Amy Brooke Discusses YA Novel The Mora Stone | Interview
Article provided by Amy Brooke
The Children’s Book Review | February 16, 2016
The Mora Stone is a young adult novel for readers that enjoy the fantasy genre. Please tell us about the book and what you feel makes it unique.
The Mora Stone is the story of an extraordinary time-slip experience that a young girl called Willow, living at the time in England, begins to encounter on her 13th birthday. She is living with her Uncle Lliam, her father’s brother, together with her Aunt Ely and cousin, Colin, when she is given a strangely carved little box with a broken, carved ring. Inside it is a tiny scroll of very old paper, and on it is written a strange message, written in italics in the Latin of long ago – UBI AQUILO TE VOCAT RETINE ME!
With the help of her Uncle Lliam, she learns that Aquilo is the old name for the North wind, and that what the message actually says is -“When the North wind calls your name – (or summons you) – hold me fast! Lliam tells her the secret that nobody else knows, that Willow’s mother Inge, when she left with Willow’s father on their last trip, had a strange premonition. She then asked Lliam to keep the little box private and safe, and to give it to Willow, her daughter, on her 13th birthday.
Meanwhile, in mediaeval Sweden, the young Queen-Elect Amise is on trial for her life, sentenced to death on a trumped up-charge, but, in reality, for refusing the advances of the evil Regent Berenger, appointed to rule until Princess Amise, the older of Sten Thursson’s two daughers, is 18 years old. Berenger has become tyrannous and all-powerful, so feared throughout the land that few dare oppose him. Among these are Alard and Guiscard, so different as brothers, but both descended from the House of Jarl, one of early Sweden’s oldest royal families, able to trace their ancestry back to one of the greatest leaders in Swedish history. The witty and stylish Guiscard is in love with the beautiful Elodie, Amise’s younger sister. But Elodie has a secret she is holding close, and will not reveal – even to save her sister’s life.
While the pyre is being built on which Amise is to be burnt to death, the two brothers meet with their young cousin, Tristan. They find him tending the silkworms which fascinate him, watching them spin their golden cocoons. The three plan desperately as to how Amise might be saved. They will fight to the death for her, but the odds are against them, given the control Berenger’s thugs have over the land.
Willow, back in today’s England, is beginning to have strange dreams in her sleep. In one of these she sees the princesses Amise and Elodie being summoned to the great hall to answer the charges Berenger is levelling at Amise. But once again she slips back into her own time before she can see what is happening.
However, when she is soon on a holiday that goes badly, their car overheats, and Uncle Lliam stops at the very top of a high pass. Willow goes to sit by herself on some rocks overlooking the deep valley below. She has taken with her the box, to keep it safe from Colin’s mischief. While she is sitting in the cold, thinking about going back to the car, the wind becomes fresher, a North wind, she realizes absentmindedly. At the same time she notices the way the strange sort of handle on the little box sticks out a little. A pin at its end looks as if it is meant to be pulled out, something she had never noticed before.
Then she hears her name called on the wind… Willow, Willow…and jumps up, thinking that Lliam is calling her back to the car. At the same time, Colin leaps up from where he has crouched down from behind the biggest rock of all, shouting Boo! Willow jumps back, startled, trips over a rock, sways and falls. Instinctively and desperately she grasps at something to clutch. But there is only the box, which she clings to with both hands.
As she grips the handle and screams with terror, she topples over the cliff edge into space, down towards the deep ravine hidden in the clouds below. But what her horrified Uncle Lliam sees is a great golden cloud beginning to billow out around her, while Willow, still clasping the handle of the box, feels a pull on her arms and begins to swing gently. The grey stone storm clouds closing in across the valley then hide her from sight.
How Willow arrives at last in her journey across time into early mediaeval Sweden, and how Amise, the young Queen-Elect, for the time being at least, outwits the enraged Berenger, is told in a sequence of chapters which pull together all the threads in a remarkable story of a winter’s journey across this mediaeval land. Amise has claimed the traditional right of the rulers of Sweden to have their claim to the throne ratified, or refused, at a great gathering at the legendary Mora Stone. It is a right Berenger cannot refuse, especially with the young aristocrats Alard, Guiscard, and Tristan supporting the princess, having helped to turn the crowd at her trial against him.
To find out how Willow becomes the confidante of the young Queen; how she herself rides out into battle in the deep snow of a frozen mid-winter’s day; and how a legend is born of a Queen who was not the Queen leading the free men of Sweden into a legendary battle – where the Mora Stone itself finally and mysteriously makes it own ruling – you must read The Mora Stone itself! It tells, too, of two very different love stories, and what fate befalls each of the sisters.
