Action and magic in Under Earth
27th Aug 19

Action and magic in Under Earth

Look out for battles at sea, hidden enemies and a destiny to fulfill in the latest book by ELLEN RENNER! UNDER EARTH is the follow-up to STORM WITCH, when Storm discovered she had been gifted special powers.

In UNDER EARTH, Storm journeye with the island's traders to the wealthy, hidden island of Bellum.

Storm is a magically-gifted 'storm witch', and her community need her to help protect them from enemies at sea. When they arrive at Bellum, Storm discovers that all is not well on the island and that she is uniquely placed to set things right. But first, she has to learn just what her magical gifts mean, and how she should use them.

We asked author ELLEN RENNER to tell us more about the fabulous STORM WITCH series, and her latest book UNDER EARTH:

Q: How and when did you start writing for children?

A: One day I stumbled across a book by Diana Wynne Jones. It was called Charmed Life, about a boy who didn't want the magical gifts he had been born with, but only to be loved and safe. That boy, Cat Chant, became one of my all time favourite characters.

I then read everything Diana Wynne Jones had ever written, and she remains my most beloved writer. The moment I started reading Charmed Life, I knew I wanted to write exciting, magical books for young people.

Q: Describe your dream writer's shed.

My dream writer's shed would be a tree house. It would always be summer, and there would be a constant supply of tea and chocolate biscuits which I would crank up from ground level using a sort of primitive dumb waiter that I would have to make out of a wooden crate, pullies and lots of rope!

Q: What are your top tips for children who might want to become a writer?

A: Read for pleasure. If you're a writer you will learn a lot without noticing. Write the sort of story you enjoy reading the most. Don't try to be perfect! Welcome your mistakes - they're how you learn. Writing isn't school - there are no wrong answers. If you want to improve, study the stories you like best for things like structure, plot, world-building and characterisation. To get better, you do need to practise.

Q: Was there one event or moment that inspired the idea for Storm Witch, about children who are apprenticed to one of the elements or Elementals?

A: A long time ago I read The Weather-Monger by Peter Dickinson, and that made me want to write a book about weather magic someday. Also, I love the idea of one-on-one apprenticeship - it seems a natural way of teaching, of great value to both teacher and student.

Q: Why did you choose these creatures to represent the Elementals in this story - a tortoise, dolphin, albatross and a salamander?

A: I simply chose the animal which to me best represented the qualities of each element. Albatrosses and dolphins already have quite a lot of mystique. I didn't want a dragon, so that left the salamander for Fire. Earth was hardest, and the Tortoise sometimes appears to Storm as a snake or giant sloth.

Q: How long did it take to develop this world? Did any real places help inspire it?

A: It probably took a year to think out the world. You need to be certain of every detail and the logic of the world and the magic. Lots of stuff never makes it into the books.

I love islands. Visits to Japan, New Zealand, the Scillies - all these were inspirations. New Zealand's glow worm caves make an appearance in Under Earth!

Q: If you could visit Storm's world, where would you go?

A: The glow worm caves on Bellum Island.

Q: What is it about Storm's character that makes you want to follow her journey?

A: She isn't perfect. She makes mistakes but never gives up. She's trying to do what is best for everyone, not just her. She has self-doubt but doesn't let it stop her. She's lost a lot of the people she has loved but still allows herself to be vulnerable. That sort of bravery is compelling.

Q: In the books but especially Under Earth, there are messages about leadership and how we use our resources. What would you like your readers to take from the story?

A: I ask readers a lot of questions in these books: Why do we label some people 'other'? What does it mean to be a hero? How do we share in a world of limited resources? How important are the stories a society tells itself? Should gender be how we define ourselves? I want readers to think about these things for themselves - not tell them what to think.

Q: The problems Storm's world faces stems from a 'lack of balance' between the elements. Are you reflecting on some of the environmental problems we've created in our world?

A: Global warming, over-population, loss of habitat, limited resources: these are the most important challenges of our age. Yes: I use the fantasy genre to explore issues facing our world.

Q: What next for Storm, and how many Storm Witch books are you planning to write?

A: There will be four books. I'm hard at work on the third - The Drowned Ones. Storm is re-united with her 'never-friend and always-enemy', Nim, the Drowned One boy. She is tested severely in this book. The Drowned Ones has a larger-than-life, hugely-fun (for the reader, not Storm!) villain. I'm loving writing her.

Q: What are your favourite escapes when you're not writing?

A: Riding my motorbike. It's flying, dancing and meditation all in one. When I'm riding I have no past and no future - it's about skill - the connection between me, the machine and the road. It allows me to live totally in the moment. That is freedom.

Q: Storm's adventures start to involve travelling to strange places. Where is the best place you have visited, and where is still on your wishlist?

A: New Zealand - again! I had the privilege of living on the North Island for four months in 2008 and have longed to return ever since. The beauty of those islands, the unique wildlife and the friendliness of the people remain enchanted memories.

New Zealand was also the home of another of my favourite writers: the late, great Margaret Mahy. I cannot think of the one without the other. Someday I hope to go back. Maybe by boat. That would certainly be an adventure!

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