Thursday, October 13, 2011

Guest Release Day Post: AJ Hartley with Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact

Today I'm wishing a very happy release day to my friend and fellow Magical Words author, A.J. Hartley, for his brand new release  Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact. This book marks the first in a series and AJ's first adventure into middle-grade fiction. I haven't yet had the pleasure to read it, and while middle-grade fiction isn't usually added to TBR, this book certainly sounds intriguing so I plan to pick up a copy soon!

AJ sent me some additional information I can share with you guys, so please welcome him to the blog!

A. J. Hartley:
So you’re a kid: a boy of about 11. You’re in the mall in an unfamiliar city, feeling lost, alone and a bit home sick. You look up and you see a bird in one of the plastic trees. You like birds, so you watch it, trying to figure out what type it is. Then there’s a shadow overhead and the little bird gets hits hard by something much bigger, something hawkish but with leathery bat-like wings and the face of… well, if it wasn’t for the cruel-looking beak, you’d say it was the face of a man.

This is how Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact begins, though the voice is different, and oddly enough, it’s how the story began in my head. It was a half dream, I think, a series of images that popped into my head before I fell asleep proper. I liked it. I had no idea where it went from there, but I liked it, and quickly connected it with another idea I had already had, about a boy looking into a mirror and seeing something inside, something beside his own reflection. I put the two ideas together and added a transitional sequence in which the boy chases the strange winged creature through the mall and into a curious shop selling still more curious (curiouser?) mirrors into one of which the flittercrake (for that is what it’s called) has just vanished…

Darwen is my first middle grades book (and will be followed by at least another two in the series). After publishing 6 adult novels, I decided to revisit my roots, remembering what it was like to lose myself in a story that didn’t centre on what I used to call (not so much hopefully as merely inaccurately) grown-ups. I’m not done with adult fiction, but this is more than a change of gears for me: it’s a lot like coming home.

Q: Who is your target readership for this book?
A: The official answer to that, I guess is, 9-12 year olds, but I expect the readership to be quite a bit wider than that. It’s a fairly dark fantasy, and I think it will push into the YA and even adult crowd as Harry Potter did. The protagonist will age with subsequent books, as I hope my readers will.

Q: What’s the hardest thing about writing for younger readers?
A: Getting the voice right. Kids (understandably) hate to be patronized or treated like they aren’t that bright, so telling stories aimed at readers who are not supposed to be ready for or interested in the stuff of adult books is a bit of a high wire act. At first I worried about making sure the vocabulary wasn’t too sophisticated but I soon realized (at least after R.L. Stine had pointed it out to me!) that that was to sell the book and the readers short. Now I find that 99 times out of hundred I use the word I want and don’t worry too much about supposed ‘reading level.’

-So back to the world and plot of Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact:

Q: How would you characterize the fantasy world of the story?
A: Silbrica is a series of linked locuses, all different, though they tend to the natural, particularly forests. The links are mystical portals like great shimmering mirrors, but there are other connectors—strange, steam-punky trains which move between smoky, deserted stations, for instance. It’s a magical world, but one with echoes of our own, and it’s in crisis.

Q: I take it that all is not well in Silbrica?
A: Right. Strange things are afoot, odd shifts in the landscape itself, and rumors of terrible creatures that have not been heard from for ages.

Q: Monsters?
A: For want of a better word, yes: hulking goblin-men on massive steam powered motorcycles, and blind, headless ape-like creatures who find their way by using the long tongues which protrude from the shark-mouth gashes across their chests…

Q: And what of our heroes?
A: Darwen is a mixed race English boy from Lancashire who fails to fit into the swanky Atlanta private school into which he has been dropped in about every way possible. He makes friends with a farm boy called Rich (but isn’t) and a girl called Alex who manages (I think) to be both the most annoying and funniest character I’ve ever written.

Q: They are the Peregrine Pact?
A: Right, named after the old shopkeeper who gives Darwen the mirror through which he first enters Silbrica, Mr. Octavius Peregrine. He is their expert on everything to do with the world beyond the mirrors, but he’s decidedly odd and may not be completely trustworthy.

Q: So it’s scary and funny?
A: I think so. Of course, my sense of humor is notoriously strange so you’ll have to see for yourself, but yes, I think it’s funny. And the scares and suspense elements are as real as I could make them, using the same techniques as I would in adult fiction. I don’t pull any punches on that score. Kids like being scared. I hope.

Q: When will the next Darwen book be out?
A: Fall 2012. The precise date is still being nailed down.

Thanks so much for telling us about your book, A.J. And again, Happy Release Day!
Have a great Thursday everyone!

British born writer A.J. Hartley got his first taste for archaeology touring sites in Greece and Rome as a child with his family. As an English major at Manchester University he took extra classes in Eqyptology and got a job working on a Bronze Age site just outside Jerusalem…

Since then, life has taken him to many places around the world, and though he always leaned more towards the literary than to the strictly historical, his fascination with the past has continued unabated.

He has an M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University and is currently the Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. As well as being a novelist and academic, he is a screenwriter, theatre director and dramaturg (and has a book explaining what that is). He has more hobbies than is good for anyone, and treats ordinary things like sport and food and beer with a reverence which borders on mania. He is married with a son, and lives in Charlotte.

Find out more at his website or visit the Darwen Arkwright website at

 (Edited to add: Guys, I totally fail. I scheduled this post several days ago and it was supposed to automatically go live--except I hit the wrong button. Sorry it's a little late.)

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