Author Spotlight: The Whisperer by Fiona McIntosh (Interview)

Hey everyone! I’m so excited to have Fiona McIntosh, author of The Whisperer (Knopf Books for Young Readers, April 14, 2015) here for an interview today! First, here’s more information about The Whisperer:

The Whisperer In this classic middle-grade fantasy/adventure story, the lives of a runaway prince and a carnival pauper become intertwined as each is compelled to fight for his life and family. Fans of The Sixty-Eight Rooms and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy won’t want to miss this.

Lute is a prince, next in line to the throne. Griff is a poor carnival worker who does the heavy lifting while the malevolent ringmaster orders him about. But there’s something special about Griff: he can hear the thoughts of everyone around him. And one day, he begins to connect with Lute’s mind, even though they’ve never met and are miles apart.

When Lute must run for his very life, Griff may be the only one who can help him. In a journey over land and sea, these heroes battle deadly foes and make unlikely allies, including a host of magical creatures and their caretaker, a bitter old dwarf, and a mysterious lady pirate. When the boys finally come together, they will learn they are connected in ways they could never have imagined, ways that may save them—or cost them both their lives.


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And now here’s the interview! Enjoy!

Question: The Whisperer will be out in stores very, very soon. How does it feel?
Answer: I am pinching myself that this story might now be reaching into the lives of young American readers. It was exciting enough when it was released in Australia/NZ and was then chosen for our Children’s Book Council best reads for that year but to realise that the wonderful tale I dreamed up is now heading overseas into a whole new audience of young readers is such a buzz and the very best reward for my imagination.

Question: The Whisperer sounds amazing! Where did the idea for it come from?
Answer: I had been writing adult fantasy for many years and my stories were best sellers and translated into a lot of languages but I had young sons growing up and they knew my adult tales were often brutal in parts and they wanted me to write a story ‘they could be proud of in the playground’! It had never occurred to me that our little fellows were embarrassed by the ruthless nature of some of my characters in the grown up tales. So I had to fix that immediately and I sat down to write the sort of story that not only my sons would love but that I would have loved to read when I was in that 9-11 age group. All I knew was that it had to be a romping adventure with loads of suspense, lots of tension for the characters and with a lively, diverse cast. I wanted it to be a blend of colourful people and mysterious creatures and I wanted the magic to feel fresh and most importantly, I wanted the story to have a sense of comedy in parts. With all of that roaming my mind I just let go with my imagination and because I have twin sons, Will and Jack, I decided to give them the leads in the story although they never made the connection! And the boys had a wonderful girl friend all through school called Paige (they’re still very close) and she was feisty and independent, brave and determined so I made sure all three of them were in the story. As to the story … I think it wrote itself because I was having so much fun playing with all of these characters and their challenges.

Question: The Whisperer has been described as a, “fresh twist to the tale of The Prince and the Pauper.” What made you decide to write a retelling of The Prince and the Pauper? Why do you think it’s an important story to tell?
Answer: Honestly, I’ve never thought of it in that light but I can see why the comparison would be made. I think we all love a rags to riches story or Cinderella, Oliver Twist, etc, wouldn’t have enchanted us for years. But I write to no plan and so when I began crafting the story and Griff reaches out and hears this voice filled with trauma I had no idea who it was that he could hear. I was having fun writing the curious circus that Griff was a part of and so I just kept writing knowing that the voice would show me who it belonged to in due course and then the royal characters arrived. I didn’t plan any of them, especially Pilo or his marvellous relationship with Lute.

As I say, I didn’t plan it but the Pauper and the Prince ‘model’ is always a fun one to play with and I think it’s a great basis for a story for youngsters who might read it and take on board the notion that anything and everything is possible in their lives, even when their lives might feel inconsequential….there is always hope to enjoy enriching experiences, there is always new opportunity around the corner and you never know who is going to cross your path or influence your life. I think that’s why the Prince and the Pauper works … it could be any of us.

Question: Whose story/voice was easier to write – Lute’s or Griff’s? Why?
Answer: I think it was easier to write Lute’s story because despite being a royal and such an important person in the land, he did have a lot of infrastructure around him. His life, until it goes so horribly wrong, was moving to a pattern and it was easy to write that early part with his drills, duties, rituals around the palace as much as all the influence and entitlement that he was part of. A royal is far easier to set up than a poor boy working in a circus and especially one with Griff’s problem.

