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Truly Magical: Spellstoppers by Cat Gray

Writing.ie | Magazine | Children & Young Adult | Interviews

By Cat Gray

When I was growing up in the Irish countryside, the only holidays my family ever went on was an annual visit to see my grandmother, who kept a shop in a very old and beautiful Cotswolds town. The shop sold quite a strange mix of things – you’d get knitted jumpers, Beatrix Potter ornaments, fossils, packs of playing cards and bags of marbles, all sitting alongside each other. My grandmother lived above the shop – the house was ancient and creaky and atmospheric, with a kitchen that seemed to be in a time-warp from a different century, a grandfather clock that chimed too often and a mysterious door that didn’t lead anywhere. It was all so different to my life in Ireland that it seemed to belong to some sort of parallel dimension.

When I was eighteen, my grandmother died, her shop was shut up and sold, and it felt as if that particular magical world had gone forever. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do after I left school, so I began an English degree in Dublin and, at the same time, drifted into journalism. For me, journalism felt a bit like being given a magic key that unlocked all sorts of different worlds. I could go backstage at concerts and festivals, interview celebrities, and visit places I’d never even dreamed of, and all I had to do was write about them. It took me from Dublin to London, and into a job at a series of glossy magazines.

After a while, I became aware that I kept trying to write about things that were… slightly peculiar. Extremely old houses. Benjamin Pollock’s toyshop. Water divining. I was constantly seeking out places and people that conjured up that same magical atmosphere I’d experienced as a child. Eventually I realised that fiction – and middle grade in particular – was the best way of sharing this, and that was how the world of Spellstoppers, my debut novel, finally came about.

Of course, the process of getting a novel published is never easy, and it took a couple of false starts before I finally got Spellstoppers out into the world. There was the early novel I wrote back when I was a student, and I was so daunted by the sheer amount of words that it entailed that I did the thing you’re never supposed to do, which is to send three chapters to a literary agent without having even written the rest. Amazingly, the agent wanted to see the whole thing, so my first attempt at novel-writing consisted of frantically writing and editing an 80,000 piece of “literary fiction” in under six weeks. Unsurprisingly, they passed on the finished manuscript, and I promptly consigned it to the depths of my computer, vowing that it would never again see the light of day.

When I first settled on middle grade as a genre, my initial attempt didn’t sell either. I wrote an adventure story set in 18th-century London, and while I had a lot of interest from agents and several near-misses, the general consensus was that while it was well-written, it simply wasn’t commercial enough. By that point I’d discovered NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month), an online event where you can sign up to write a 50,000-novel during the month of November. It was a format that suited me and gave me the ingredient that I so badly needed – a firm deadline. So when another November rolled around, I knew I was going to write another novel, and chose to set it in the magical world that had been lurking inside my mind since childhood. I set it in a mysterious alleyway, inspired by a real place that was just around the corner from the library where I worked. I sat on the story for a few months, editing it until I was happy with how it looked, then sent it out.

This time, interest was a lot higher, and after speaking with several agents, I signed with Silvia Molteni from PFD in March 2020, not realising that a global pandemic was just around the corner. The book went out on submission at the end of April, at what was possibly the toughest time to sell a book. Many publishers were being forced to push back new releases, which was affecting their publishing schedules, and there was a general sense of shock as everyone waited to see how long the world would be put on hold, as well adjusting to remote working. However, thanks to my brilliant agent, I was offered a deal with Usborne – which was a dream come true – although their schedule meant that they couldn’t release my Halloween-themed book until 2023, and I’d have to write a brand-new book if I wanted a 2022 debut.

I promptly went off and wrote Spellstoppers, and spent the following year editing it, this time with the help of the brilliant people at Usborne, and gradually the book took shape. It’s felt like a long journey to get here, but it’s certainly been worth it now that I have the thrill of seeing a story I created have a life of its own. The greatest joy is getting feedback from readers, and it’s a very special feeling when plots and atmospheres that only existed inside your head can suddenly be shared with everyone. To me, that truly is magical.

(c) Cat Gray

Website: catrionagray.com

Twitter: @_catgray

About Spellstoppers:


Welcome to Yowling – a secretive seaside village where magic is just one step away…

Max has spent years thinking he is cursed, because whenever he touches anything electrical it explodes. But then he is sent to Yowling and discovers he is a Spellstopper, someone with the rare ability to drain dangerous build-ups of magic and fix misbehaving enchanted items.

When Max’s Grandad is kidnapped by the cruel Keeper of the malfunctioning magical castle that floats in the bay, only Max’s gift can save him. Together with his new friend Kit, Max throws himself into an adventure filled with villainous owls, psychic ice cream and man-eating goldfish. But can he really pull off the biggest spellstop ever?

The perfect summer-holiday magical adventure for fans of Diana Wynne Jones, Catherine Doyle and Thomas Taylor.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Cat Gray is an author and a journalist, who grew up in Ireland and now lives in the UK. She studied English literature at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Cambridge, and has worked at a series of glossy magazines, including House & Garden and Harper’s Bazaar. Spellstoppers is her first novel and is published by Usborne.
Website: catrionagray.com
Twitter: @_catgray

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