The Land of Roar by Jenny McLachlan

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Land of roar

By Jenny McLachlan

Entering Narnia: moving from teen to middle grade fiction

My first six books were written for teenagers and I had a clear audience in mind – the secondary school students I taught. I wanted to give these readers a glimpse of what was coming next: first love, first betrayals, first steps away from childhood, but I also wanted to provide escapism. I found being a teenager pretty stressful so I wrote books that would feel like a friend in tricky times. For this reason I made them funny and unashamedly feel-good. The highs in my teen books just push the boundaries of realism: a summer spent rampaging on a Swedish island, winning a trip to NASA, diving off cliffs, starring in shows (starring in life full stop).

I enjoyed pushing the boundaries of realism and making my protagonists everyday heroes, so moving on to write middle grade fiction wasn’t a huge step. Plus I really wanted to write about dragons, and you don’t get many of them in your average secondary school.

I began thinking about The Land of Roar when my daughter got a fairy door for her birthday. For some reason it got stuck to the skirting board in my bedroom. It looked uncannily real and despite being well and truly grown-up, I couldn’t resist seeing if the little doorknob worked. As I turned it I actually held my breath in anticipation and thought, what if it opens?

This is how most of my books begin: with a sudden thought that takes on a life of its own, and starts blooming in my head faster and more invasively than bindweed. When characters have appeared, got names and clothes, and started talking to each other, it’s usually a sign that I’m ready to put pen to paper.

I gave my imaginary fairy door two owners, twins Arthur and Rose, and a hands-off Grandad who loved to play. Arthur and Rose started fighting. A rude fairy appeared, and was replaced by a ninja-wizard, scarecrows and the previously mentioned dragons. The murky void behind the door slowly filled with mountains, rivers and rainbow stars. Then I realised that a fairy door was way too small for Rose and Arthur to fit through, and I didn’t want any shrinking or growing to take place, so it became a folding camp bed.

One day Arthur crawled inside the camp bed and he was off, and, pen poised, so was I!

But I hit a problem.

Arthur and Rose are eleven, the same age as my daughter and lots of the students I’ve taught. They could be prequels to my teen characters and I found entering the mind of an eleven year old relatively easy. But changing genres was more difficult. This might sound like I’m stating the obvious, but I wanted my fantasy to feel real. I wanted my readers to think, this could happen to me. To encourage this sense of realism The Land of Roar begins in a recognisable world of family, school, trampolines and pizza and, like my previous books, it is written in the first person.

I quickly discovered that the diary-like immediacy of the first person made stepping into the fantasy world more challenging. In particular, describing the moment of transition, when my characters moved from the real world to the fantastical one, was far more difficult than I anticipated. J.K. Rowling, of course, totally nails it- a magical platform and a train journey provide the perfect buffer zone for a reader to suspend belief – and C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe scene is a masterclass in swift, elegant transition, but I found it hard. Writing in the first person meant there were no wise words from an omniscient narrator to smooth over the startling moment when Arthur discovers he’s crawled into another world. He has to be as believably gobsmacked and scared and sceptical as you or I would be.

But I knew the first person had a lot to offer – it’s intimate and informal and great for humour – so I stuck with it and after a certain amount of hair pulling, it felt right. I’m glad I didn’t give up on Arthur telling the story: kind, thoughtful, funny, a little anxious, he’s a great tour guide for Roar.

Now that I have found my voice for The Land of Roar, and it is finished and edited, and full of stunning illustrations, I can see it has other similarities with my teen romcoms. It has plenty of comedy, and, if you know where to look, there is romance too.

A romance requires two disparate parties that you would dearly love to see united, only a huge obstacle stands in their way. There are two love stories in Roar: Arthur’s love for the games of his childhood (and his belief that he’s got to grow up and leave them behind), and Rose and Arthur’s broken relationship. My big brother was an excellent playmate. We played endless bizarre games (old men climbing a mountain, anyone?) that were totally immersive and promised to last forever . . . until he went and grew up and started shutting himself in his room with his friends and listening to Dark Side of the Moon and telling me to go away. Luckily I had a little sister to turn to and the games continued.

I’m lucky to be doing a job that means I never have to stop playing. Sometimes the game stalls, or goes off in a direction I hadn’t anticipated, but this unpredictability is part of the fun. Writing The Land of Roar has felt like the very best of games. Think back. You know the ones. They didn’t come along very often, but when they did you knew you’d struck gold. A game that has a slight glow in your memory because the line between fantasy and reality was so blurred. A game where you really, really didn’t want anyone to shout out, ‘Dinner’s ready!’ A game that felt like magic.

(c) Jenny McLachlan

About The Land of Roar:

When Arthur and Rose were little, they were heroes in the Land of Roar, an imaginary world that they found by climbing through the folding bed in their grandad’s attic. Roar was filled with things they loved – dragons, mermaids, ninja wizards and adventure – as well as things that scared them (including a very creepy scarecrow. . .)

Now the twins are eleven, Roar is just a memory. But when they help Grandad clean out the attic, Arthur is horrified as Grandad is pulled into the folding bed and vanishes. Is he playing a joke? Or is Roar . . . real?

The Land of Roar is reminiscent of Peter Pan, The Neverending Story and Jumanji – perfect for readers of Nevermoor and Wizards of Once.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Jenny McLachlan is the author of several acclaimed teen novels including Flirty Dancing, Stargazing for Beginners and Truly, Wildly, Deeply. Before Jenny became a writer, she was Head of English in a secondary school; she now loves visiting schools as an author and delivering funny and inspiring talks and workshops. When Jenny isn’t thinking about stories or writing stories, she enjoys living by the seaside, cycling and running over the South Downs. The Land of Roar is Jenny’s middle-grade debut.

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