Alan Early and The World Serpent | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews

By Darryl Connolly and Vanessa O'Loughlin

Alan Early, author of Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Award nominated Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent, was born in a small town in Leitrim but it was his move to Dublin that spurred his interest in all things Viking, his inspiration for the first in his acclaimed children’s trilogy. Following its success as an Irish Book Award nominee,Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent has been chosen for Children save Dublin, a citywide reading festival run by Dublin UNESCSO City of Literature that will see Arthur Quinn taking over Dublin classrooms in February and March. There are lots of events planned for the duration of the event with Alan giving workshops in libraries, schools and bookshops. Michael Moylan of Irish History Live will be bringing his Viking History show to various locations around the city. The project culminates with a huge event as part of the St Patricks Festival when a train parked in Connolly Station, designed to look like the World Serpent itself, will host a series of fun events.

Alan studied in the National Film School, Dun Laoghaire and on graduation in 2008, co-founded Annville Films. asked him how he started writing fiction – he told us: “I’ve always been a big writer. All through my childhood, I would spend my free hours making up and writing stories about banshees, ghosts or vampires. My father is an undertaker so I suppose that goes some way to explain my early fascination with the macabre!” He explained, “at secondary school, I wrote a children’s novel in my spare time. It wasn’t very good but at least proved to me that I could write that length. After college I continued focusing on films until I had the idea for Arthur Quinn. I knew that the scale of the story was too large – too epic – to make on my miniscule film budget. So, I started writing it in prose and before I knew it, I had a novel… and then a trilogy!”

Described by Eoin Colfer, author of Artemis Fowl as ‘a brilliant creation… fast-paced and thrilling’ and by Image Magazine as ‘an exciting fantasy novel’, Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent is a thrilling read for anyone 8+

The story concerns  Arthur , who is forced to move to Dublin when hisDad starts work on the new Metro tunnel. While exploring a hidden underground river, Arthur and his new friends Will and Ash find a mysterious pendent.  It glows in the gloom of the river and depicts a monstrous snake strangling the trunk of a tree. They soon work out that the pendent is a warning, a sign that something evil is waiting underneath the city. Something that’s been imprisoned for a thousand years, something left by the Vikings, something that can – and will – destroy first the city, then the world.

What did the Vikings hide under Dublin and why did they leave it there? Who is the dark man that spies on Arthur and what is his evil plan? This hair-raising fantasy adventure will have you thrilled to the end, as only Arthur and his friends can save the world from the dreaded World Serpent.

Viking history and mythology play a huge part in the story of Arthur Quinn. Alan told us how inspiration came: “I watched a documentary on the River Poddle. It runs right under the streets of Dublin and surprisingly few people are even aware it’s there. The Vikings used it a lot and you can see where it runs into the Liffey along the quays. I just thought; ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Vikings had hidden something down there?’

From there, I started researching the Norse legends. I knew I wanted a scene where a giant monster wreaked havoc in the city; even going as far as destroying Dublin landmarks! In the UK, we regularly see London getting destroyed in the likes of Harry Potter or Doctor Who; in the States, Percy Jackson and every Hollywood film have the pleasure of unleashing monsters on their cities. A large part of me wanted to see this happen in Dublin, too.

I know it’s a cliché, but I find my ideas literally anywhere. I really believe that everything can be of inspiration to a writer. When I’m thinking over an idea, I like to spend a few weeks going for walks with my iPod in and mulling over the plot. I always find this helps.”

With such a strong idea, we asked Alan why he chose to write for children as opposed to an adult fantasy novel, he told us: To be honest, I’m not exactly sure why I wrote a children’s book. I think part of it was that the story was so large and fun that it would only really work as a kid’s book. Children are far more enthusiastic about books than adults; especially books they love. (Although kids are very honest and will always tell you frankly which parts of the book they didn’t like!) The short answer, I suppose, is that I’m a big kid at heart really.

Anyone writing for children will know that with easy access to TV and computers it can be hard to capture the imaginations of the children, and keep them hooked in a story, we asked Alan if this had been an issue for him. “I don’t think it’s something to be concerned with, if I’m honest. People always bemoan the fact that children spend so much time watching TV and on their computers. So do I, but I always make time for reading and writing too. I do believe that many children enjoy reading as much as they enjoy other distractions; maybe even more so. You just have to give a child something they want to read.

Obviously kids prefer TV to their homework but, making reading seem more fun and interactive can help here and that’s exactly what we’re attempting to achieve with the Children Save Dublin project. We want to reach both the kids who devour books and the ones who don’t love reading yet through a series of events and a highly interactive website where the readers can submit pictures, stories or questions for me.”

As a first time author we wondered how Alan was coping with all the attention Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent was getting. He revealed, “The children’s book world in Ireland is quite a small, close-knit and friendly community and everyone I’ve met is eager to help in any way they can. The people at Childrens Books Ireland and Inis, book bloggers and fellow authors are all very supporting. Every book seller I’ve met along the way has been an absolute pleasure and really do like to support new writers. These people truly love books and they want to see books continue.

Firstly, when the book was released, we had a fantastic quote from Eoin Colfer on the jacket – (‘a brilliant creation… fast-paced and thrilling’) – and this certainly would have made some book sellers and readers stand up and take notice. Since then, the book was shortlisted in the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards (Best Children’s Book Senior category) and even though it lost out to ‘The Real Rebecca’ by Anna Carey, getting that jump in publicity was a major boost.

Now, having been chosen for the Children Save Dublin project, there has been another huge jump in interest in the book. I’ve been inundated with requests for school/library/shop visits. But I love doing them so haven’t turned any of them down, meeting children who enjoy the book really is a pleasure. Plus, these visits are really important for keeping up the profile of the book. In the early weeks of the release I did as many visits as possible to get the word out there. Like I said before, children get really excited about books they like – and they will tell their friends.”

Now Alan has several projects underway, including completing the next books in the series, “Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent is the first of a trilogy. I’m in the middle of editing book two (Arthur Quinn and the Fenris Wolf) and have written the first draft of book three. Only today, I’ve completed the first draft of my first non-Arthur Quinn book. It’s the start of another children’s series that will probably end up being a lot longer than Arthur’s trilogy.”

So does Alan have any tips for aspiring fantasy writers? He told us, “my tips for fantasy writers would be the same tips I’d give to any writers. Firstly, read a lot and read a lot of variety. For instance, an aspiring horror writer might only read Stephen King and Dean Koontz. But they forget that what makes King great is that his books often start as small-town dramas or romances before getting to the horror. You need a wide range of references to make your work more layered, more interesting and more real.

My favourite piece of writing advice, though, is ‘Torture your characters.’ Readers want to read about a nice character meeting many troubles and overcoming them. This counts whether you’re writing fantasy, children’s books or romance. Torture your characters!”

About the author

© Darryl Connolly and Vanessa O’Loughlin 2012

Find out more about Dublin UNESCO City of Literature in our interview with Director Jane Alger here, and on the Children Save Dublin project here.


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