It’s the extraordinary response I have had to this book from readers of all ages, which made me realize that it is very special. An online commentator said it was one of her top five choices as an historical fantasy. She listed it with those of C.S. Lewis, and Margaret Mahy’s The Changeling.
If you were to define the ultimate reader for The Mora Stone, who would it be?
Although I envisaged it for intermediate readers from about 11 to 14 years, children who are really good readers have had no trouble reading it from the age of 8 to 10 onwards – and have asked for more. This is the reason I’m at last starting its sequel, which I still get asked for – although much water has gone under the bridge since, and I’ve published other books for young readers, including the Who will speak for the Dreamer? trilogy which have also given me a great deal of pleasure to write.
Bringing two time periods together to create one story creates page-turning interest. As the setting weaves between both the present day and medieval Sweden, did you have to research any Scandinavian history?
Yes, a great deal. But it was a pleasure to do so, as it was fascinating and utterly absorbing.
How long did it take you to write the story and can you describe your writing process?
I wrote it over several months. In fact, as with all my books, the story really wrote itself. I don’t plan my stories in any detail. Once I start, with an initial idea, as I did here, I really have very little notion indeed where the story is heading. This makes the writing very exciting, and even suspenseful. I really have to write to find out what’s going to happen! It’s quite strange – and I think some other writers have found the same thing…It’s as if something is coming through and helping.
With a great deal else to juggle, and writing in other areas as well, as reviewer, a socio-political commentator, newspaper columnist, and former television commentator, I have only ever been able to write my children’s stories on one day a week – which has made it hard to review the previous week’s writing, to work out where the book is heading (when possible!) and follow through from there. At the end of the few hours devoted to a story, I would scribble where I thought it was leading, so that I could refer to this the following week, when I took it up again.
In fact, the majority of my stories for children were written on a Tuesday, with about five hours available, because I had so much else to do. I’m actually a very fast writer – and can at times write a chapter a day – but, spread out on a once-a – week (where possible!) basis, it does take a while to finish the longer books.
At first I thought I needed to first write in long-hand – and then transfer to the computer what I had written. But I learnt to trust my mind, and to write directly to the screen. As my thinking always goes too fast for my typing, I dictate the story instead.
What was the original inspiration for this novel?
I was raising silkworms at the time. They’re such fascinating little creatures, and their cocoons are beautiful…some golden like the full moon; some silver-white like the new moon; some with a strange, almost lime-green pale colour shining through. And I loved the sound they made at night, like rain softly pattering, as they munched away through the mulberry leaves.
I also had a moonstone set on an intricately, carved silver band. But it had broken, and when I looked into it, it was almost as if there was a suggestion of a spark of blue colour shining from its depths.
The third thing that intrigued me was a strangely woven box with a complex lock, a very clever Chinese invention which could defy opening, until one had worked out how to do it. This box managed to join both the silkworms and the moonstone ring to intrigue its way into the story – once I had heard that there was such a thing as the Mora Stone, where the right of royalty to rule in early mediaeval Sweden could be supported – or challenged. My own family name was Mora – so to hear of the existence of the actual Mora Stone interested me.
What has been the best response you have received from a reader of The Mora Stone, so far?
There have been a lot of wonderful comments, and a mother naming a dear little girl Willow, after Willow in The Mora Stone, was a lovely response. But possibly the best feedback has come from an Amazon review, where the writer, unknown to me, wrote, among other things: “This book is amazing and certainly deserves more good reviews! It’s an intricate tale twisted with intrigue and fantasy and now I cannot get enough of this author!”
Incidentally, Amazon has my then author’s name wrongly listed as Mary-Agnes Brooke, instead of Agnes-Mary. (I subsequently shortened it to Amy.)
You’re an award-wining New Zealand columnist, critic and commentator. Can you tell us about the awards you have won?
As a regular columnist for our capital city’s newspaper, The Dominion, I won second place to the Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald, in the Fletcher Challenge Commonwealth Media Awards, judged in Cardiff, Wales. My column was entered in the Best Columnist category for Government, Diplomacy, and Foreign affairs.
The Mora Stone was nominated by the New Zealand Children’s Literature Foundation as one of its top 10 notable senior fiction books. It was also included in the initial list of nominees for the prestigious international fantasy award for children’s literature in the US Mythopoeic Awards and was chosen on a Yahoo site as one of the top 5 children’s fantasy books.
It wasn’t an award as such, but it was a thrill to have one of New Zealand’s best reviewer of children’s books, Betty Gilderdale, compare my writing to the C.S. Lewis stories, and to those of Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising, etc).
At what point in your career did you decide it was time to write a book for children?
I’ve always written stories, and loved writing time at school. We used to be given a choice of set topics to choose from, to write a short essay – about 2 to 3 pages. I remember being told years later that a school inspector took around one of my essays to other schools in the South Island to show them what a Standard 4 child was capable of – I would have been about 10 years old at the time. I can still remember this story was about a storm, and what happened during it!
