Born in Malta, Chris D'Lacey is a well known English author. He is known for his numerous contributions to children's fiction - in particular, his first novel Fly, Cherokee, Fly, was highly commended for the 1999 Carnegie Medal. However Chris is probably better known for his popular series The Last Dragon Chronicles, which follows the adventures of David Rain and his quests to save the tear of the last dragon, Gawain, and protect dragonkind. His favourite book of the series is The Fire Within, which he originally began as a surprise present for his wife Jay fifteen years before it was published!
He has lived most of his life in Leicester, England. Chris worked as a research technician at Leicester University for 28 years and in 2002 was awarded a doctorate by them for his services to children's fiction. He now writes full time.
You have a new series out, please tell us more about the first book, A Dark Inheritance!
The new series is called THE UNICORNE FILES. It’s about a boy called Michael Malone who gets sucked into a secret (and rather sinister) organisation called UNICORNE who allegedly investigate paranormal mysteries. Each book is self-contained, but there is a series arc connected to Michael’s father, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances some years earlier. In A Dark Inheritance, Michael is given what appears to be a simple task to prove his worth to UNICORNE. He’s asked to find out why a stray husky is running loose at the edge of a cliff. The investigation leads him to a moody school friend called Freya, who has a rather interesting secret. Freya knows something about a girl called Rafferty Nolan, who not only owned the husky but died in a cycling accident on the same cliffs. The fascinating part is how Freya knows about Rafferty. To say any more would give the game away – but here’s a little clue. The title, in part, refers to the fact that Michael’s father donated some bone marrow to him when Michael was young – an altruistic gesture which saved Michael’s life, but also left him with his father’s ability to alter reality…
Fly, Cherokee, Fly was inspired by an injured pigeon you found in Victoria Park, but what, if anything, inspired you to write A Dark Inheritance and The Last Dragon Chronicles?
A Dark Inheritance was inspired by my love of the TV programme The X-Files, which was about two FBI agents who investigate things like alien abduction. The Last Dragon Chronicles had a much more peculiar evolution. The first book, The Fire Within, started out as a squirrel rescue story. At that point there were no dragons in it at all. When the book was about to go into production, my editor asked me to make a few changes, one of which was to give the mum in the story a job, working from home. I was wondering what kind of job the mum might do, when I happened to go to a craft fair and met a lady who made clay dragons. I thought that would be a neat idea for Mum’s job. When the story went back to my editor, she loved the clay dragons so much she encouraged me to turn the story around and make it more about them than the squirrels! People who read the book are either very charmed by it or feel cheated because it’s not an out-and-out dragon book. I put that right with the next book, Icefire, and continued to do so all the way through toThe Fire Ascending.
Is David Rain, the main character in The Last Dragon Chronicles, inspired by or based on anyone you know?
David is loosely based on me when I was a young and innocent twenty-something. I’ve loved animals all my life and would have done exactly the same as him to save the life of a squirrel, polar bear, dragon etc. I’m soft like that. He does better with his girlfriends than I would have done. I’m not quite sure how that bit crept into his character!
You say that your books contain events based on things that have happened to you in the past, can you give some examples of this?
Well, as you know, a long time ago I found an injured pigeon on my local park, took it home, nursed it back to health and ended up keeping it for fourteen years. That was Fly, Cherokee, Fly. I also bought an old teddy bear once for fifty pence in a charity shop, took it to a bear fair and found out it was worth £600. That was the inspiration for Horace. Any author will tell you that the incidents in their lives, big or small, often find their way into their books. We’re collectors of scenes. Take A Dark Inheritance for instance. The very start of the book, at the cliff top, is based on the time I was walking along a coastal path in Hastings. I was watching a dog running about and getting very close to what I thought was the cliff edge. All of a sudden the dog disappeared. I genuinely thought it had fallen off the cliff. I cried out to its owners, who immediately burst out laughing. It turned out that the ground at that point just tapered away, making it look like an edge. “Fools someone every week,” they said. The dog was perfectly safe. The opening scenes of the book don’t happen the same way, but fictionalising the truth is an author’s prerogative.
From E to You was a collaborative work between you and Linda Newbery. What was it like working with another author and is there anyone else you would like to work with in the future?
From E To You was Linda’s baby (my title). When she approached me with the idea of writing a book together, entirely in email messages, I was interested but apprehensive at first, because I thought our styles would clash. But that was partly what she wanted, and I did love the idea of us swapping gender for the characters. (For anyone who doesn’t know, I was a 14 year old girl called Annabelle and Linda was a 16 year old boy called Guy.) We wrote the book ‘live’ to keep it spontaneous, and would literally have an email conversation, in character, at pre-arranged times of the day. At one point Linda went away on holiday and I came up with all sorts of ideas for how the book should progress, but when I pitched them to her on her return she refused to do anything ‘planned’. Maybe this is why Annabelle and Guy didn’t get along at first! Linda also refused to meet me until the book was finished, again to keep it ‘real’, but we had two or three very long editing sessions, which was a bit like being a judge on Britain’s Got Talent as we argued about which paragraphs to keep and which to throw out. Would I work with anyone again? I doubt it, not on a novel; mainly because of time constraints. However, I do want to write some young, funny fiction again and my dream illustrator would be Philip Reeve. Everyone knows Philip as an author now, but at one time he was an illustrator, too, and an incredibly witty one.
