Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Janis Mackay: Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest

Janis Mackay recently won the Kelpie's Prize 2009 for her book Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest. We asked her to drop by the blog to tell us a bit about her inspiration for the book and how it feels to be a prize winner.

My journey with Magnus Fin began over a year ago. My partner and I had recently moved into this house by the sea in Caithness. Day and night the waves pound or lap or sigh. When the waves have been powerful I smell the tang of seaweed. Having the sea as your neighbour is to live up close to mighty creative inspiration.

I became fascinated by what the tide brought in – and often horrified. Once, after three days of stormy high waves thousands of plastic bottles littered the shoreline. I saw how hard and dangerous it is to be a wild sea bird. Young herring gulls die of starvation. Carcasses of cormorant and shag are washed up. Then wonderful things too – a little carved wooden horse all the way from Prague! A lifebuoy from Norway, half a rusted bell from a sunken ship.
At low tide here the mast of a sunken boat is visible. That really fired my imagination. It gave me a glimpse into a hidden underwater world – so naturally I started wondering – what else is down there?

Then the story of Magnus Fin, a boy who goes under the sea, came to me quickly. I had huge sheets of paper and decided, before writing the story down, I would attempt to draw it. Drawing is not my strong point but I thought it might help me visualise the characters and the settings. In that drawing my underwater creatures were mermaids. Later I changed them (all except one) into selkies.

For a long time I have been a storyteller. Having written Magnus Fin as a 17,000 word story I told it – or the gist of it – to a friend. I could see her eyes widen. She liked it. Then I sent the 17,000 word script to Hi-Arts. They offer a work-in-progress critique service to writers in the Highlands.

And if, by any chance, my anonymous reader reads this – thank-you! The story then was entitled ‘The waking of Neptune.’ I was given many helpful suggestions and the written critique ended by saying – make the story at least 40,000 words and send it to the Kelpies Prize!
Wining the Kelpies Prize was such a joy. What a treat to meet Joan Lingard, and to receive £2,000 – and most of all to know that Magnus Fin and these windswept rugged and beautiful northern shores – and my imaginative underwater world – will go on a journey and who knows where that will take them?

The whole adventure that Magnus Fin goes on under the sea happens because he asks for it. He throws a bottle out to sea and in his message – sent to the deep unknown, he asks ‘to be more brave.’ Well, ask the ocean something like that and you can be sure you will be tested.
I have wanted to be a writer since I was five. I have taken a long way round – via journalism, acting, storytelling, teaching – but not long ago I too threw my bottle out to sea. The Kelpies Prize is a lovely answer.

Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest is published by Floris on the 22nd October 2009.

Other News:

Enquire spoke to Malorie Blackman recently and you can now listen to the interview on their blog.
An exciting literary festival - Eildon Tree 10: Celebrating 10 Years of New Writing in the Scottish Borders - takes place 25 - 27 September with a line up of writers including Janice Galloway and Kathleen Jamie. More information can be found on the Heart of Hawick website.
Lili Wilkinson has blogged about her Outreach events, you can read the entry here.
SBT's Jasmine and Chris set off this weekend on their tour of the Highlands with Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. Our Chris is going to keep a video tour diary so look out for that on their return!

The Teens and Young People section of our website is getting better all the time. At the moment we're looking for lots of book reviews written by teenagers to be uploaded at the start of each month. If you or any bookwormy teenagers you know are interested in writing for us, please take a look at our Reviews section.


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