However, one grows up, and, having become Dux of my school, I had exams to pass and university courses to complete. I then became a secondary school language teacher. Making sure that I did justice to my students meant that I had to give my full attention to what they needed. I was always a writer, really, and wrote poetry, in the meantime, with little time for anything else.
So it was only later, when my doctor husband came to work in Kurow, in the South Island of New Zealand, in a wonderful old house with a quite magic, wild orchard adjoining it, that I got the chance again to write. My oldest son was not quite five, and his little brother was three, when I again began. They slept in a room with a very special feel to it, one with a curious pattern of leaves on the wallpaper, and which looked out on to the old orchard. This was where I wrote my first book for young readers – The Owl, the Two and the Medlar.
I actually started the story about 10 pm one night – while my husband was out doing night visits. It was a country practice where he might have to drive 20 miles and would ring before he set off back home. Not infrequently, no sooner had he done so than I would get another call from the same area for a child to have to be attended to. So as soon as he arrived home, tired and late at night (we were running a 24 hour a day, seven days a week practice) he would have to set out back again. This was, sadly, the days before cell phones!
The Owl, the Two and the Medlar very nearly got accepted by the Oxford University Press. But when it didn’t at the time, the writing again called to me so much that I knew it was a choice of doing justice to my sons and our busy medical practice – or of fulfilling myself. I felt I had made a commitment, and the family should come first, that I should do my best for them all.
So I prioritized the childhood of my boys. I resolved I must wait – until our sons grew up to leave home – to let the stories which wanted to come see the light of day. In fact I only started A Ring Around the Sun, initially accepted by the University of Canterbury Press, but actually published by Random Century NZ at the time, when the oldest of our eventually four sons left home. And I have continued to write my books for young readers from then onwards.
You have a background that includes language teaching, book reviewing and socio-political commentary. How would you say your vocation experiences shape you for the writing and publishing world?
This is a difficult question, because as a long-time book reviewer, with a degree which included the important topic of literary criticism, I was rather taken aback when reviewing both for our National Radio, particularly during National Children’s Book Week – and for the Christchurch Press and other publications. I was disturbed to encounter so much basically mediocre writing for children. At the same time my sons, who had been till then great readers, were losing an interest in reading, seemingly because of the kind of books being promoted to them by both teachers and librarians. When I picked up these myself to see why, I could understand. The writing often tended to be basically poorly done, with the stories eminently forgettable. They are certainly bore little relation to some of the great children’s story writing of my childhood. So I found them instead books by the really great writers who wrote what we call classic stories – not in the sense of being old-fashioned – but of being stories which were so well written, with such power to hold young readers, that they would always be treasured.
I do think that the intrusion of politically correct issues into the area of children’s writing has meant a pressure on children’s writers to conform to what is currently required, but that this has nothing to do with writing the real stories which child readers have always loved.
My teaching experience was invaluable. I felt very fortunate to have so many wonderful personalities, both boys and girls, in my language classes – including some from other nationalities. And my interest in languages helped very much to extend my learning about other peoples and their cultures. I found Latin invaluable, in particular – the gateway to so much else in our past.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about The Mora Stone?
Yes – I‘d love to see it translated into Swedish, and given back to the land where it all started. Perhaps when I finish its sequel this year, I’ll be able to give attention to further exploring this possibility. But as many writers know, it simply isn’t possible – with all the demands life makes on us, and with family and others to look after – to prioritize both writing and promoting one’s work. And the writing must come first.
Thank you for your interest.
Written by Amy Brooke
Publisher’s Synopsis: On her thirteenth birthday, Willow is given a broken ring in a curious box with a cryptic message. From the moment she slips the ring onto her finger, nothing is quite the same. Summoned back hundreds of years to a Scandinavian country visited in her dreams she becomes embroiled in an epic quest to defend the rightful heir to the throne, the young queen-elect Amise, little older than herself. It will be for the ancient Mora Stone to decide the outcome of a struggle against the abuse of power – and for life itself.
Add this book to your collection: The Mora Stone
About Amy Brooke
The author, Amy Brooke (previously Agnes-Mary) is an award winning New Zealand columnist, critic and commentator. Her wide ranging background includes language teaching, book reviewing and socio-political commentary. From these, and her other undertakings, Amy finds her writing for children as her most satisfying and favourite activity – a magical world of enduring pleasure. She lives in the countryside out of Nelson, surrounded by the birds and animals she loves, with twenty books for children, young readers, their parents and grandparents published to date.
Visit www.amybrooke.co.nz to find out more about the author and her other magical children’s stories available.
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