What did it feel like when Fly, Cherokee, Fly was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal?
That’s a bit like going up to the guy who’s won the Cup Final with an amazing diving header and saying, “What was going through your mind when the ball hit the net?” To be fair, it was almost surreal to know I was up for the biggest prize in children’s fiction – and quite funny, too. You’re longlisted first, of course. The phone call came from one of the editors at Transworld who said, “Don’t get too excited. It’s a wonderful achievement for a first novel, but to reach the shortlist you’ll have to get past… (reels off a long list of well-known authors).” Two months later, the same editor rang me again. “Well, you won’t believe this, but…” At the ceremony, a couple of people told me I was ‘robbed’. What? With David Almond’s Skellig on the shortlist? No way. In short, it was wonderful to know that important people like librarians appreciated my work. That’s a huge boost for a children’s author. It was a fabulous experience. It put me on the map.
Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of writing?
My only real hobby is writing and recording songs. When I was 17 I was desperate to be in a band, but I wasn’t much of a musician and I certainly couldn’t sing. So I did the next best thing and wrote songs instead. I still do now. I have a small digital recorder that just about meets all my needs. I can’t be bothered faffing about with computers, so my demos are quite ‘raw’. If you’re feeling brave you can listen to some at:https://soundcloud.com/#chris-dlacey
Are you currently reading a book/series and if so what do you think of it?
I went to a book launch in Bath a few weeks ago to support my friend, Anna Wilson, who’s just published a book called Summer’s Shadow. I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m enjoying it. It has a gentle intrigue about it and would have a lot of appeal for top juniors/young teens. It has the same innocent quality that Cherokeehad. I hope it does well for her. Shortly, I’m about to move on to the third book in the ‘Wool’ series by Hugh Howey. I love those books and can’t wait to see the movie.
Of the books you have written, which one is the most personally significant and why?
I suppose I would have to say The Fire Within, for the one reason that most people miss. It’s not a book about squirrels or a book about dragons, it’s a book about inspiration and where ideas come from. I had to really fight for the title. I once asked a bunch of kids what they thought it meant and a boy stuck his hand up and said, “Is it heartburn?” Every author would love to know where that spark of inspiration or those sudden flashes of insight come from. I tried to answer that question through David. I lifted his source of creativity out of his mind and remodeled it in a clay dragon muse called Gadzooks. If you’re a budding writer, go read it. It’s fun.
Of the characters in your books, who do you think relates the most to yourself or someone you know?
As I’ve said above, David is me. But then, they’re all me in some respect. Someone once asked, “How the heck do you write about polar bears so well when you’ve never even been to the Arctic?” Easy. How do I write about dragons or unicorns or aliens ‘so well’? Answer, I put myself into their character, look through their eyes and try to imagine how they/it/thing would feel in whatever situation they find themselves in. Of course, it helps to know some physical characteristics of your animals or aliens, either real or invented. For the record, polar bears are easy. There are these magical places called libraries that contain books about everything in the known universe. Oh yeah, and the Internet, YouTube, Twitter, television…
If you could, would you go back and change anything about any of your books? If so, what?
I have been known to say that if I could have my time again I’d go back and rewrite the whole of The Last Dragon Chronicles, because when I started them fantasy was an alien genre to me (I’m still much happier in domestic settings) and hand on heart I got some stuff wrong. The books were written organically, exactly how I like them to be, but I let go of the reins a few times, mainly because of deadline pressure. When I told my wife, Jay, that I’d like to rewrite TLDC, she gave me a hard stare that Paddington bear would have envied. She thinks if I did I’d lose the ‘zeitgeist’, and maybe she’s right. Mind you, if I was ever offered the chance to write a movie script, I know exactly where I’d start (Bergstrom, the bear and the watch, for those who know the books). Oh, and movies? Don’t ask. Just keep the faith.
Although you didn’t turn to fiction until later in your career, what advice would you give to any aspiring young writers?
Believe in yourself. If you think a story is good, there’s every chance a publisher will. You cannot ‘think’ about writing. You have to sit down and DO IT. That’s when the magic happens, when you commit. I meet so many people who say, “I’d like to write a book but I just don’t have the time.” Make the time. If you don’t, writing is not in your blood. There are some tips on my website for anyone who’s interested: www.icefire.co.uk
Have you started writing anything new and if so, what can you tell us about it?
I’ve just completed book two of The UFiles. (Love that description.) It’s called Alexander’s Army. It’s so chilling you could freeze your week’s shopping in it. It’s about a man who can move things with his mind by visualising a small army of men carrying out the tasks. All the main characters from A Dark Inheritance are in it, including Freya, who is a little…different. You also get a big reveal about Michael’s father. Crikey, what are you waiting for? Preorder it now! In the breaks between UFiles I’m dovetailing a new dragon series calledThe Wearle. Anyone who read TLDC will know that ‘wearle’ just means a colony of dragons. Simple story: a colony of dragons come to an Earth-like planet to find out what happened to the first Wearle that were sent there (they’ve disappeared). Never have I written anything with so much back-biting, betrayal, love, claws, fangs and fire. Dragon fans, it’s Christmas come early. October 2015 to be precise. Enjoy. Hrrr!
Thank you to Chris for answering our questions and thank you to Liam Tomblin, our work experience student in July 2014 who wrote the questions!