One of the greatest joys of writing books for kids (or for any audience, to be honest) is getting positive feedback from readers. It takes a long time to write a book, and even longer to get it published, so hearing that people have read and enjoyed your work is extremely gratifying.
A friend wrote to me recently to let me know that she was reading Guardian of Giria to her daughter Millie, age 8¾. Millie was enjoying the book immensely, captivated by the plot and characters. I was particularly pleased to hear that her favourite character was Katana “as an example of a smart, strong, female figure.” This was exactly the kind of role model I wanted Katana to be!
My friend wrote again a while later to let me know they had finally finished the book. Millie had insisted they take breaks between chapters as they neared the end of the book as she knew she would miss the characters when they got to the last page. I can’t tell you how wonderful that was to hear!
As a kid, authors always seemed other-worldly to me, almost as fantastical as the characters they created. Although I read voraciously as a child, it never occurred to me that I could write books myself – only famous people did that! Without wishing to break the mystical bubble, I would love for kids to feel that authors are accessible to them – that they can ask questions about how stories and characters were born – in the hopes that they are inspired to create stories and characters of their own. Whenever I present my books at schools and libraries, I always tell the kids at the start of the presentation that they are allowed to stop me and ask questions at any time. I’m there for them – I want them to get the best out of the experience and to go away feeling inspired to either read or write.
Delighted that Millie had enjoyed the book, I offered her the chance to ask me questions and was thrilled when she took me up on the offer! Rather than send her the answers directly, I thought I’d share them here, to encourage others to do the same.
Q1: How did you get the idea for the book?
One of my biggest passions is wildlife photography and the initial idea for Guardian of Giria actually came to me while I was out taking photos. Not far from my house, I spotted a fox and a roe deer doe running across a field together. At first, I thought the fox was chasing the deer and that the deer might be in trouble, but then I saw that they were actually together, running together like friends. I immediately started to imagine what kind of adventures they might get up to and what they might be saying to each other. I imagined the forest where they might live and the other animals that might live there.
At around the same time, there was a big news story in Lithuania about the increasing number of wolves across the country as wolves moved in through Lativa and Belarus. There was a lot of concern, particularly amongst farmers, about the impact the wolves might have on livestock and wildlife. I decided to make wolves part of my story, but I’m actually a supporter of rewilding and the reintroduction of wolves, so while they are the antagonists in the story, I was careful not to paint them as the bad guys.
Little by little, the story grew in my head, with more and more characters emerging as the story unfolded. I decided that the master of the forest would be a massive wild boar, and his character was the first to form fully in my mind. Then I began to imagine the wolves, and their long journey to find a new home. I had initially thought the story might form a short series of blog posts, but it became so big in my head that I decided to write a longer story, which eventually became Guardian of Giria.
Q2: How did you choose the names of the characters?
There are over seventy characters in Guardian of Giria, so naming them was no easy task! The first character to get a name was Felix, the wild boar who is master of Giria forest. He was the first character I created and I knew that he would be central to the story, so his name was very important to me. I chatted with a friend, who suggested the name Felix. I immediately loved the sound of the name and thought it suited my character perfectly. The names of the wolves also came pretty easily as their names match aspects of their appearance. (You will need to read the story to find out how they got their names!)
The remaining animals, however, were difficult to name. Although the story was inspired by Lithuanian nature and countryside, I wanted the story to be placeless, so that every child might imagine it in their own way. As such, I didn’t want to use names that were very obviously from one particular country. (I did sneak in one Lithuanian name and one Irish name – I couldn’t resist!) Instead, I styled the names in groups, according to species.
For example, all the sows have East-European sounding names ending with “a”, such as Katana, Nadia, Petra and Nina. The red deer stags all have slightly stuffy, pompous names to match their characters – Julian, Lander, Monty, Kenes. The foxes all have names with four letters – consonant, vowel, consonant, vowel – Reno, Tula, Lopa, Kiri. The bachelor boars all have fairly chilled-out, relaxed names – Bear, Wes, Rally, Lacy. And so on. In some cases, I used existing names, but many of the names are made up. It took a long time, and often held up my writing as I couldn’t proceed to develop a character until they had a name!
Incidentally, the name of the forest where the animals live, Giria, is an old Lithuanian word for forest.
I hope Millie is satisfied with her answers – if not, I would be delighted to take follow-up questions! If you’ve read the book and have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below.
You can hear the first 10 chapters of Guardian of Giria read by me here.
Alternatively, you can read the first 6 chapters here.