Question: Did you do a lot of research while writing? If so, craziest thing you had to Google? Most interesting thing you learned?
Answer: I do loads of research for my adult books – tonnes of it. It’s relentless. In fact I’m doing this interview for you while propped up in a hotel room in southern France where I am busy researching for my next novel. However, for The Whisperer I wanted to draw all of it from my childhood and so I filled it with all the joy of my reading in junior primary back in the 1960s when tales of magic were my favourite fodder. I loaded in all the adventuresome ideas that I could dream up and knew I would have loved to read when I was younger and essentially I just let my imagination run amok. I didn’t want to be constrained by any truth or reality so everything from Ellin’s Whistle to the Silver Wind magic ship was my imagination in overdrive. Once you begin to lose yourself in research, you sort of feel obliged to keep it a bit real. I didn’t want any constraint for this story so I made absolutely everything up although I do remember googling all the weird and wonderful circus acts of the previous century. I was searching for the great oddities like the bearded woman, the flaming sword swallower, the reptilian man with the skin of a lizard and so on. I couldn’t resist the travelling curiosity shows of the Depression era and these discoveries on the internet definitely fuelled my imagination.

Question: You’ve written a lot of books across various genres. What’s been your favorite genre to write? What genre would you like to explore next?
Answer: Well, fantasy is always fun because with this genre all that constrains you as the creator of the story is your imagination. I’m lucky to have a rampant imagination that I can turn loose and so my fantasy stories can take on epic proportion with usually a big cast. So I do love to write fantasy for adults and for younger readers but right now I’m very busy writing historical fiction based on the real world. I tend to set these huge stories around either of the two world wars because those were such tense times in the world’s history and yield such a dramatic backdrop for any story to play out against.

Question: You’ve also written books across various age groups, specifically books for adults and children. Do you have a preference? Would you ever consider writing a New Adult or Young Adult book?
Answer: No preference because the challenge is identical for adults or children and the workload is the same. Right now I’m in demand for my adult historical fiction so I’m head down and busy with that genre. But yes, of course, YA is a wonderful area of storytelling to be involved with. In fact my earliest adult fantasy novels – the Trinity trilogy is a huge favourite with YA readers as much as their parents and grandparents ☺ It has a massive cast of amazing characters and an epic storyline of war between gods and humans. Huge fun to write and because these were the first books I ever wrote, it’s as though I threw everything I had at them so the story is enormous in its scope with characters to love and loathe. I think YA is the most interesting audience to write for too because they demand full on entertainment but also intelligent, credible plots.

Question: According to your bio, you worked in PR and Sales/Marketing for a number of years. Did that experience help when you went to pitch your first book? Did it make the publishing process easier?
Answer: Definitely. I think my working background has fuelled how I write my books too because I come at them from a highly commercial aspect. Yes, I think because I’d owned and operated a monthly magazine with my husband for 15 years before I wrote my first book, I had a solid understanding of writing to deadlines and being edited through to getting the job done fast, without complaint.

Being able to pitch is crucial and having a firm understanding of how to self promote is also so valuable in the publishing industry because writers in this age of the internet need to be independent and busy at their own marketing rather than leaving it all to the publisher. I am never daunted by the marketing and publicity aspect of the workload but I know many writers who are so my background is a boon to my writing career.

Question: Your bio also says that you’ve traveled a lot for “book research.” How does traveling aid in your writing? Favorite place you’ve traveled to? Place you’d love to travel to next?
Answer: I travel every year to somewhere new to learn. Travelling opens the mind to new experience and cultures and it enriches my writing. I spent 20 years in the travel industry travelling the world and now I’ve spent the last 15 years travelling for books. I think most people who read my stories will comment on the fine ‘sense of place’ and that’s because I visit everywhere I write about. Most of my fantasy worlds are based on real places so they do have a sense of familiarity for readers while still being wildly different to our own reality. My favourite visit ever was to the San Rafael Glacier in Patagonia at the southern tip of Chile. Just mind bogglingly amazing and especially sobering to see how the ice had retreated over the decades. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of the world in my lifetime but one place I’ve never been to is Canada, so that’s on my absolutely must do hitlist!

Question: Working on anything new?
Answer: Always working on new books. I write up to three a year so there’s usually one on the go. Right now I’m in France researching two new novels and putting the final touches on a new historical novel for Christmas 2015 that is set in the south at the start of WWI.

I’m also thinking about a children’s picture book. I have the characters in mind and I’m just playing around with a storyline that could lead to a series. I’ve been inspired by a tiny three-legged dog that our family rescued from a horrible and uncertain future so dear little Mouse may well find herself as a character in a future book.


Picture 3About the Author:
It’s been a curious pathway to writing novels having spent years in PR, sales/marketing for the travel industry and including 15 years running a travel magazine with my husband. I was fortunate that my first attempt at a creative tale won the notice of a global publisher and I’ve been writing fiction ever since and across various genres although I am best known for my adult fantasy and my historical adventure-romances.

I’m still globetrotting regularly but only for books research now, and while our family calls South Australia home, I do my best writing from Tasmania.

There’s not a great deal of space in my busy life for hobbies but I do make time to bake (usually very late), exercise (usually early), and to ritually make a great coffee brew daily – coffee is my vice…along with dark chocolate. I love watching movies and these days I am deriving immense pleasure from reading loads of research books for my historical novels.

If coffee and chocolate are my vices, then my addictions are winter boots…and Paris.


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