Kai: Fiona, what age range is The Secret of the Sacred Scarab written for?
Fiona: The book is aimed at middle grade readers, ages 9/10-14, around the real ages of my nephews (10 and 12) when we went on the trip. I am not sure if I chose the book or the book chose me because I ended up feeling very comfortable with the workings of the 10-12 year-old mind. I think the book will appeal primarily to the target age group (10-14), but also to people of all ages because the plot is fascinating (multi-layered), with many unusual twists and turns, and the setting is exotic and interesting. Egypt is a land of mystery and ancient magic. Many people love archaeological thrillers that hint of past golden ages and incredible civilizations, and the ‘history mystery’ ideas make for exciting speculation on the past. Children who read the book will enjoy the ‘reality’ of everything – the characters make you feel as if you too could visit a strange land and be caught up in thrilling events. Surprisingly, adults also love the book, and so many people have told me it makes them feel like a child again, open to adventure, and the excitement of something fun and interesting.
Kai: Can you share a memory of yours or a story of you from when you were within the age range of your target readers?
Fiona: It is an understatement to say I was a bookworm. I was a book devourer. I attended boarding school for about a year at age ten and I remember walking from the school to the boarding house every day down a long and winding path, reading as I walked. The only reason I stayed on the path is because I walked with one foot in the gutter and one foot on the path so that I could still read and walk, and not end up crashing into a tree! Two books I read and reread from the school library were At The Back Of the North Wind and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald. I have never forgotten them. I recently looked them up and found they were originally written in the late 1800s and are considered to be classic children’s masterpieces. I think a great story is timeless. I loved those books!
Kai: What a great story, Fiona. Tell us, how do you think life has changed for children today than when you were that age?
Fiona: Life has changed enormously for children in the last twenty years or so. I remember my parents telling me to ‘go read a book’ if we whined about being bored. So we did. Nowadays surveys reveal that kids are more likely to read text messages, emails and Facebook posts than a book. Some children have never been in a library and many do not read a book outside school. Technological advances have also removed many developmental steps that enabled children to really discover things for themselves, or use their imaginations. These days no one ‘looks up’ information. Press a button and it is all done via the internet. Sadly, in many cases the process of exploration and discovery has been bypassed. If you watch very small children with cloth or pop-up books, their faces are a study in concentration as they really get to grips with their book.
Kai: Kids who’ve never been to a library?! My kids and I practically live at ours. Yet, we always have late fees. How does that happen? (You don’t have to answer that one.) How do you feel life has remained the same?
Fiona: In essence children themselves have not changed, and their responses to something exciting and interesting remain the same from one generation to the next. A captivating story, in whatever format, will hold a child’s attention and stimulate their imagination.
Kai: What was your favorite toy or activity when you were that age?
Fiona: Reading. My parents were really poor while the five (yes five!) of us were growing up, so we read what was on the bookshelves. My mother and father both love reading and Mom had kept all her children’s classics. We cut our teeth on (apart from Time Life encyclopedias and Greek Myths & Legends for Children) Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and Jungle Book, The Wind in the Willows, as many Brothers Grimm and other fairy story books as we could devour, all the Enid Blytons, The Water Babies, Treasure Island, Little Women, Little Men, The Snow Goose, the Anne of Green Gables books, all the Lucy Fitch Perkins Twins books (an amazing mixture of story, geography, history and drama), Narnia books … the list is endless. We also acted out all these stories for my long-suffering parents.
Kai: What inspired this book and how did you decide on this age range for your book?
Fiona: I am a journalist so naturally I had mulled over the idea of writing a book at some stage in my writing career. I just didn’t know what to tackle. My mother was the catalyst, you could say. My mother, then in her late 60s, had always wanted to visit Egypt. When a group tour became available through a national family magazine, she asked me to accompany her. I prefer visiting the old cities and museums of Europe so my response was luke-warm, to say the least. She also invited my 2 nephews, then 10 and 12 to accompany us. It was an amazing trip, filled with interesting experiences. It proved to be the inspiration for the book. When I returned, after we’d admired the souvenirs and the photos, I thought wouldn’t it be a cute idea to write a short story based on our experiences, naturally including myself (a journalist) an intrepid globe-trotting Gran, and two young boys. That was the beginning of it all. The short story became a novel; the novel became a children’s adventure series (Chronicles of the Stone) because at the end of the first book I realized that the story had just grown and grown into something quite spectacular. I wrote around the ages of my nephews at that time, and they were rather advanced, intelligent children, with a good grasp of general knowledge, and a thirst for knowledge. The publishers wanted to extend the age category to 14 because they felt the children’s viewpoint was quite mature.
Kai: Finally, I have four kids. Over the years, they’ve attended a lot of birthday parties. I love the idea of building a theme gift around a book. If you were to give a gift basket to a child based on your book, what else would be in the basket besides a copy of The Secret of the Sacred Scarab?