Hi! Claire Caterer and Kit Grindstaff here. We’re two Luckies whose debuts have similar titles, both featuring the word Flame. Moreover, both books are substantial, middle-grade fantasies and were released just a week apart. What are the chances? We even share similar literary tastes, and not surprisingly, loved each other’s books. Though each novel is unique, we were amused by the parallels in our pages and thought it would be fun to interview each other about them. So today we’re asking and answering Those Burning Questions!
Claire: Kit, one of the strongest “characters” in both our novels is the setting. It’s also one of the striking similarities between the books. Yours is the fictional world of Anglavia; mine is Anglielle (besides modern-day England). Both are more or less patterned after medieval Britain. What ideas prompted your creation of that setting? And why do you think England has such a pull on writers?
Kit: Being English, a fantasy version of England was a natural choice for me. I grew up absorbing the English countryside—its winter mists and rugged moors—as well as the classic literature that personifies that environment so strongly, for example, Dickens and the Brontës. And later, as an aspiring kidlit author, the books that inspired me most were also set in England: the Harry Potter series and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.
Claire: I loved both of those series too. Naturally.
Kit: As to era, though it’s never defined in The Flame in the Mist, it was obvious from the start that it wasn’t going to be a tale of modern times. (Girls aren’t usually kept captive in gothic castles these days, after all.) At first I thought of it as Victorianesque, but as the story unfolded, the element of Anglavia having been frozen in time by its evil rulers shifted the feel toward medieval.
As far as England’s appeal as a setting to non-Brit authors, though, I think you’re more qualified to address that than I am, Claire! Take yourself: you’re obviously a huge Anglophile. I was so impressed by the way you captured the feel of England, as well as by your grasp of the medieval-feeling dialogue. I was sure you must have been a Brit-dweller at some time, and was astounded to learn you’ve never been there (yet…). So tell us a bit about England’s draw for you—both modern and medieval—and what made you choose it as the setting for The Key & the Flame.
Claire: I can’t tell you how relieved I was when you said I got the Brit stuff right! I am a huge Anglophile, and of course, the literary tradition is so rich. I too am a huge Dickens fan, and I spent my childhood reading all kinds of Brit lit, including the Brontës, Frances Hodgson Burnett, C.S. Lewis, and Roald Dahl. All those Arthurian legends, Celtic fairy lore, and kings and queens come together in a place that begs to be written about! I mean, where else would the body of a controversial 15th-century king be found beneath a car park?!
Kit: Ha ha! Too true. Alas, poor Richard. Another of the similarities in our books is their heroines, Holly and Jemma. Both are plucky (of course!), destined to save their respective Angle-countries, and have special powers of which they’re ignorant at the outset. I loved your description of how Holly first “sees” the ancient castle, as well as how she becomes familiar with her wand. What were your inspirations for her magical abilities? And tell us a little about that key, and the flame, as symbols.
Claire: I’ve always been fascinated with magic wands and how much power is inherent in the wand versus the person wielding it. One inspiration was one of those giant, multimedia books with flaps and embedded objects and fun stuff to read: It’s called The Wandmaker’s Guidebook by Ed Masessa (Scholastic). I love the idea of plants and trees being important in the making of a wand, and from there grew the idea of an Adept choosing those herbs and woods that would make her wand uniquely hers.
The ancient Celtic earth religions believed in the power of the four elements: fire, water, earth, and air (and aether, for the fifth). I decided to tell my story through those elements, beginning with fire and the festival of Midsummer, because a spark (get it?) is needed to ignite the Exiles to rebel against their dreadful king.
As for the key, it unlocks the portal to Anglielle, and once Holly steps through the portal, her key becomes a magic wand--which will unlock some heroic qualities inside Holly herself!
Kit: Fascinating stuff. And I love that symbol of the key.
Claire: One of my favorite images in The Flame in the Mist comes from the title (and that beautiful cover): Jemma’s flaming-red hair as the beacon in the dreary, mist-clouded moors of Anglavia. How did you happen upon that idea, and did you give any thought to how redheads (“gingers”) are perceived, especially in Britain? And tell us more about Jemma’s powers and her destiny as the savior of Anglavia.
Kit: Actually, I gave no thought as to “gingers’” place in the Celtic culture! Jemma’s being a redhead appeared on my first list of her physical traits as a reflection of her fieriness, and stuck. From that, Nox Agromond’s term of endearment for her, Flamehead, emerged; and later, her being known as the Fire One of the ancient prophecy fortelling her destiny as Anglavia’s savior, hundreds of years before.
The Mist as a symbol of suppression, ignorance, and illusion came to me immediately. However, flame as a symbol of transformation, which is central to Jemma’s powers, came later. Borrowed from ancient shamanic traditions, the idea is that fire releases matter into pure energy (via the flame) which is then available to be reborn into new form.
Claire: So once that idea gelled, you had your title?
Kit: You’d think so, right? But no! We were in a last- minute scramble for the final title—neither my ed nor I loved my working one—and after much head-scratching and her saying, “How about something with Flame, and Mist, as they’re recurring images?”, my hubby came up with it in the nick of time. Phew! Now, I can’t imagine it being anything else. I love how, as writing progresses, such ideas and images morph and crystallize into something that seem, in retrospect, obvious.
Claire: Isn’t it funny how that works? When I read a book, I’m always thinking, Oh, how clever, the author must have planned it that way from the start. But so often that’s not the case.
Kit: So pray tell: Was The Key & the Flame always your book’s title?
Claire: No, I struggled with my title too. I wanted it to reflect the fire theme, and all I could come up with were one-word titles like Spark or Alight, and I really didn’t like those. My agent, Chris Richman, came up with The Key & the Flame. I liked the rhythm of the phrase and the idea of incorporating the key into the title. And it sets up the rest of the series to have parallel titles, e.g., The Wand & the Sea, which is the sequel.
Kit: Funny, since the key is so…well, key! And here’s another weird parallel: The Flame in the Mist’s sequel also revolves around the symbol of water! (At the moment, though, it won’t be part of the title.) I love coincidences like that.
Claire: Me too! It’s obvious that we’re cosmic twins, Kit!
Kit: Well, we were both born under Sagittarius.
Claire: True enough! So, there are a ton of other parallels we could explore in our books: sidekicks, villains ...
Kit: ... otherworldly creatures (in particular golden rats and salamanders) ...
Claire: But this is getting long. Maybe we’d better wrap for now.
Kit: We could always come back to the blog for a second round of Flaming Questions in a couple of weeks. You up for it?
Claire: You know it, flame sister! Blog readers, please join us back on the blog on July 9, when we’ll continue with Those Burning Questions: Part II. See you then!
Kit Grindstaff grew up in the rolling countryside of England. After a brief brush with pop stardom (under her maiden name, Hain), she moved to New York and embarked on her career as a song writer. Kit now lives with her husband in the rolling countryside of Pennsylvania. The Flame in the Mist is her first novel. You can find her on the web at her Website, Twitter and Facebook, add the book to your Goodreads list, or order it at Amazon.
Claire M. Caterer writes for readers of all ages, but her favorite audience are those who love middle-grade novels. Her debut novel is The Key & the Flame, available now from Margaret K. McElderry Books. You can connect with Claire on her website, Facebook, or Twitter pages, as well as on Goodreads.