I am so excited to kick off the blog tour for this adventurous, almost mythical book by Katharine Orton. My review will follow separately but for now, sit back and read about Katharine’s inspiration in creating magical creatures.
Inventing Magical Creatures, Part One – Digging Deep
Mountainfell towers over the small, isolated village of Lofotby, and from the cottage at the foot of the mountain where Erskin lives, she can sometimes hear the unfamiliargrunts, howls and growls of the creatures that live there…
But what are these creatures that she’s only ever heard, and never actually seen? Mountainfell is known for its strange and dangerous magic. So what can these creatures do?
Well, as the person writing this story, I had to ask myself that very same question – and the answers came from some surprising places.
One of the first places I went to for inspiration was… the past. As we all know, when people don’t know what something is or why it happens, they tend to make up their own explanations. And let’s just say, the past is a very rich place for such strange and fantastical accounts. I’m thinking of the many weird and wondrous tales from all around the world, that all go something like: ‘this is how the elephant got its trunk’ – but also those (sometimes slightly bonkers!) ideas handed down as if they were pure fact, too.
One such story that I came across was the former explanation for where birds go when they migrate. People noticed that certain birds weren’t around in the winter, but had no idea that they actually flew hundreds of miles to warmer climes. To be fair, even the truth sounds quite unbelievable, doesn’t it? Instead, the explanation they came up with was that the birdsmust surely hibernate, and the most likely place for this would be deep underground where it’s warm. So they decided that certain types of birds must dig themselves a little hole in winter and go to sleep. A bit like squirrels in trees, only to pop out again when it was warm enough.
I absolutely loved the idea of these burrowing birds, sleeping out the winter all cosy underground, and so these became Mountainfell’s “burrowbirds” (though of course, as you’d expect, the burrowbirds of Mountainfell have an added twist.Should you ever help one, for instance, there is a rumour that they will grant you a wish in return… when you read about them for yourself, however, it’s up to you to decide whether you believe that or not).
Learning about the many creative theories of the past about nature made me start applying some of the same thinking to my own creatures. If I were a magical animal living on a mountain, what special skills would I have developed to help me survive? Extreme hearing and a silent step, to sneak up on prey? Or super speed, to avoid those sneaky predators? Whether I was digging deep into the ideas of the past, or embarking on my own flights of fancy, Mountainfell’screatures slowly began to emerge from the shadows, one by one.
I hope that you, like Erskin, are going to have a thrilling time meeting all the inhabitants of Mountainfell. But here is just one small tip for your journey, that our ancestors from days gone by – with all their fantastical theories and tapestries of tales – could also have done well to remember: things are not always what they seem…