get stuck in). I do take half days off, here and there, so I don’t get worn out. Then when the book’s done I’m due a break!
What did you think of the cover and Philip Cullen’s illustrations when you saw them? Did the characters look the way you originally imagined them?
Phillip’s illustrations are fantastic. The characters totally embody their personalities. Tabitha’s got a calm, scruffy confidence that is perfect. Dr Sherback is nimble and hilariously confrontational in her giant goggle glasses. Each of the Plimtocks is dreadful in their own way. And the cover, of course, is glorious – it’s a weird and wonderful depiction of the base of the wall, and it’s also beautiful. Just as Tabitha would see it.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Read, read, read. And read what you love. Reading is learning without the effort. When you’re enjoying a book, it doesn’t feel like you’re learning how to write – you’re just along for the ride – but your brain is taking it all in. You’re learning what makes a good story, what makes characters interesting and relatable, what makes a world believable. You’re even picking up the technical things that some of us find difficult or dull to work on – grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. All of that stuff is going in for free, no effort needed. The more you read, the easier it becomes to write well.
Often the kind of things we like to read are not the kind of things we like to write, but that doesn’t matter. Read for the fun of it, for the sheer joy of it, and you’ll always want more.
Oh, and don’t forget to write (it’s a big part of the job). Write whatever you want, whatever makes you happy, and you’ll always want more of that too.
If you could meet one character from the book for a coffee, who would you choose and why?
I’d like to have a coffee with Merry Lost. She’s so melodramatic she could make sitting down for coffee seem like a close brush with death. I’m sure there are any number of supernatural horrors and wicked things lurking in one cup of bitter, black liquid, and Merry Lost could name every single one of them. Who needs real danger and excitement when Merry can find it in an afternoon cuppa?
Erika McGann, August 2021
Tabitha Plimtock and the Edge of the World will be published on Monday 6th September is available to pre-order from your local bookshop or here.